Tidbits and more of Washington DC

April 9, 2018

By Michael Higdon and Colin Bill

The Washington Cherry Blossoms were on their way to reaching peak bloom this past weekend, the city has sprung alive with spring-breakers dotting around to visit the many historical and cultural sites that make DC one of the most enriching cities in America, and the MSA FORWARD 2018 Conference & Expo is fast approaching.  As the excitement builds of getting to network with your many friends and colleagues, some of life’s basic instincts will start to kick in and you may find yourself questioning…”where am I going to eat?” and “what am I going to do with my free time outside of conference?”

Washington DC in recent years has become quite a food town.  Not since the day when Jean Louis’s restaurant opened at the Watergate has there been as many exciting restaurants in the city.  Just last week there was a post on the web announcing the opening of three new restaurants that are expected to be some of the best competitors for giving DC some more Michelin Star restaurants. The 2018 Michelin star rankings for DC are here, and two new restaurants have joined the prestigious list. Komi, Chef Johnny Monis’ veteran Greek/Mediterranean tasting room in DuPont Circle, earned its first one-star rating. So did Métier, chef Eric Ziebold‘s elegant prix-fixe dining experience below sister restaurant Kinship, which retains one star from last year.

In the immediate area of the conference hotel there are many culinary treats to explore using this mobile-friendly Google Map of Nearby Restaurants. Or you may wish to focus on visiting the restaurants that can be found in its three surrounding neighborhoods:

Penn Quarter/ Chinatown



Finding ways to spend your free time outside of conference while in DC will be a challenge only in that there is so much to choose from. Downtown is a bustling center for business, shopping, and nightlife. Here are some of the Nearby Bars. Exploring the walkable neighborhoods adjacent to the conference hotel will provide you with an abundance of entertainment.  One of the most exciting things to visit this year in DC is the No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery.  This exhibit takes over the entire Renwick Gallery and the surrounding neighborhood with some of the spectacular experimental art installations from the Burning Man community of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.  You can explore the many different exhibits that Washington area museums have to offer through this google map of Nearby Museums.  If you are still looking for some ways to spend your time then visit Destination DC and explore the city.

Michael Higdon is the Retail manager for the National Building Museum in Washington, DC.  An MSA member for more than 20 years, Michael has served on multiple chapter committees and twice as Chapter President. At the national level, he served on the Program Resource Group, the National Program Committee, as a blog writer, a webinar panelist, and he is a 4-time session presenter. For the MSA Board of Directors, he has served on the Chapter Policies and Procedures and Governance committees, on the Education Resource Group, as Director at Large, and as Secretary.

Colin Bill is the creative artist and brain behind Hero Heads®, a Washington, DC based company creating product featuring inspirational heroes, like Harriet Tubman, Frida Kahlo and Sally Ride.  Hero Heads® hopes to empower people to project positivity out to the people and the world around them. Hero Heads® is a proud Vendorcollin-bill_headshot Member of the MSA.  michael-higdon_headshot

Photos: Michael Higdon (left) and Colin Bill (right)



MSA FORWARD Let’s Talk Museum Store Sunday!

April 2, 2018

Are you ready for the next Museum Store Sunday?

Whether or not you were one of the 700 institutions participating in last year’s inaugural Museum Store Sunday (MSS); you won’t want to miss Let’s Talk Museum Store Sunday at MSA FORWARD 2018. This general session on Monday, April 30, 8-9 a.m. will be led by a panel of experts who were instrumental in making MSS 2017 a local, national and global success in year one. In addition to discussing new opportunities for MSS 2018 and answering your questions** we’ll recap the following:

  • MSS website
  • MSS Marketing Strategies
  • MSS Social Media Campaign
  • MSS Events & Promotions
  • MSS 2017 Participant Survey

In case you are new to MSA or just need a refresher about the Museum Store Sunday initiative, let me share the MSS back story. MSS was born from discussions among the MSA Board of Directors during strategic planning work in the summer of 2016. From those sessions and feedback from the museum store community, the MSA set forth on a long-range strategy to communicate to the world and general public, the value and importance of non-profit retail with its curated products and unique experiences.

