Museum Product Photography With an iPhone: The MSA Photo Challenge

July 8, 2019

By David Graveen and Erin Brown

We all know that smartphone photography is key to selling products in this digital age. At MSA FORWARD in San Diego, I led a “hands-on” education session on product photography with an iPhone. I shared photo tips including how to build your own in-store photo studio for under $50 to ensure that your product photos come out perfectly. The second part of the session was led by social media expert Erin Brown, and she concentrated on using Instagram to build a following to help store sales. Our idea was that everyone in the session should leave “photo and Instagram ready.” Erin and I challenged session attendees with five goals to implement on their return to their respective museum stores. This challenge is now being extended to the entire MSA Community!

Photo taken with an iPhone X

Photo taken with an iPhone X

The MSA Photo Challenge

Goal 1: Build a photo studio or buy an LED studio photo box ( Define and plan the photo studio’s role in your store’s busy, everyday social media workflow.

Goal 2: Learn all camera settings/capabilities on your phone and use them for best results.

Phone Model iPhone X*

*Not all camera phones can deliver professional results. I recommend Apple’s iPhone 8 Version or higher.

Recommended Camera settings:

Color: Original

Display & Brightness – Set at mid-point

Storage – 64 GB Minimum, 256 GB Recommended ($1,150)

iCloud 2 TB ($10/month)

Flash: Off

HDR:   Off

Live:    Off

Grid:    On

Zoom: Off

In the Photos App, create “Product Photography” Album

Goal 3: Learn all image editing tools on Instagram and use them for best results: filters, perspective, brightness, contrast, warmth, saturation, highlights, shadows, tilt shift, sharpen and vignette.

Note for advanced users: Instagram is a great app, but when it comes to making your photos stand out, dedicated photo editing apps usually surpass Instagram’s capabilities. Snapseed, A Color Story, VSCO, Adobe Photoshop Express and Pixlr are great picture editing apps. Beyond image editing, these apps offer time-saving actions like saving “image recipes” if you have a set of adjustments you like to apply to all your pictures. While most of the tools are available for free, some apps may lock these features behind a pay wall.

Goal 4: Make a professional product photo in 10 minutes or less.

Goal 5: Create an effective Instagram post in 10 minutes or less.

The DIY Basic Studio                                                                                                                                        LED Studio Photo Box



My office is roughly 12’x15’ and packed with a desk, two large dog crates, bookshelves, filing cabinets and a conference table — and still I have space for both of these photo studio options. Look for a permanent studio location so that your setup time is minimized.

Here’s what you’ll need to build your own basic studio:

(2) Pieces of 24”x36” White Foam Core (Michael’s Art Supplies)

(2) Pieces of 18”x24” White Foam Core (Michael’s Art Supplies)

(2) Goose Neck Table Lamps (Staples)

(2) 65 Watt Daylight LED Light Bulbs (Staples)

(1) 2” White Gaffers Tape (Art supply Store)

(1) Dust Off Air in a Can (Staples)

DIY Budget: $50.00

LED Budget: $69.95


Escama Bag                                                                                                                                              Corey Wood’s Sunglasses

These photos were made in less than 10 minutes using my iPhone X (image adjusted in Instagram) and shot using the DIY basic studio. I prefer the basic studio over the LED studio lightbox because it is larger and more forgiving, but the “seamless” background effect is easier to achieve with the lightbox. Both are super simple to use and can deliver great results!

I also used and recommend the following studio accessories:

  1. Floor Standing Tripod * Manfrotto’s “Compact Smart Model” $59 B&H Photo
  2. Shutter Release Blue Tooth * Camkix Wireless Blue Tooth $29 B&H Photo
  3. Acrylic Cubes in Various Sizes * Clear Solutions

Tip: A tripod will discipline your eye and improve your compositions, and, when combined with a Bluetooth shutter release, it will ensure that there is no camera shake and your image will be remarkably sharper.

Why white?

These two studio images were made with a white backdrop to highlight the product. Social media influencers in the nonprofit retail industry have established and embraced a white style for their social media — check out MoMA and the Art Institute of Chicago’s white style on Instagram. A white background is best practice. White encourages consistency. White is the Amazon standard, and white will save money in product photography time and resources. You may wish to develop a style and a vison to personalize your feed that does not include a white background, but an exercise with white is invaluable when learning the fundamentals of lighting.

You have your photos … now what?

  • Label your photo files and file folders clearly and consistently.
  • Save them in one accessible location (Dropbox or Google Drive if you can).
  • Plan your social media one month at a time in an editorial calendar.
  • Write and double check your captions.
  • Tag vendors, your museum and other relevant accounts in the post.
  • Engage with your audience.
  • Be strategic. Create recurring content threads for your account.

What are content threads?

By thinking strategically and planning ahead about what makes your institution and store unique, it will be easier to generate new content. Examples: #MakerMonday, Item of the Week!, Meet the Staff. Add threads to your editorial calendar, leaving space for impromptu posts. Think about promoting products, educating followers on designers and artists, engaging with your community and staying entertaining.

Image Specs for Social Media

Each social media platform has different image sizes for their posts, profile pictures, etc. Ensuring that your images are sized appropriately will increase their quality in your followers’ feeds.

Instagram posts can be 1080 x 1080 pixels.

Facebook posts should have an image attached, 440 x 220 pixel (minimum, 2:1 ratio), or the photo won’t fill the feed appropriately.

Don’t forget to standardize your profile pics across platforms checking to be sure they’re the proper size.

Dos and Don’ts of Social Media


Find or create graphic, clear images.

Keep things vertical. Long images take up more space

Be thoughtful, but don’t belabor it.

Tag your vendors.

Post regularly (at least three times per week).

Keep your captions concise, but don’t forget to infuse personality.

Ask questions, reply to commenters and make it feel human.


Post blurry, low-resolution images ever.

Use someone else’s image without permission or recognition.

Over post (more than three times a day).

Post millions of unrelated hashtags.

Spend hours agonizing over a single post.

Forget to create a geotag location and tag your posts.

Grow your Following

Use the right hashtags.

Use the right filters.

Post at the right time.

Pay for sponsored posts and product reviews.

Use geotags to boost local discovery.

Organize your Stories into Highlights on your profile.

Ask new users who engage with you to follow you.

Be consistent.

Hop on trends.

Run a giveaway.

Monitor your following closely over time.

Use the Instagram tools at your disposal.

Win $500!

Now take what you’ve learned and enter the Museum Store Product Photography Contest!

Instagram Post: Museum Store Sunday

Deadline: Oct. 1, 2019

Photograph and create a Museum Store Sunday Instagram post. Posts need to be completed and shared with Erin Brown, “the judge.” Erin will choose the most effective Museum Store Sunday Instagram post. The Best Museum Store Sunday post will receive a $500 credit toward any custom product from Popcorn. Hint: Make sure you use the hashtag #museumstoresunday

Engage your staff and have fun!

headshotDavid Graveen is the managing partner of Popcorn, a specialty design and manufacturing company dedicated to the nonprofit and specialty retail marketplaces. In the past year, Popcorn partnered with fellow MSA vendor Original Source to form the “Single Source” Brand, delivering an unprecedented range of services, products and best pricing to the museum store community. Over the past 17 years, David “Popcorn” has served on the MSA Board of Directors as a Vendor Advisor, he has championed LARGE group photos at chapter meetings and led several education sessions at the annual conference. David has served on the Museum Store Sunday Committee from its inception and is proud to be a founding sponsor.



