Bold Steps Bring New Rewards

November 20, 2017

By Raymond McKenzie


Interviewing for a new position can bring anxiety and dread. Far too often the fear of change keeps us from finding a new job that is more rewarding or even advancing inside your institution. Interviewing doesn’t have to be so dreadful with a little preparation, practice, and boldness.

A year ago I was ready for a change in my career. The intent was to take a few months off to paint, complete some house renovations, travel, and decide what I wanted for my next steps. Then eventually I would look for a new position that engaged my passions. It didn’t take long before something interesting came across my email….. a historic house and garden was looking for a new retail manager. Retail plus Edwardian living!

It sounded interesting but I knew nothing about gardens, nothing about this historic home, or even where the town was. I did a few Google searches to find out some general information  — such as the history of the home, where it was located, some of their programming, etc.  I found it interesting enough to apply knowing that I didn’t have any background in gardens or historic homes and not knowing if it would meet my needs. But hey, you have to be bold and try something new. A few weeks later I got the call, “Would you be interested in an interview for the position?” Well, yeah I was interested. Read more


My Life as the Store Guy

November 13, 2017

By Chacho Herman

The Director sat across his desk from me. I’d just become the new Store Manager and was feeling pretty good about the job I had been doing. He looked at me and said bluntly, “You’re too passive. You need to be more assertive. Stop being so weak. You need to toughen up.” You’d think that I would have been stunned to hear that, but I wasn’t. This is something I needed to hear. I needed something like this said to me to push me to be better. I felt like I had been doing a good job for him and the museum, but his words pushed me to do much more.

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PRO-File MSA Institutional Member

November 6, 2017

Name: Colleen Higginbotham

Job Title: Director of Visitor Services

Institution: Chrysler Museum

Location: Norfolk, VA

Interviewed by: David Duddy, DDO, deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln, MA


What does your position encompass at your institution? What is your favorite part of the job?

I oversee the Visitor Experience – which covers the Shop, Special Events, Visitor Research, and the Gallery Hosts. Also, I oversee the Restaurant and Catering Contract. Our entire VS team is meant to Welcome, Protect, and Engage – also in the Shop. We began our program of cross-training in 2007 – re-training our security officers as Gallery Hosts to protect the collection – but in a welcoming manner that explains why they should not be touching the art! We are ONE TEAM.

My favorite part of my job is that every day, every event is different – and I get to learn about art while directing my team.

 Did you choose the non-profit world deliberately?

I have always loved museums, even though I did not study art or art history. I think I kind of found my natural home here.

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PRO-File – MSA Vendor Member

October 23, 2017

Name: Donald Burns

Job Title: Director of Sales, Discoveries and Museum Reproductions

Business Name: Discoveries Egyptian Imports and Museum Reproductions

Location: Longmont, Colorado

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and moved to San Diego, California about 12 years ago. I now reside in Napa.

What does your company do? How long has your company been in existence?

I consider myself to be so incredibly lucky to work for two different companies that have each been in existence for approximately thirty years. Discoveries Egyptian Imports is a company that imports high quality products from Egypt: glassware, figurines, children’s educational products and much, much more. All of the products and their packaging are authentic and made in Cairo or Luxor. Museum Reproductions is a jewelry company that reproduces jewelry under license from museum collections throughout the world.

What is your role within your company? Have you changed positions within the company? Worked for another company?

I have done sales and product development for Discoveries for almost 15 years. I started out as a sales representative but then both my role and the company morphed into what it has become today. I went to Egypt and was able to learn more about the products we were developing. At the same time, I visited more museums and learned what products, especially custom ones, that buyers were searching for and so my role and the company evolved tremendously.

As many buyers know, Museum Reproductions was originally founded by Lars Messler who recently passed away. Lars and the owner of Discoveries, Steve Collins, were great friends for many years and when Lars passed it seemed like a great partnership for Steve to assume the role of leadership at Museum Reproductions. Working with Jessica Audet, she and I can now continue to expand the role of Museum Reproductions by collaborating, not just with American museums, but with collections around the world. It’s so awesome that I get to work with such talented people in all these different museums and their incredible collections. I love what I do!