Thus, the idea was borne to put the spotlight on museum stores through a dedicated day—Museum Store Sunday—to be claimed by MSA during the Thanksgiving holiday shopping weekend. The process began with the official announcement of Museum Store Sunday at last year’s MSA Forward in Pittsburgh, April 2017. An MSA Advocacy Committee was formed with the single goal of launching Museum Store Sunday by November. We reached out to our peer associations in the United Kingdom (ACE) and Australia and New Zealand (MSAANZ) and they quickly embraced Museum Store Sunday.

A brand identity for Museum Store Sunday was created with its call to action to “Be A Patron” as the key message to consumers and the general public for MSS. The term “patron” has dual meaning – it can mean both a repeat shopper of a store and a benefactor of a cause. Museum Store Sunday embraces both of these meanings as patronage of a museum store applies to anyone who makes a purchase. Whether one purchases a pencil for $1, a $15 children’s toy, a $50 print, or a $500 sculpture, any and every purchase at a museum store is by a “patron.” The objective is to communicate to the world that when a consumer makes a purchase from a museum store, they are being a “patron” and giving back to the museum and community.

The first Museum Store Sunday took place on November 26, 2017 and spanned across the United States and abroad. There were almost 700 independently operated museum stores participating from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and from ten countries on three continents during this first year. The 700 participating museums included most all museum types: Aquarium, Arboretum/Botanic Garden, Art, Children’s, Culturally Specific, Historic House, Historic Site, History, Historical Society, Military/Battlefield, Nature Center, Natural History, Maritime/Marine, Presidential Library, Science/ Technology, Specialized, Transportation, Visitor Center, and Zoo.

Five hundred (72%) of the MSS participating museums were in the U.S., 120 museums (17%) in the U.K., and 53 museums (8%) in the remaining countries. Of the 500 museums in the U.S., 380 are MSA members (76%) and 120 non-members (24%). Participants did not need to be members of MSA to participate but only MSA members received access to the MSS toolkit for marketing templates, social media suggestions, and collateral available on the MSS website www.museumstoresunday.org.

The day wielded a wide variety of national and international press coverage, including an article in USA Today (“Museum Store Sunday fills shopping gap no one knew they had”) as well as substantial regional exposure from newspapers such as the Boston Globe, Tampa Bay Times, and Las Vegas Review-Journal. The event also benefited from the attention of multiple television and radio outlets throughout the country.

 Many participating museums enjoyed triple digit sales increases from day-over-day sales and reported their best Sunday ever during the Thanksgiving weekend. We know this opportunity for public awareness and advocacy for museum stores is significant and we anticipate Museum Store Sunday to only grow exponentially in successive years.

So, if you want to learn more about Museum Store Sunday and how best to maximize November 25, 2018, meet us at Let’s Talk Museum Store Sunday at MSA FORWARD 2018 in Washington, DC.

** We need your help – please send your MSS questions in advance so we can address them in this one hour session.  We also need your event photos from MSS 2017.  Please email both questions and photos to Studor@cummermusem.org no later than Monday, April 16, 2018.

Thank you!


(Image courtesy of Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens)


Shop – Don’t DROP!

March 26, 2018

By Alice McAuliffe

Shop the MSA Expo!

Having been a Museum Store buyer for a number of years, I can tell you that the MSA Expo is the greatest place to find quality merchandise for your store. This year will be better than ever as the format has been changed to facilitate shopping- the Expo is located within the hotel! In addition, the MSA app will provide new and improved vendor information- not just for the conference- but year round! I’m getting ahead of myself though…Let’s start from the beginning…!

Before the Conference

Be prepared! The most important thing you can do before any trade show is to be ready:

-Run reports from your POS system to study before the conference. What has done well? What has not? Based on your reports, what display areas need to be increased, modified, or decreased? What special exhibits or events do you need to plan for?  Are there custom products you need to create? Do you need seasonal items, display window merchandise, web-store items? What trends from regular retail should you consider? Have you talked to your staff (and customers when possible..) for their ideas and input?

-Based on your reports, decide what you want to spend at the MSA Expo. Use your open-to buy plan, as it is important not to overbuy. (In its most basic form, it simply means you cannot buy unless something else has sold.)  Be sure to save some money for new merchandise….

