PRO-File: Vendor Member Catie Riordan

January 7, 2019

By Julie Steiner

Catie Riordan is the vice president of retail for Enterprise Ireland in the U.S. Based in New York City, Catie supports Irish retail businesses expand their business and grow in the U.S. and is proud to work with MSA. Catie is a Dublin native and has been living in the U.S. for three and a half years, having worked with Enterprise Ireland in Boston previously. Catie is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin where she completed her bachelor’s in business and German.

Where did you grow up? catie-riordan-headshot

In Dublin, Ireland — Sandycove, a little town right on the beach. (Yes, it does rain a lot.)

Tell me about your company and the work that you do there.

Enterprise Ireland is the Irish government association responsible for development and growth of Irish companies worldwide. We have 33 offices around the world, with our headquarters in Dublin, and we work with 6,000 Irish companies across every sector you can imagine. Our aim is to help them become internationally renowned in their field. My work in the New York office focuses on consumer retail in the U.S.: knitwear through baby products. It’s a huge spectrum.

Since this work is so unusual in the context of our museum store community, can you tell me about companies you work with that are very different from our MSA vendors?

Self-tanning products! Ireland has lots of self-tanner companies; it’s the most competitive beauty category in Ireland. So I’ll work one day with museum stores, and the next with drug stores, then textile buyers — they’re very divergent roles.

How did you go from that into museum stores?

Two years ago, Enterprise Ireland started the relationship with MSA because of their focus on unique, thoughtful and high-quality products. We can provide that. Museum buyers appreciate a personal touch, and Irish companies excel at that.

Irish products are far more than shamrocks and Guinness. We’ve got a whole ecosystem of artists and creatives who produce high-caliber products that meet the needs of museum stores. Authentic discovery is primary to museum stores; it’s why people go to museums. And on our vendors side, Irish products are generally very cultural; there’s thought behind why a certain fabric is used, or a pattern — care around the products in the factories, and that’s particularly appreciated in the museum store industry.

Tell us about the first sale you ever made to a museum or nonprofit institution. What was it? Who did you sell it to?

To the Barnes Foundation. That was the first time I saw tangible value in this partnership. Nicholas Mosse was displayed in the front, right when you walk in but fit into the context of the store. And the Avoca wool products at the New York Historical Society! Here were high-quality Irish products in museum stores that haven’t been traditionally Irish.

Did you feel like a partner in that process? Are you still?

Yes. Very much so. I work with a number of associations, and I’ve never experienced such close partnerships with an association — such a close-knit community, so incredibly welcoming, and with a sense of everyone helping everyone, vendor to vendor and buyer to buyer. All our companies who have sold to museum stores feel the personal connection is very important. It’s a real relationship.

There is a lot of turmoil currently in the retail world.  Can you tell us one exciting trend that you’ve noticed?

There’s an increase in the amount of research people are doing before they purchase their products. Consumers are going online, reading reviews, looking at the company, then going in-store to buy that product. It’s a convergence of supporting local business but having done your online research. We put more consideration into the buying process, which then leads to companies looking at their reviews increasingly, as well as comments on social media. Now companies care less about page views and more about page reviews. It’s a more informed consumer and more thoughtful purchase. And that fits right into the missions of museum stores.

Do you shop differently yourself now that you’ve been working with museum stores?

Oh, yes, and particularly since attending MSA FORWARD in Washington, D.C. It’s given me a better understanding of the effort and detailed research buyers go through. Museum stores are mini-galleries. If the public truly understood how much work goes into creating a museum store! It’s mind-blowing. I have a much greater respect and appreciation. I take more time to look around the store and understand the links between the items and the works in the museum.

What do you eat for breakfast? Do you eat a traditional Irish breakfast?

Oh, no. It’s yogurt and honey during the week, but giant bagels on the weekend. If I could, I would eat a bagel every single day. The New York thing is true; they really are better here.

Do you have a hobby? Collection? Unusual talent?

I’m running a half marathon in Central Park next week. I started running this year to better learn my neighborhood. Sometimes I take a wrong turn, and then I really learn my neighborhood!




Enterprise Ireland vendors at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., with Michael Higdon, retail manager of NBM.


In the Unlikely Event of an Emergency

December 10, 2018

By Dan Ayers-Price, Director of Retail, Key West Art & Historical Society

Sitting on an airplane recently, I actually listened to the canned flight-safety spiel that we all have memorized and tend to ignore. It dawned on me that their choice of verbiage is designed to lessen our concern almost to the point of talking down to us. In the “unlikely” event … um, is that supposed to make us feel better? This made me think of multiple recent events, from fires to floods to hurricanes to earthquakes, and that many of us have had to face the truth that even our museums are vulnerable to disaster. It might be “unlikely,” but it can happen.