Describe the life journey that brought you to this career (i.e. tell our readers about your interesting life so far…) what drove you to this?

I’m so thankful to my parents for how they raised me! As an only child, they were determined to expose me to all of the cultural institutions in and around the Philadelphia area. It instilled in me a life-long wish to be close to the art, the history, and culture of all of these great places. Additionally, I have to thank Steve Collins, the owner of Discoveries. He is one of the kindest people I know and he really values taking care of his customers. We work very well together and a lot of our clients feel like family.

Tell us about the first sale you ever made to a museum or non-profit institution… what was it? Who did you sell it to?

I started out in picture framing and the very first customer I had was Judy Luther at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Judy taught me so much about museums and how to work with a collection. She knew museum retail was special and different from regular retail and how to translate an artifact or a painting into a great product.

Did you feel like a partner in that process? Are you still?

The framing industry has changed so much but, yes, I still do framing with NGA. Translating art into merchandise is our main goal with Museum Reproductions. Lately, we have been working with the Barnes to produce a Renoir bangle and have finished a beautiful line of Cherry Blossom jewelry with the Huntington Library and Gardens — just to name a few projects. Last year, Discoveries won the MSA Education Product of the Year for our Hieroglyphic Stencil rulers. We are also working with The Royal British Columbia museum on their latest Egyptian exhibit to fulfill their request for custom products.

What is unique about your product or production technique or design or other aspect? What would the MSA Membership really want to know about you (this is your time to boast and brag so please, wax lyrical)?

I think with both companies, there is real effort to give our museum buyers quality merchandise. e.g. with Museum Reproductions, the jewelry is made with lead-free metals, natural stones, no stones are dyed and everything ships with a detailed provenance card with as much information about the piece as possible.

There is a lot of turmoil currently in the retail world. Can you tell us one exciting trend that you’ve noticed? Are you taking advantage of it?

The use of the internet and social media are streamlining and expanding a lot of our business. We find the bulk of our orders now are made on are website and buyers use our digital catalogues much more frequently.

There is a lot of turmoil currently in the retail world. Can you tell us one thing that keeps you up at night? What steps will you take in light of that?

Amazon is always a concern in the retail world. However, we feel the personal service, our attention to quality and detail and the ability to customize products to a museum’s collection is something extremely important for us to continue to offer.

What are some concrete goals for your next three years working with members of the Museum Store Association? How do you see MSA helping you achieve that?

I believe Shoptalk has always been an awesome tool and it helps us understand what buyers are looking for. In addition, MSA seems to be forging in a great new direction to develop more opportunities for its members including their vendor members. I would like to learn more about Product Pitch which is beginning on Fridays — and Museum Store Sunday is a fantastic way to highlight our industry. Overall, the MSA Board and staff are more open to new ideas and changes that will position our association for the future.

Have you ever attended an MSA Chapter meeting? Tell us about that experience.
I have attended two so far and, unfortunately, some personal things have prevented me from attending some recently. My goal for next year is to attend all of them.

What is the best vacation you’ve ever had?


The best vacation was Italy about three years ago.…we went to Florence, Venice and Pisa. It was a trip where everything went perfectly-hotels were great and the food was awesome..! I love to travel and really like to plan a trip ahead of time: to research unique hotels and restaurants and search the map for places that look interesting and then book it all! Venice was especially cool-we did a lot of the typical touristy things but there were definite highlights like the Guggenheim Museum and this remarkable dinner we had by the Rialto Bridge under a sky full of stars. We also went to Murano and in one glass gallery which was particularly beautiful, the owner was so welcoming. He told us all about his family, the history of his studio and their glass blowing. It was really memorable!

Do you have a hobby? Collection? Unusual talent?

I love photography and have been collecting Russell Wright dinnerware for years. It was designed in the 30’s and 40’s. I have a very unusual talent but it’s a secret!

It’s been so much fun doing this interview…Again, I love what I do and I’m so grateful to work with such great people around the industry. Thank you for the opportunity to tell you about myself.

