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.
MSA 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!
In 2012, the Newport Mansions Stores rebranded its online store from stores.newportmansions.org to NewportStyle.net. What factors led to this decision?
Kate: We were looking for additional sources of income and for something new and different. I was really given a push to make this happen. We wanted to reach a larger audience outside of the Newport Mansions, and we thought that rebranding the online store would be a chance for significant growth.
We had long discussions of what we wanted the rebrand to encompass: social history, colonial history, nautical history, gilded age homes, fashion, home decor, gardens and landscapes.
We had a long list of names, but when we heard “Newport Style,” we knew that was the brand we wanted. There are so many things that we can bring in to Newport Style, so, we moved to this lifestyle brand.
What have been the results, both immediate and long-term, of this re-branding?
Kate: When we started the project, we were generating less than $20,000 per year on the website. Now, we’re earning more than $100,000 annually, so we had a 400 percent increase, which was incredible.
Part of that increase comes from the wholesale platform I was able to build. I wanted a way for other museums and businesses to reach us, to be able to market the wholesale offerings to an extended audience. I want to make sure other museums recognize me as a vendor and are able to purchase from us. Wholesale has contributed to our financial growth in a major way.
Growing our website business has been fantastic. The success has enabled us to have social media for the store with accounts that are tied to the museum, but separate. We now have a NewportStyle.net Facebook page, Pinterest boards and Instagram account. Those accounts help to grow our brand beyond the reach of Newport Mansions. Our goal is to grow the brand further and further beyond its current reach—create a brand that can also stand on its own.
Were there any unexpected consequences of the re-branding? Unexpected opportunities? How did you handle them?
Kate: Oh my gosh, it has been so much harder than I anticipated. I didn’t have a strong web design background; and between developing, mapping, etc., I certainly developed my first gray hairs!
The rebrand was originally supposed to take four months and it ended up taking seven. I learned so much—what to do, what not to do. So many things that were eye-opening.
And, now, I’m very aware of how we’re two things: We provide an extension of the experience for our mansions and their visitors, and we’re a lifestyle brand. We receive about 40 percent of our traffic from the Newport Mansions website and the people who visit us through there, and the rest from outside, so I’m trying to relate to all visitors on NewportStyle.net. I haven’t found the exact recipe, but I’m working on it.
Kate: Online selling can be a bleak place for the seller because we don’t have face-to-face interaction with the buyer. However, being who we are—a well respected nonprofit who can say, “your purchase helps to protect and preserve the Newport Mansions”—helps us do what we do. The Newport Mansions’ stores help to humanize our online selling.
I’ve also learned valuable lessons about what I don’t know, so I’m always willing to try something new. I remember dragging my feet for a long time about putting souvenirs online, I just didn’t think they would sell. And, oh my gosh, so many people are willing to pay $3.95 for a magnet—and they’re going to pay to have it shipped. I was shocked!
What is your best seller/best-selling department in your online store? And what is it in your physical store? If these are significantly different, why do you think that is the case?
Kate: In our online store, wholesale has exploded in the last year—our Votes for Women line, primarily. In terms of online retail sales: home décor, home accessories, as well as fashion accessories (scarves, wraps, handbags).
In our brick and mortar stores, souvenirs are No. 1, but decorative accessories and ceramics do well, too.
I think the difference in sales between the two store types has to do with the customer’s experience with the merchandise. Some items display better in store versus online, and many times buyers want to bring home an item to remember their museum visit.
What’s on the horizon for your online store?
Kate: We’re really excited about this Magento update we’re working on. I’m currently working on a switch from our online platform to Magento, another online platform, to help with abandonment rates. Magento is one of the most widely used e-commerce platforms out there. It’s a system that is going to move with the times. We’re really excited about this update as we think this is going to help us grow.
We’re also just starting on Instagram, so we’re excited about that, too.
What advice would you give someone who is looking to rebrand their online store?
Kate: We had done a lot of research into what visiting the Newport Mansions really means to our visitors. We had really long conversations about what “Newport” means. I think that foundation work in developing the brand is really important.
I would say: Take the time to set a good foundation. We definitely planned, and it was well worth it.
How has MSA helped you achieve your goals for your online store?
Kate: Before I joined MSA, I’d never met anyone who had job responsibilities like mine. I kind of felt like I worked in a bubble until I found out there were others who do what I do. It’s been great to learn from all the different museums—colleagues who have e-commerce and those who don’t, big museums and small museums.
I remember coming home from the 2014 MSA Conference & Expo in Houston, the first one I attended, thinking: “Oh my gosh! There are people like me. They understand what I have to do. People like what I’m doing; maybe I’m on the right track.” That was pretty cool.
It’s been a wonderful benefit to my work at the Preservation Society to have met like-minded people who have been in the industry for years and are willing to share their expertise. It’s also been interesting to meet some of the up-and-coming professionals in MSA, to learn the newest technologies and see how others are using them. I think there is a great wealth of talent and knowledge with the MSA Next initiative, and I’m excited to be part of that.