–Next, study the MSA Expo floor plan and list of vendors on your MSA App…it is a great tool for MSA FORWARD 2018. The App is available for download in both the Apple and Google Stores. If you haven’t already, please download it. As there are no concurrent sessions on Saturday or Sunday, there will be plenty of time to meet with your regular vendors, explore new ones, network with other buyers, and take advantage of some great specials and sponsorships. Over the years, our MSA vendors have been very generous  — so look for free freight, quantity discounts, goody bags and much, much more!  Unlike other trade shows, the layout and timing of the MSA Expo provides more one-on-one time to discuss your merchandise planning and in-depth custom product development. Take advantage of this as it will save you time back in the office. This year you can choose from over 170 vendors (including 12 vendors from Ireland) for museum- related goodies!

-Finally, do you need to make any appointments prior to the Expo?  A good time to do this is before you even leave for the Conference. Always pack plenty of business cards, your POS reports, your notes, artwork for custom products, (and, most of all, comfortable shoes!). I also take a prepared sheet with the Walters shipping address, credit references, and all of my contact info to simply hand to the vendor. This way they have complete and current info to process my order.

At the Show!  Meeting with Vendors

Once you arrive on the Expo floor  — stay focused.  You may want to see your biggest vendor first or one you have an appointment with or the one who has a certain new custom product you’d like to try. Make a plan and stick with it.

-With each vendor, ask questions and take good notes. What is the merchandise made of?  What is their minimum order? Is there a quantity or carton price for the item? Where do they ship from? How quickly can you receive the order? Can you delay the order until a date needed? Do they have any show specials? Even with “tried and true” vendors it’s important to ask what’s new, what are their hot-sellers? Have they had any price increases?  While you are discussing the merchandise with the vendor consider where you will put this merchandise in your store. What other products will it work with? What price will you retail it at?

-Use your POS generated reports to work with the vendor. This will also help you to stay focused and not overspend.  Ask the vendor to write clear descriptions if they are writing your order and/or ask for a copy if they are using a laptop or iPad.  If you would like to take a picture of the item you’ve ordered, ask the vendor first. It’s so important to establish a good relationship with each company to develop a win-win scenario. The vendors will appreciate your respect, professionalism, and organization.

-Be sure to check out their displays too. Many companies have professional designers set up their booth and it’s a great way to get ideas and learn how to display new merchandise.

New vendors:  Opportunities await

The Expo is a great time to find fresh ideas and trends. Treasure hunt!  Take time to visit every booth to see what you can discover! Finding new vendors and products keeps your museum store unique and profitable and will keep your customers coming back over and over. The Expo floor map is on your app — so it’s a great tool for helping you move around from vendor to vendor.

Back at home

Once you are back at home, review your orders and alert the vendors immediately with any additional add- ons or changes before your order is shipped.

Type your purchase orders into your POS system and alert your Receiving Department of the incoming shipments with show specials and discounts.

Read through the catalogues, notes and other information you’ve collected along with colleagues you networked with at the Conference. Update or create new files for future buying. Note any show specials that may be continuing after the MSA Conference. Don’t delete your app, as you will be able to use it after the Expo!

Over the years, I have found so much support, wisdom, and help from our MSA vendors. So many of them are truly invested in us…not just to make money and sales but because they understand our unique qualities and want us to truly succeed in each of our stores.   They have been exceedingly generous to our organization with Show Specials, Goody Bags, Chapter support and much, much more. I hope you will, in turn, support them at our 2018 MSA Expo and rely on their wisdom and great products to further your own endeavors.mcauliffe_headshot

Alice McAuliffe is the Manager of Retail Operations at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. For MSA she served two years as Treasurer on the MSA Board of Directors, is a past President of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter, and has served on numerous MSA committees.






PRO-File – AmericasMart Atlanta

March 19, 2018

Name: George Kacic, Executive Vice President of Retail Services

Business Name: AmericasMart

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

Why did you decide to participate in a partnership with MSA?