Donald Burns has been a member of MSA for many years, and in 2016 he became MSA’s very first Sales Representative Member. Discoveries Egyptian Imports was the winner of the 2017 MSA Buyer’s Choice Award for Education and Games for their Wooden Stencil Ruler.


‘Be A Patron’: How MSA Defined the ‘Why’ of MSS

October 16, 2017

By Paul Stewart-Stand

Born out of a three month process, our Museum Store Sunday (MSS) call to action is:  Be A Patron.

The brand identity introduced on September 26 is the visual expression of the Advocacy Committee’s work over the past months.  Five committees of volunteers, tasked with different facets of MSS, contributed innumerable ideas and notions.  As this process moved forward, MSS evolved from concept to an international event, an annual celebration, and an opportunity to energize our community. We wish to communicate “to the world” the value and importance of non-profit retail.

Sounds easy, no sweat!

Read more


Mumbo Jumbo Or Retail Jargon? Translation Is Key

October 2, 2017

By Blue Anderson

Jargon is the fancy word for mumbo jumbo.

We all can get a wide variety of emails and web links that talk about the latest trends, or how to motivate your staff, or the MSA Blog you are reading right now.  Museum Hack is a professional museum consulting company that sends out weekly tricks of the museum trade, and the most recent one is “Keeping it simple:  Why jargon is holding your museum back.”  At the Pittsburgh MSA Conference, I had presented a session on “retail speak” that could hinder the communication and performance of staff, management, and museum board members that ties in with Museum Hack’s message.  Sometimes we assume people know what we are talking about, but they could have a completely different meaning to the non-retailer, or worse, no meaning at all.

In February, I overheard my store manager talking to another staff member after our buying trip to a regional gift show, and she said “now I really get what Blue means by Permanent show rooms.” I’ve been working with her for years, and she could only “kind of guess” what I meant by permanent and temporary showrooms?  I assumed she knew the jargon.

And I’m big on creating reports, but I am always surprised when someone with a business background has to ask “What’s TY LY?” – This year, last year – that’s what I’ve used for years, even before museum work.  Now, if I’m always surprised, could it be I’m speaking in retail jargon?

Jargon isn’t bad, not at all.  It can help us communicate quickly, especially if we are in the same business.  I interviewed a gal who had an impressive resume, she was the “grocery guru” and said she knew everything about the grocery business. I asked her how they selected what items go on their end caps, and she said “what’s an end cap?” I would expect that someone who knew everything about the grocery business would know what an end cap is – you know, the place you put the stuff you want to push for whatever reason.  And even though I don’t have end caps in my store, she didn’t get the job.

On the flip side, when we were interviewing for our Controller, we had a long-term Board member sitting on the panel, and she insisted that the new Controller be fluent in the “5 Column Accounting Method.”  When all of our stellar candidates failed to know what that was, we did some research and discovered that the “5 Column Accounting Method” was something our board member developed in-house about 30 years ago.  No one outside our museum knew what that reference meant.

If you take the time to translate your jargon to your staff, boss, or board member in a way they will understand your message, you stand a much improved chance of actually being heard.  Correctly.

Top Tips for Busting Museum Jargon – Courtesy of Museum Hack

  • If there’s a simpler word with the same meaning, use it.
  • Avoid acronyms and slang, unless it’s essential to the story.
  • A house style writing guide can make sure everyone’s writing is consistent and accurate.
  • Get a non-expert to read things over.
  • Fewer words is often better.
  • If you can’t avoid using an obscure word, make sure you define it first.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. This will encourage others to do the same.
  • Show your colleagues this article!

Keeping Up with new Trends in Retail Jargonanderson_headshot

50 Terms Every Modern Retailer Should Know

Drop me a line to share your most hilarious, horrific, or finest breakthrough in translating what you mean to say into something others want to hear.

Blue Anderson is the Manager of Visitor Services at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon, and the Secretary of the Museum Store Association Board of Directors 2016 – 2018.



What Is A Museum Store?