Erin Brown is a social media consultant and part of the Hello PR Team responsible for Museum Store Sunday press and social. She studied Art History in college and began her career in the marketing department of a museum in Los Angeles. From there, she lived in San Francisco and New York, working as the director of marketing and communications for Design Within Reach, where she brought the stories of emerging and established designers and their products to life through print and online media. In 2014, Erin returned to the LA area to live and work, starting a social media consultancy for retail brands, designers and more.


Big Ideas from AAM’s Annual Meeting — and How They Fit Into Museum Retail Stores

June 24, 2019

By Julie Steiner

Part 1: Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion

I had the privilege of attending the American Alliance of Museum’s (AAM) 2019 Annual Meeting last month. I participated in learning sessions with museum professionals from all areas of the field: curators, educators, administrators, trustees, directors, collections staff, volunteers, students and more. AAM’s Annual Meeting provides an invaluable forum for sharing and strategizing with top-level presenters and a wealth of big ideas. I left invigorated and inspired, my mind swimming with possibilities, and my courage bolstered by the passion of so many museum peers engaged in so many ambitious projects.

Along the way, I observed that some of the conversations happening in the broader forum of the museum industry do not yet consistently have an active place in the space of our retail-specific niche of the field. I would like to share some of my observations from AAM and adapt them to museum-store specific applications that MSA members can use.

First is prioritizing DEAI: diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion. In their 2016–2020 strategic plan, the AAM board (with president and CEO Laura Lott) identified DEAI as one of the most vital issues to the field’s viability, relevance and sustainability, and AAM has since made the subject an imperative in all activities. Dr. Nichole Ivy wrote, “We believe that those who have historically been relegated to the margins of society due to legacies of racism, ableism, sexism, heterosexism, xenophobia and all other forms of injustice must be fully included in museum workplaces and communities.”

Click here to read AAM’s full report, “Facing Change.”

This focus was on display throughout the conference, primarily in the topics presented for discussion. Session examples included “Welcoming Guidelines for LGBTQ Audiences,” “Going Beyond English,” “Understanding Everyday Bias,” “The Principles of Feminine Design,” “Creating an Inclusive Museum Field Trip” and “Is That Hung White? Getting Real About Diversity in Exhibitions.” The catalogue of sessions reveals an industry struggling to diversify and to correct a variety of imbalances — a field of professionals hungry to learn how to do better.

Another visible way AAM differs from some conferences is in a concerted effort to represent a diversity of participants among panels and presenters. Who are the voices of “experts” in the museum field? A wide variety of media sources have recently discussed the move against all-male panels across a broad range of industries, reassessing the ways conferences establish authoritative voices in a field, and how frequently those focus on male and white perspectives. However, AAM understands that the problem goes further, and that often when conference planners do grant space onstage to others, they relegate minority participants to those conversations that specifically center the issue of DEAI. AAM’s panels more frequently include gender and racial diversity throughout subject topics, although efforts in this area are continuous and ongoing.

The focus on DEAI was also on display on a practical, operational level: from opening the event with a tribal land acknowledgement, to a gender-inclusive restroom policy, to pronoun ribbons provided for attendees’ name badges (see photo below), to live-captioned meetings, ASL interpreters, and clear communication about physical access to all event and excursion sites. AAM attempts to build an event accessible to and inclusive of attendees of all race, nationality, gender, sexuality or physical ability. As an organization, AAM puts in the work to model best practices and make DEAI an underlying principle of their operations.


How does this apply in a retail environment?

I posit that when our stores align with our institutions’ missions, as all good museum stores strive to do, then all of the factors important to our overarching institution will also figure into planning our business operations. Museum stores provide the last (and sometimes longest-lasting) part of a guest’s visit, so to leave the stores out of the most meaningful conversations is to lose an opportunity for an institution to draw its final conclusions,  solidify its impression on our guests, and extend the conversation the institution has with them.

Museum stores should adopt AAM’s practices to measure and improve diversity, access, inclusion and equity. Our retail professionals can access AAM’s DEAI materials and apply them to our staff and operations, as well as to the guests we serve. Examples of the resources offered by AAM include HR best practices for staff diversity, a booklet with tips for interacting with people with disabilities — especially helpful for those training frontline staff — and a newly published transgender inclusion toolkit. Our stores, as well as food service areas, ticketing, theaters and event spaces, can demonstrate the commitments held by our organizations and model elevated DEAI standards to our communities.

Nonprofit retail cannot be separate from these larger museum world changes and conversations. Museum stores are vital points of access to our museums, and our team members are invaluable for engaging with the public. As retail professionals, we have a great opportunity to assess our businesses with renewed consideration. We are fortunate to have access to the resources that AAM is pioneering for our field, and by collaborating with professionals across departments on these endeavors within our institutions, we can stand shoulder to shoulder with museum educators and program professionals to create museums that are safe and welcoming to all individuals in our communities.

headshotJulie Steiner (pronouns she/her/hers) is the director of retail operations for the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and was the 2017-18 president of MSA.


My Two Favorite Weekends of 2018 Were Both Spent at MSA Chapter Meetings

June 10, 2019

By Kristen Daniels

I’ve been a member of MSA for over 10 years, but it wasn’t until 2018 that I learned a secret that I’m going to share with you: MSA regional chapter meetings, most of which take place in the fall, are the best weekend getaways out there. If you are a member of MSA, you are welcome to join as many of them as you’d like — the meetings are a membership perk that I had never taken advantage of but am now hooked on. At the MSA FORWARD conference, you get to meet and network with an even larger group, but these smaller chapter meetings have a wonderful vibe all of their own. I’m here to get you hooked on this terrific local experience.

My intrigue began several years ago after reading about and seeing pictures of the North Atlantic (NA) Chapter’s annual autumn meeting on ShopTalk. They toured museums and held educational sessions during the day, had parties at night and were genuinely enjoying the company of their MSA friends. After reading their posts, I always wished I had been there with them.

Years pass quickly, and it wasn’t long before another NA regional meeting was being gushed over on ShopTalk. Posts about other fun and interesting chapter meetings also started appearing, leading me to feel what can only be described as “chapter meeting envy.” It was a feeling I haven’t had since high school, when I would occasionally miss a weekend house party because I was babysitting the kids around the block. My teenage FOMO (fear of missing out) resurfaced in a big way, and this time I knew I was missing out on something much more fun and interesting than a teenage keg party.

Late last summer, on one of our chapter vendor advisor (CVA) video calls, we decided that each CVA would gather information about their chapter’s upcoming meeting and ask the MSA office to post the files under the “Chapters” menu on the website so that they were easily accessible to the whole membership. See the Chapter Upcoming Events for 2019 information as each chapter’s plan becomes available.

As I read the itineraries that were posted, it dawned on me that, even though we live in North Carolina and are members of the South Atlantic Chapter, we could get a cheap and direct flight to St. Petersburg, rent a car and drive 50 miles to Lakeland, Florida, where the Florida Chapter meeting was based.