We realize the incredible potential for helping MSA members and buyers identify product sources for their nonprofit businesses. We have always had a commitment to small businesses and their place in a vibrant economy. Atlanta is filled with many museums and cultural organizations that give back to our extraordinary community – and we recognize that nonprofit retail helps those venues to thrive as ambassadors of cultural offerings to local citizens and tourists alike. Our home, gift and apparel product collection provides many juried sources for business such as those in MSA to create their own partnerships for success.

So you have a jury or selection process for the artisans and suppliers at AmericasMart?

We offer 35 categories of merchandise including juried selections. MSA buyers will find collections such as Fine Gifts, Tabletop, Made in America, Handmade, Luxe – with many vendors that can support the varied collections in institutions that are part of MSA.

Do you work with any other nonprofits?

We work with 25 different associations and buying groups. We are particularly proud of our long association with Gift For Life which is a partnership between the gift, home, and stationery industries to raise funds supporting HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and education. Our new LifeLine initiative, which supplies much-needed food and water in flood and fire crisis areas of the country, has raised nearly $50,000 to date.

Do you offer buyer training seminars or other educational programming? How are they sourced and targeted?

We have a top-notch events team that creates programming for our tradeshows. We provide programs with a number of high-profile thought leaders and tastemakers who attend our markets to identify and forecast trends for attendee buyers. Celebrities such as Trisha Yearwood and Sarah Jessica Parker are joined by influential designers, business leaders and more. We source our speakers from across the bgeorge-kacic-headshotusiness, design and lifestyle spectrum.

George Kacic directs AmericasMart’s retail services operations with a major focus on helping to sustain and expand domestic and international retailer and designer presence and enhance experience while attending their 14 annual markets and shows. His career spans more than 36 years within the home and gift community as a senior sales and business development leader and  long service to the gift and home industry through leadership of the Gift & Home Trade Association (GHTA) and other prominent trade organizations. 



MSA FORWARD 2018: Creating a Strategic Plan for Your Museum Store

March 12, 2018

By Colleen Higginbotham

As I prepare for my presentation for MSA Forward 2018 (Creating a Strategic Plan for your Museum Store), I’m reminded of why we created a strategic plan in the first place. Each year, we would return from the MSA conference invigorated and full of ideas. We were buzzing and eagerly prepared to dream big and steal from the best. Unfortunately, when we would return, we were hit with reality — which for me means a very full inbox and a meeting schedule that seems to rival my doctor’s office at times.

It felt like we were full of ideas, but never took the time to prioritize them or make a plan. We would execute new initiatives each year, but again, were they the ones we liked the best? At the same time, I felt like I needed to present something to our Director, my boss, that showed the role of the shop within the organization and our overall goals in what we purchase. We created a one page information sheet a few years ago that talked about the role of the shop in the visitor experience and the types of objects we sell (souvenirs of your visit, a new work of hand-crafted art, items that inspire creativity, etc.), but it felt like we needed more.

When we set out to create our store plan, our first step was to look to our Museum’s strategic plan. Understanding the priorities of the larger institution can be really helpful in the process. For example, if the museum plans to focus on a particular collection area, that could be a priority for custom product. If there are larger goals to be more green, the shop could evaluate packaging options or feature artists who create work out of recycled materials. This step positions the store as a part of the organization, rather than a separate entity. It can also help with inter-departmental communication and strengthen relationships with colleagues. If you care about their priorities, they are much more likely to care about yours.

For our next step, we looked at many content areas and went through the same process with each area. First we brainstormed with no limits. Every crazy idea was worthwhile. That was actually a lot of fun. Within a few minutes, we fell into some more realistic ideas. I think starting with the really wild ideas forces you out of your routine and allows you to get really creative.

For example, one of our topics was the physical shop. While it would be fantastic, we decided it was unlikely that the museum would be funding a two story expansion to allow for a larger shop with all new white fixtures and elaborate lighting. However, in the next few years some of our goals will be to paint, work on improving our apparel display, and create a “Collector’s Corner” for high end merchandise. We will likely have to work with many of our existing fixtures, so we turned to Pinterest to make a coordinated color scheme that looks a little more modern.