Some of us are located in areas that are more prone to adverse conditions, and we have come to expect visits from Mother Nature, but we all are at risk of the unknown. How we prepare and move forward shows our strength.

As an organization, MSA is, and always has been, very supportive of its members. MSA members have forged great friendships, wonderful collaborations and a great network among ourselves. Standing strong, together, is one of our key tenets. I don’t really see any of us as the empty “thoughts and prayers” type but more as the “Let’s roll up our sleeves and get it done” bunch.

I was brokenhearted when the National Museum of Brazil (one of my fellow chapter members) suffered a devastating fire recently. Hurricanes in North Florida, fires in California and earthquakes in Alaska are just a few of the most recent disasters that our fellow members have had to deal with. Most of us are not in a position, physically or financially, to be able to travel to a disaster zone to offer help, but I have been so proud of our MSA community for the various communications via private emails as well as kind words on ShopTalk. The words of encouragement, for someone who is going through hell, often mean more than we can imagine.


Going forward, when something like this happens, I urge and challenge each of us to reach out to those affected and offer whatever help you can. I hear some of you saying “I can’t fly to Alaska or Brazil to help. What can I do from Ohio/New Jersey?” Well, true. Maybe you can’t be there in person, but you can offer to contact vendors on behalf of the affected museum. Maybe you can help with printing needs. Maybe you can help reach out to members for those membership-based organizations. Maybe your marketing department offers to do press releases for them. Maybe just a handwritten note of encouragement is all that you can do. There are so many things in our day to day that we take for granted until it isn’t there anymore.

For our MSA vendors, just being aware of orders that might need to be delayed or invoice due dates that need to be extended are two little things that will mean a lot. During Hurricane Irma, every single MSA vendor that I work with reached out to me with multiple offers of help. Not a single nonmember did. If that doesn’t show you the support of MSA, I’m not sure what will.

Think of what you do in your daily world, and base your offers of help on that. Some of us are lucky enough to only wear one hat, while others wear many. Each of us will have a different perspective on what help we can offer, but I guarantee that something will be much appreciated by someone in need. Our island’s motto is One Human Family. That is certainly something that I see in our fellow MSA members, and I’m proud to be a part of you.

Does your organization have a disaster plan in place? Have you thought about your store and how you would deal with that? Perhaps MSA, at national and chapter levels, should discuss and create guidelines on assisting distressed fellow members.

Dan Ayers-Price, Key West Art & Historical Society Director of RetailDan Ayers-Price is the past president of the Florida Chapter and now serves on their Scholarship Committee. He has been the director of retail for the four separate museum stores of his society and an MSA member for six years.


Countdown to — The Retail Super Bowl!

November 26, 2018

By Jennifer Barnella

I can still hear my parents arguing.

She said it, I swear.

Well, I wasn’t in the room so, it doesn’t count!

My sister and I would then snicker and go back to playing our Atari 2600, coloring with a well-loved pack of Crayola 64’s, or pulling each other’s hair — depending on the day. This rather adamant-stance/consistent-difference of opinion/almost-always chuckle-worthy banter continued into my teenage and college years  — and was occasional Thanksgiving Day fodder as we watched the Lions play some other team in our turkey-induced comas. Inevitably, it came up every year during the Super Bowl as well. Turns out, “football” was the first word I ever uttered, according to my sports-loving dad (with no one to back up his story but the dog and a toddler.)

I often think of this tale (and everyone but my dad’s skepticism of it) every year in early November when I stand up to give my monthly report at our Museum’s all-staff meeting and proudly proclaim, “Well, it’s that time of the year. We’re starting to prepare for The Retail Super Bowl….holiday shopping season!” Which is then followed by oohs and aahs (or maybe groans depending on how I choose to hear.) Then I continue on about the glories of Museum Store Sunday, now in its sophomore year, our ever-popular Members’ Monday event in December, and continue to slightly gloat about how busy we get the week before Christmas when all those last minute shoppers pour in to our store for that wonderfully unique gift for that hard-to-buy-for someone. It’s the grand-daddy of events for us cultural retailers, just as the Super Bowl is the ultimate occasion for sports fans. It’s the time we fight, train, and work hard for all year — practicing day after day when the game is slower, gearing up for the time when our hearts race before we take the field and then watch pridefully as lines quickly form at the stadium, I mean, registers. The time of year when we line up next to our quarterback and slide into that perfect selling offense to clinch each sale:

If this is a gift, we can wrap it up extra special for you!  How about earrings to go with that necklace? That would certainly send this gift over the top. What about a gift certificate to our Museum Store instead so they can choose what they want?