I signed Kamibashi up to be a conference sponsor for the reasonable price of $300, which included registration for one person to attend all of the events that weekend: a cocktail party, a lunch, a dinner, and all museum entry and tour fees. My husband Chris’s registration was $80 (Florida Chapter members paid $60), the convenient and comfortable hotel was $99 per night and the whole weekend, including our flights and rental car, cost us about $1,000 total. Had we not sponsored and had we lived close enough to drive, this would have been a much lower figure.

What we got for our modest investment can best be described as an extremely memorable and fun time that was filled with surprises at every turn. We started off the weekend with a Friday evening reception at the Polk Museum complete with appetizers, wine, and beer and a chance to get to know the 26 people we’d be spending the weekend with. There were new faces as well as faces we recognized but, most importantly, they were all friendly faces brought together by three letters: MSA. After mingling and meeting everyone, we were treated to a curator-led, after-hours tour of two fantastic exhibitions before we headed off to dinner in small groups.

The next morning, we all gathered in the hotel lobby and sorted out who would be in which person’s car for what turned out to be a full day of one highlight after the next. It is not an exaggeration to say that we were treated like VIPs everywhere we went the entire weekend. We started out with a wonderful tour of Florida Southern College, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and then had lunch at a café that was on a little lake just a short drive away.

From there, we headed to yet another amazing experience: a trip to Bok Tower with a very special tour that included going inside their famed Singing Tower, which houses a carillon, an instrument that I had never heard of. A carillon is an organ-like instrument that gets its sound from 60 perfectly tuned bells hanging from the ceiling of the 205-foot tower, the heaviest of which is 12 tons. We climbed the stairs to the office and studio of the carillonneur, a full-time position held by a Belgian gentleman (one of the best in the world) who told us about himself and gave us a brief history of the instrument before playing it for us. Little did any of us know that this private meeting and concert with the carillonneur is a treat that only “Tower Level Members” are privy to, and that the vast majority of visitors, including many people who have worked at Bok Tower for years, have never been to the top of the tower.

Next, we headed to a conference room where the volunteer coordinator from Bok Tower talked to everyone about making the most of your volunteers and thinking outside the box when it comes to who your volunteers are. After this, each sponsoring vendor had 15 minutes of everyone’s complete attention to present our companies and our products, which we had set up on 8-foot tables that had been assigned to us.

After a short party in the store, we headed off to their state-of-the-art outdoor kitchen where a delicious taco dinner with homemade tortillas awaited our group. After more comradery, we headed to our cars for the drive back to the hotel, feeling grateful for all of the work that the dedicated conference committee and hosts had put in to make this an unforgettable experience for all.

You would think that after this 12-hour, very eventful day, everyone would have been ready for bed, but not this group! After we got back to the hotel, the majority of attendees gathered near the bar in the lobby and hung out and chatted together for another hour or two — and maybe longer — Chris and I were not the last to turn in.

On Sunday, we headed back to the Polk Museum for the Florida Chapter Meeting and an educational session about Museum Store Sunday by Susan Tudor, who everyone applauded for her dedication to Museum Store Sunday and its success. From there, everyone headed home, full of fabulous memories.

Just a few weeks later, our own chapter, the South Atlantic (SA) Chapter, met in Charlotte for the first weekend-long chapter meeting the SA has had in many years. It did not disappoint. Hosted by Amy Grigg of the Mint Museum and planned by Diana Walpole of Crystal Bridges, we were blessed with a gorgeous fall weekend and VIP treatment by both locations of the Mint Museum, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the Levine Museum of the New South and the Carolinas Aviation Museum. The educational sessions were terrific, the exhibits and tour guides a delight and the vendor product presentations over Sunday breakfast very well received and interesting.


This conference, which I had even played a small part in organizing, was also full of surprises, the biggest of which occurred at a catered dinner on Saturday night at the Carolinas Aviation Museum on the grounds of Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Little did any of us know that we would be seeing the “Miracle on the Hudson” plane that Captain Sully landed perfectly after a flock of geese shut both engines down shortly after taking off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport in January 2009. I know I was not alone in getting goosebumps from seeing this plane in person and hearing the stories that our tour guide told. It was really memorable!

My memory for details is not as good as it once was (I can barely remember a movie the day after I’ve watched it), but I am not exaggerating when I say that I can remember almost every minute of both of these weekends because they were truly wonderous affairs that I felt very privileged to have been able to attend. From my point of view, being invited to attend these amazing chapter meetings that take place at top-notch museums with top-notch people are worth your MSA membership dues and more. Thank you to all of the volunteers who spend many hours organizing these educational and fun weekends — they are something that every MSA member should take advantage of, and I encourage you to get hooked on them too.

P.S. This year, the South Atlantic Regional Conference will be held in Asheville, North Carolina (the hometown of Kamibashi) on the weekend of Sept. 6–8, 2019. Be on the lookout for more information on the Chapter Upcoming Events page of the MSA website around the middle of June.

headshotKristen Daniels is the president of Kamibashi (the string doll people) and one of two vendor advisers to the MSA Board. When she and her husband Chris travel, they love to visit museums and their shops, so attending regional chapter meetings is going to be something they happily do for many years to come.


We Need Your Thoughts, Your Expertise and Your Willingness to Share

May 13, 2019

By MSA Staff

We Need Your Thoughts, Your Expertise and Your Willingness to Share

MSA is always seeking relevant content for our biweekly blog, and we hope you are interested in sharing your skills and experiences with the MSA community. All the members of our community are trained professionals and experts in the field — and have interesting, personal and relevant material to share with their peers. One of the defining characteristics of our association is our members’ unflagging willingness to assist each other — and a blog post offering info, suggestion, and practical steps is a way to spread that word across our community.

We hope you will all consider this as a way to shine at your own institutions and businesses. Publishing your expertise in a blog for your association of 1,200-plus members shows the knowledge and willingness to contribute that makes you an industry leader.


Perhaps you have an intriguing industry topic you’ve been itching to write about, or you devised a solution to a common nonprofit retail problem. Did you present something at the recent conference in San Diego or find inspiration there that led you to investigate an issue? Maybe you recently presented to your board and the content is relevant and would be of use to our community. What have you been working on that you would love to share?

Blog Submission Details

MSA Blog submissions should be between 400 and 900 words.

Topics can include anything relevant to our profession or association under the

Topics must be educational — offering tips, information, and advice that would be useful to the MSA community. The MSA Blog is not a platform for advertisement or solicitation.

MSA Blog submissions should be emailed to David Duddy at with the email subject line: “MSA Blog submission.”

MSA Blog submissions should be accompanied by your headshot portrait and one or more photos of your business (or a photo relevant to your content).

MSA Blog submissions should include, in the body of your email, the MSA Knowledge Standard(s) that your blog applies to.

Here is a link to recent MSA Blog posts as examples.

Here is a link for tips on writing a great blog post.

We hope that you will find this an exciting prospect and will contribute in the near future. The volunteer MSA Marketing and Communications Committee has taken on the solicitation, submissions and editing of these blog entries. We look forward to reading your submissions … start typing now!