Some of the other topics we included in our plan were product development, staff training, shop events such as trunk shows, our merchandise displays in other buildings like our historic houses and glass studio, store metrics, online sales, and the infamous “other.”

In the session at MSA Forward, I want to share our process, some of the discoveries we made, and a little bit of what happens next. I hope to see you there!colleen-higginbothem-headshot

Colleen Higginbotham is the Director of Visitor Services at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, VA. With over twenty years of customer service management experience, she manages the visitor experience through supervision and training of front line staff, ongoing analysis of visitor research, oversight of Museum Shop, catering contract, Special Events department, and coordination of visitor logistics including seating, signage and traffic flow. She also serves on the Museum’s senior leadership team. In 2007, she implemented the Museum’s Gallery Host program which provides visitors with a warm welcome and places customer service staff in the galleries to assure the safety of the collection, answer questions and engage visitors in casual conversations about art.


Visual Merchandising–The Silent Sales Team

March 5, 2018

By Michael Guajardo

Visual merchandising is the silent sales team that is always working to impact the bottom line.

Ever needed more staff? You have it— your captivating windows, enticing displays, and good signage all work to pull the customer in without saying a word. Visual merchandising is always on the clock, never takes breaks, and inspires interest when customers wave off personal attention.

After receiving the 2017 MSA Recognition Award for Visual Merchandising, specifically our Rodin exhibition shop, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Shop team was approached to write a blog about the topic. We will jump into that below. In addition, we wanted to give everyone a glimpse into how we approach our exhibition shop set-ups. Before we purchase any merchandise for an exhibition shop, we first decide on a thematic look and feel. We study what our exhibition department will be doing in the actual exhibition and strive to make a seamless flow from exhibition to exhibition shop.  For the Rodin shop, we wanted to take our customers into Rodin’s studio.  We collaborated with our woodworking shop to create an amazing large-scale window. We then worked with our graphics departmguajardo_rodin-shop-007ent to come up with a graphic that would allow our visitors to imagine that they were looking out onto the city of Paris. We adapted a color for the walls from colors used inside the exhibition for a natural flow from the end of the exhibition to the beginning of our shop. We brought in tools, aprons, and purchased fixtures that had a very urban, industrial feel. We will normally sell off our fixtures, at a markup, to reimburse ourselves for this type of expense. From the Edison type lighting we hung from the tracks to the quote on the wall, we tried to pull the entire look together so that the whole team understands the look and feel we are trying to achieve. Everything goes onto a story board for reference and to cement it into place.

Merchandising any project, like our Rodin shop, or a new table display can sometimes feel daunting. Realizing that every store and every customer base is different, we set out to create some universal tips. Since VMFA Head Buyer Raven Lynch is the bigger-than-life leader of the silent sales team, we went to him for advice. Whether creating windows or in-store displays, these tips will help you keep it simple but impactful.

Here are Raven’s tips:

  • LET GO. You can’t do everything yourself. Delegate and edit later. Use the editing process as a coaching opportunity with your team.
  • KEEP YOUR MESSAGE SIMPLE AND DIRECT. Don’t make it complicated for customers or staff. If your display is too intricate it might be difficult for staff to maintain the vision. Complicated displays might confuse your customer.
  • FOCUS ON CORE PIECES. Never frost a cake before you’ve baked it! The details and pretty items come last. Focus on the core pieces first and then layer in other items. Use a focal point and the pyramid technique for maximum interest.
  • TELL A STORY. What are you trying to sell? It should be clear to the customer.
  • KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. What will excite your customers? If you have price sensitive customers (and who doesn’t?) you might not want to create a front table (or window) with high-priced goods. The opposite is also true.
  • MAKE ITEMS ACCESSIBLE. Make customers feel comfortable touching displays and handling items. Your display might look beautiful, but a customer might not want to get near it, for fear that it might topple over. Your displays should also be ADA compliant. Make sure to leave the necessary space around displays for all customers to move with ease.
  • BE CONFIDENT, BUT OPEN TO FEEDBACK. Be open to curatorial or other stakeholders’ views, but do not diminish the retail perspective and the need to generate revenue to support mission-critical operations.
  • BE CONSISTENT. If placing signage or tags on the right on every display, be consistent. Don’t change it up as you go along.
  • USE ADD-ONS. Coordinate complementary merchandise with your statement pieces. If you are featuring mugs, integrate coasters and napkins to promote add-on sales.
  • CREATE COHESIVENESS. Make sure your statement works with displays around it. Within a single display, items should all correlate.
  • STEP AWAY, THEN EDIT. Walk away from your project for a few minutes, return with fresh eyes, and then see where you can edit. Keeping it simple, focused, and impactful is the key!headshot_guajardo_michael_2048
  • HIGHLIGHT FOR IMPACT. Lighting and signage are your other silent salespersons. Put them to work to sell your visual statements.
  • KEEP IT CLEAN. It is a great time to deep clean as you merchandise.

