Museum Store Sunday 2020 Recap
By Museum Store Sunday co-chairs Susan Tudor (Director of Retail Operations for the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens) and Stuart Hata (Director of Retail Operations for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the de Young and Legion of Honor)
On November 29, 2020, in spite of a global pandemic, a new record number of museum stores participating in Museum Store Sunday was reached! Over 1,650 cultural institutions in 24 countries celebrated the fourth annual day of museum store advocacy. This record resulted from 194 new institutions joining, an increase of 13% from 2019.
So how did MSA’s signature advocacy event grow during these unprecedented times when lockdowns, closures, turmoil, change, and pivoting occurred within our world? Let’s take a look behind the scenes at how Museum Store Sunday 2020 was able to surmount all of these obstacles and become increasingly important and relevant to both institutions and the public.
As has been the case since the initiative launched in 2017, the excitement and enthusiasm for Museum Store Sunday has continued to expand exponentially. This past year, it took on new significance as an uplifting, reliable, and rallying initiative for MSA and our institution and vendor members alike. Due to limited resources, and even with bringing the Museum Store Sunday public relations internally, a small, yet mighty team of volunteers and staff began planning for Museum Store Sunday 2020 just three months before the event and six months later than usual. With a laser focus on the tasks needed to make the initiative a reality during these challenging times, the team began.
Plans were quickly made to update all of the key press and marketing materials to convey a changed event landscape that was even more vital and important than ever before. The public relations work included distributing both a long-lead and short-lead press release communicating the evolving COVID environment that Museum Store Sunday participants faced. The press releases were distributed via the PR Newswire to over 1,000 news outlets across the USA. Significant press was achieved with a notable increase in broadcast segments throughout the country, many regional and local news articles, and interviews with participants were published. A selection of press can be viewed at the links below:
Museum Store Sunday marketing plans first involved updating the entire event marketing tool kit with new digital assets, event implementation plan, signage, and FAQs followed by an update of the Museum Store Sunday website www.museumstoresunday.org with new marketing images depicting socially distanced shopping and mask-wearing in our museum stores. In addition, a very important new resource (thanks to Tia Bianchini from The Barnes Foundation): the Find an Online Store page was developed and added to the website. This page, organized by institution type, surpassed the geographical locator as the second most popular page after the home page. The exciting part is that with its 185 museum store links, this page helps consumers shop museum stores year-round from the comfort and safety of their home.
Museum Store Sunday email marketing carried on as usual and was expertly overseen and executed by Emily Kowalski, MSA’s Communications consultant. Emily prepared and sent nineteen emails throughout a three-month period segmented by participants, MSA members, and consumers detailing the when, how, and why of Museum Store Sunday. Communication about Museum Store Sunday to the general museum industry was also realized and strongly supported by MSA partners such as the Western Museums Association, the Association for Cultural Enterprises in the UK, and in particular the American Alliance of Museums. AAM’s President and CEO Laura Lott contributed a quote to the short-lead press release that succinctly provided a call to action in support of our institutions and stores as follows:
“This year, more than ever, museums need community support. Every museum store purchase helps museums survive the devastating financial implications of the pandemic. The vast majority of Alliance museums are also small nonprofit businesses who are counting on their communities for financial support in order to keep their doors open and their staff employed. While this holiday season looks different for everyone, there is a unique opportunity to shop locally at your community’s museum store or virtually around the world and discover the unique treasures that museums offer.”
According to the post-Museum Store Sunday Participant Survey (which will be featured in the upcoming issue of Museum Store Magazine) approximately 60% of museums and their stores were open on November 29. Ione Saroyan, Director of Merchandise Operations at the New-York Historical Society Museum and Library, commented “we didn’t know what to expect on Museum Store Sunday in 2020 – right smack in the middle of a pandemic. We reopened to the public in mid-September (only three days per week) and the attendance has been far below our reduced capacity limits. The online store was where the majority of our sales were coming from. But we decided to go forward full-steam-ahead with our MSS planning and marketing. We hoped to have a good day online and suspected that our in-store sales would be down compared to the previous year. Well, we were in for a VERY pleasant surprise. Our in-store sales were up 36% and our online sales were up an astonishing 565%. Honestly, I was gob smacked.”