Marketing and Communications Committee (MARCOM)

  • Ione Saroyan/New-York Historical Society, Chair
  • Kate Botelho/The Preservation Society of Newport County
  • David Duddy/de Cordova Sculpture Park & Museum
  • Stuart Hata/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
  • Samir Jhaveri/Nina J. Design Studios
  • Bradley Platz/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
  • Susan Tudor/Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens

Cross-Continent Connections

April 29, 2019

By Louise Kirby, MSc

Preparing for MSA FORWARD

The Deep is an environmental and educational charity, employing 160 people, built to promote regeneration within Hull, the UK City of Culture. A member of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, it is renowned for its research and conservation work. Inevitably, the spotlight falls on the likes of turtles, penguins and sawfish instead of the crucial supporting commercial departments. I am delighted, therefore, as the director of operations and people, to have been given the opportunity through ACE to showcase The Deep’s work on accessible tourism at MSA FORWARD in San Diego.

As a one-site organization, The Deep recognizes the benefits of working in partnership with other attractions, reminding ourselves that we are within a major global industry. We appreciate that helping to deliver industry excellence is healthy for our business; enjoyable days out and fantastic commercial experiences fuel further visits to similar attractions. This conference exchange is a super opportunity to share ideas, inspiration, and examples of good practice, products and services; and grow wider support networks to realize the potential of the Purple Pound (the spending power of disabled households in the United Kingdom).

louise-kirby-msa-forward-1Having worked at The Deep since its build, I recall being determined that as many people as possible would enjoy the aquarium and providing inclusive tourism for all is key to this aspiration. Having managed the customer service that has delivered over 7.5 million visits since 2002, I see these not as casual days out, but rather the potential to inspire, inform, educate and entertain to as wide an audience as possible. The availability of accessible leisure and tourism opportunities should be the norm rather than the exception.

Although there are clearly legal requirements with regards to accessibility, organizations can be too quick to categorize accessible service provision as merely a business obligation rather than an opportunity; many improvements actually provide an inclusive service for all. The consequences of not engaging can be missed opportunities, lack of employee confidence and reduced customer satisfaction across the board. Under the “people” element of my job role, I am an advocate for the benefits to Deep Crew Staff of accessibility excellence, with increased employee engagement and satisfaction as a result.

A recent customer with challenges ended their “thank you” by saying:

I was so grateful to them, and they both deserve recognition for their care, kindness, lack of judgement and quick thinking. She made sure we were all OK before we went on our way. I am used to being stared at and judged when faced with a meltdown in public. Your staff did the exact opposite and helped me in a very difficult situation. I felt quite emotional that I had been treated that well in a public place.

I find it heartbreaking that being stared at and judged is considered the norm. I look forward to sharing with MSA colleagues how The Deep strives for accessibility excellence with positive commercial, reputational and employment outcomes as a result ― creating a network of accessibility ambassadors.

The MSA FORWARD Experience

MSA FORWARD keynote speaker Bob Phipps (aka “The Retail Doctor”) quoted one of his clients, saying: “Since doing this training, our customers have got nicer!” Well, since being at MSA FORWARD in San Diego in March, I can safely say that, for me, the world of attraction retailing has become smaller, the potential of retailing in our industry is larger, and my pool of friends, colleagues and contacts has grown from the aquarium tanks of The Deep across the Atlantic to the shores of the Pacific. My sincere thanks go out to everyone involved with making the inaugural exchange program between ACE and MSA happen in 2019.

The quality of the conference, presentations, workshops, attraction visits and informal sessions at MSA FORWARD was flawless. What struck me most of all was the realization that it clearly doesn’t matter if you are working for an aquarium in Hull, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Museum in Florida, the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library, or San Diego’s own Balboa Park Visitor Center, the issues we are faced with and the discussions we are having with our colleagues are the same. Recurring topics for discussion were pricing policies, supplier negotiation, liaison and joint initiatives, when to mark products down, and light-hearted (on the face of it!) familiar arguments on 99 cents versus $1! We were also reminded on a couple occasions that we should not lose sight of the fact that we are often sourcing and pricing products not for the size of our wallets, but for those of our visitors ― and do we really know who those shoppers are, what they want and how much they are prepared to spend?

Delegates included both buyers and vendors, and the welcome I received from everyone was incredible. It was a pleasure to deliver my presentation on “Championing Accessibility and Inclusivity for Commercial Excellence.” At this (and all sessions I attended), you could sense a natural, genuine zest for knowledge, learning and information sharing from the industry community. It’s hard to believe that any of the attendees would need their customers to “get nicer,” with great communication and retail techniques already in place! Since the conference, I have been emailed by people with positive stories to tell me about the impact of my presentation on their attractions’ accessibility, which is incredible to hear.

So next time you are working on a Sunday afternoon, and it feels like everyone else is at home, and no one in the world understands what it is like to be in attraction management, why not reach out to a fellow ACE member or, better still, apply for the Exchange Programme 2020. And MSA members: Reach out to find how you can come to the United Kingdom to attend and present at our ACE conference. Be sure to save the date for the Rock and Roll Capital of the World, Cleveland, Ohio, April 23-27, 2020! Good luck!

louise-kirbyLouise Kirby, MSc, is the director of operations and people at The Deep aquarium in Hull, England. The Deep opened in 2002, by which time Louise had already joined the organization as the personal assistant to the chief executive, bringing with her substantial experience in office and business management. As so often happens with PAs, Louise’s remit evolved over time and she grew from being responsible for recruitment paperwork, through to achieving a master’s degree in human resource management and from taking minutes at board meetings to becoming a core member of the senior management team. Louise now holds responsibility for all aspects of the company’s HR activities, as well as the commercial elements of the business, with the managers of retail, food and beverage, guiding and ticketing reporting to her. As a champion of service excellence, people development and accessible tourism, Louise delights in supporting people’s aspirations and achievements in her home city as well as within the attraction industry worldwide.   


Recognizing Excellence at MSA FORWARD

April 15, 2019

By MSA Staff

From March 28 to April 1, over 600 MSA members — museum store professionals and vendors alike — had the opportunity to come together to learn, buy, sell, network and explore at MSA FORWARD 2019: Create, Innovate, Educate!, the 64th annual Retail Conference & Expo, in San Diego, California. Thanks to everyone who participated and supported MSA FORWARD 2019.

Our time in San Diego was extraordinary. We participated in essential, elevated and exclusive learning sessions designed for all MSA members. We made new connections during our many excursions and networking events. At our first-class expo, we discovered incredible new products destined to be top sellers in our stores.

During MSA FORWARD 2019, we also recognized and celebrated several of our MSA leaders and members for their creativity, passion, hard work and dedication that make the MSA community so special and vibrant. We are proud to recognize the 2019 recipients for the MSA Buyer’s Choice Awards, the MSA Board Awards for Outstanding Service, the MSA Store of the Year Award and the MSA Recognition Awards.

Buyer’s Choice Awards

Each year at MSA FORWARD, buyers select their favorite new items in the categories of Books and Multimedia, Custom Design, Eco-Friendly, Education and Games, Fashion and Paper Products. This year, with over 20 products on the ballot, buyers were faced with hard decisions across all categories — but six creative, eye-catching and forward-thinking products ended up taking home the coveted awards.


