MSA Member Dispatches from Home: Columbia River Maritime Museum
June 2, 2020
By Ann Bronson, Associate Retail Manager, Columbia River Maritime Museum
But above all, try something…FDR
As COVID-19 continues to up-end our lives, both personally and professionally, we all are looking for new ways to adapt to these changing and challenging times. Admittedly, we are on edge.
Even a simple trip to the grocery store feels a bit like provisioning for a journey on the Oregon Trail… “Let’s see… how many pounds of flour do I need per person? Will the milk and butter last? Maybe I should get some chickens for fresh eggs…?
Despite all the challenges, difficulties, and uncertainty, there are also several bright spots as well.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to re-evaluate our priorities, gotten us out of our ruts, and made us re-examine how we do things and how we see the world around us.
One of the big things I’ve noticed is a reinvigorated flow of creativity - creativity that can be seen flowing between MSA members helping each other learn new ways to boost online store sales. Or artisan members exploring new ways to express themselves with exciting products to stock our shelves . More ways than I can possibly list here.
Our museums are exploring new ways to keep the public engaged even while our doors are locked -- such as online children’s programs from our education departments and regular outreach to members through emails, just to name a few.
Currently, some of us are faced with working at home, or coming into our empty museums. Either way, we find ourselves searching out projects to keep ourselves and our staffs busy.
Below are some of the projects we’ve undertaken here at the Columbia River Maritime Museum.
-Like many places, we have a guest book that allows our visitors to leave their names and where they are from. It also allows them a place to leave short comments.
Under normal circumstances, admittedly, we don’t really look at the guest book as often as we should. But the quarantine has afforded us the chance to have a front-end staff member go through the guest book, collect the cities, states, and countries, and also look to see what comments visitors have left.
What was interesting was seeing that last year we had visitors in from more than 40 countries, and that over 12% of our visitation was from Canada, even though we are a full state away from the border. And after our immediate neighboring states, the next largest visitation group came from Texas. No wonder they get cold here in the summer!
While this project isn’t exactly one that drives store sales directly, it is one that supports the overall visitor experience of your organization, which can and does lead to better store sales.
-We’ve been taking product photos, writing descriptions of those items, and giving them to our marketing manager to share with our membership emails, Instagram, or Facebook pages.
Some of the items we have been focusing on are food items like jams, baked goods,and candies. Also books that relate to self-sufficiency, fun STEM focused books for children, local music CDs, gifts suitable for holidays (e.g. Easter, Mother’s or Father’s Day), crafts, puzzles, games, and other gifts and items that people might want or need in quarantine but be reluctant to brave going to bigger stores to buy.
While it might not translate into many sales, it does help keep your store and organization in the forefront of people’s minds. Make them remember you, and they’ll be there again once you reopen your doors.
- Staff members have been looking at our membership database to see which members are our current best customers or in museum donations -- and entering that information into an Excel sheet.
Who buys in the store frequently? What have they bought and what products are they interested in? Which of your members have deep pockets, but rarely shop in the store, but instead donate directly to the museum? Who has rarely or never bought anything from the store? Why might that be?
This is a chance to take a look at your customer database, and get a picture of what they are interested in, what products they are most drawn to. Maybe you can use this information to tailor special sales or send perks to your most supportive customers?
-Staff members have been getting creative with merchandise
Do you have makers and crafters among your staff? Is there something that they could make that would be the perfect fit with your museum store?
While our museum has a prohibition on staff, volunteers, and board members selling items in the museum store for profit, I have made a number of wire-wrapped shark’s teeth pendants to sell in the store. We always carry fossil shark teeth, so it was easy just to grab a few of the teeth from the bin and buy a bit of wire and some cotton cording. One YouTube how-to-video later, and voila! Shark’s teeth necklaces made in-house! The shark tooth itself costs a dollar. The wire and cording add perhaps another dollar in cost. The labor cost was built into my hourly wage, and I was here looking for a project in my downtime, so no extra cost to the store or museum to have me work on them. And I know that we’ll be able to sell them for $8.95 with basic materials that are about $2 (an almost 78% margin).
Since I enjoy making things, it was an enjoyable quarantine project for me, save for a bit of overuse fatigue in my hands.
Shark’s teeth pendants won’t be appropriate for every museum, but natural history museums could make similar pendants using replica arrowheads, fossils, stones, etc.
Is there a product that you could make in house? Take a look around, and think creatively!
This is also a project that a staff member quarantined at home could work at, given the materials and tools.
- Steal great ideas from other museums, like video streaming story-time reading.
Kate Schureman from the Peoria Riverfront Museum mentioned on Shop Talk that her store manager was doing the reading, and it looks like it something that we can team up to do with our education department . They have the video equipment and experience in streaming online talks, and we have beautiful children’s books!
This might be a great way to reach across departmental lines within the museum and develop/strengthen relationships with your colleagues in other areas of your organization.
Use the reading on your museum’s Facebook page, YouTube channel, or home page. Perhaps you have a local television station that is looking for children’s content, or if it isn’t a picture-heavy book, a local radio station? It provides a service… entertaining and educating children, giving exhausted parents a few moments rest, and may translate to sales if a child or parent falls in love with a book that was shared. It also shows the public what wonderful children’s book your store has!
If you have concerns about copyright infringement, read up on fair use laws and determine if what you are doing falls within that arena. Ask for clarification from those with experience in intellectual property laws if in doubt.
This is by no means a complete list of possibilities; it is just some of the things that we have been doing at the Columbia River Maritime Museum during this unprecedented time.
What has your organization be doing? Similar projects or something else entirely?
Again, as concerning and uncertain as these times are, there is also great potential for re-examination, re-invention, and creativity.
At home, I have what I call my inspiration corner. It’s a collection of items that have sayings that inspire or amuse me… sometimes both. There are greeting cards, framed prints, a colorful glass plate, painted rocks… even a John Waters’ book called Make Trouble (yes… THAT John Waters, and it’s a great book by the way!)
And one of my favorite inspirations is a framed print that simply says “But above all, try something”
The quote comes from the closing of a speech delivered to the graduating class of Oglethorpe University in 1932. The Great Depression was in full tilt, and the US and much of the world was mired deep in a time of chaos and uncertainty, not unlike where we find ourselves now.
The speaker was Franklin D Roosevelt, and whatever your personal views of him might be, he offered inspiration and hope in this speech to a group of young people in desperate need of exactly that.
While acknowledging the worries and fears of the graduates, he also left them with this-
The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something…
Yours is not the task of making your way in the world, but the task of remaking the world which you will find before you. May every one of us be granted the courage, the faith and the vision to give the best that is in us to that remaking!
May 22, 1932
Be bold, be persistent, be creative, and above all, try something.
Ann Bronson is the Associate Store Manager at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon. She has served as the MSA PNW Chapter President, and is the current Chapter Treasurer.