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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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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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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.

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The Four Rs of Retailing (Yes, Four!)

December 12, 2016

By Susan Tudor

Every time we go to the grocery store or a restaurant or shop online, we are making financial and strategic decisions regarding our personal lives: Is this item really what I was looking for? Is this the right time to make this purchase or should I wait? Can I afford this? Is it the right price, or can I find this same item somewhere else for less?

These buying decisions in our personal lives are similar to the financial and strategic decisions we make as retail merchants in our institutions.

I have heard it said that the key to retail success comes down to three Rs: carrying the right merchandise at the right time and at the right price. This statement is simple but challenging. It is intuitive yet calculated. And it can serve as a great reminder of how simple strategy can help make or break our stores’ bottom lines.

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How National Customer Service Week Can Benefit Your Museum Store

November 7, 2016

By Bill Gessert

In 1984, the International Customer Service Association (ICSA) spearheaded the first National Customer Service Week (NCSW). Since then, during the first full week in October, businesses and organizations nationally and internationally use this week as an opportunity to do something special for their customer service staffs. (Think celebrations with fun and games, food and beverages, and employee recognition.)

But is fun and games what the founders of NCSW had in mind back in 1984? No, not really. The true spirit of the week goes beyond fun activities. Its real meaning is a much deeper, more important philosophy that can change the level of service in your museum store.

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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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Building and Defining a Retail Culture

July 25, 2016

Culture is intangible. It’s hard to define, it’s difficult to understand, and yet it shapes behavior and structure of an organization. The word “culture” comes from the Latin word “colere” which means to tend to the earth and grow, or cultivate and nurture. Everyone belongs to multiple cultures. You have a work culture, a culture you grew up in, a culture with friends, and with volunteer organizations. But have you ever thought about defining one for your retail operation? And why do you want to do such a thing? Because culture shapes behavior and because that behavior can be changed.
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Embracing the Ordinary

July 18, 2016

In a recent interview for a possible article for the Museum Store Magazine, I was asked about the importance of providing an excellent customer experience during the holiday season.  Yawn.  Was I about to write another blur of words regurgitated by almost every retail store about how they give “outstanding customer service” by offering up what almost every other retail store does?  When “everyone” is doing it, it makes it rather ordinary, I thought.
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Invent An Event!

July 11, 2016

In these days of a million competing offers from stores and the web, it is vital to create some “buzz” around your business – and one enticing and direct way to do that is by crafting events that (1) target your customer, (2) dovetail with your institution’s vision, (3) “raise the profile” of your store – and (4) add to that all-important revenue stream.
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Museum Store Memories and Mementos

June 27, 2016

My staff regularly discusses the mission of our museum store, and the way our products create a lifelong link to the visitor’s experience in our museums, and their memories of that day. We find, sometimes to our own wonder, that many of those experiences hold deep meaning and significance decades after a museum visit, and it’s fun to revisit those memories again as professionals in the industry.
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