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MSA FORWARD 2018 – So much to learn!

May 21, 2018

By Barbara Liesenbein

This year I had the pleasure of attending my first MSA conference, and, as a relative newcomer to retail, the conference didn’t just meet my expectations — but far exceeded them!  I attended MSA Boot Camp —  where I learned not only many of the important metrics related to retail, but useful advice on store layout, negotiating with consignors, offering superior customer service,  using signage as a selling tool, and creating compelling displays. As a result of this information-packed program offered by MSA at the Conference in Washington, I was able to bring back ideas that we are likely to implement in the near future. We especially liked the idea of displaying our top ten best-sellers, or staff favorites throughout the store with descriptive information encased in frames. It is such a quick, easy, and effective way to point out our most popular items. The Ritz-Carlton session inspired me not only to think of simple ways to improve customer service in general, but to implement small ways of providing exceptional service to individual patrons. Their focus on the quality of the customer’s experience can be brought to all levels of service for our institutions – and their training was truly inspiring.

All of the sessions were highly informative, and there was ample opportunity for networking with colleagues, which was especially important to me as a newcomer. Business meetings, cocktail hours, the gala party with the Silent Auction – so many new people to meet and talk to! I was warmly welcomed by the North Atlantic chapter and was quite impressed with the rapport its members had established with each other. Their enthusiasm for their work and for MSA was contagious!

Another thing that impressed me was the vendor-buyer forum, in which vendors work together with buyers to improve the process for both. I had not expected this level of cooperation and was very pleasantly surprised that the relationship really aims to balance both parties’ needs.

The depth of vendors was impressive–there seemed to be something to appeal to every type of museum and the vendors were quite helpful. The quantity of vendors was just right—not so overwhelming!

I am still processing everything that I learned at the conference and suspect that I will be doing so for quite some time. As a part-time newbie to the world of museum retail, I am grateful that my institution had the confidence in me and foresight to make the investment to send me to this conference. I would barbara-l-photo-resizedencourage others to consider sending your part-timers as well. Your investment may reap multiple rewards.

Retired after a thirty- year career in academic librarianship, Barbara moved to New Hampshire where she became a docent for the Zimmerman House, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home owned by the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester.

Looking for a change of pace, she was hired as a part-time clerk in the museum shop, where she enjoys uniting customers with the perfect selection and interacting with people from around the world. She also serves as a part-time security officer at the museum, and recently became a museum docent as well.

 

 

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Shop – Don’t DROP!

March 26, 2018

By Alice McAuliffe

Shop the MSA Expo!

Having been a Museum Store buyer for a number of years, I can tell you that the MSA Expo is the greatest place to find quality merchandise for your store. This year will be better than ever as the format has been changed to facilitate shopping- the Expo is located within the hotel! In addition, the MSA app will provide new and improved vendor information- not just for the conference- but year round! I’m getting ahead of myself though…Let’s start from the beginning…!

Before the Conference

Be prepared! The most important thing you can do before any trade show is to be ready:

-Run reports from your POS system to study before the conference. What has done well? What has not? Based on your reports, what display areas need to be increased, modified, or decreased? What special exhibits or events do you need to plan for?  Are there custom products you need to create? Do you need seasonal items, display window merchandise, web-store items? What trends from regular retail should you consider? Have you talked to your staff (and customers when possible..) for their ideas and input?

-Based on your reports, decide what you want to spend at the MSA Expo. Use your open-to buy plan, as it is important not to overbuy. (In its most basic form, it simply means you cannot buy unless something else has sold.)  Be sure to save some money for new merchandise….

–Next, study the MSA Expo floor plan and list of vendors on your MSA App…it is a great tool for MSA FORWARD 2018. The App is available for download in both the Apple and Google Stores. If you haven’t already, please download it. As there are no concurrent sessions on Saturday or Sunday, there will be plenty of time to meet with your regular vendors, explore new ones, network with other buyers, and take advantage of some great specials and sponsorships. Over the years, our MSA vendors have been very generous  — so look for free freight, quantity discounts, goody bags and much, much more!  Unlike other trade shows, the layout and timing of the MSA Expo provides more one-on-one time to discuss your merchandise planning and in-depth custom product development. Take advantage of this as it will save you time back in the office. This year you can choose from over 170 vendors (including 12 vendors from Ireland) for museum- related goodies!

-Finally, do you need to make any appointments prior to the Expo?  A good time to do this is before you even leave for the Conference. Always pack plenty of business cards, your POS reports, your notes, artwork for custom products, (and, most of all, comfortable shoes!). I also take a prepared sheet with the Walters shipping address, credit references, and all of my contact info to simply hand to the vendor. This way they have complete and current info to process my order.

At the Show!  Meeting with Vendors

Once you arrive on the Expo floor  — stay focused.  You may want to see your biggest vendor first or one you have an appointment with or the one who has a certain new custom product you’d like to try. Make a plan and stick with it.

