MSA Market Tips for Buyers – New and Seasoned!

July 24, 2017

By Sarah Jones

Maximize your productivity (and your Return on Investment!) when shopping a tradeshow

Tradeshows are a significant commitment of time and resources: days away from your store, staff to cover for you in your absence, and the expense of traveling. So how does a buyer ensure a productive and prosperous buying trip that guarantees returns to a non-profit’s bottom line?

Here are helpful best practices if you are new to buying or shopping a tradeshow for the first time. These tips will also be useful for experienced buyers, as reminders how to best maximize your tradeshow experience. The following detailed advice comes from longtime MSA professionals:

  • Susan Tudor, manager of visitor services and store buyer at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens in Jacksonville, FL
  • Christa Dyer, director of guest services and retail operations at The DoSeum – San Antonio’s Museum for Kids, in San Antonio, TX
  • Renata Tatman, lead buyer/product developer at the Seattle Art Museum’s SAM Shop in Seattle, WA
  • Karen McNeely, director of retail operations at the Milwaukee Art Museum in Milwaukee, WI
  • Melody Cabán-Naidoo, museum store manager/buyer at Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Ft. Worth, TX


 Carefully figure your Open-to-Buy. According to Susan Tudor, this should include: “current OTB projections for the next 6-12 months, inventory valuation by vendor and SKU – and inventory valuation by department and classification.”

 Prepare what to bring to Market. Tudor’s list of must-have items includes:

  • “OTB projections & inventory valuations as described above
  • Current best seller list & last year’s best seller list from same period
  • Upcoming exhibition schedule (with narratives and thumbnails)
  • Upcoming museum program and store event schedules
  • Notes about new products found in market guide/online
  • Museum credit sheet and tax exempt certificate
  • Sticky address labels for vendors who handwrite orders
  • Business cards”
  • Take advantage of industry tools. Your Museum Store Association membership gives you access to like-minded, talented buyers to network with. Post on ShopTalk to see which of your colleagues is attending Market. Are there any education seminars or MSA sponsored networking events? Sign up for trade publication newsletters. Seek out an experienced, respected buyer to mentor you. Browse pictures on social media to check out merchandise and discover new lines.
  • Make appointments. “I set up appointments with vendors the first day of the show, so that the other days I can explore with ease,” explains Christa Dyer. Make appointments, but also leave time to wander and discover.
  • Familiarize yourself beforehand. “Make a shopping plan. Research the tradeshow prior to arriving at the show. Know the physical layout of the tradeshow as well as the market hours of operation and special market events. This will save time and allow for the opportunity to discover new vendors, products and trends,” says Susan Tudor.


  • Network with other buyers. “Ask questions! We are all in the same industry and do a lot of the same tasks day to day,” exclaims Dyer. Ask what is selling and what that buyer ordered. You may discover products you would have otherwise overlooked.
  • Go everywhere! Go down each aisle, to the ends. Look in every corner. Sometimes new vendors are in less prominent locations [with what’s] new to the marketplace. Try not to follow a routine: be surprised what you find,” encourages Renata Tatman.
  • Take very careful notes. “If I pick up a card with a website, I always write on it specifically what I was interested in so I can remember when I get back. I also have a separate folder for orders I place so they are all together,” describes Karen McNeely.
  • Capitalize on market specials! When placing orders or reorders, inquire about specials, freight, dating and discounts. Ask for demos or samples. Every savings adds to your profitability. Many times these special offers are only available at market!


  • Review all materials you picked up from the show. “Pull out all the information you’ve picked up and go through it again while it is still fresh in your mind. It helps to review it with your key staff people to get their feedback,” directs McNeely.
  • Mark merchandise arrivals on calendar. Determine a ship date to receive the product. Stage shipments so they don’t all arrive at the same time. Be specific regarding cancellation dates so product doesn’t come too late for an event or holiday.
  • Follow up with your wonderful new contacts. “Like” the Facebook pages of stores you will strive to emulate. Stay connected with fellow buyers to share what’s working. And just as importantly, what isn’t! Actively build your retail network.
  • Take what you’ve learned back to your store. Host a staff meeting. Get your team excited about what you’ve seen, new tactics to implement, or the stories behind what product will be shipped to your store. Bring the tradeshow experience home!

“Tradeshows can be overwhelming, but pleasant. Write objectives and plot your days. Give time for tried, true vendors and to discover amazing new products that make your shop special. That’s the magic of tradeshows,” says Melody Caban Naidoo.

MSA at Las Vegas Market!

Look for these MSA member-led educational seminars, product tours, and the networking reception at Las Vegas Market on July 31 and August 1.

Curated Docent Tours – Top Museum Store Product (RSVP)

Monday, July 31: 10:30am – noon     |     Meet inside entrance to Temporaries Pavilion #1

Led by MSA 1st Vice President, Ione Saroyan, New-York Historical Society Museum & Library

RSVP now, as groups are limited to 20 buyers: 

Non-Profit Retail Symposium: How to Advocate to Administration (RSVP)

Monday, July 31: 2 – 3pm    |     Pavilions Seminar Room, North End of Pavilion 1

In collaboration with AHVRP, MSA & ZAG

This session will be moderated by Julie Steiner, director of retail operations at The Barnes Shop in Philadelphia, PA and president of Museum Store Association, and will feature Susan Tudor, manager of visitor services and store buyer at the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, FL and MSA’s 2nd Vice President.

RSVP now to attend: 

Non-Profit Retail Symposium: Networking Reception (RSVP)

Monday, July 31: 5 – 6:30pm     |     Pavilions Seminar Room, North End of Pavilion 1

In collaboration with AHVRP, MSA & ZAG

Existing and prospective association members and vendors are welcome. Buyers and vendors, RSVP now to attend: 

Non-Profit Retail Symposium: Selling to Millennials (RSVP; includes Boxed Lunch)

Tuesday, August 1: noon – 1:30pm     |     Pavilions Seminar Room, North End of Pavilion 1

In collaboration with AHVRP, MSA & ZAG

Featuring MSA members Kate Botelho, Newport Mansions, and Aubrey Herr, The Walters Art Museum

RSVP now to attend: 



Sarah Jones is the senior retail relations manager at Las Vegas Market in Las Vegas, NV.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply