MSA FORWARD – Reflections of a First-Timer
By Lindsey Dabek, Manager of Retail Operations, Seattle Art Museum – SAM Shop & Gallery in Seattle, Washington
When I heard that MSA FORWARD was virtual this year, I was immediately intrigued and excited because, in all my years at Seattle Art Museum, I had never been able to attend! It seems we retailers are always putting out fires, dealing with staffing shortfalls or losses, or handling whatever strange wave comes next -- making it hard to get away to focus and participate in classes, events, or discussion groups. When you get those moments, those validating moments when you can step back and say, “how far we have come -- where do we go next?” -- it can make all the difference in how you approach problems and situations. For me, MSA FORWARD was a chance to reset my focus and say, “what’s next?”
Of course, with COVID we all had to strategize, get creative with how we were reaching people, and decide what would be the things that would propel us out of the disastrous losses of the Fiscal Year. For some, it meant a new skill set, for others a time of preparing and organizing… for some, a flood of “this is all now your job” and, for all of us, the dread of “dying brick-and-mortar retail” looming. Working on budgets was not only disheartening but frustrating, each month bringing new unknowns and adjustments. In the midst of stumbling and adapting to the weekly changing of rules and regulations came Virtual MSA FORWARD, something to look forward to with the idea of examining the market and discussing current situations with peers.
For me, it was great. I woke up at 6 AM and got my coffee and pastry at home, took some classes, shopped the Marketplace a bit, enjoyed seeing what MSA was able to create (all things considered), and learned a lot about what our fellow Museum Stores around the country had done/were doing. Through both days I had to be on-site some, so it was something to look forward to when I got to escape to Virtual MSA. Hearing people discuss what was happening with their inventories, what people expect vs. what we can do, how to make a better online user experience… all of that helped me breathe for a second and realize it wasn’t just me who wanted or needed to hear this. It wasn’t just my store swimming in old inventory, rebuilding my staff team, juggling 5 different jobs in a way that made that feat feel invisible. Not only was it not “just me” but I was able to connect with colleagues all around the country to hear their stories, stresses, and struggles. Knowing others struggled with Marketing support, or hiring and retaining staff, was reassuring (although unfortunate). Being able to jump into a room with others who were a part of institutions with similar financial intake per year was incredibly valuable and I really appreciated that opportunity.
Things I loved were being able to watch classes I missed, or being able to pop up a question in chat without interrupting a speaker, knowing it would likely get answered and I would not forget my question by the end of the session. Virtually meeting other managers, retail directors, and vendors was still exciting to me even if it’s nothing like “in person”. Seeing familiar faces, hearing people speak about their programming – it all made me feel proud of my career and made each long, grueling work day feel like a part of a brighter mission.
As for what could improve, I think considering the things we are dealing with it was a huge success to get all of these people together, share information, and even help us find a few new vendors. I was so looking forward to the whole experience I may not be the best person to give feedback for improvement because I see it as something of a victory to make cross-country connections and visibility where none would have existed prior due to COVID cancelling everything. So, in that respect, I respect very much what MSA wanted to do and did. Marketplace was actually pretty fun, although nothing beats the real thing! And I probably looked at too many chocolate vendors knowing well I wasn’t in the market for chocolate…
All in all, I am grateful for the opportunity to have attended MSA FORWARD and, if it hadn’t been virtual, I may not have had that chance. For smaller stores with no travel budget or for those of us with too many balls in the air to get away, it was a nice option and it made me excited for the possibility of actually going next year. Here’s to MSA for trying something new – thank you to all the MSA Board and MSA organizers, all the vendors and presenters – it was so much effort to make this happen! And here’s to moving forward, celebrating every little victory that we’re still here!
Lindsey Dabek is the Manager of Retail Operations for the Seattle Art Museum – SAM Shop & Gallery in Seattle, Washington. In her nearly 20 years at SAM and long career in retail, she has helped design stores, manage retail renovation projects, clear numerous pallets of old inventory that were turned into “free with purchase” promos, built and maintained an online shop, covered lunches and other duties as assigned. Her passions outside of retail include her work with Radio Enthusiasts of Puget Sound, Midnight Mystery Theater, and making music with her band, Onda Verde.