We would love to hear your ideas, success stories or other tips on visual merchandising. Email me @ Michael.guajardo@vmfa.museum.

Michael Guajardo is the Director of Retail Operations for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia. The VMFA Shop searches the world to provide a diverse selection of products focusing on merchandise related to the museum’s collections, special exhibitions, and features work from Virginia artists. Proceeds from the VMFA Shop support VMFA’s programs and exhibitions.

Michael and his team at the VMFA won the 2017 MSA Recognition Award for Visual Merchandising. Nominations are now being accepted for the 2018 MSA Recognition Awards!

Be recognized for all of your hard work! Submit yourself or your store to compete for one of seven MSA Recognition Awards: Vendor of the Year, Best Product Development, Best Web Store Presence, Best Visual Merchandising, Best Pop-up Store or Special Event, and two new awards – one for vendors, one for institutions- for Best Museum Store Sunday Event. Hurry! Your nominations must be submitted by Friday, March 23. Click here for more information:

 MSA Recognition Awards


Preparing for the MSA Conference & Expo

February 26, 2018                                                                                                         […]


Engagement Is Everything

February 12, 2018

Paul Ogburn, Retail Director of TATE ENTERPRISES Ltd in the United Kingdom will be the Opening Keynote Speaker of MSA FORWARD 2018 in Washington, DC. As a “letter of introduction” to MSA, Paul shares an overview of his career with us and how it has brought him to his current work at the TATE. Meet Paul in person and learn more about his passion for cultural retailing and customer engagement at MSA FORWARD this April.

Thirty seven years ago I was duped into working in the retail sector as an 18 year old sales assistant. That was the start of a very long and fascinating career, where I have experienced feelings of joy, euphoria, elation, misery, anguish and despair like only a retailer can.

My retail schooling was acquired within the value end of the retail market where the bottom line is everything and where I acquired most of my commercial expertise and retail disciplines.

Realising I was quite good at more than just playing the drums, I excelled in an environment where you were only as good as your previous weeks sales figures, enjoying rapid career progression to become the youngest branch manager and later, area manager ever to be appointed by my company.

Throughout the following twenty four years, I have enjoyed success across each arena in which I’ve managed, discount, high street, concession, retail-park and department store retailing, working in various area, regional and director roles.

In April 2005, I joined the cultural sector and Tate Enterprises Ltd as Retail Manager for Tate Modern, having spent some twenty four years in the high street, how hard could it be….

Though I recognise much of my commercial wisdom has assimilated from many years experience of high street retail operations, my management style, influence and coaching skills really matured over the past ten years or so, where I am influencing stake holder engagement outside of my authority and with very different agendas from my own.

I was once told I had a high level of emotional intelligence which I can attribute to working in such a challenging, thought – provoking, inspiring and rewarding environment that provides me paul-ogburn-headshotwith an opportunity to use my retail skills for a brand and sector I feel passionately about.

I will be forever grateful to the high street for my retail and commercial education, but the sense of purpose and reward I enjoy each day is such that I could never go back.


Paul Ogburn

Thirty seven years ago, Paul was duped into working in the retail sector as an 18 year old sales assistant. Throughout the following twenty four years, he has enjoyed success across each arena in which he’s managed, discount, high street, concession, retail-park and department store retailing, working in various area, regional and director roles. In April 2005, he joined the cultural sector and Tate Enterprises Ltd as Retail Manager for Tate Modern before becoming Retail Director in July 2010 and assumed responsibility for defining and delivering the retail strategy across the four Tate galleries in the UK.





