Lessons Learned from a Museum Shop Refitting

November 28, 2016

By Paul Griffiths

Those of you who were at the MSA 2015 conference in Hartford, CT, and were lovely enough to attend my session, entitled, “A Museum Shop Fit for a King,” may remember me discussing various issues we had with our new shop at the Mary Rose Museum in England. Well, I am delighted to say, in 2016, we have managed to redo, remodel and resolve many of these issues.

For those of you who weren’t there, let’s recap.

The new Mary Rose Museum opened on May 31, 2013, and has since attracted more than 1.2 million visitors.

The layout of the entrance pavilion, which contains the shop, visitor entrance and café, caused some problems for both visitors and staff. The “hub” entrance counter did not work well in terms of visitor flow and welcome. While it was intended to be an entrance and information point, its height and breadth acted as more of a screen and barrier to the front-of-house team and was seen by many as unwelcoming. The size of the counter also meant that a large proportion of the available space was under-utilised.

The original design of the shop did not facilitate buoyant retail sales—with insufficient lighting, locked cabinets and merchandising displays not at appropriate levels, the design led to lower customer spends than what one would hope.

With a major refit of the museum planned from December 2015 through the winter and spring, we had an ideal opportunity to review our retail operations and come up with a strategy to move forward and improve. (The extraordinary work that took place within the galleries following the completion of the Conservation of the Ship’s hull could fill a whole blog itself, so if you are interested, please see our website,

Whilst reviewing our shop issues, we spent some time looking at other outlets in museums, visitor attractions and high street shops, and talking with their retail managers. Outlets that really succeed in drawing the Sense of Place through their retail outlets report strong SPH increases. We wanted to explore how to dress our shop to make it seem as though it was still part of the museum experience, rather than a contrast.

griffiths_refittingWe worked closely with retail design specialist CRE8 to draw up a number of plans to rejuvenate our shop, addressing some of the clear issues and also adding some extra features. Once we had completed this process, we proposed a number of changes to our board of directors:

  • Remove the large counter and replace it with a smaller entrance desk for arrival, welcome and ticketing.
  • Create a more intuitive arrival and retail-selling space.
  • Create a shop-queuing system that encourages “pick up” sales.
  • Free up space that can be used for additional selling space, shop storage or additional catering covers at busy times.
  • Create a dedicated shop window display area that can be rotated according to season.
  • Create eye-catching focal tables that tell distinct stories through their design, content and merchandising.
  • Readdress the lack of height in the shop and better utilise the perimeter of the space.
  • Bring the museum into the shop through graphic displays, replicas and decorations
  • Create a space for our charitable cause message behind the tills. (All the money that customers spend goes toward conserving the Mary Rose and her collection.)

Associated with this, we also reviewed our merchandising approach to help create an immersive shop experience that flows seamlessly from the museum experience.

In terms of product range, we now looked to focus on our three key areas, which are:

  • Items relevant to the Mary Rose story or Tudor period.
  • Quality, with “good-better-best” options.
  • Locally sourced items, championing the best products from independent suppliers in Portsmouth, Hampshire and the South Coast of England.

Lighting, as we all know, can be a key driver of retail sales and needed to be improved. So we also reviewed our ceiling lighting units and table lighting to achieve this.

Work took place in the shop over two stages, the first in January 2016 and the second in May 2016, ensuring the new shop was ready for the grand reopening of the museum in July 2016.

And I am delighted to say it was a success!

In the period between the July reopening to mid-November, retail income is up 30 percent on the same period from last year. These changes have, without doubt, drastically improved the customer retail experience.

So, to conclude, here are a few top tips from us at the Mary Rose Museum Shop:

  • paul-griffiths-in-storeAsk the experts. Get specialist retail designers to give some thoughts and advice. (If you can afford it, employ them to do the work.)
  • Make sure nothing is off limits. Review everything.
  • Go out and look at what others are doing. Don’t hesitate to “borrow” great practices.
  • Bring the museum into the shop. Create a sense of place so your guests move seamlessly from a museum experience into a shop experience.

Paul Griffiths has worked in the Heritage and Cultural Industry for 20 years and is currently the Head of Operations at the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth, England, and Managing Director of the Mary Rose’s commercial arm, where he has been since July 2012.

Previous to this, Paul worked for English Heritage for 16 years, where, in his last role, he was the Area Manager for London’s Historic Properties. Paul also regularly guest lectures in Tourism and Business Management at Southampton Solent University.

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