Insights on a New Museum Store as Part of a Major Museum Expansion

August 22, 2016

Is your institution considering a new store or store re-model? There are countless decisions that go into executing the design of a new museum store. Whether managing critical conversations with administrators and architects, or grasping the key issues and facts to consider when assessing a significant change in a store’s design and layout, careful planning is your key to success.

It has been almost a year since we completed a 50,000 foot new wing at the Columbus Museum of Art which includes our new 2,000 sq. ft. Museum Store. Below is a briefing on our process and some of the early results.

Old Store
The Columbus Museum of Art Store had last been updated 1991 with some new fixtures. The fixtures gave the space a contemporary look, but were not very efficient. On the positive side, the 900 square foot store was located near the main entrance, but the overall impression was dark and confined. A few small, high windows allowed for very little natural light. A relatively narrow entrance and a low ceiling covered in grey carpet completed the early cave motif. Shortly after I arrived as Museum Store manager in 1997, the Museum started to explore the possibilities of a major addition/expansion. These discussions continued until 2005 when we actually began a major capital campaign. As we knew that the store would be a part of the new addition there was no incentive to upgrade or even maintain the existing store. It continued to decline in appearance.

Our merchandise categories in the original store were and remain:
Home décor/tabletop
Kids’ stuff

Sales were $422,000 annually with revenue per sq. ft. of $494.72. Average transactions were $30.81 and revenue per visitor was $3.52.

The main challenges of the original store were
1. too dark, too small and tight spaces
2. old fixtures and worn out furnishings and carpet
3. lack of visibility even though adjacent to the main entrance

New Store Project Scope
Our new wing of 50,000 sq. ft. includes the new store of 2,000 sq. ft. The store has an open floor plan surrounded by floor to ceiling windows on 3 sides. It is located to the left as visitors enter the Museum and directly across from a beautiful new café. We also gained dedicated storage space of 500 sq. ft. Storage is in the basement but still a luxury! The cost per sq. ft. for building our new store was $304 including all finishes and fixtures.

The planning for the new store began in 2010 when we decided to engage Andrew Andoniadis to guide us through his “Museum Store Review Program”. Doing this in depth – soul searching, before we started to work with the project architects was instrumental in achieving the results that we wanted. The document that we created and having Andrew as our expert of record established our professionalism while working with the architects. Our architects were local (just 4 blocks away!) which also made it easy to communicate and stay in touch throughout the process. I was able to call the design architect and the project manager directly with questions and concerns. Andrew also acted as our advocate throughout the design and construction of the new store. On the few issues of concern that I had, lighting in jewelry cases, book shelf design and backlit display cases, Andrew was able to step-in and back me up with the architects.

New Store Experience
The ten years of dreaming, planning and building were well worth the wait! The addition has been enthusiastically embraced by the city, our members and first time visitors. The most common statement from our long-time members and supporters when entering the Museum Store is that they feel like they are someplace else – someplace better than Columbus. The new atmosphere is so pleasant that they want stay and hang out – and we encourage that with comfortable seating for folks to sit and browse through a book.

Sales results have been excellent. Here is a sample of the first several months.
(Since I still don’t have a full year of results in the new store I have included a snapshot of fourth quarter results)

Gross sales 10/22/2014 – 12/27/2014 – $53,928
Gross sales 10/22/2015 – 12/27/2015 – $182,362
338% increase in same date sales over previous year

Number of transactions comparison for same period
2014 – 1,879 transactions
2015 – 4,691 transactions
250% increase in number of transactions

Average transaction
2014 – $33.20
2015 – $41.60
November 2014 – $17,608
November 2015 – $64,542

Of course, this was with maximum traffic just after the opening and includes holiday sales. We have slowed down a bit but overall the trends are maintaining.

We have managed to do all of this with basically the same amount of staff that we used in our old store: a full time Director of Retail, Store Manager, and Sales Associate, and a part time Sales Associate. This is supplemented with occasional volunteers in the store from our Women’s Board. We try to schedule them on our busiest days from 11 am to 2 pm. This helps with covering lunches and housekeeping, dusting, straightening, and customer engagement – plus they are good shoppers!

During the planning process for the new store I created a new mission statement for the Museum Store. It was helpful when engaging with our Board, the architects and other professionals as I explained our goals and vision. I recommend doing this sooner rather than later when you start to develop your new store.

CMA Museum Store
Creative Goods + Good Design
The Museum Store at CMA offers products carefully chosen to capture the essence of creativity and excellent design. Our goal is to enhance your museum visit by providing an exciting shopping experience that reflects the dynamics of the collection, exhibitions and programs presented. Our wide range of objects are handmade locally or well made from around the world to inspire, engage and delight. We are the shopping destination for all life’s special occasions – fun and functional gifts, jewelry and personal accessories, toys designed for imaginative play and a diverse mix of books on art and design.
Parking and gift wrap are always free.
Creative goods + good design all wrapped up!
All proceeds from the Museum Store support the exhibitions and programs of CMA.

At the Columbus Museum of Art there is a willingness to try new things. We encourage curiosity about art, conversations about creativity, and connections with cultures. A community hub where ideas can be exchanged and different voices heard, the Museum nurtures creativity through building relationships with diverse partners and designing engaging experiences. Through careful planning the new CMA Museum Store is now a vital part of that creative community hub.

That’s our story – please feel free to contact me directly if you want to discuss specifics or just need a friendly ear as you go through a similar project!


Pam Edwards, Director of Retail Operations, Columbus Museum of Art
Pam.edwards@cmaohio.org or 614-629-0312

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