Museum Store Sunday: A Message from the MSA Board of Directors

December 11, 2017

By Ione Saroyan and the 2017-18 MSA Board of Directors

Museum Store Sunday. It is a reality. We did it – we all did it. I’m just going to put that right there and invite you all to bask in it for a moment. We announced it in late April at the MSA Forward 2017 in Pittsburgh. And in less than seven months, it launched in a spectacular way. This bright, creative, diligent, resourceful community of Museum Store Association members and partners succeeded in launching a global initiative. We succeeded in putting a spotlight on Museum Stores right smack in the middle of the busiest shopping weekend of the year. Congratulations to all of us!

For me, Museum Store Sunday (MSS) existed on multiple plains. First and foremost, as one of the pillars of MSA’s strategic plan: advocacy. “To communicate to the world the value and importance of non-profit retail with its curated products and unique experiences.” Within my own institution, this was a struggle at times. For example, I had to persuade my museum’s brand guardians to allow my promotions to go forward without changing the color of the MSS brand. Second, as a volunteer on the MSS Outreach Committee – I wrote letters and made phone calls, and experienced the thrill of the success of my efforts each time the MSS store locator was updated. Finally, as a museum store retailer, I offered special discounts to museum members and the general public, a free gift with purchase, and raffled off prizes including a museum membership. I am delighted to say that we had a fantastic day, with a 212% increase over the previous Sunday, and a 334% increase over the Sunday of the 2016 Thanksgiving weekend. And it was so exciting to read and watch the great press that came in from all over!

Was it a perfect experience for all of us? Of course not. Were some institutions and vendors more successful than others? Absolutely. Some struggled with timing or weather; some vendors struggled with what to do to get involved. But this was our launch year and, with your help, we will only get better! Following this recent premier for all of us affiliated with MSS, I thought I would ask the entire MSA Board of Directors to write a note for this post describing their personal experience with the inaugural Museum Store Sunday, which I invite you to read below.


When thinking about Museum Store Sunday, what comes immediately to mind is the excitement MSS generated. From its inception through launch, there was an eager enthusiasm and interest from within and outside the museum store community. Starting with the announcement at Conference last April in Pittsburgh, the enthusiasm for MSS didn’t waver. All stakeholders- MSA Board and Staff, MSA members, Advocacy Committee Members, and ACE, and MSAANZ (our international museums association’s partners) were all enthusiastically engaged. It was exciting to connect and to work together. The interest in this day was unbelievable. The participation of almost 700 institutions representing all 50 US states, the District of Columbia, and 10 countries across 3 continents speaks to the enthusiasm of the museums as well as their unique and creative events hosted on the day of MSS. The consumers showed their excitement for MSS by shopping on November 26. Early reports from participating venues reported sales increases in year over year sales. Many even reported triple digit percentage increases and “best Sunday after Thanksgiving ever”. Sharing the purpose and mission of museum stores with the general public was exciting.


My company, Stewart/Stand, had the opportunity to celebrate MSS at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.  A memory that continues to stick with me is when Julie Steiner, Director of Retail, gathered her staff along with us and Angela Colasanti from Viela Jewelry.  Listening to the staff talk about MSS, what it means to them, and how they intended to communicate it to customers was a fantastic reminder of the importance of this initiative.

 I had the pleasure of serving on the Advocacy Committee, specifically Chairing the Marketing and Communications Committees.  Our monthly meetings spanned 9 time zones with a lot of chatter punctuating the days in between. With a talented and committed group of volunteers, we worked on taking MSS from concept to a tangible brand identity/campaign, website, communications strategy, and national PR effort.  Our association carved out a unique space for itself within 6 months of launch.  USA Today wrote:  “69% of Americans are expected to shop during Thanksgiving weekend, which includes Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Museum Store Sunday and Cyber Monday.”  Seeing the groundswell of participation globally has been one of the highlights of my professional career.


When I first brought the concept of Museum Store Sunday to the senior staff at the Columbia River Maritime Museum back in April, their initial reaction wasn’t a surprise – it was their traditional long holiday weekend, and MSS landed smack dab in the middle – sorry, can’t do.  I booked the e-blasts early to ensure we had the space, then contacted the band (we weren’t paying them) and the vendors (they drove 3 hours to get here) and, to my delight, they said yes, they could do it.  Nice!  Each time I received an MSS update from the MSA, I shared it with our mangers – we’re up to 285 museums, then 300…Membership jumped on board and started planning a member’s lounge.  350, all 50 states…Education decided this could be fun.  400+, Curatorial said they could add some elements.  Soon, the museum staff was abuzz with MSS, and the grand finale for me was our Executive Director announcing it at our Annual Meeting, quoting 650+ museums in 9 countries participating, with no push from me.  Like some institutions, this time of year can be painfully slow, but the “vibe” MSS created really made the event memorable, and each department head said they are looking forward to doing it again next year.