The NYHistory Store published their MSS promotions on both Eventbrite and Facebook. RSVPs were required to reserve a time to shop and prevent overcrowding. The RSVPs also served another function as they gathered the contact information needed if contact tracing became necessary (it didn’t). Approximately $250 was spent on Facebook ads and they paid off for the event. Using the Museum Store Sunday assets provided in the marketing toolkit, the NYHistory store created graphically interesting “Save-the-Date” communications and stand-alone email marketing campaigns.
At the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, Florida, we extended the dates of our Museum Store Sunday celebration in order to work around our limited museum capacities. Promotions for the event began on Black Friday and continued through Museum Store Sunday. Our new online store posted video trunk shows with site-wide discounts and several MSA vendor members partnered with us by offering drop shipping. Curbside pickup was also offered. Our in-store celebration included trunk shows, local makers, discounts, and gifts with purchase and shopping by appointment before store opening. In addition, two pop-up shops were provided in order to accommodate social distance shopping. While there were many moving parts to the expanded three-day celebration of Museum Store Sunday, we achieved the same record sales as in 2019, even with 76% less in-store shoppers.
Conversely, about 40% of museum stores were closed with several institutions closing just days before Museum Store Sunday due to second surges of COVID-19. However, the pandemic threat and museum closures did not prevent their stores from achieving notable sales through their online stores. Established (1+ year) online stores averaged a 196% increase in sales over 2019 with more than 80% of participants reporting sales increases. At the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (the de Young and Legion of Honor), our museums had to close for a second time on the day before Museum Store Sunday. While we were eager to welcome patrons to our physical stores on Museum Store Sunday, we were also prepared to welcome them to our online store with special promotions and exclusives. The end result of our forced online-only event was record-breaking sales that surpassed our 2019 total sales (physical and online store sales) by 39%. This told me that our patrons truly believed in and supported our stores and Museum Store Sunday regardless of physical store closures; the event in itself was no doubt a worthy cause. If there is a silver lining from the pandemic, the rise of the online museum store sands out. According to the post-Museum Store Sunday survey, over 30% of participants had created and opened an online store in 2020.
As we look forward to this year’s event, which will happen on November 28, 2021, Museum Store Sunday will be celebrating its 5th anniversary. Despite the unprecedented challenge of the pandemic, over 90% of museum stores who participated in 2020 say they will definitely participate in Museum Store Sunday again this year. With the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine, we anticipate a gradual return to normalcy in our institutions and stores and approach Museum Store Sunday 2021 with newfound perseverance and added confidence in its continued importance and value to our world. It has been an honor and privilege to serve as the Co-Chairs for Museum Store Sunday this past year. If you are interested in Chairing or volunteering to assist with the planning and execution of Museum Store Sunday 2021 (our 5th Year Anniversary!), please reach out to MSA (email@example.com) or us directly.
Photo courtesy the de Young Museum Store
Susan Tudor is the Director of Retail Operations for the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens in Jacksonville, Florida. She has chaired multiple national committees including the MSA Advocacy Committee responsible for the inaugural launch of Museum Store Sunday®. Susan is Immediate Past President of the MSA Board of Directors as well as a past President of the MSA Florida Chapter.
To contact Susan, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stuart Hata is the Director of Retail Operations for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the de Young and Legion of Honor. He is responsible for driving an award-winning multi-million dollar museum retail business and oversees merchandising, store operations, warehousing, product development, retail marketing, licensing, wholesale, and the online FAMSF store (shop.famsf.org). He served as a Co-Chair of the Museum Store Association's 2020 Museum Store Sunday committee and is a Past President of the MSA Board of Directors and MSA Western Chapter.
To contact Stuart, please email him at email@example.com.