July 10, 2017
By Donna McNett
Recently, out of the clear blue, a vendor emailed me for MSA membership advice. Surprisingly, she actually found me through an MSA blog. She is an artist/craftsman and her work is beautiful — at least what I could tell from the photos she attached. Her sales have been successful but only with one particular museum store — and they have re-ordered from her three times within the last six weeks. The issue is…. she is having a very difficult time getting in the door with other museum stores and wanted to know if joining MSA would make a difference. Should she take the plunge and join?
Even though I am a vendor member of MSA, I’m still relatively new to all of this. I could easily identify with the difficulty in getting museum store buyers to take a look at your products. You might have tremendous success with one buyer — which makes it hard to understand why you’re invisible to others. Pittsburgh was only my second MSA conference so I was scratching my head a bit as to what I might say to encourage her. When I joined MSA I didn’t really know what to expect and was concerned whether my small company could justify all the expenses; not just the membership but the show booth plus all the travel expenses.
The bottom line is, after two years I have a much better understanding of what museum buyers are looking for and how I can apply that knowledge to tailor my business practices to their needs. While still keeping my quality high, I’ve made adjustments with my minimums and pricing structure. I see the primary benefit of being an MSA vendor member as a way of better knowing my customer and how to offer appealing products that will be unique, profitable, and sellable.
It’s all in the relationship making, the networking – not just the net profiting. The vendor’s webinar just before this year’s conference was so informative and very helpful. These seasoned vendors offered techniques that got me thinking on a different level. So at the Expo in Pittsburgh, I offered a drawing for 10 scarves to be given away at the end of the show. It certainly brought buyers into our booth! They may have not ordered on the spot but it gave me the opportunity to show them what we have to offer — and a hope that they will consider us for future opportunities.
As a career interior designer, it’s in my nature to try to satisfy my client’s needs, lifestyle, and taste while at the same time exposing them to a higher creative level using upgraded resources, design, and materials. Good communication and listening skills are always key to success. MSA membership offers a terrific opportunity (on both sides of the aisle!) to make connections with people who are in a position to evaluate what you have to offer and see how it best fits into the success of their individual museum shop’s mission. Because of membership in MSA, DONA SCARVES has been discovered and now is being displayed in some of our finest museums. I feel certain that, over time, this business will continue to grow by being and remaining an active participant and member of MSA. I’ve started getting random calls from museum buyers asking for samples and proposals for custom scarf designs. I sometimes wonder how they find me. But, however it happened, I know MSA has something to do with it. Museum shop customers are now wearing our scarves in public, attending social events, and getting complements. This soft advertisement of our wearable art is creating attention and buzz!
As MSA vendor members we have that unique opportunity to have meaningful communications with buyers — and the buyers have the same. The conferences are a really valuable opportunity to build lasting relationships– but it takes the willingness of both parties to be open to making it happen. It would be unfair to say that the MSA conferences will meet all expectations; but I see that, over time, vendor members — through their commitment and patience — will remain a valued “special, one-of-a-kind source” for museum stores.
On a closing note I have been most fortunate to be mentored by 3 amazing people in this organization:
Susan Tudor – The Cummer Museum Jacksonville, Florida
Jackie Goldman – Puzzles Plus, Jacksonville, Florida
Ava Maxwell – The Morse Museum -Winter Park, Florida.
Without their help and guidance DONA SCARVES would not be what it is today!
“Style is a simple way of saying complicated things.”
Donna McNett is the owner of DONA SCARVES in Jacksonville, Florida, and is dedicated to integrating photography, art and graphic design into wearable one-of-a-kind images.