March 26, 2018
By Alice McAuliffe
Shop the MSA Expo!
Having been a Museum Store buyer for a number of years, I can tell you that the MSA Expo is the greatest place to find quality merchandise for your store. This year will be better than ever as the format has been changed to facilitate shopping- the Expo is located within the hotel! In addition, the MSA app will provide new and improved vendor information- not just for the conference- but year round! I’m getting ahead of myself though…Let’s start from the beginning…!
Before the Conference
Be prepared! The most important thing you can do before any trade show is to be ready:
-Run reports from your POS system to study before the conference. What has done well? What has not? Based on your reports, what display areas need to be increased, modified, or decreased? What special exhibits or events do you need to plan for? Are there custom products you need to create? Do you need seasonal items, display window merchandise, web-store items? What trends from regular retail should you consider? Have you talked to your staff (and customers when possible..) for their ideas and input?
-Based on your reports, decide what you want to spend at the MSA Expo. Use your open-to buy plan, as it is important not to overbuy. (In its most basic form, it simply means you cannot buy unless something else has sold.) Be sure to save some money for new merchandise….
–Next, study the MSA Expo floor plan and list of vendors on your MSA App…it is a great tool for MSA FORWARD 2018. The App is available for download in both the Apple and Google Stores. If you haven’t already, please download it. As there are no concurrent sessions on Saturday or Sunday, there will be plenty of time to meet with your regular vendors, explore new ones, network with other buyers, and take advantage of some great specials and sponsorships. Over the years, our MSA vendors have been very generous — so look for free freight, quantity discounts, goody bags and much, much more! Unlike other trade shows, the layout and timing of the MSA Expo provides more one-on-one time to discuss your merchandise planning and in-depth custom product development. Take advantage of this as it will save you time back in the office. This year you can choose from over 170 vendors (including 12 vendors from Ireland) for museum- related goodies!
-Finally, do you need to make any appointments prior to the Expo? A good time to do this is before you even leave for the Conference. Always pack plenty of business cards, your POS reports, your notes, artwork for custom products, (and, most of all, comfortable shoes!). I also take a prepared sheet with the Walters shipping address, credit references, and all of my contact info to simply hand to the vendor. This way they have complete and current info to process my order.
At the Show! Meeting with Vendors
Once you arrive on the Expo floor — stay focused. You may want to see your biggest vendor first or one you have an appointment with or the one who has a certain new custom product you’d like to try. Make a plan and stick with it.
-With each vendor, ask questions and take good notes. What is the merchandise made of? What is their minimum order? Is there a quantity or carton price for the item? Where do they ship from? How quickly can you receive the order? Can you delay the order until a date needed? Do they have any show specials? Even with “tried and true” vendors it’s important to ask what’s new, what are their hot-sellers? Have they had any price increases? While you are discussing the merchandise with the vendor consider where you will put this merchandise in your store. What other products will it work with? What price will you retail it at?
-Use your POS generated reports to work with the vendor. This will also help you to stay focused and not overspend. Ask the vendor to write clear descriptions if they are writing your order and/or ask for a copy if they are using a laptop or iPad. If you would like to take a picture of the item you’ve ordered, ask the vendor first. It’s so important to establish a good relationship with each company to develop a win-win scenario. The vendors will appreciate your respect, professionalism, and organization.
-Be sure to check out their displays too. Many companies have professional designers set up their booth and it’s a great way to get ideas and learn how to display new merchandise.
New vendors: Opportunities await
The Expo is a great time to find fresh ideas and trends. Treasure hunt! Take time to visit every booth to see what you can discover! Finding new vendors and products keeps your museum store unique and profitable and will keep your customers coming back over and over. The Expo floor map is on your app — so it’s a great tool for helping you move around from vendor to vendor.
Back at home
Once you are back at home, review your orders and alert the vendors immediately with any additional add- ons or changes before your order is shipped.
Type your purchase orders into your POS system and alert your Receiving Department of the incoming shipments with show specials and discounts.
Read through the catalogues, notes and other information you’ve collected along with colleagues you networked with at the Conference. Update or create new files for future buying. Note any show specials that may be continuing after the MSA Conference. Don’t delete your app, as you will be able to use it after the Expo!
Over the years, I have found so much support, wisdom, and help from our MSA vendors. So many of them are truly invested in us…not just to make money and sales but because they understand our unique qualities and want us to truly succeed in each of our stores. They have been exceedingly generous to our organization with Show Specials, Goody Bags, Chapter support and much, much more. I hope you will, in turn, support them at our 2018 MSA Expo and rely on their wisdom and great products to further your own endeavors.
Alice McAuliffe is the Manager of Retail Operations at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. For MSA she served two years as Treasurer on the MSA Board of Directors, is a past President of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter, and has served on numerous MSA committees.