Vista Health’s hospital gift shop gets an upgrade

Hospital gift shops usually have more cards, flowers, candy, and stuffed animals than everyday convenience items. But that’s not the case at Vista Health in Waukegan, IL, where the gift shop has been transformed into a hybrid market designed to serve guests as well as hospital staff.

In September 2020, Vista Health opened The Market, a 24-hour blended shopping experience offering 60% food, beverage, and convenience items and 40% retail products. “People are expecting to go into a store and have an array of options at their fingertips. It’s no longer just about gifts,” says May Limbach, Brand Marketing Director of Aramark, the operator contracted to manage the shop.

The idea came about when Vista Health’s gift shop vendor told the 200-bed hospital they were leaving. Vista had noticed slower inventory turnover, dwindling sales performance, and waning engagement from shoppers, and decided it was time for a change. That’s when they asked Aramark to take over the shop – and give it a much-needed makeover.

“We wanted to be mindful of the fact that 80% of gift shop sales come from hospital employees,” Limbach says. “They’re not just looking for your typical gift merchandise. They want to have access to an assortment of fresh food and beverage options, even if it’s 3:00 AM”

The shop space underwent a complete renovation. Out went the tired carpet flooring and overfilled shelves; in came sleek wood paneling, bright lighting, and a targeted merchandising display designed to feel clean instead of cluttered. Coolers were also installed to house the fresh food and drink offerings.

Meeting the needs of busy doctors, nurses, and hospital staff – along with visitors looking for a quick bite – meant stocking The Market with a variety of premium grab-and-go options like paninis, wraps, salads, fresh fruit, and more. “Within the gift market environment, fresh foods are becoming our most popular items,” notes Limbach. And it’s these offerings that make the shop stand out the most. “You’re not just getting candy or a protein bar, as you might with your usual convenience-store experience. You’re actually getting a meal,” she says.

Although food is at the forefront, The Market was never designed to compete with the hospital’s cafeteria. “The cafeteria is meant to serve meals within given hours for staff, visitors, and caregivers,” Limbach says. “The gift market is meant to supplement, for those who need to come in and grab something very quickly.”

Those looking for a sip or a nibble will find them at The Market as well. The shop stocks an array of bottled beverages, packaged snacks, and even coffee. “It’s always the small, little essentials or impulse buys that provide the greatest comfort,” says Limbach. Whether it’s a hospital visitor or a nurse getting off of a long shift, “having access to a healthy salad or a novelty ice cream, those things can sometimes be so helpful,” she adds.

Retail items like balloons, cards, and stuffed animals are still available. But these products are more tightly curated to reflect what people are actually buying. Aramark’s expert merchandising team tracks what sells and what doesn’t, and uses that data to update The Market’s product inventory and display strategy on a quarterly basis. “Are guests regularly buying jewelry and handbags, or do we only need a select curation of that and expand on what’s trending?” Limbach says.

Staffing and technology efficiencies enable The Market to operate round the clock on a lean budget. Eager hospital volunteers often staff the shop, eliminating the need for an extensive network of managers and associates. This alone has yielded a 10% reduction in overhead labor. Self-checkout kiosks also minimize the need for cashiers while speeding up transaction time. “Checkout wait time is typically the biggest pain point of a retail experience,” says Limbach. “If it was a doctor, nurse, or hospital associate who really only had two minutes, that self-checkout would make all the difference.”

That ability to seamlessly checkout 24 hours a day, 7 days a week has also increased sales, particularly in the evenings and overnight. In fact, late-night sales have accounted for a significant amount of The Market’s business. “A third of our transactions have been due to after hours,” Limbach says.

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