MSA Forward 2018: “Mastering Non-Profit Retail”

April 26-30, 2018, Washington, DC


Welcome to the first “COUNTDOWN TO CONFERENCE” blog where over the next few months leading up to MSA FORWARD 2018, we will be providing tips, tools, and insights in anticipation of our annual conference and celebration of non-profit retailing. The conference blog will alternate with MSA’s educational blog every Monday starting today through April.  To kick off our MSA FORWARD series, Past-President David Duddy of the de Cordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, MA offers some valuable tips and tools to help you convince your institution to send you to MSA Forward 2018. Let your institution know that there is a terrific return on investment in your professional development when you attend MSA’s annual Retail Conference and Expo. Register today!

At a time when many travel and training budgets have been reduced or eliminated, we know you’ll need to justify the expense of attending MSA Forward 2018, our annual Conference & Expo.  We’ve put together some tools to help you make a convincing case as to why your organization should support your attendance in Washington.

The 63rd MSA Retail Conference & Expo will enable attendees to:

  • Find solutions to issues you currently have in your stores.
  • Visit an Expo with vendors who understand your visitors and your merchandising needs.msa_fwd_2018_dates_logo
  • Share best practices with others in the non-profit retail community.
  • Discover tools to survive and thrive in this changing economy and business environment.
  • Gain valuable information from leaders in our industry.

Ways to show value for your Conference & Expo attendance:

  • Focus on what you will specifically bring back to the organization as return for the investment. msa-supervisor-letter-2018
  • Use MSA’s Justification Worksheet msa-conference-value-2018 to outline the benefits you will receive and the money you will save as a result of attending.
  • Offer to prepare and deliver a short presentation and Q&A to your colleagues upon your return to share what you learned. That way, others in your organization will get the benefits of your attendance, too.
  • Be ready with a plan that shows who will cover for you while you are attending the MSA Conference & Expo.

Tips on saving money at the Conference & Expo:

  • Share a room to reduce hotel expenses.
  • Never attended Conference before? Apply for a scholarship!
  • Utilize the 2018 Show Specials when placing orders with Expo vendors.
  • Book your hotel room early to be sure you reserve a room at the lowest rate.
  • Take advantage of the food provided during the conference through breakfasts, networking lunches and evening receptions.
  • Stay at the conference hotels, first at Marriott Wardman Park if you are attending the initial learning excursions, then moving to the Renaissance Downtown Washington, DC, where all Conference and Expo events will take place – saving costs and valuable time.








Intersection of Message, Meaning and Function: Creating the MSS Website

By Angela Colasanti

It is dark…late really… and I am wrapping presents on Christmas Eve. As I make my way through the gifts I have collected throughout the year, I come across a Van Gogh children’s book and socks purchased at The Barnes Foundation for my nephew who loves to draw.  I find dichroic glass earrings from The Princeton University Art Museum Store selected for my daughter, enameled Frida Kahlo pins from The Grounds for Sculpture for my artsy niece, and lemon bath salts from Winterthur that I am certain my mother will love.  I take my time, wrapping each item, while admiring these special gifts, thoughtfully selected for each recipient.

Last year, I was invited to join the Advocacy Committee. It was a personally meaningful honor, and professionally I was excited to work with a global group of industry professionals dedicated to advocacy of museums and museum stores.  As soon as I learned more about our first initiative, Museum Store Sunday, I felt my contribution would be most meaningful on the Marketing and Communications Subcommittees.  Hoping I could harness tucked-away skills from jobs long ago in website project management and art direction, I volunteered to lead the website development initiative. After an unsuccessful attempt to secure an in-kind donation of the website from a professional firm, it quickly became apparent to our committee that, in this first year, we would need to create this important asset ourselves. Knowing the monumental task this would be, working with almost no budget, (and perhaps with some cloudy judgment on my part from the summer heat), I volunteered to lead the design and construction of the site.

