MSA FORWARD 2018: Creating a Strategic Plan for Your Museum Store

March 12, 2018

By Colleen Higginbotham

As I prepare for my presentation for MSA Forward 2018 (Creating a Strategic Plan for your Museum Store), I’m reminded of why we created a strategic plan in the first place. Each year, we would return from the MSA conference invigorated and full of ideas. We were buzzing and eagerly prepared to dream big and steal from the best. Unfortunately, when we would return, we were hit with reality — which for me means a very full inbox and a meeting schedule that seems to rival my doctor’s office at times.

It felt like we were full of ideas, but never took the time to prioritize them or make a plan. We would execute new initiatives each year, but again, were they the ones we liked the best? At the same time, I felt like I needed to present something to our Director, my boss, that showed the role of the shop within the organization and our overall goals in what we purchase. We created a one page information sheet a few years ago that talked about the role of the shop in the visitor experience and the types of objects we sell (souvenirs of your visit, a new work of hand-crafted art, items that inspire creativity, etc.), but it felt like we needed more.

When we set out to create our store plan, our first step was to look to our Museum’s strategic plan. Understanding the priorities of the larger institution can be really helpful in the process. For example, if the museum plans to focus on a particular collection area, that could be a priority for custom product. If there are larger goals to be more green, the shop could evaluate packaging options or feature artists who create work out of recycled materials. This step positions the store as a part of the organization, rather than a separate entity. It can also help with inter-departmental communication and strengthen relationships with colleagues. If you care about their priorities, they are much more likely to care about yours.

For our next step, we looked at many content areas and went through the same process with each area. First we brainstormed with no limits. Every crazy idea was worthwhile. That was actually a lot of fun. Within a few minutes, we fell into some more realistic ideas. I think starting with the really wild ideas forces you out of your routine and allows you to get really creative.

For example, one of our topics was the physical shop. While it would be fantastic, we decided it was unlikely that the museum would be funding a two story expansion to allow for a larger shop with all new white fixtures and elaborate lighting. However, in the next few years some of our goals will be to paint, work on improving our apparel display, and create a “Collector’s Corner” for high end merchandise. We will likely have to work with many of our existing fixtures, so we turned to Pinterest to make a coordinated color scheme that looks a little more modern.

Some of the other topics we included in our plan were product development, staff training, shop events such as trunk shows, our merchandise displays in other buildings like our historic houses and glass studio, store metrics, online sales, and the infamous “other.”

In the session at MSA Forward, I want to share our process, some of the discoveries we made, and a little bit of what happens next. I hope to see you there!colleen-higginbothem-headshot

Colleen Higginbotham is the Director of Visitor Services at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, VA. With over twenty years of customer service management experience, she manages the visitor experience through supervision and training of front line staff, ongoing analysis of visitor research, oversight of Museum Shop, catering contract, Special Events department, and coordination of visitor logistics including seating, signage and traffic flow. She also serves on the Museum’s senior leadership team. In 2007, she implemented the Museum’s Gallery Host program which provides visitors with a warm welcome and places customer service staff in the galleries to assure the safety of the collection, answer questions and engage visitors in casual conversations about art.

Image Courtesy of VisitPittsburgh

Preparing for Pittsburgh: What to Know Before You Go

April 17, 2017

By Allison Ebner

MSA Forward 2017 is just 4 days away! It’s high time to start packing your bags, taking stock of what you’ll be looking for on the Expo floor and planning out your schedule for the entire Conference & Expo. (Make sure to leave some time to explore our host city of Pittsburgh, too—it recently was highlighted in The New York Times as a city now thriving on culture.)

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A Museum Store World

April 10, 2017

By Stuart Hata

Can you imagine a world filled with gorgeous, unique and educational museum stores that are wildly successful, beloved and valued by our institutions and general public alike? A world where customers and fans flock to nonprofit retail enterprises, knowing that their patronage will support and ensure the world’s cultural patrimony for future generations?

Well, that vision is real and it exists in this very day and age – except, only all of us truly know that. How then, can we, as one of the world’s professional bodies of nonprofit retail experts, share and communicate to the planet the value and importance of our work, our institutions, and the unique products and experiences customers will encounter when they shop and support our museum stores?

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The Success of Power: A Case Study on a Successful Exhibition

March 27, 2017

By Michael Silverman

What does success look like for your museum? Is it setting and attaining a sales goal, increasing store traffic, selling out inventory, all of the above?

At the Oakland Museum of California, it looks like our fall exhibition, “All Power to the People: The Black Panthers at 50.”

The Black Panther Party was formed in Oakland in 1966 by Bobby Seale, who immediately recruited the charismatic, yet highly confrontational Huey Newton. Most often recognized by their black leather jackets and signature berets, the Panthers fought to put a voice to the struggle against oppression for all people, particularly afflicting people of color in inner city ghettos.

The institutional priorities for the Oakland Museum of California are to strike a balance between financial sustainability and social impact, and on all fronts the exhibition delivered. By the time the exhibition came to a close, the museum experienced record-setting attendance and unprecedented media coverage, and, in the store, single-day sales records were shattered on multiple occasions.

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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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Advocacy Begins at Home: Why I Go to the MSA Conference & Expo

February 13, 2017

By Julie Steiner

Recently I’ve observed how many of the various fields represented within our museums, apart from museum stores, are represented by their own professional associations.

  • Our directors belong to various museum directors’ organizations, like the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) and others.
  • Our HR staffs belong to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), and share professional tools, participate in advocacy and attend an annual conference.
  • Our finance departments often are headed by professionals who belong to regional accrediting and accounting organizations for nonprofits.
  • Our development staffs, curators, educational staffs, marketing departments and even our libraries all have professional associations—Art Museum Development Association (AMDA), Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC), National Art Education Association (NAEA), Public Relations and Marketing Network (PRAM) and Art Libraries Society (ARLIS), respectively—for those professionals who fill various roles in our museums.

Why does this matter?

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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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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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You think you’re planning for the future – BUT…

Sept. 12, 2016

I oversaw deCordova’s museum store for many, many years – and then, a few years ago, I took over as the new Deputy Director for Operations. The Store (and other revenue and operational departments) are under my supervision – and I am incredibly fortunate to have very talented professionals at the helm of each division.

And then of course – change happens….

Many of us see our lives through the lens of work – but life itself contains so many uncontrollable elements that we cannot anticipate. I had a very stable staff in place for some time, and then I was faced with some large-ish gaps and shifting responsibilities. People move on, retire, move away…and the best and safest option is to plan for change. But do we??

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6.5.16 Tiger Blog Image

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