Image Courtesy of VisitPittsburgh

Preparing for Pittsburgh: What to Know Before You Go

April 17, 2017

By Allison Ebner

MSA Forward 2017 is just 4 days away! It’s high time to start packing your bags, taking stock of what you’ll be looking for on the Expo floor and planning out your schedule for the entire Conference & Expo. (Make sure to leave some time to explore our host city of Pittsburgh, too—it recently was highlighted in The New York Times as a city now thriving on culture.)

  Read more


A Museum Store World

April 10, 2017

By Stuart Hata

Can you imagine a world filled with gorgeous, unique and educational museum stores that are wildly successful, beloved and valued by our institutions and general public alike? A world where customers and fans flock to nonprofit retail enterprises, knowing that their patronage will support and ensure the world’s cultural patrimony for future generations?

Well, that vision is real and it exists in this very day and age – except, only all of us truly know that. How then, can we, as one of the world’s professional bodies of nonprofit retail experts, share and communicate to the planet the value and importance of our work, our institutions, and the unique products and experiences customers will encounter when they shop and support our museum stores?

Read more


Art Supplies? Yes!

April 3, 2017

By Nancy Sanders

Selling art supplies might be a given for fine art museum shops, but all sorts of museum shops should consider adding this product category to their sales plan assortments. People of all ages can use some extra creativity in their lives, and activities that encourage drawing, painting and photography can fill an important need.

When I first started buying for the Gallery Shops’ children’s department in 2002, our store didn’t have a huge number of SKUs or art supply vendors. Our products could be found in mainstream stores, and we struggled to compete on retail pricing. In addition, I was pretty particular about what quality I expected. Children need good-quality supplies; otherwise, their frustration when markers lose ink too quickly or when pencil points break at the slightest pressure might be discouraging. And what about all of the young adults and adults who came into our galleries and left feeling inspired to create art—what did we offer them in the way of art supplies beyond student-grade media?

These were areas I addressed when I evaluated my options for business growth, and over the years, the category of art supplies has increased from 20 percent to 50 percent of our department’s overall sales. Here are some of my recommendations for how you can achieve similar growth.

Read more


The Success of Power: A Case Study on a Successful Exhibition

March 27, 2017

By Michael Silverman

What does success look like for your museum? Is it setting and attaining a sales goal, increasing store traffic, selling out inventory, all of the above?

At the Oakland Museum of California, it looks like our fall exhibition, “All Power to the People: The Black Panthers at 50.”

The Black Panther Party was formed in Oakland in 1966 by Bobby Seale, who immediately recruited the charismatic, yet highly confrontational Huey Newton. Most often recognized by their black leather jackets and signature berets, the Panthers fought to put a voice to the struggle against oppression for all people, particularly afflicting people of color in inner city ghettos.

The institutional priorities for the Oakland Museum of California are to strike a balance between financial sustainability and social impact, and on all fronts the exhibition delivered. By the time the exhibition came to a close, the museum experienced record-setting attendance and unprecedented media coverage, and, in the store, single-day sales records were shattered on multiple occasions.

Read more


MSA Vendors Are Superior

March 20, 2017

By Blue Anderson

MSA vendors are superior. I doubt I’ll get much pushback on that statement from this MSA-loving readership. But, there is nothing like a cold-call from a non-member rep to make you wish all of your vendors were MSA Superior.

An unknown, but seasoned, sales pro stopped by my store on her way to another account, afterward sending me an email saying she had the perfect garment lines for us and asking if I had time to see her in the afternoon. Being a decent buyer, I checked out her wares online, and although one company was pedestrian beachwear, her secondary line caught my eye: mid-priced, waterproof rainwear. “Hmm,” I thought, “I’m building a ’Survival’ store for a spring opening, and that may just fit the ticket.” I emailed her back and said, “Please stop by and I’ll take a look at the Mossy Tech merchandise.”

Read more


Expand Your Merchandise Planning Horizons

March 13, 2017

By Laura Murphy

For about 25 years, I have been buying merchandise for the Newport Mansions stores. But when Cynthia O’Malley, our Director of Retail, brought me to Ambiente in Frankfurt eight years ago, my buying experience was changed forever. Suddenly, I could buy direct from manufactures, design our own product and negotiate terms. Each time we travel abroad, it is a learning experience. Let me share what we have learned through the years, as seen through our most recent buying trip to Germany.

