From Icon to Impact: Merchandise Sends a Message

June 12, 2017

By Maria Kwong

Being recognized by MSA for product development this year is indeed a great honor and I wanted to share our process with other members hoping to achieve future recognition. MSA not only provided me with access to tools and vendors that fit my very modest product development budget, it provided me with an environment where I could learn from my peers.

Being the director of a museum store with our particular mission statement–to promote understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience—has always made product development…well, challenging. Contrary to what many vendors and buyers imagine, Japanese products are not what makes up our store. We are a museum that explores the Japanese American culture, history and community; past, present and future. In fact, during the early days of the museum store, the rule was not to buy any products that were perceived as “too Japanese”. This rule served two purposes: first, it put the emphasis on the hybrid culture of Japanese Americans; and secondly, since the museum was conceived as a community-supported organization in a historically ethnic area of Los Angeles, the museum did not want to appear to be an economic threat or competitor to the merchants and businesses in Little Tokyo.

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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.

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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!).

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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.

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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 to Put Yourself in Your Customer’s Shoes

December 5, 2016

By Dan Ayers-Price

Shopability—I don’t even think it is a real word. Webster’s doesn’t know what to make of it. But, I dare say that we, as MSA retailers, fully understand what shopability is and the importance it plays in our lives (even if it is a made-up word).

The term “shopability” has been around a long time, and numerous articles have tried to define it. One of the best was authored by Dr. Raymond Burke, where he defined 10 principles of retail shopability. His top four priorities—showing the product, providing visual aids, simplifying presentation and minimizing clutter—all resonated with me for my own stores.

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Lessons Learned from a Museum Shop Refitting

November 28, 2016

By Paul Griffiths

Those of you who were at the MSA 2015 conference in Hartford, CT, and were lovely enough to attend my session, entitled, “A Museum Shop Fit for a King,” may remember me discussing various issues we had with our new shop at the Mary Rose Museum in England. Well, I am delighted to say, in 2016, we have managed to redo, remodel and resolve many of these issues.

For those of you who weren’t there, let’s recap.

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The "Curator's Den," a store inspired by old maps, in the Columbia River Maritime Museum.

Wanting What You Get: Merchandise for Challenging Exhibits

October 24, 2016

By Blue Anderson

An operations manager once asked me if I always got what I wanted. The perception was that the “front end” always got what we wanted in regards to exhibits, special events and floor space. She didn’t sound angry or confrontational, but rather matter-of-fact.

I paused before I answered, thinking of a true response, and said, “I want what I get”.

Sometimes, we are given circumstances that are less than appealing or down-right unpalatable to a museum store manager. The art of wanting what you get is more than just adding sugar and ice to lemons and opening a lemonade stand. It’s embracing your challenge and asking yourself, “How can I make this the very best experience for our visitors?”

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The book section of the de Young Museum, a fine arts museum in San Francisco

Why Books Belong in Museum Stores

October 17, 2016

By Stuart Hata

Why do books belong in Museum Stores? In an environment where every single sliver of profit margin and sales is vitally important to our businesses and museums, should books be given their fair space and representation in our stores? The answer is a resounding “yes!”

First, full disclosure – I owe my career to bookstores. Prior to my museum career, my first jobs were in the book selling industry. After a simple start as a sales clerk in a local bookstore chain during high school, I “graduated” to a book buyer for a national chain and mail-order business, and eventually became responsible for a multi-million dollar book business. And then, I stumbled onto the museum store profession.

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Fair Trade – A Way of Life


September 26, 2016

Many museum stores offer a selection of Fair Trade products and proudly display the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) logo to communicate that the products are fairly traded. There is a ‘feel good’ factor associated with these items resulting in increased sales due to ‘emotional’ purchases – a direct response to the connection made between Fair Trade and quality merchandise. However, do you or your customers really know what it means for a company to be committed to Fair Trade practices? Knowledge of this commitment can do a world of good and at the same time, further increase your store sales.
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