-With each vendor, ask questions and take good notes. What is the merchandise made of?  What is their minimum order? Is there a quantity or carton price for the item? Where do they ship from? How quickly can you receive the order? Can you delay the order until a date needed? Do they have any show specials? Even with “tried and true” vendors it’s important to ask what’s new, what are their hot-sellers? Have they had any price increases?  While you are discussing the merchandise with the vendor consider where you will put this merchandise in your store. What other products will it work with? What price will you retail it at?

-Use your POS generated reports to work with the vendor. This will also help you to stay focused and not overspend.  Ask the vendor to write clear descriptions if they are writing your order and/or ask for a copy if they are using a laptop or iPad.  If you would like to take a picture of the item you’ve ordered, ask the vendor first. It’s so important to establish a good relationship with each company to develop a win-win scenario. The vendors will appreciate your respect, professionalism, and organization.

-Be sure to check out their displays too. Many companies have professional designers set up their booth and it’s a great way to get ideas and learn how to display new merchandise.

New vendors:  Opportunities await

The Expo is a great time to find fresh ideas and trends. Treasure hunt!  Take time to visit every booth to see what you can discover! Finding new vendors and products keeps your museum store unique and profitable and will keep your customers coming back over and over. The Expo floor map is on your app — so it’s a great tool for helping you move around from vendor to vendor.

Back at home

Once you are back at home, review your orders and alert the vendors immediately with any additional add- ons or changes before your order is shipped.

Type your purchase orders into your POS system and alert your Receiving Department of the incoming shipments with show specials and discounts.

Read through the catalogues, notes and other information you’ve collected along with colleagues you networked with at the Conference. Update or create new files for future buying. Note any show specials that may be continuing after the MSA Conference. Don’t delete your app, as you will be able to use it after the Expo!

Over the years, I have found so much support, wisdom, and help from our MSA vendors. So many of them are truly invested in us…not just to make money and sales but because they understand our unique qualities and want us to truly succeed in each of our stores.   They have been exceedingly generous to our organization with Show Specials, Goody Bags, Chapter support and much, much more. I hope you will, in turn, support them at our 2018 MSA Expo and rely on their wisdom and great products to further your own endeavors.mcauliffe_headshot

Alice McAuliffe is the Manager of Retail Operations at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. For MSA she served two years as Treasurer on the MSA Board of Directors, is a past President of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter, and has served on numerous MSA committees.

 

 

 

 

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Visual Merchandising–The Silent Sales Team

March 5, 2018

By Michael Guajardo

Visual merchandising is the silent sales team that is always working to impact the bottom line.

Ever needed more staff? You have it— your captivating windows, enticing displays, and good signage all work to pull the customer in without saying a word. Visual merchandising is always on the clock, never takes breaks, and inspires interest when customers wave off personal attention.

After receiving the 2017 MSA Recognition Award for Visual Merchandising, specifically our Rodin exhibition shop, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Shop team was approached to write a blog about the topic. We will jump into that below. In addition, we wanted to give everyone a glimpse into how we approach our exhibition shop set-ups. Before we purchase any merchandise for an exhibition shop, we first decide on a thematic look and feel. We study what our exhibition department will be doing in the actual exhibition and strive to make a seamless flow from exhibition to exhibition shop.  For the Rodin shop, we wanted to take our customers into Rodin’s studio.  We collaborated with our woodworking shop to create an amazing large-scale window. We then worked with our graphics departmguajardo_rodin-shop-007ent to come up with a graphic that would allow our visitors to imagine that they were looking out onto the city of Paris. We adapted a color for the walls from colors used inside the exhibition for a natural flow from the end of the exhibition to the beginning of our shop. We brought in tools, aprons, and purchased fixtures that had a very urban, industrial feel. We will normally sell off our fixtures, at a markup, to reimburse ourselves for this type of expense. From the Edison type lighting we hung from the tracks to the quote on the wall, we tried to pull the entire look together so that the whole team understands the look and feel we are trying to achieve. Everything goes onto a story board for reference and to cement it into place.

Merchandising any project, like our Rodin shop, or a new table display can sometimes feel daunting. Realizing that every store and every customer base is different, we set out to create some universal tips. Since VMFA Head Buyer Raven Lynch is the bigger-than-life leader of the silent sales team, we went to him for advice. Whether creating windows or in-store displays, these tips will help you keep it simple but impactful.

Here are Raven’s tips:

