Member Dispatches from the Front Lines: Change in Retail is Constant
November 4, 2020
By Eric W. Huck, Director of Retail Operations, Detroit Institute of Arts
Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, said “Change is the only constant in life.” As a career retailer, that motto has always felt foundational to me in our industry. In normal times, if we are not constantly evolving, adapting, designing, creating – and yes, changing – then we are stagnant. Stagnancy in retail usually leads to a decrease in shopper interest and, ultimately, revenue; revenue our institutions need now more than ever!
The DIA was closed for an astounding four months due to the virus, far from the longest some other museums experienced. Preparing to reopen, we meticulously evaluated the onsite retail stores. We needed to provide the very best visitor experience while integrating the many required safety protocols.
We made many difficult decisions for the stores – decisions that would have been unheard of a year ago:
- Fixture Reduction. We reduced the number of fixtures by 30% to create room to accommodate social distancing and create one-way traffic flow.
- Product Departmentalization. Product historically merchandised into artist “stories” like ceramics, puzzles, and apparel were aggressively grouped together by like items to strategically decrease the amount of time shoppers would stay in the store. This is counterintuitive in retail but became critically important with the implementation of controlled capacity. We went from 50 shoppers during peak hours to 10. We need to move them through the space as quickly and efficiently as possible at this time.
- Product Reduction. The same depth in merchandise isn’t required with a reduction of visitors. Museum attendance is now set at 25% of what it was a year ago. Where we had 12 or 24 mugs on a shelf, we reduced it to 6. This increases the perception of cleanliness and allows faster and more effective cleaning in both our two-hour rotation of high touch areas and the weekly full-store deep sanitizing.
- Discourage Touch. All demo items – from kids toys to reading glasses and jewelry – are now removed or under glass to minimize shared surface touch. Staff are more proactive and engaging than ever before in order to drive sales and make all product accessible.
Despite all of these – and many other – changes, we have seen a substantial increase in our average sale and our individual customer (per capita) spend.
As the holidays approach, we are again forced to think differently. We probably need to change from our traditional way of doing things. We may have to change our original holiday plans due to too much inventory from the closure or major shifts in exhibition and programming plans. We may even have to change or adjust from the recent changes we just made to be able to reopen weeks or months ago.
Pandemic or not – and despite the intense energy we have been spending on pivoting our businesses, adapting to digital initiatives, going virtual and thinking creatively – the holidays are here! This is our call to change. Change for our institutions. Make magic out of what we have. Engage our visitors and continue driving revenue. We’ve got this! We are retailers after all and change is part of our DNA.
Eric Huck has been working in retail for the past twenty years, with the last fourteen years in the non-profit sector. In his current position as Director of Retail Operations at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Eric leads a team focused on offering excellent guest service to visitors and driving earned revenue for the museum through multiple on-site stores, digital channels, and wholesale. Since 2015, he has served as a judge for the Global Innovation Awards (GIA) at the International Housewares Show in Chicago. Eric has been a consultant to organizations, both for-profit and nonprofit, including Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.