It is February, and Cynthia and I are off to Ambiente in Frankfurt.

Ambiente is a massive gift show that consists of 10 buildings and products ranging from housewares to gifts to jewelry. Manufacturers and companies wholesaling at this show are from all over Europe, as well as China, the Philippines, Cambodia, Egypt, Peru, Turkey and many more. It is truly an international experience (though everyone does understand the English language, thank goodness!).

Read more


Stamina and Good Shoes: Tips for Attending Las Vegas Market

March 6, 2017

By Eleanor Harper-Dutt

“How many?”

“Um, four of that one. And this one too—four, please.”

“OK, what else?”

“Uh, this one here. Can we do six of these?”

I had a scalloped brass necklace clutched in my hand while I scanned over the rest of the jewelry on the display table. I thought back to the slat wall in our store where we display the jewelry line, and minutely contemplated which pieces would best accompany our current selection.

“OK, I think three of these, and then we are done with this line. Did we want anything else?”

I shot a glance over to my colleague and manager Jennifer, and with her nod of approval, we moved on to a selection of sculptural brass candleholders.

Attending the Las Vegas Market for the first time was an experience unlike any other, and truly a lesson in stamina and the necessity of a keen and quickly discerning eye.

Read more


Case Study: Rebranding Newport Mansions’ Online Store

February 27, 2017

The Preservation Society of Newport County in Newport, Rhode Island, is an organization of historic house museums, including The Breakers, Marble House, the Elms, Rosecliff and others. The retail team at Newport Mansions operates six stores, a website, and a warehouse/distribution center in Newport. Bringing in more than $3.6 million last year, the largest store is 2,000 square feet, and the smallest is 645 square feet.

kate-botelhoMSA member Kate Botelho is one of the faces behind the retail operation (alongside MSA members Laura Murphy and Cynthia O’Malley). While Kate’s position lists her as “Systems Admin & E-Commerce Store Manager,” she wears a few more hats than two.

When Kate came to Newport Mansions 15 years ago, she worked nights part-time at the downtown Newport Mansions store while she was in school. Now, she manages the Newport Mansions’ retail website, serves as the lead on all stores’ technology- or computer-related issues, maintains the stores’ inventory, organizes the stores’ social media, creates general graphics, oversees the wholesale program and contributes to buying for the website store.

After a complete rebranding of Newport Mansions’ online stores five years ago, she also became a fount of knowledge on the subject. Always willing to help fellow MSA members who find themselves in similar situations, Kate shared her expertise with us. Read on to learn more!

Read more


Advocacy Begins at Home: Why I Go to the MSA Conference & Expo

February 13, 2017

By Julie Steiner

Recently I’ve observed how many of the various fields represented within our museums, apart from museum stores, are represented by their own professional associations.

  • Our directors belong to various museum directors’ organizations, like the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) and others.
  • Our HR staffs belong to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), and share professional tools, participate in advocacy and attend an annual conference.
  • Our finance departments often are headed by professionals who belong to regional accrediting and accounting organizations for nonprofits.
  • Our development staffs, curators, educational staffs, marketing departments and even our libraries all have professional associations—Art Museum Development Association (AMDA), Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC), National Art Education Association (NAEA), Public Relations and Marketing Network (PRAM) and Art Libraries Society (ARLIS), respectively—for those professionals who fill various roles in our museums.

Why does this matter?

Read more

Image from Columbia River Maritime Museum's Facebook

Keeping Staff Engaged During Quieter Times

February 6, 2017

By Blue Anderson

Winter can be a time when we relish comfort from the elements with whatever we are most familiar—comfort foods, comfortably warm and toasty fires in the hearth, Southern Comfort. It is also a quiet time for many retail stores. Inventory is done and major holidays are tucked away—and we can find ourselves a little too at ease in our workplaces.

I know I’m guilty of it.

We might hold conversations that we were too busy to have during season changes, everything from work-related to personal stories, political beliefs to gossip about the store down the street. And some may say that there is nothing wrong with that, we’re “bonding” with staff. Except sometimes when it is slow in our stores, we don’t give the same customer service to the visitors that do come in.

Read more