The National WWII Museum, like many institutions, faced some challenges with the debut of Museum Store Sunday. This particular weekend is a very low visitation period for us, and a very high demand period for e-communications to our members. We were competing with Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, and our Travel Department for a limited number of e-communications, so I knew that getting the word out would be a challenge. I could not justify doing a give-way program for guests that would already be in the store, so we had to settle for in-store displays of gift related items featuring Museum Store Sunday signage. In the face of many great success stories that you are reading here, mine looks more like a failure. I disagree. I think there are many institutions that had similar challenges with Museum Store Sunday, and my story serves to say ”you are not alone.” The success of Museum Store Sunday lies in a great foundation that, coupled with our peer’s success stories, will give us all the ammunition needed to convince our marketing departments that this is an event worthy of promotion. I look forward to 2018 and beyond, as Museum Store Sunday grows to rival Small Business Saturday as a premier shopping event.


I have to admit to being skeptical about how effective this inaugural Museum Store Sunday would be.  You have to start somewhere, but it was a big task to undertake and limited time to implement it. It also seems really hard to get people’s attention, let alone to get them to act on it.  That Sunday morning, I wished one of volunteers, the kind who likes to tell it like it is, a Happy Museum Store Sunday.  True to form, Terry asked me if anyone knew about it but us.  I cheerfully told him that there were almost 700 participating museums in 10 countries… but below the surface I was nervous.

 Thanksgiving weekend is typically a strong one for the museum.  With family in town, people are looking for things to do and visiting our iconic building and its great art collection is on the list for many. The busiest days are definitely Friday and Saturday, since many people are traveling on Sunday.  Fortunately, my fears were soon allayed, as the morning started uncharacteristically busy and it stayed busy for most of the day.  People really enjoyed the orchestra that we had come in and play, the trunk shows, and of course the member double discount. There was a very positive vibe in the air and when it was all said and done, sales were 4-5 times that of the normal Sunday after Thanksgiving.  With results this strong, I’m excited to see how it will grow with greater exposure and more people knowing about it.


At the Barnes Shop in Philadelphia, the inaugural Museum Store Sunday offered a variety of trunk shows, including local designer VIELÄ Jewelry and a Stewart/Stand accessories launch of a new line of vegan handbags. We also offered a popular tea tasting, featuring creative flavors of tea coordinated with artists from our art collection: Renoir, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Rousseau, etc.  We offered a free tote bag with any purchase over $50, and saw a 44% increase over same day sales last year. We gave people a chance to support their local museum, give back to the community, support a good cause, find unique holiday gifts, and enjoy an entertaining and educational experience. Mission accomplished!


Our local museums already have a tradition of reciprocal member’s appreciation days for the entire Thanksgiving weekend from Black Friday to Museum Store Sunday. Traditionally we have had the lowest sales on the Sunday as it is a travel day for many people. And this year, the airport traffic made the news with over a million people going through LAX on Sunday. It was gridlock for almost the whole day. We scheduled award-winning author Allen Say for a book signing and, even though it wasn’t the turnout we had hoped for, I think the PR for MSS brought many locals in (members and non-members), boosting our Sunday revenue 30% more than usual.


So there it is.  The Museum Store Association, a group that I have been part of for twenty years and that I hold near and dear to my heart, has created an international event.  Created an international event!  It was on 3 continents!  It was in 10 countries!  It was in all 50 states!  With the quick and efficient work of thousands across the country we have created something extraordinary.  We should all be proud.  My main contribution to, and experience with, Museum Store Sunday is focused on my work with the Advocacy Committee and, in particular, with the Sponsorship Committee.  As the timeline was very tight, our work was done quickly and efficiently by a group of dedicated committee members who understood that their role was to promote something that didn’t yet exist.   It was quite the challenge to craft that message.  By creating a one-time opportunity for Founding and Charter Sponsors to participate, we successfully raised over $50,000 by engaging vendors, museums, and industry leaders with the vision to see and understand what Museum Store Sunday could become.  We surpassed our goal — fully funding the launch of Year 1 and allowing the seed money needed for Year 2.    While there are many who worked hard for MSS, Susan Tudor, MSA’s 2nd Vice President, and the Chair of the Advocacy Committee worked tirelessly.  With her calm demeanor, consistent leadership, and sharp insights, Susan kept dozens of aspects of this initiative moving all at once.  I have a suspicion that she must have only been sleeping 1-2 hours a night.  Thank you to everyone who helped make this a reality and, in particular, thank you Susan!

I couldn’t agree more, Ari — Susan is unstoppable! On behalf of the entire board of directors, thank you, Susan Tudor, Chair of the Advocacy Committee, for your tireless work on the launch of MSS. Thank you to all of the MSS committee chairs – you are extraordinary and we could not have done it without you. Thank you to all MSS committee members, MSA vendors, MSA stores, our partners in the states and overseas, and once again, thank you to all of our Museum Store Sunday sponsors!

We have a year (what a luxury!) to make improvements and strengthen our efforts for Museum Store Sunday on November 25, 2018. Help MSS make those improvements by taking the MSS survey, no later than December 19, and enter for a chance to win a free MSA membership!

Ione Saroyan is the Director of Merchandise Operations at the New-York Historical Society in New York City, and the 1st Vice President of the 2017-18 MSA Board of Directors.

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