Here are answers to many frequently asked questions about museum stores and the museum store industry. The size, scope and purpose of museum stores may be bigger and more important than you think!

What is the size of the industry in dollars/sales?

We know from a 2009 financial survey conducted by a third-party company that MSA member stores range in net sales from less than $1,000 to more than $8.3 million with median net sales of $214,000 and mean net sales of $653,850.

How are museum stores different from regular retail stores?

Stores in cultural institutions are different from typical retail operations in several ways. These retail operations play a vital role in supporting the institution’s educational mission. They offer products that provide visitors with mementos and educational materials directly related to their cultural experience.

Purchases made at museum stores provide important financial support for the institution. All profits go to the cultural institution, not into a company or individual’s pocket.

Unlike a typical mall experience, shopping at a cultural institution is an extension of the unique museum experience. Most stores operate within the museum building or on the institution’s campus rather than in a shopping district or mall. Most customers shop there because of their interest in the cultural institution.

How profitable are stores in cultural institutions? How much do they contribute to their institutions?

Museum store profitability can vary widely depending on museum visitation, store location, product mix, what the museum charges back to the store (such as rent, utilities, phone), paid versus volunteer staff and several other factors. The amount that any given store contributes to its institution varies widely, but can be as much as one-third of the institution’s operating budget.

How long have museum stores been around?

Museums have included retail operations on some scale since the 1890s.

Museum Store Association was formed in 1955 to support museum and cultural institution professionals.

Is opening a museum store in a mall or other location away from the museum a trend?

Based on data collected by MSA, about six percent of museums operate stores outside of their institution’s premises. These tend to be larger institutions with the resources to operate additional locations. Some institutions have operated off-site stores for many years. A few institutions open off-site holiday stores each year.

Why would a museum open a store in a mall or other shopping district outside of the institution?

Museums that open off-site stores usually gain increased exposure for the institution and a wider audience for their products. The ultimate success of an off-site store depends on many factors similar to other retail operations such as location, product mix, effective marketing and so forth.

Are all museum stores operated by the institution?

In the past few years, companies called concessionaires have taken over the retail operations of cultural institutions. A concessionaire is a for-profit entity that manages all retail operations including inventory, merchandising and staffing, and pays an agreed upon amount to the institution on an annual basis.

More Questions?

Let us know if you have more questions about museum stores. If you have a question, then most likely someone else does, too! We’d like to get them answered for you!

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