Books & Multimediabuyerschoice

Mudpuppy, Little Artists Board Book Set

Custom Design

David Howell & Company, Contemporary Pencil Tree Ornament


Prime Line Packaging, Love is Stronger than Hate 9/11 Memorial Museum reusable canvas tote

Education & Games

Pomegranate Communications, INC, Charley Harper’s Spot the Birds Board Game


DONA Scarves, Wedding Package – Joslyn Museum

Paper Products

Girl of All Work, Museum Collection: Great Masters Page Flags


MSA Board Awards for Outstanding Service

Each year, MSA’s Board of Directors has the opportunity to recognize individuals in the Museum Store Association community who exemplify the MSA spirit — leaving a lasting impact on MSA and paving the way for the association’s future. This year, these awards took five forms: the Merit Award, the Special Recognition Award, the Advocacy Award, the MSA NEXT Award and the M Award.

MSA Merit Award

The Merit Award is bestowed only on individuals who have contributed to the significant improvement of MSA.

Alice McAuliffe, Walters Art Museum – At conferences, in MSA’s blog posts and as a past Mid-Atlantic Chapter president, Alice has been a powerful presence in MSA for many years. During her two years as board treasurer, MSA reaped the benefits of Alice’s talent, expertise and professionalism during challenging times. She has a tremendous ability to stay focused on the future of MSA and the great need we have to cultivate and mentor emerging leaders. Her work on MSA’s behalf has had a meaningful impact on individuals, our community and our industry.

MSA Special Recognition Award

The MSA Special Recognition Award honors a staff member’s contribution to the advancement of the association.

Dana Butler, Managing Editor, Museum Store Magazine – Dana has been the managing editor of Aspen Magazine, PaperCity and Denver Magazine, and she has brought that experience and talent to MSA’s Museum Store Magazine since 2014. Dana believes that the magazine isn’t doing its job if it doesn’t serve the members’ needs first and foremost, and Dana does so by consistently sourcing relevant content, and by using her journalism, management and editing skills to advance MSA.

MSA Advocacy Award

The new MSA Advocacy Award is bestowed to any individual, institution, vendor or organization who has demonstrated sustained effort and accomplished significant progress in advocating for MSA and its mission.

AmericasMart Atlanta – Our colleagues at AmericasMart Atlanta have taken action on many fronts to promote MSA and its initiatives: as a founding member of the Advocacy Committee, a founding sponsor of Museum Store Sunday, through their successful launch of the Museum Collective, which has given the MSA its first permanent branded location at a major trade show, and as a consistent supporter and promoter of MSA. AmericasMart Atlanta has proven itself invaluable as an advocate and partner for MSA.


This award honors a young professional whose efforts inspire future museum retail professional leaders through unique contributions that benefit all MSA members.

Steve Santangelo, Popcorn Custom Products – As a leader within one of MSA’s newest initiatives, Steve brings fresh ideas, enthusiasm and innovation to MSA. He motivates future leaders of our industry through his unique contributions and participation in creating dynamic, fun and engaging programming. His many talents and adventurous spirit are a tremendous benefit to MSA NEXT and to the entire MSA community.

The M Award

The M Award is the highest award given by the Museum Store Association. To receive the M Award, the recipient must show outstanding dedication and loyalty to the association through creativity, effectiveness, and the spirit of volunteerism and support.


Over the last four years, a remarkable group of volunteers made up of both institutions and vendors faced unprecedented challenges in their work for MSA. This year, the MSA Board chose three deserving individuals to receive the M Award. While this is unprecedented, so is the work these individuals have done on MSA’s behalf.

  • Chris Michel, The National World War II Museum – Chris’s diligence, expertise and vision with all financial matters pertaining to MSA positioned our organization to dramatically improve its financial standing. His mission to add value to MSA membership resulted in an inclusive annual conference filled with fun, camaraderie, exceptional speakers and professionalized programming overall. His mastery at budgeting and tough negotiating skills resulted in profit for MSA. Chris served two years on the MSA Board as director at large. He served twice as Conference Committee co-chair and continues to serve on the MSA Finance Committee.
  • Julie Steiner, Barnes Foundation – Julie’s vision, research and exploration led MSA to a stable foundation with a sophisticated association management company. Her work as MSA Board president resulted in a world-class Retail Industry Report that re-established MSA’s leadership position in this industry, the ongoing publication of an annual Membership Directory, and the promise of a future filled with international opportunities for MSA members. Julie’s leadership has had a powerful impact on, and has benefited MSA, in innumerable ways. Her talent, skill and extraordinary ability to place museum stores in the larger context of commerce and consumer value have made a lasting impact. Julie continues to volunteer on the Finance Committee, the Advocacy Committee and MSA NEXT.
  • Paul Stewart-Stand, Stewart/Stand – Paul’s passion, critical thinking and sheer tenacity benefited MSA through many important initiatives and challenges. The results include MSA’s right-sized gem of a conference, with his specific skills at work to ensure responsible budgeting, planning, marketing and branding. Paul’s creative ingenuity also helped MSA win the 2018 ICON Honors for Museum Store Sunday brand identity development and brand launch. Paul served two years on the MSA Board as vendor member adviser and two years as Conference Committee co-chair.

Through the dedication and efforts of Chris, Julie and Paul, MSA is a far better organization. On behalf of our entire MSA community, we thank you for your creativity, effectiveness and spirit of volunteerism.


One of MSA’s newest initiatives — the MSA STORE OF THE MONTH, culminating in the MSA STORE OF THE YEAR — launched in August 2018 with this goal in mind: advocacy for museum stores and the professionals who create them. The new awards recognize outstanding achievement within our community.

We are pleased to bestow the inaugural MSA STORE OF THE YEAR award on Waite and Peirce Authentic and Exotic Goods at Salem Maritime National Historic Site. This unique store concept is inspired by the real story of Salem shippers and privateers. The store reflects the location’s history in maritime trade through their product assortment and creates an immersive shopping experience on the wharf. Through this effort, the store has created a lifestyle brand that is connecting with local residents as well as appealing to national park tourists.

Recognition Awards

In order to recognize excellence across a wide array of talents, MSA presents annual Recognition Awards. This year, we spotlighted recipients and finalists in seven categories.

Product Development

Recipient: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco for its exclusive San Francisco Skyline Collection, developed with artist and designer Yoni Alter.

Finalist: Eastern National, for the Garfield Wallpaper RainCaper

Finalist: The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, for the À la Bodinière die cut magnet

Visual Merchandising

Recipient: The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts for its exhibition shop display for Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China.

Finalist: Filoli Historic House and Garden, for their Bees and Lavender display

Finalist: Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, for their Asianic Tropical Floor display

Web Presence

Recipient: The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which created a site that links in-store promotions and social media, museum exhibitions and programming, and features the best the VMFA Shop has to offer.

Finalist: The New-York Historical Society

Vendor of the Year

Recipient: KJK Jewelry, a leading designer and manufacturer of handcrafted jewelry.

Finalist: Found Image Press, maker of unique stationery lines featuring vintage images

Finalist: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd, independent publisher of high- quality, nonfiction books

Best Pop-Up Store or Event

Recipient: The New-York Historical Society for their pop-up exhibition shop for Harry Potter: A History of Magic.

Finalist: Frederick Douglass National Historical Site organized by Eastern National

Finalist: The Witte Museum, for their White Shaman Preserve pop-up store

2018 Best Museum Store Sunday Event – Institution Award

Recipient: Fourteen Philadelphia-area museums that participated in the collaborative MSS Passport Patron program, which included: Barnes Foundation, Brandywine River Museum of Art, Delaware Art Museum, Eastern State Penitentiary, Fabric Workshop and Museum, Grounds for Sculpture, Hagley Museum and Library, Mutter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, National Museum of American Jewish History, New Jersey State Museum, Penn Museum (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology), ,Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library.

