Eastern National just wrapped up our first fiscal quarter of the new decade, and we are off to a great start! This time last year, we were resuming normal operations following the federal government shutdown, and park visitation and sales were still inconsistent. Obviously, sales performance is dramatically increased over prior year for the first quarter. However, if we look back at the past few years, this is the strongest start to a fiscal year we have ever seen. In fact, sales are up nearly six percent over FY17, which still had strong momentum from the National Park Service Centennial.
What’s been contributing to this sales growth? We can point to a number of factors.
There’s no doubt that external factors like weather, visitation, and park store closures affect our business. We continue to manage through the aftermath of the effect of devastating hurricanes on our coastal locations over the past few years. In Puerto Rico, visitation and sales fully rebounded at San Juan National Historic Site, and sales are now 111 percent of pre-hurricane performance. While slower to resume, with the re-opening of a third forest store inside El Yunque National Forest we have seen steady improvement with sales at about 44 percent of pre-hurricane performance.
Using what we learned from last year’s Grow Sales Evaluation, we continue to focus on what we can control: the internal factors that drive our business. Targeted inventory investment continues to be a key factor in steady sales performance. Maintaining stock levels and managing inventory replenishment more efficiently ensures the right products are in the right place at the right time. For example, over the winter months, we increased stock levels at parks in metro areas and in southern destinations with milder climates that continue to get significant visitation. Park stores at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park, Statue of Liberty National Monument, Hot Springs National Park, Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park, and Mammoth Cave National Park have some of the highest sales for the first quarter in those stores’ histories.
This year, we implemented a new buying calendar to support better inventory management. We placed orders in January for custom site-specific commemorative items and apparel that take longer to produce and ship. If the weather cooperates, and park visitation starts to pick up over spring break, park stores will be well stocked to maximize spring sales. All new item development for the entire fiscal year is well underway. The goal is to get advanced approvals for all new items that we intend to order for the year no later than April 30th. This way, new items are in store and merchandised by Memorial Day. This also allows our store managers to focus on inventory replenishment, offering customer service, and store operations during the peak summer season.
During their spring park meetings with staff and park partners, regional managers will be sharing more specific details of these evolving processes to improve inventory investment and support continual sales growth. Be on the lookout for materials entitled The Road Ahead: How Eastern National’s Grow Sales Evaluation will influence store operations in 2020 and beyond.
There are some big changes on the road ahead, but these new processes have been tested with park partners and store staff to find the best route to take. With your continued focus on mission delivery and growth, we are sure to achieve our strategic goals together.