  • LET GO. You can’t do everything yourself. Delegate and edit later. Use the editing process as a coaching opportunity with your team.
  • KEEP YOUR MESSAGE SIMPLE AND DIRECT. Don’t make it complicated for customers or staff. If your display is too intricate it might be difficult for staff to maintain the vision. Complicated displays might confuse your customer.
  • FOCUS ON CORE PIECES. Never frost a cake before you’ve baked it! The details and pretty items come last. Focus on the core pieces first and then layer in other items. Use a focal point and the pyramid technique for maximum interest.
  • TELL A STORY. What are you trying to sell? It should be clear to the customer.
  • KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. What will excite your customers? If you have price sensitive customers (and who doesn’t?) you might not want to create a front table (or window) with high-priced goods. The opposite is also true.
  • MAKE ITEMS ACCESSIBLE. Make customers feel comfortable touching displays and handling items. Your display might look beautiful, but a customer might not want to get near it, for fear that it might topple over. Your displays should also be ADA compliant. Make sure to leave the necessary space around displays for all customers to move with ease.
  • BE CONFIDENT, BUT OPEN TO FEEDBACK. Be open to curatorial or other stakeholders’ views, but do not diminish the retail perspective and the need to generate revenue to support mission-critical operations.
  • BE CONSISTENT. If placing signage or tags on the right on every display, be consistent. Don’t change it up as you go along.
  • USE ADD-ONS. Coordinate complementary merchandise with your statement pieces. If you are featuring mugs, integrate coasters and napkins to promote add-on sales.
  • CREATE COHESIVENESS. Make sure your statement works with displays around it. Within a single display, items should all correlate.
  • STEP AWAY, THEN EDIT. Walk away from your project for a few minutes, return with fresh eyes, and then see where you can edit. Keeping it simple, focused, and impactful is the key!headshot_guajardo_michael_2048
  • HIGHLIGHT FOR IMPACT. Lighting and signage are your other silent salespersons. Put them to work to sell your visual statements.
  • KEEP IT CLEAN. It is a great time to deep clean as you merchandise.

We would love to hear your ideas, success stories or other tips on visual merchandising. Email me @ Michael.guajardo@vmfa.museum.

Michael Guajardo is the Director of Retail Operations for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia. The VMFA Shop searches the world to provide a diverse selection of products focusing on merchandise related to the museum’s collections, special exhibitions, and features work from Virginia artists. Proceeds from the VMFA Shop support VMFA’s programs and exhibitions.

Michael and his team at the VMFA won the 2017 MSA Recognition Award for Visual Merchandising. Nominations are now being accepted for the 2018 MSA Recognition Awards!

Be recognized for all of your hard work! Submit yourself or your store to compete for one of seven MSA Recognition Awards: Vendor of the Year, Best Product Development, Best Web Store Presence, Best Visual Merchandising, Best Pop-up Store or Special Event, and two new awards – one for vendors, one for institutions- for Best Museum Store Sunday Event. Hurry! Your nominations must be submitted by Friday, March 23. Click here for more information:

 MSA Recognition Awards

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Sales Reps and the Art of Bookselling: Some Questions to Consider

October 30, 2017

By Andrew Uchin

Which books are the right ones for my store and speak to my institution’s audience and mission. How do I develop a unique retail culture that makes my store different from other local or online booksellers? What are the sales trends at other similar businesses in my region? What type of books are selling and at what price points?

The answers to these questions and many other critical issues related to book selling can be summed up in the phrase: Contact your sales representative.

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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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Let’s Talk Product Development

August 7, 2017

By Michael Guajardo

Product development is soo easy! Right? Wrong. It is hard work! With the stakes so high, the goal is always to create a successful product. When I first got started, I had good intentions and a good amount of retail experience, but I had never created a product from start to finish. Fortunately, I’ve had my share of faux pas (doesn’t mistake sound great in French!) which have been great learning experiences. They would also make a great blog for another time (#PDfails.) So, let’s talk about product development.

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MSA Market Tips for Buyers – New and Seasoned!

July 24, 2017

By Sarah Jones

Maximize your productivity (and your Return on Investment!) when shopping a tradeshow

Tradeshows are a significant commitment of time and resources: days away from your store, staff to cover for you in your absence, and the expense of traveling. So how does a buyer ensure a productive and prosperous buying trip that guarantees returns to a non-profit’s bottom line?

Here are helpful best practices if you are new to buying or shopping a tradeshow for the first time. These tips will also be useful for experienced buyers, as reminders how to best maximize your tradeshow experience. The following detailed advice comes from longtime MSA professionals:

  • Susan Tudor, manager of visitor services and store buyer at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens in Jacksonville, FL
  • Christa Dyer, director of guest services and retail operations at The DoSeum – San Antonio’s Museum for Kids, in San Antonio, TX
  • Renata Tatman, lead buyer/product developer at the Seattle Art Museum’s SAM Shop in Seattle, WA
  • Karen McNeely, director of retail operations at the Milwaukee Art Museum in Milwaukee, WI
  • Melody Cabán-Naidoo, museum store manager/buyer at Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Ft. Worth, TX

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Creating the Consignment Connection

June 26, 2017

By Pam Pesetti

Consigning items in your Museum Store can be a wonderful way to support local talent, and a beneficial revenue booster if done with intent and honesty. The key is clear guidelines, contracts, and communication. Once your criteria are in place, you will be more confident in communicating with artists and finding items that will add to your bottom line.

Determine how much of your sales should be devoted to consignment. I revamped consignment when I started my position two years ago to create a more balanced sales floor. I let some artists go that were slow movers and brought in others who had a stronger connection to our exhibits or permanent collection. The outcome has been a more profitable store. The following are a few tips to navigate the consignment process.

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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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