Finalist: Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh

Finalist: The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures

2018 Best Museum Store Sunday Event – Vendor Award

Recipient: Popcorn Custom Products for their creation of an Andrew Wyeth Limited Edition Archival Print: “Northern Light” in collaborations with Brandywine Museum of Art. Brandywine marketed this print to their members in a targeted newsletter and participated with regional museums in the successful Museum Store Sunday passport campaign.

Congratulations to the award recipients, finalists and nominees! And sincere thanks to everyone in our community who makes contributions toward the success and future of the Museum Store Association.


Neighborhood Watch in San Diego

March 18, 2019

By Chacho Herman

With MSA FORWARD being in San Diego this year, MSA gave me the unenviable task of doing a write-up about the wonders and delights of the city (thanks, David Duddy). I say unenviable because there is so much! Starting south in Tijuana (Centro Cultural Tijuana (CECUT), Tacos El Franc and Telefónica Gastro Park!) all the way north to Oceanside (if you get a chance to go to Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub for an omakase meal by executive chef Davin Waite, do it. You will thank me forever.) — there is a lot to cover, and I will invariably miss something. What I thought I’d do is list some of my favorite neighborhoods and places to go and give you a “guy who’s lived here all his life” overview. The nice thing is that all the places I talk about are at most a 10- to 15-minute Lyft ride from the conference hotel.

One of my favorite neighborhoods is just south of downtown. Barrio Logan is home to Chicano Park and all of its historic, colorful and powerful murals that are painted on the supports of the Coronado Bridge. After visiting the murals, walk or drive south down Logan Avenue to grab lunch or dinner at Salud Tacos. My favorite is their birria tacos — stewed beef served in a crispy shell — but, really, you can’t go wrong with any of their food. Across the street from Salud is a little warren of independently owned shops you can browse, and Border X Brewing where you can grab a craft beer with a Mexican twist and, if you’re still hungry, another taco from their taco cart on the back patio. Finish off — and feel like a local — by getting a coffee down the street at Cafe Moto. People make pilgrimages from all over the country to visit this bean roaster. Yeah, it’s that good. Their outdoor patio furniture is repurposed industrial components like old oil barrels and giant industrial gears. Barrio Logan is also home to several galleries like La Bodega Gallery and Chicano Art Gallery. Be sure to see what’s happening at Bread & Salt, a former Wonder Bread bakery and now art hub in the neighborhood with rotating exhibitions, performances and concerts. Over the weekend of MSA FORWARD, there are glass-blowing workshops and a found music opera.


What do you not know about Balboa Park, the largest urban park in the country (yes, bigger even than Central Park) that you haven’t already read about? I imagine you already know that there are nearly 20 cultural institutions, including The San Diego Museum of Art, golf courses (Frisbee and the other kind), the world famous San Diego Zoo, miles of hiking trails, the largest outdoor organ in the world and glorious gardens. If you are into cars, science, natural history, humanities, local art, photography and theater, then Balboa Park has something for you. Visit one — or several — of the museums, and shop in each of their unique stores. Each cultural institution is independently operated, as are their stores, so there is a lot to see. Also of note, many of the stores will be offering discounts to MSA FORWARD attendees. Just show them your MSA FORWARD badge. Next, stop for lunch or dinner and a local beer or wine at the fabulous Panama 66 at The San Diego Museum of Art. (Hot tip: Every Wednesday, there is a free jazz jam hosted by multi-award-winning trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos.) The beers are all San Diego microbreweries, the wines from local vineyards and the food made from local fresh ingredients. You can panama-66-in-balboa-parkfind other good eats a short walk across the Cabrillo Bridge. For a high-end experience, visit Mister A’s where the meal (and prices) match the glorious view. Kitty corner to Mister A’s, on Fifth and Laurel, is CUCINA urbana where you will have a wonderful Italian meal. For great ramen, it’s Hachi Ramen. (It’s my lunchtime go-to. I always order the Tan Tan ramen). Hachi is on the same block as Mister A’s and CUCINA urbana.


The Adams Avenue corridor includes several neighborhoods that all have great, and local, food and beverage establishments. I live in Kensington, the first “suburb” in San Diego, which was subdivided in 1910. It’s home to palm tree lined streets, 1920s California bungalows and Ponce’s Mexican Restaurant. It’s at Ponce’s where you will get the best margarita in town — I promise. Sit on the patio, order an enchilada combo plate or a burrito and a margarita, and then pretend you’re a local. Hey, you may even see me walking my pup, “BB” (be sure to invite us for a drink!). Across the street from Ponce’s is the one remaining single screen theater in San Diego, Landmark’s Ken Cinema. It features independent and classic films. Heading west on Adams Avenue, you get to Normal Heights, where you’ll find Blind Lady Ale House, which is consistently rated among the top brewpubs in the country. They even have their own microbrewery, “Automatic,” in the back. The food is exceptional. Jaynes Gastropub on 30th Street near Adams is locally owned and a no-brainer for a great dinner and superb service, especially on their back patio (make a reservation). Across the street from Jaynes is sign-over-adams-avenuePolite Provisions, a cocktail bar where you will be taken back in time to the era of the sophisticated cocktail. Finish off your evening at An’s Dry Cleaning, a Zagat-rated homemade small batch gelato shop housed in a former dry cleaning shop (open until 11 p.m.). If you don’t have a sweet tooth, then head a block or two south on 30th Street from Jaynes and visit Fall, another of the many great local breweries. Be sure to check out the bathrooms, which are decorated with hundreds of old punk rock flyers from the early ’80s. They’ll usually have a food truck out front to help with hunger. Oh, and the beer is pretty good too. Be sure to tell Dave that Chacho sent you! All the places listed in Normal Heights are within a three-block walk, so Lyft there and then let your feet guide the way.

sign-over-adams-avenue-2Heading south, 30th Street bisects El Cajon Boulevard and University Avenue. The 30th Street corridor has  become a dining and shopping destination. This area is known as North Park. As you travel south down 30th, you’ll eventually get to South Park. Both North Park and South Park are very vibrant and old neighborhoods. The old North Park Theater (now known as “The Observatory North Park”) first opened in 1929 and is now a concert venue with musical acts to fit most any taste. If you decide to see a show at The Observatory, enjoy a pre-concert dinner at Saiko Sushi across the street. Their unusual rolls have delighted diners like me since they opened in North Park in 2014. Of course, it’s San Diego, so there are tacos. Among the best taco places in that neighborhood is City Tacos. As you make your way around North Park, there are several eateries, shops and bars. Of note for food are The Smoking Goat, One Door North and Underbelly. For drinks, try Modern Times Beer, Live Wire (a ponces-in-kensingtontrue dive bar with a great jukebox) and Bar Pink. Visit Tiger!Tiger! on El Cajon Boulevard for wood-fired oven-roasted sandwiches. Tiger!Tiger! is really, really good — so good, in fact, that I understand a certain MSA chapter will be hosting its chapter dinner there! For the vegetarian and vegan foodies, South Park’s Kindred is a must. It’s a heavy metal vegan must-do. Great cocktails, hardcore décor and delicious food — all really good and vegetarian. Across the street is Buona Forchetta, which has absolutely amazing Italian fare. A wood-fired homemade pizza oven creates among the best pizzas in town. Make a reservation to sit on the front patio. For shopping, try Pigment for gifts, The Book Catapult for books and gifts, Artelexia for unique Mexican crafts and decor, and Simply Local, which has seemingly endless options for handmade and local products, all from local artisans.

