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Custom Carousel Tokens for the LA Zoo

May 13, 2016
LA Zoo custom token

Collectible Carousel Tokens Raise Conservation Funds for L.A. Zoo

Cincinnati, OH – When officials from the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (“GLAZA”) were planning for their new Conservation Carousel, they knew it was going to be something special.  Named for longtime benefactor and former Chairman of the Board Tom Mankiewicz – the famed screenwriter of James Bond films and Superman: The Movie – and underwritten with a major gift from Ann & Jerry Moss (the M in A & M records and close personal friends of Mankiewicz), how could it be anything less than spectacular?  The carousel features 62 hand-carved, wooden animals, including many endangered species, three horses from the Moss Stables, as well as a unicorn and a princess horse.  Naturally, the music for the carousel is from A & M – and includes The Carpenters, The Police, and Herb Alpert.  Gaining admittance to the carousel is as unique as the attraction itself – as patrons purchase collectible carousel tokens.  Sales of the tokens exceed the number of rides, with the additional cash funding not only the carousel operations but also conservation projects and other zoo endeavors.

The hand-carved wooden carousel, crafted by Carousel Works in Mansfield, OH, is, as described by GLAZA Vice President and CFO Jeb Bonner “a very L.A., very Hollywood carousel.” 

Pricing for a ride on the carousel was set at $3, but significantly more discussion went into how to handle the transaction.  A straight cash transaction was out simply because zoo personnel were concerned that too much money would be handled by a single individual, whether employee or volunteer.  Bonner recalls, “A lot of carousels sell paper tickets.  In fact I have one taped to my computer from another zoo.”

But, frankly, paper tickets were not very exciting.  Seeking something that would have more permanence and that would complement the unique nature of the attraction, Bonner suggested tokens, and GLAZA Controller Tiffany Wu became the official token designer. 

“The carousel opened in October, and the prior December we opened a new exhibit called Elephants of Asia, so we keyed the token to the new exhibit.”

Wu used the Asian elephant from the carousel on one side of the token and the California Arts and Crafts-style carousel pavilion on the other.  A rough layout was sent to Cincinnati’s TokensDirect whose designers created the final artwork.  Once the tokens were received, everyone involved knew this was a great idea.

“We realized right away that this was such a good combination, that we’d issue these on a yearly basis,” recalls Bonner.  “We key an animal on the carousel with a major new exhibit or initiative at the zoo.  In celebration of the 2012 opening of a new reptile house called the LAIR (Living Amphibians, Invertebrates and Reptiles), the 2012 token features the poison dart frog.

Planning is already underway for the 2013 token.  While the exhibit has been identified – they are planning to key on the Rainforest of the Americas exhibit – the featured animal has not yet been selected.  “We’re not sure what we’ll feature next, but we’re finding that these are becoming quite the collector items.”

Because the tokens are uncommon, they inspire patrons to purchase extra tokens as souvenirs or collectibles.  The tokens are sold through a pair of Standard Change-Makers token dispensers which accept cash and credit cards, then dispense tokens as well as make change (dispense bills).  Tokens are given to the attendant and are put back into circulation.  Bonner figures that the average transaction is $6 and that not every token sold is being redeemed as the number of tokens sold exceeds the number of riders.

To underscore the magnitude of the collectibles/souvenirs issue, Bonner said, “We purchased 5,000 tokens in the fall, but we upped the order to 10,000 of the poison dart frog.  And if we have to re-mint them halfway through the year, we’ll do so.”

So far, tokens are only available through the two token dispensers, but they may be sold through the gift shops, along with collector books and souvenir cases.

When you have an attraction as unique as the Tom Mankiewicz Conservation Carousel – complete with Asian elephants, a poison dart frog, a dung beetle chariot, a unicorn and prize-winning horses – you want the “tickets” for admittance to be as unique as the carousel itself.  The L.A. Zoo has achieved this with collectible tokens that feature animals from the carousel which are tied to new exhibits or initiatives.  Patrons love them for their collectible nature and for their souvenir value.  Zoo personnel love them because they keep large amounts of cash out of the hands of employees and volunteers – and they are much nicer than paper tickets.  And the extra token sales are helping to fund additional conservation projects and zoo initiatives.  This is a winning combination for all involved.

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