And, much like a sports team, we too can practice for the big day. We can line up our advertising, train our team, and stock the shelves full of gear — all in pursuit of the Lombardi Trophy or, in our case, that oh-so glorious sales report that’s usually the best of the year. But, what else can we do to prepare for our own special Super Bowl before game day? There’s plenty!

  • Team prep. Keep a binder for staff to glance through every morning. Include any special happenings, events, or promotions at your institution, list any new merchandise that has come in, artist information, or even a notes page where your staff can let you know about any special customer requests. Include info about any hot items that will be back in stock soon.
  • Pre-cut ribbon and wrapping paper. Pre-cut your wrapping paper, pre-stuff gift bags with tissue or prep gift boxes ahead of time. Sticker or stamp those gift boxes with your logo and pre-cut the ribbon to the exact size needed for a quick, perfect bow that gives maximum impact and provides important branding.
  • Bring your staff in early to dust, merchandise, stock bags and other supplies. An extra 30 minutes every morning is all it takes to make the rest of the day run more smoothly. Make a dusting map (yes, we actually did this) so that the next day, you can pick up where you left off. We dust a great deal in Phoenix…
  • Make those displays sparkle. Need to make something really move? Give those displays some extra attention to make them more appealing, whether it be with some seasonal faux flowers or pretty holiday ribbon. Or, wrap a cardboard box with wrapping paper and an over-the-top bow as a prop to make a certain display soar. It’s amazing how re-merchandising something can suddenly send sales soaring!
  • Install a Wireless Doorbell. Mad props to Teresa Tate at the Musical Instrument Museum for this idea. Simply install the button on the sales floor and the speaker in the office or stockroom. Staff can then secretly “ring” for help on a sales floor packed with holiday shoppers!
  • Create your staff schedule early. Sales associates love to know their schedule well in advance this time of the year so they can make plans with friends and family. Creating your sales floor schedule well ahead of time helps everyone plan, improves morale, and cuts down on last minute call-outs too!

These and many other shortcuts and tricks can be accomplished ahead of time to help ease the stress of the season. Before you know it, the sale signs come down, boxes and tissue paper supplies have been depleted, the crowds fade away, and the game ends.  We can then sit down (for a change), smile and think about all that has been accomplished during yet another successful Retail Super Bowl. Due to all the hard work, training, planning, and prep, we can feel great as we stare grinning at that prized paper trophy on December 31.

We lost my dad a few years back to cancer, though the slightly more merciful kind where he was diagnosed one minute and gone the next. I still think of him when I watch football on Sundays or when I’m pre-cutting even more ribbon for our customers two days before Christmas. I still think of him arguing (ummm) politely disagreeing with my mom and talking shop with me when the holidays rolled around every year. He got it. As the owner of a small retail shop himself, he was the one person in my family to whom I never had to explain why my dance card was always so crazy full around the holidays.  He always had to work those wacky December hours too. He understood why it truly is The Retail Super Bowl. My alleged first word has been scrutinized in family lore for ages but, when I suit up to take the field every year, when I’m most comfortable and in the zone, I know the truth. I believe you, Dad. My first word could not have been anything else.



Jennifer Barnella is the Retail Sales Manager at Phoenix Art Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. Throughout her 25 year cultural retail career (20 years at Phoenix Art Museum and 5 years at Phoenix Zoo), she has been active in the Museum Store Association, currently serving as vice president of the Western Chapter.


Why Advocacy for Museum Stores Is Important

October 22, 2018

By Stuart Hata

noun: advocacy
public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy.
“their advocacy of museum stores”

synonyms: support for, backing of, promotion of, championing of; argument for, push for; informal: boosterism of “his advocacy of nonprofit retail”

The word “advocacy,” a noun defined as “public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy,” has become an important part of the Museum Store Association’s vocabulary and strategies for the past two years. With last year’s inaugural launch and the upcoming celebration of our second worldwide Museum Store Sunday happening in on Nov. 25, our plan is made real: “to communicate to the world the value and importance of nonprofit retail with its curated products and unique experiences.” This key advocacy initiative embraced by MSA continues to expand and grow in importance and value.



Recently, the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) featured Museum Store Sunday as the lead article in its bimonthly e-newsletter, AVISO. This invaluable support and assistance from AAM demonstrates that MSA’s advocacy initiative, and museum stores in general, are being embraced and recognized by the greater museum industry. The integral and multifaceted work we do on behalf of our institutions — from earning income and extending mission-related programs to visitor engagement and educational outreach — are achieving greater recognition and respect within our industry and among our colleagues. Our advocacy efforts are working and growing exponentially, and we are being acknowledged as essential partners in the overall success of museums.