September 25, 2017

By Julie Steiner 

One of the admonishments I heard when I was new to this field was that I should not refer to museum store products as “souvenirs.” Souvenirs, it was said, evoke cheap and poorly-made things, rather than the quality merchandise of world-class institutions. But there’s another way of thinking about that word, and that is as souvenir — simply the French word for “memory.” What better compliment to a product could there be, than to have it contain a person’s memories? Elizabeth Merritt, the head of the AAM’s “Center for the Future of Museums” pointed out at an MSA conference a few years ago that the human mind simply can’t store all the memories that we gather in our lives. And that’s the true purpose of museum store products: good products done right become externalized memory, souvenirs that hold our memories and recall our experiences.

One thing I know for sure (and that my work in museums reinforces every day) is that museum stores are an invaluable part of the experience and that retail products serve an important purpose and wield an incredible power: they carry our collections and exhibits out into the world beyond the walls of our institutions. Once the exhibits have traveled on, the educational programs are completed, and in those hours when even the galleries of our permanent collections are hushed and dark, visitors continue to savor their experiences at our institutions through the objects they purchased (or were given as gifts) from our stores.

Above all, a museum store is the place where guests select a suitable container to hold their memories of the day.

I believe souvenirs are a compliment: we only buy objects to hold those memories we most wish to reinforce. We buy to hold on to positive experiences. Shopping at an institution is a conscious effort on the part of the visitor to turn that specific positive experience into a long-term memory. Gifts for others selected at museum stores carry an additional purpose: they are physical evidence of having thought of a person while in that institution. It’s so much more than an object handed on: a museum store gift reflects a deep human need to share a meaningful experience with another person.

Creating and selecting the right products to represent our institutions and imprint the visitor experience in the mind of the visitor is our imperative. The visitor needs to connect their delight and wonder — their cherished day with family and friends – to the items we offer them. It means that quality of experience must match quality of product: no other memory will work. Our primary job as non-profit retailers is to provide the extension of that experience and help to carry that memory into the homes and lsteiner-julie-headshot-smives of our audiences.

Often, when I give tours of the museum store where I work, I gesture with a flourish and proclaim “This is where the magic happens!” I am half mocking, but behind the joke lies seriousness, because I do think that there’s great “magic” to wrapping up the intense experience of a museum visit in a concrete memento, and the magic that happens when a guest finds the perfect thing to carry out, just the right object for them that will connect their long-term memory back to this experience: this day that they have had in this museum, and this specific object that will help them maintain the emotions, thoughts, and connections created during their visit. Museum stores are where the magic of connection and memory happens.

Julie Steiner is the Director of Retail Operations for the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, PA and the President of the Museum Store Association Board of Directors.


When It Comes To MAP Pricing You Snooze You LOSE

September 18, 2017

By Mike Lovett

As a museum store operator, or as a merchandise maker or distributor, you know that the ease of online shopping is a double-edged sword. Sure, it’s convenient — but for business owners and operators, the underbelly of counterfeited products, price discrepancies, and showrooming can quickly replace the thrill of finding a sale with the disappointment of losing one. The main culprits are usually on Amazon or eBay, selling the same product that you are for less.

These retail giants hijack MAP (Minimum Advertised Price) pricing, leaving you with inventory that’s difficult to move because you’re selling at the actual price. Your overhead costs don’t allow cutting margins to compete. And if sales continue to decline, you’re less inclined to take buying risks that might differentiate you and pay off down the road.

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New Shoptalk Group: Buyer – Vendor Friendly Forum

August 14, 2017

By Kristen Daniels

I like to think of a successful sales transaction as a win, win, win, win situation. The first winner is the producer, the second is the wholesaler (who is sometimes also the producer), the third is the retail store, and the final winner is the store visitor, who purchases the product.  When everybody wins, everybody’s happy!

Because of our commitment to museum visitors and each other, MSA vendor and buyer members are in a unique position to help one another rack up wins.  Even though working well together takes time, effort, and communication, I was pleased by the willingness of so many members of this community to send in their questions, comments and advice when David Graveen (Popcorn Custom Products) and I asked for suggested topics we could cover in our MSA conference session in Pittsburgh on buyers and vendors working well together. It is clear that we all want to talk to each other and find ways to work together in a way that will help the wins become easier and more plentiful.

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Time to Connect!

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.

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