blind-lady-ale-house-in-normal-heightsI can’t possibly include everything that makes me happy about San Diego. It’s a great town to explore. I didn’t even mention Cabrillo National Monument and its tide pools located in Point Loma. On the other side of Point Loma is Liberty Station where the Mingei International Museum has its temporary store while their huge museum remodeling project takes place in Balboa Park. Visit the Mingei store, then head to the exceptional Liberty Station food court. Maybe even pay a visit to Fathom artelexia-in-north-parkBistro, Bait, and Tackle on a pier off of Shelter Island. It’s a fishing pier, so they do sell bait and tackle, but their specialty is their homemade (yup, made on the pier) artisanal sausages and rare beers. Sit on the pier, sip a beer with a nibble and enjoy an incredibly beautiful view across the bay toward downtown San Diego. And if you want authentic tiki, there is the Bali Hai Restaurant, which is also on Shelter Island.  There’s so much, and I didn’t even mention hikes in Torrey Pines State Reserve, walks on the beach in Coronado and the Hotel Del Coronado, San Diego’s Old Town — a cultural center with many great places to visit, and Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala in Mission Valley, which was founded 250 years ago this year. So, now that you’ve read through this entire post, your job is to — in between meetings, roundtable discussions, seminars and shopping — get out and explore all that this great city has to offer. See you soon!

tiger-tiger-on-el-cajon-blvd          hotel-del-coronado

chachoChacho Herman is a native San Diegan and associate director of earned income at the San Diego Museum of Art. Herman has over 30 years of cultural commerce experience. When not working, he and his wife can be found playing fetch on Coronado Beach with his dog, BB, or exploring the deserts and beaches of Baja.


Sparking Joy: Product Development in the Age of Decluttering

March 5, 2019

By Julie Steiner 

The world is awash in the trend of downsizing, decluttering and deaccessioning. Marie Kondo’s bestselling books and hit Netflix series are bringing renewed focus to minimalism, organization and eliminating anything from your home that isn’t immediately useful or that doesn’t create a frisson of joy in your life. News reports announce that donation centers are overcome, receiving record numbers of castoff clothing, books and household goods as a flurry of consumers de-acquisition huge volumes of works in their collections of personal possessions.

Just what is a product developer to do?

As museum store retailers, we are in an industry of production and sales of goods that are arguably unnecessary. The most popular universal museum store sales comes from objects like logo magnets, keychains, T-shirts and mugs. No one’s quality of life depends on a magnet. In a life of pared-down, essentials-only lifestyles and “capsule wardrobes,” is there any room for logo mugs and T-shirts? How does a refrigerator magnet ever spark joy? How are we to think about all of this stuff that we (and the vendors who supply us) make and put into the hands of the public, who are now protesting that they are flooded with too many possessions? Like it or not, we have all invariably created some of the same objects that are being cast off to trash bins and thrift shops.

Conversely, nonprofit retail is also an industry of conscientiousness, personal experience and education. We’re more than just gift shops; museum stores are the places where visitors reflect on the experiences they’ve had and lessons they’ve learned in our institutions, and find suitable physical objects to embody that experience — an object that will help them recall the best of it long after their visits are over. Because of that essential connection that takes place in museum stores, this decluttering trend gives us a renewed opportunity to reflect on our work. We can double-check that our product development endeavors are in line with our guest’s values, and strengthen our businesses by assessing our products by standards that are mindful of our guest’s increasing expectations.

Three key points to re-evaluate in this era of decluttering:

  1. The connections our products have to our institution’s missions, collections and histories.

We spend a lot of time talking about mission in the sense of UBIT and nonprofit status, but when is the last time you did an audit of your merchandise mix with your collection and educational programs in mind? Walk through your store looking at objects with the question “How does this relate to the institution’s mission? How do visitors find it meaningful? What is the spark of connection? What links the experience in the museum/park/historic site/library/etc. to the way the customer will use this item once they take it home?” Institutions are generally great at making creative connections, and such an audit can highlight our best products and help eliminate some of those that we’ve likely long known are a stretch (and chances are our customers know it, too.)

  1. The ethics of our sourcing and production practices.

Ethical production has been in the spotlight for a while, and most product developers are savvy to consumer concerns about clean factories and transparent production processes. This newfound focus on “joy” further emphasizes the value of products with meaningful background stories. Now more than ever, products that have community-supportive origins can take the spotlight. Handmade, fair trade, local, domestic or B-Corp certified companies carry origin stories that add to a product’s value to the end user. Shoppers love products that support social causes they believe in. Sometimes products are made in a community that is featured in the institution, or a portion of the proceeds go to a cause that aligns with the institution’s mission. As consumers become more educated, they have higher expectations and ask more questions of the items they purchase and use. Fortunately, it’s becoming simpler to source ethically made products. Trade shows increasingly highlight handmade, fair trade and “Made in USA” vendors. Makers use the web to tell the stories of their product’s origins directly. Sustainable materials and low carbon impact production processes are increasingly common, and more books, packaging and paper goods are printed on FSC-certified paper or using soy-based inks. Many factories and studios are converting to sustainable energy sources to power their operations. These are all origin stories that buyers can weigh in our sourcing decisions or request directly from our vendors, and then share with our customers.


Branded museum store mugs by One Acre Ceramics in Michigan. On one hand, it’s a simple mug with the museum’s name on it. But on other, these are also hand-thrown ceramic pieces made by American artists. The purchase of each mug supports not only the museum, but local economies, small-batch production and the preservation of skilled craftsmanship traditions.

  1. “End-of-life” sustainability of an item.

What happens to a product once it has served its original use? Increasingly, retailers are looking at reclaimed and recyclable materials, reduced packaging and even reusable packaging to reduce retail waste. Companies with consumable products are investing in reusable containers, meant to be returned to the store. One service, Loop, offers a “zero-waste platform,” a service by which consumers send back their empties to be refilled, a doorstep recycling service not unlike the milk truck deliveries of yesteryear. Museums can play a role in this cycle, eliminating single-use items, offering alternatives such as travel mugs, water bottles, reusable straws and shopping totes — all beneficial to consumers reducing waste in their daily lives. Aquarium and zoo shops are poised to be leaders in the movement to remove plastic from our waste streams in an endeavor to reduce harm to ecological systems. In those institutions, waste-reduction efforts pair perfectly with educational mission. The nonprofit retail industry as a whole, with a common interest in conservation and preservation, should stand in alliance with those stores in providing alternatives for conscientious consumers. At first glance, it might seem to put a damper on our product development enthusiasm — to imagine today’s ideas occupying a future landfill. But thinking ahead can paradoxically feed our creativity, and encourage us to make goods wholly connected to the institution’s message along the entire life span of the object, from production to the end.

