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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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Taking it to the Cloud

July 31, 2017

By Bradley Platz

Attending the 2017 MSA conference in Pittsburgh was a genuinely rewarding experience for me. I found it so valuable to connect with other retailers, and to share strategies, while making important professional connections. Being recognized by MSA for Best Store Web Presence this year is an incredible honor and I wanted to share some insights from my experience with other members.

I love eCommerce. Learning how to effectively sell online has opened so many doors for me both in the museum community, as an artist, and as an independent business owner in San Francisco. In addition to my work at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, my wife and I run a commercial art gallery in the the city. We have been selling original artwork online since we opened our doors in 2010. The explosive growth of eCommerce in the last decade has led to all types of businesses re-evaluating their online strategies, and commercial art galleries, like Museum Stores, have had to adapt in order to survive. Selling art online is a lot like selling anything online. I believe quality pictures and good design speak more than words, and interesting and engaging content will always drive sales. My goal is to make buying art online easy, fun, and to create a personalized experience that keeps customers coming back for more.

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Ants and Elephants

Photo credit: Exit Through The Gift Shop: A Banksy Film

July 17, 2017

By Blue Anderson

When I was in “regular” retail, I had a boss who liked to divide problems into two groups: ant issues, which are those annoying little everyday things, and elephants – big, thunderous issues that can cause havoc if left to run amok. He said he only wanted to be given elephants, and the managers were there to handle the ants. I remember asking him – what do you do when there are so many ants that they become elephants? He said that was impossible, as they were two different creatures.

As leaders in our institutions, it is natural that we want to be given the elephants, especially the well-trained beasts that challenge our creative side. Those big projects that can be sexy, daring, even exhausting, but we love to birth those babies and watch them grow.

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Facing the Strange

June 19, 2017

By Katie Burke

Pomegranate will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. This is a little bit mind-blowing, even for those of us who have been in it for the long haul. On reflection, I’ve been pondering this question: how do we all maintain energy for our jobs without burning out or feeling like we’re continually pushing a Jeff Koons sculpture up a never-ending hill, a la Sisyphus and his rock? Even ardent passion for our profession can wear down against political, social, and economic issues, from within our own institutions to our local communities to the world at large.

The word that comes to mind is adaptability. Sticking to the tried and true can work beautifully—don’t fix it if it ain’t broke—but it can also become a rut. Change—in procedures, in vehicles of communication, in presentation, in content—can keep us engaged and nimble.

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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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Rewarding (and Awarding) the Spirit of MSA

May 1, 2017

Last week, hundreds of MSA members—museum store professionals and vendors alike—had the opportunity to come together to learn, buy, sell, network and explore at MSA Forward 2017, the 62nd annual Retail Conference & Expo.

We were able to catch up with old friends, grab lunch with new connections and discover products that are destined to be top-sellers in our stores. (Many of us even went for a River Cruise or took home a gift or two for ourselves from the Silent Auction.)

The MSA community is a vibrant one—an endless well of ideas and source of support. Chief among the words used to describe MSA members are “creative” and “passionate.”

At MSA Forward 2017, we were able to recognize several of the leaders within the community for that very creativity, passion, hard work and dedication that makes the MSA community so special.

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Building a Retail Team of Complementary Thinkers

January 23, 2017

By Susan DeLand

The customer’s experience is paramount in museum retail, which means putting together a team of employees that can ensure a positive outcome. There are many aspects to consider when forming a team—and one of them is the individual’s style of thinking.

So, how should strategic thinking play into your museum store’s team?

The strategic thinking mindset is a way of looking at your business for the long term. It’s getting your brain out of the weeds. Moving your business forward is both analytical and creative, and involves systems thinking, focusing on the big picture and identifying leverage.

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2017 Planning: How to Prepare for the Unexpected

December 19, 2016

By Cathy Nagle-Ervin

This time of year always brings about reflections on the year that is just about to come to an end. (As I am writing this blog post, I actually am humming “Auld Lang Syne” in the back of my head!) Our company’s fiscal year has come to a close, inventory counts have been finalized and all the performance reviews have been completed. It seems like the perfect time to review 2016.

If you asked me in February my plan for 2016, I can tell you that my answer then was quite different than my answer was in August. My plan has taken many unexpected turns in the road this year—a few anticipated, but the majority not.

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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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