Merchandise Themes for a Focused Museum Store

August 1, 2016

Museum Stores in the 21st Century reflect their times as assertively as they do their disciplines.   The dynamic ways your store can propel your institution’s energy and heritage in the marketplace will be evident in a finely focused merchandise assortment.  Supported by key factors including customer service, ambiance, merchandising and signage, your carefully curated merchandise selection contributes to making your store a unique, valued, and essential destination for partisans of your institution and beyond. An excellent way to focus your product assortment is to develop clear merchandise themes.

The New-York Historical Society museum store is in the process of a renovation. When complete we will have a brand new store – terrific! – with less square footage – not so terrific! How do I not over buy? In planning for the new museum store, it became quickly clear to me that I would need to take a fresh look at my merchandise themes, revise them, and then apply them with vigor to my merchandise selection and any product development for the new store. In order to do this I went back to the beginning. What is our goal? Who is our customer? What product categories and price points will this re-imagined store offer?

The goal of the New-York Historical Society Museum Store is to be a destination shop for history lovers. When anyone thinks about giving a gift to someone who loves history, they should think of the N-YHS store. Our purpose is to inspire, educate and delight our visitors with carefully edited often exclusive products with compelling American History stories, and to extend the scholarly mission of the New-York Historical Society.

1. History Lover
2. Museum Exhibition Visitor
3. New Yorker
4. Families with young children
5. Tourist

Rich, vivid stories of American History should be brought to life through the merchandise offered at the N-YHS Store. Exceptional history and exhibition-related products will be distributed among key price points: $20-$50; $50-$100; $101-$200; $201-$500; $501-$1000; $1001+, with special consideration given to raising the quality of the merchandise and the dollar amount of the average sale. Categories will include tabletop, textiles, fine art prints, books, stationery, toys and games, jewelry, apparel and accessories. Products will be selected for aesthetics and/or utility in service to history themes.

The rich, vivid stories of people, places and events in American History brought to life in merchandise is a great line, but if realized in merchandise it could easily fill up a store the size of Target. American History is an enormous subject, how might I narrow it down? Here is what I came up with using merchandise themes.


1. New York Historical: beautiful views, maps, and documents of historic New York places and events.

2. History Makers: focus on the person – choose one female and one male “History Maker” each year and source or develop a small assortment of merchandise for each that illustrates their remarkable contribution to American history. Our first History Makers are Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

3. Women’s History: special attention to be given to highlighting women in American history, and the museum’s new Center for the Study of Women’s History.

4. Tiffany: a rich and classic assortment of custom products inspired by the museum’s collection of Louis C. Tiffany lamps, soon to be celebrated in a new Tiffany Gallery, a stunning immersive permanent display space for New-York Historical Society’s exceptional collection.

5. Audubon: continue successful Audubon custom merchandise development with special attention given to affluent customers interested in fine art prints.

6. Special Exhibition Merchandise: as exhibitions remain the single biggest driving force behind museum store sales, continue successful exhibition product sourcing and development efforts focusing on select works that highlight and illuminate the history, art, events and people explored in each major exhibition.

These merchandise themes should help me and my staff stay focused. But I do not doubt that sticking to those themes will be the tricky part – the lure of numerous gift shows filled with beautiful non-relevant merchandise that I just KNOW will sell. So I devised a simple test for all proposed purchases:

Does this item offer a meaningful connection to American History?

As buyers, we all are faced with a limited amount of space to tell our institution’s unique story in our merchandise offerings. What tools do you use to keep your museum store focused? As vendors, how do you keep your product line focused?

What are your merchandise themes?

Ione Saroyan, Director of Merchandise Operations, New-York Historical Society Museum & Library

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