May 14, 2018
By Nancy Dunitz
I just returned from the Museum Store Association‘s annual meeting and expo in Washington DC. It was the first time Dunitz & Company has attended and I have several colleagues to thank for that. For years I have interacted (and sold to) museum buyers at larger trade shows such as NY NOW. In recent times, both customers and vendor colleagues told me it was time to participate in MSA FORWARD. Those encouraging my attendance include Ione Saroyan (New-York Historical Society), Stuart Hata (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco), Debra Reiff (Origin Jewelry) and Susan Davis (Grandmother’s Buttons.) If it wasn’t for these friends, I might not have jumped on the bandwagon.
What’s different about seeing museum buyers (and vendor colleagues) at a MSA conference? One word. OK, two. “The Atmosphere.” At larger gift shows, everyone is in total business mode. At the MSA conference, we were as well. But there was also a sense of family, camaraderie, community and supportive-ness you don’t typically sense in other business settings. Seriously. Have you ever seen buyers and vendors taking Ellen DeGeneres type selfies together at a gift show?
My adventures with the MSA Conference started with Terry Tarnow (Dennos Museum Center) inviting me to be her roommate at the Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel. Terry and I have worked together several times before. We had never before broken bread. Our glue? We both were raised in Detroit and had previously discovered people and places we love in common. Now I can say Terry is a true friend and an easy roommate. We’ve even discussed returning to Washington DC (without a conference) to focus on the many museums and their gift shops.
Ari Lowenstein of Emergent Workshop (and MSA Board Vendor Member Advisor) gave me some terrific advice before attending MSA FORWARD. And, I’m sharing it here with you. He said if you are taking the time to participate in this conference, make sure to join in on the educational tours and seminars. Make a point of meeting other attendees. This was sage advice. I, along with a bus-full of others, enjoyed a tour to Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens and Tudor Place and their gift shops! Whenever I could, I introduced myself to those I didn’t know. I attended seminars when I could. At luncheons I consciously sat with people I didn’t know. I joined the Western Chapter for their group pizza dinner. Sometimes it’s tough to mingle with people you’re not acquainted with. It may seem awkward. Do your best and try it, always with a smile. (Turns out many of those people I met stopped by my expo booth. And some wrote orders. I’m certain had I not dined with them, this might not have happened.)
On Saturday night, MSA staged their Gala. There was a fabulous band. Many of us danced for hours. (I can’t think of the last time I danced so much. That was sooooo much fun!) Staged concurrently with the party was a Silent Auction with a host of terrific products donated by vendors and museum gift shops. The goal: to raise lots of money for scholarships for deserving buyers to attend future conferences. Dunitz & Company donated two necklace/earring sets. One, beaded; the other, fused glass. I wanted anyone seeing our donation to know that Dunitz & Company wholesales two very different fair trade collections. I was nervous that no one would bid on our donation. I was thrilled to see by the end of the evening a bidding war had ensued. The winner, Ryan Oswald (Vizcaya Museum & Gardens) had bid three times to make sure his wife would be wearing our pretties. Now that put a big smile on my face.
I was one of the lucky ones. I was able to set up my booth starting Friday morning, and not after dinner as many others. Even using most of Friday for creating my attractive display (which I absentmindedly forgot to photograph), I was able to attend a couple of seminars. I really had no idea what to expect when I attended Neal Cohen and Jeremy Richardson’s session “Year in Review, Your Annual Business Check Up.” These guys are smart and they’re very savvy when it comes to issues of product safety, copyright and trademarks. Some of these very BIG issues can actually have an impact on small businesses like ours. My view? Even if most of what is said doesn’t apply to you, if you take away one valuable point at a seminar, it was worth being there. I am better off for having attended their presentation.
And finally! Yes, the main clincher for why I attended MSA Forward. I wanted Dunitz & Company to be seen at the Expo. As my colleagues had promised, the Expo was a terrific way to get our jewelry in front of the faces of many museum buyers I’d never previously met. And do you remember my mentioning all those people I nervously sat with at lunches? Several came by my booth. Some ordered. Many left their business cards for follow up. And yes, I did see several buyers I already knew, which accounted for reorders. Yeah!
Other feedback from me? Order the lights for your booth. I was told that the ballroom and exhibition spaces were well lit and extra lighting was not needed. My booth was dark. Thankfully most everyone’s booth was dark. With a small show and a captive audience, it seemed most buyers looked everywhere. My gut is if I’d had a few spotlights, my booth would have garnered a few more pauses.
The jury is no longer out. Attending MSA FORWARD 2018 was a success for so many reasons. I enjoyed DC. I made new friends. I wrote business and I was able to pitch our fair trade jewelry line to those who didn’t previously know of Dunitz & Company. And guess what? Next year MSA will be hosting its annual event in San Diego. (And may the hotel there have food as edible/delicious as the Renaissance Downtown DC.) I can even drive to San Diego! Will you attend?
Nancy Dunitz, owner of Dunitz & Company views herself as an artist and an explorer. These two character traits catapulted her from corporate America to the highlands of Guatemala in 1989. For more than 25 years, Nancy has been working and collaborating with the same community of women (and a few men) to successfully bring fashion forward beaded and fused glass jewelry to appreciative customers. Dunitz & Company recently launched a customizable laser cut earring collection perfect for museums. And, Dunitz is a proud member of MSA and Fair Trade Federation.