With the extraordinary leadership of Susan Tudor, Stuart Hata and Paul Stewart-Stand, we worked diligently for three months, from July through the end of September, with an eye toward creating:

  1. A visually exciting site, showcasing beautiful images of stores and their curated products.
  2. A rich and diverse visual story of consumers and patrons engaged with museums and their respective stores.
  3. A unified medium that engaged all of our target audiences including: consumers, media professionals, museum professionals, non-profit retail professionals, current and potential MSA members, current and potential sponsors, and vendors.
  4. A centralized tool assisting museum store managers to sign up, find ideas for MSS, seamlessly download files, access the branding materials , find vendor specials, and manage their own store profile.
  5. Web and mobile friendly content that clearly articulated the messaging of Museum Store Sunday, while further clarifying the new brand identity and tag line, Be a Patron.
  6. A website that rivaled other, well-established, one-day international events, such as Shop Small Saturday and Record Store Day.

In less than three months, we created the visual aesthetic, integrated the new brand identity, built the site architecture, secured high-quality images, integrated a store locator, built a participant database, and developed the brand new content for Museum Store Sunday.  While I focused primarily on the content development, site architecture, and site aesthetic, we had volunteers all over the world assisting with the website development. We had committee members, MSA staff members, store managers, a team of dedicated volunteers, and our international partners creating content, gathering images, writing blogs, manually confirming participant contact information for the database, manually entering stores into the Locator, and editing the final content.

On September 26th, with the contribution of many hands and hearts, the site launched to the world. From the launch through Museum Store Sunday, we had over 36,000 page visits, from over 11,000 unique users, who executed over 11,000 searches on the Store Locator.  We saw web traffic coming in from all over the globe, with most users fitting our key demographic targets for age and location, as well as lifestyle profile. We watched a huge increase in traffic following the USA Today article, and saw almost 25% of all traffic coming in from referral sites such as press pieces, museum websites, and museum-specific social media efforts. The important work of the public relations firm and the marketing efforts of our participating institutions greatly contributed to the volume of the website traffic. To this day, we are still witnessing traffic to the website, with almost 850 additional unique visitors to the site following MSS.

I am incredibly proud of what we accomplished in such a short amount of time. For 2018, we plan to improve the Museum Store Portal, add more diverse and dynamic images, tidy up some technical issues, and further refine our messaging and content. We will read all of the comments received in the MSS Survey and thoughtfully listen to your suggestions. I encourage you to take a fresh look at the site with a critical eye. Read the content, look at the images, and let me know what you think. I openly welcome comments, suggestions, and ideas.  If you have an idea for a Blog, let us know. If you have a beautiful image from your store or your MSS event, send it along. If you are adept at database management or SEO and want to contribute, please reach out. This website is, and always will be, the work product of our whole community. It reflects all of us, and the important work we do for our industry.

As I finish tying bows and writing name tags, I am reminded of why we do our work, and why Museum Store Sunday matters. It is an ambitious and bold opportunity, each year, to highlight how museum stores support the institutions that preserve the literature, history, nature, science, art, and culture of our society.  All of us in this museum store community – stores, institutions, and vendors – work to briheadshot_angela-colasanti-webng well-curated products to our patrons. We believe in the missions and importance of cultural institutions, and we understand deeply that Museums Make Our Communities Better.  I look forward to when my nephew opens his present, just as others will be doing all over the globe. I know that I have given something meaningful to him; that I have given something of value to the museum; that I have given to the future patrons of the museum; and that I received something intangible for myself. And, as a bonus, I can’t wait to tell him all about the amazing day I spent at the museum.

Angela Colasanti is the President and Designer for VIELÄ Jewelry. Her business is located in bucolic Chester County, Pennsylvania, just a short drive from Philadelphia. Surrounded by the beautiful woods and trails of Pennsylvania, and in close proximity to the New Jersey and Delaware beaches, there are abundant sources of inspiration for her jewelry designs. VIELÄ Jewelry partners with museum stores and cultural institutions nationwide and is proud to produce her line in the United States. She is a member of the Advocacy Committee and the Marketing Committees of MSA, and is a Founding Sponsor of Museum Store Sunday. Please reach out to Angela directly at acolasanti@vielajewelry.com or contact the Advocacy Committee at info@museumstoresunday.org.