Assessing a store’s inventory mix on the grounds of these three factors affirms that our products connect well with visitors and match their personal values. In the end, recognizing the trend of decluttering and the ongoing cultural reassessment of personal possessions is good for our businesses because it encourages us to focus on the “why” behind the product, and to excel where museum retailers already have an advantage: in making heartfelt connections and creating items that are valued beyond their shelf life and sticker price. The best “products” become “belongings,” and the most meaningful of those stand the best chance of “sparking joy.”

julie-steiner-headshotJulie Steiner is the director of retail operations for the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and was the 2017-18 president of MSA.


Holá, Toledo!

February 18, 2019

By Pam Pesetti

Arriving in the ancient hill town of Toledo, Spain, on Oct. 8, 2018, was surreal, especially given the fact that just four weeks prior, I had no plans to be in Spain. On Sept. 13, an email pinged in my inbox. This one caught my eye because it was from MSA, which is always more interesting than most of my emails, and the subject line from MSA President Ione Saroyan — Toledo, Spain Hosted Buyer Program — truly sparked my interest. Upon opening the email, I discovered an offer for two MSA chapter board members to join Susan Tudor (first vice president of the MSA Board from the Cummer Museum) to travel to Toledo, Spain. Having only been a chapter board member for six months — yet never one to pass up travel — I threw my name into the hat. Four days later, I received a message that I would be joining Susan and Mid-Atlantic Chapter vice president and MSA Next co-chair Aubrey Herr from The Walters Art Museum. I was in good company from the start.

spain-2018-pic-2The offer was a collaboration between MSA and The Regional Government of Castilla-La Mancha and its Institute of Foreign Trade (IPEX). As in past years, their goal was to connect their regional artists to museum store buyers — an opportunity for them to learn about our needs as buyers and for us to meet their artists in person to forge a connection.

The main event was to attend the Regional Handcrafts Show (FARCAMA) exhibition. We spent the afternoon having meetings with various local artists at their booths while school groups marched past learning the value of becoming an apprentice to a skilled artisan. Through our host interpreting our questions, we were able to connect on a common thread of the importance of handcrafted items to the vitality of their community and for the mission-driven buying that we do as museum store buyers. We were awed by the generational thread that kept certain crafts relevant for centuries. We feasted on a traditional five-course meal overlooking the town along with visiting architects from Latin America who were also guests of IPEX. pam-toledo-artisan

We had a good rapport with our hosts and requested a meeting to go even deeper and meet with a local artist in their surroundings. The next morning, we were brought to the boutique NAVA Toledo. We viewed stunning hand-embroidered scarves and learned about the history and technical superiority of their craft. To drive the point home, they shared a picture of the Queen of Spain sporting the fabric. We were sold, and we all placed an order on the spot. This give and take of information benefited us both. They realized that as museum store buyers, we work best when we get to see, touch and gather information from the source. We also like clear guidelines for pricing, shipping and the story. Yes, the story — where is it made, why is it made there and how their product connects to a broader mission of humanity and artistic value.

Most heartwarmingly, we had a chance to meet people across the globe and within the MSA community. Susan, Aubrey and I connected professionally and personally over our roles as museum store buyers, over the artistry and charm of Toledo, and, every night over a glass of wine, we expressed gratitude for the opportunity we were given by MSA.


Next year, when this opportunity comes around, I urge you to throw your name into the hat! And if you aren’t a board member, step up and take on a role; you just might get more than you ever dreamed.

pam-pesettiPam Pesetti is museum store manager at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California. She has been an MSA member for three and a half years and currently is secretary of the MSA Western Chapter.


Museum Store Sunday Case Study: ‘A Small Difference Can Make a Big Impact’

February 4, 2019

By Meg Hauser 

In 2017, Museum Store Sunday started out as a flop for The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures. Our visitor services team was passionate and excited about the opportunity to give out free gifts with purchases, as well as raffle entries with every membership sold. However, the excitement faded throughout the course of the day as none of our visitors seemed to want to participate.

Some even stated, “That’s OK, you can save the gift for someone else.” We were perplexed, and the day’s experience left my team with a negative perspective on the Museum Store Sunday initiative. As a manager, this was a struggle that I was determined to overcome because I knew the importance of Museum Store Sunday for nonprofit retailers like our museum store. Yet, the question was how to package Museum Store Sunday in a way that not only would benefit our museum, but would be relevant to our visitors.

I took some time to observe what other MSA retailers were doing and listen to what our visitors had said drew them to support our store. We saw a very positive response when we invited visitors to donate by rounding up their transactions. Visitors saw this as an easy way to support The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, while eliminating the change in their pocketbook. They liked being able to easily contribute and, as we like to say, “A small difference can make a big impact.” At this same time, I was also hard at work curating our temporary exhibit, Going Places: The Toy Collection of Jerry Smith, which focuses on a Kansas City businessman’s world-class transportation collection. Jerry Smith’s legacy was one of giving. He put his collection of children’s toys from the past to work for children of the present by donating all the proceeds his collection generated to charitable organizations that benefited children in need. This got me thinking about how we could expand upon this concept with our store and help our visitors contribute, as well. I decided that it would be a great opportunity to consider November and December as our “Season of Giving” in conjunction with the holidays. But how would we give back?

That’s when it hit me! I remembered that the big-box giant Toys R Us had closed its doors this year and wondered what the impact of that decision meant to the nonprofits they had supported. So, I did some research and discovered that Toys R Us was the largest corporate partner to Toys for Tots for over 14 years, helping to raise millions of dollars for the purchase of toys. Their 2018 closure meant 550,000 fewer toys for children in need. So, we registered to be a drop site and decided to use Museum Store Sunday as a kickoff event for our “Season of Giving” store promotions. We gained some exposure by being listed as a drop site on the Toys for Tots website; we even had a few new visitors who found us by this method. We advertised that we would be collecting donations from Museum Store Sunday in November through the Dec. 14 final toy collection date. All new, unwrapped toys were welcome, but any transactions made at our museum that included a toy for donation would receive an additional 5 percent off their purchase. This made donating very easy for visitors and gave them a perk for supporting not one, but two nonprofit organizations.



Our 2018 Museum Store Sunday Toys for Tots drive proved to be a great success. Visitors, volunteers and employees loved seeing the box of toys next to the 12-foot Christmas tree in our lobby. It allowed our museum to extend the Museum Store Sunday mission past a one-day event, which was doubly beneficial as we were forced to close on Museum Store Sunday due to a blizzard. Overall, the experience renewed excitement for Museum Store Sunday among my staff. Transactions that included an item for donation represented 15 percent of net sales for that 15-day period. And most rewarding was knowing that we collected over 250 toys for children in need. We plan to hold our “Season of Giving” Toys for Tots drive again in 2019 and look forward to expanding on the program.

meghauserheadshotMeg Hauser is the visitor services manager at The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, located in Kansas City, Missouri. She has been a member of MSA since 2013 and has served on the Southwest Central Chapter Board from 2015-2018 and on the Chapter Policy and Procedure Task Force. She is a Certified Interpretive Guide with the National Association for Interpretation as well as a visitor influencer with the Kansas City Conventions and Visitors Bureau, Visit KC. Meg holds a BFA in new media and certificate in community arts from the Kansas City Art Institute and is in the process of obtaining her MFA in art history from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She combines her passion for the arts, cultural attractions and tourism with 16 years of retail background. In her leisure time, she can be found exploring local attractions with her Chihuahua, Porter (Instagram: @Porter_Haus_Pup).