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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.

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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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How Effective Is Your Store’s Customer Service?

May 8, 2017

At MSA Forward 2017, we were surrounded by colleagues and connections so willing to offer insight, guidance and open minds. Some of those individuals sat next to us during the educational sessions and some led the discussion from the podium.

To close out MSA’s 62nd annual Retail Conference & Expo, we welcomed Louis Roden, founder and lead facilitator of Inspire Consulting Group, to the stage during the Closing Keynote Session, sponsored by Popcorn Custom Products. His presentation, “Creating Customer Loyalty for Life!” resonated immediately with MSA Forward 2017 attendees, who walked out of the ballroom buzzing with excitement and inspiration, and striking up conversations with fellow attendees to discuss immediate actions they could implement upon their return to their institutions.

In case you were unable to join us in Pittsburgh, had to catch an early flight or would simply like a refresher on the great material Roden shared, here’s a snapshot of his dynamic insight.

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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!

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Visitor Service Standards: Go for 100 Percent

October 31, 2016

By Kate Neumiller Schureman

It doesn’t take much time on TripAdvisor to find the following review, “Great museum, horrible customer service!” I would guess that many of you might be thinking to yourself, “I am sure that is not part of a review for my museum,” or maybe, “That’s not about our museum store.” Well, you are not alone. More than 80 percent of American businesses, including museum stores, think they provide “superior customer service.”

If that is truly the case, then how do we explain the $41 billion per year that American businesses lose due to poor customer service?

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Seeking Your Unique Content for MSA Blogs!

August 29, 2016

MSA is seeking content for our weekly blog, and we hope you are interested in sharing your skills and experiences with the MSA community. MSA knows that our members and friends have interesting, personal, and relevant material that our community would find useful. Our most recent blog posts, by MSA members Barbara Lenhardt, Julie Steiner, David Duddy, Blue Anderson, Chris Michel, Stacey Stachow and Pam Edwards, proved us right. We also revamped the MSA blog to include a photo of the MSA blogger’s business and an image of the author to personalize the post.

We are eager to see more blog posts from respected museum store industry leaders – store operators, vendors and business partners – such as you.
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Five Steps for Contented Content

June 6, 2016

As you have been expanding your marketing to increase your presence online, you may have added a blog to your website. Of course now that you have your blog, you’re probably struggling to maintain a high level of high-interest content. For everyone who’s ever been faced with producing a regular blog, content is probably one of your biggest challenges (along with just maintaining a regular schedule). Read more

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Managing Your Customer’s Experience

May 16, 2016

If you Google “customer experience” you’ll be surprised by the number of hits you get labeled customer experience management.  Who knew your customer’s experience needed to be managed?

It wasn’t that long ago that you simply put merchandise on the counter, turned on the lights, opened the doors and… voilà, instant customer experience.  Oh sure, somebody would throw in some clever visual merchandising to spice things up, but in the end the customer’s experience was pretty much unmanaged. Read more