MSA Member Dispatches from Home: National Gallery of Art
June 8, 2020
By Barbara Lenhardt, General Manager and Deputy Chief of Retail, National Gallery of Art
What are the one or two projects that are on your to-do list that always seem to get pushed to the bottom? Sure, they are really important, but they are also really hard to get off the ground. They may be essential to the business, but they are going to take up all your bandwidth and you just don’t have it in you. You know how meaningful they are but there are other fires to put out right now. Well, now we all have that moment to pause and consider these projects and to take them on. And that’s what we’ve done here at the Gallery!
There are three projects that we have focused on while quarantining and working from home: updating our inventory hierarchy; creating a digital asset inventory record; and completing a visual merchandising guide. Each one is a very ambitious project on its own. Each began in fits and starts over the past one and a half years but never fully got off the ground. We decided to prioritize them now because they are vitally important for our business and we could visualize the benefits. Work began almost immediately after shutdown. We have had the opportunity to see glimpses of the finished products and a look into the future. The excitement has reinvigorated the team and encouraged us to plow ahead and finish.
The most beneficial project from the perspective of the entire retail business is an updated hierarchy. As you know, a hierarchy is the foundation of your business. It’s how you think about your shop, how you buy, how you display, and how you analyze your business. Our hierarchy is quite outdated. It has been the source of much hand-wringing and consternation (and amusement) over the years. Who amongst you has a Class under Department of Cork/Rubber/Plastic? If you answer yes, then come sit beside me because we need to talk! Would you categorize food under Giftware/Misc? I doubt it. In order to accomplish this project, we reviewed countless other museums and mainstream retail stores. We reached out to our colleagues and asked about their approach. We discussed the pros and cons of each contemplated change. Diving deep into this project, we questioned how we should categorize branded merchandise; where are we denoting Holiday; where are we putting souvenir items, and even basic things: do we type in all CAPS or UPPER/lower, do we capitalize abbreviations? We came to agreement on standardizing those abbreviations, and we also re-thought our themes, period, artist, grids, and tags. I can share that, after twice-weekly meetings over 10 weeks, we have a new hierarchy that makes more sense for us. The actual implementation will take time but we are well on our way. The good news is everyone is elated at the new approach:
As you can probably imagine, this project has been a huge lift for everyone involved. I am super proud of the team for rolling up their sleeves and asking the hard questions and coming to some common ground when opinions differed. Looking forward to coming out of this full-on quarantine into some new semblance of who we are, we are setting ourselves up for success:
1. A modernized hierarchy to allow us to do the analysis that we should be doing but couldn’t do before.
2. A digital asset or picture of each inventory item attached to an inventory record file for sales associates, the warehouse, et al, to verify the SKU matches the item.
3. A visual merchandising plan that is thoughtfully planned and articulated so that the sales associates as well as our visual team can set displays, restock displays, and keep the displays well organized and neat.
In case you are interested, the new Departments are:
• Apparel & Accessories
• Home Décor
• Toys & Games
• Art Supplies
• Books & Media
• Prints & Posters
Have you been able to tackle any long-needed projects? The focus can be great for your team – and the satisfactions long-lasting.
.Barbara Lenhardt is General Manager and Deputy Chief of Retail, National Gallery of Art. She is past President of the MSA and the Mid-Atlantic Chapter.