And for the general public, Museum Store Sunday is our global call to action directly to consumers to shop with purpose, shop conscientiously and support museum stores and our institutions around the world. By offering communities the opportunity to “Be a Patron” and engage with and support their local museums during the busy holiday season, Museum Store Sunday encourages the public — and especially culturally minded shoppers — to make thoughtful purchases and to rely on museum stores as retail destinations throughout the year. What better lasting “win-win-win-win-win” for everyone — our stores, our institutions, our patrons, our communities and our world. Here’s to Museum Store Sunday and beyond!

stuart-hata-headshotA veteran museum store retailer for 29 years, Stuart Hata is the director of retail operations for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the de Young and Legion of Honor. He currently serves as the chair of MSA’s Marketing & Communications Committee; is a member of the MSA Finance and Advocacy Committees; and is a past president of the MSA Board of Directors. 


Museum Store Sunday: Roadmap to Success

September 24, 2018

By Laura Murphy

What are you planning for Museum Store Sunday this year? Let’s get creative with our promotions, events and other offers for this special day focusing on museum stores. There are loads of ideas to promote the day — and your stores — and I am happy to share our successes!

Museum Store Sunday was a great day for the Newport Mansions stores in 2017. We decided in August what our events would be in order to promote them on our Newport Mansions website and on social media. We had clear signage throughout the stores announcing our events — and the possibility of ordering online with a discount. All stores gave 20 percent off the entire order.


Our big event was partnering with MSA vendor member Applewood Books. We booked the infamous Book Party van to be at The Breakers store. We created a souvenir book titled “My Visit to The Breakers.” The Book Party van was parked outside the entrance to the store. Applewood took a photo of the visitor and placed it on the cover of their souvenir book. The store did more than 26 percent in sales that day over the previous year. We had examples of the book around the store and lots of balloons to make it festive. The whole staff was caught up in the excitement!

At our downtown store located on Bannisters Wharf in the heart of the tourist area, we worked with Dean from MSA vendor member Channel Craft. Dean sent us a play day box of his children’s line. The kids played with the toys and the parents shopped. We saw a significant boost in sales of 46 percent.


Jon from MSA vendor member Screencraft reached out to us to see what they could do to support us on Museum Store Sunday. We designed an ornament with the notion that it might become an annual keepsake. We sold close to 72 of the 96 ordered. The customers loved the concept, and we will promote it again this year to drive customers to the store.

Marble House did a food tasting with a local distributor. He was strategically placed at the entrance of the store with his goodies ready to sample. What a great way to boost sales — free food is so tempting!

This year with the unified promotion of “25 off on the 25th,” we will definitely be participating by offering our customers 25 percent off their entire purchase. We have planned our events and hope to coordinate efforts with other local museum stores to show the sense of community here in Newport.

This year we are going to promote not only the “25 on the 25th,” but focus on products from Rhode Island. At The Breakers Store, we will have a local author signing her book, which is currently a bestseller in our stores. At Bannisters, Mapisart, a new MSA vendor member, will be doing a trunk show that day, and at Marble House we have invited back our local distributor of food. We are going to start promoting all of this early on to drive visitation for the day. Start planning now for your success with Museum Store Sunday!

laura-murphy-1-e1489411155609Laura Murphy is the retail sales operation manager/buyer for The Preservation Society of Newport County in Newport, Rhode Island.


Museum Store Sunday: A Tale of One City

September 10, 2018

By Lori Brazos

When I heard of Museum Store Sunday for the first time, my immediate thought was “brilliant!” What a perfect way to promote museum stores. Not only do we have the best selection of awesome things, but purchases also support worthy institutions; it’s a win-win situation. I have seen the success of Small Business Saturday, so I knew Museum Store Sunday could be a great way to market the four museum stores I oversee as holiday shopping destinations. While the idea excited me, I knew I would need support — first and foremost from the marketing directors at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.

mss-2017This introduction to Museum Store Sunday occurred at the MSA FORWARD 2017 Conference held in Pittsburgh. There were several representatives from Pittsburgh’s numerous cultural institutions in attendance, many I had never met — thank you MSA for bringing so many of us together! As it turned out, the reaction I had to the Museum Store Sunday announcement was not unique. My new Pittsburgh museum store friends were equally as excited. On the last day of the conference, the Pittsburgh attendees gathered for a few minutes and decided on the spot to join forces and meet soon to form our Museum Store Sunday citywide strategy. We would all need the support of our marketing departments, but we would support and inspire each other, as well.

About a month later, we met at one of our museum stores. When this group of then seven museum store leaders started discussing ideas, the creative sparks flew! Out of our first formal strategy session grew the concept for the Pittsburgh Passport, a sweepstakes designed to encourage patrons to visit multiple participating museum stores on Museum Store Sunday. In addition to the passport, we planned outreach to additional museum stores in the area to grow participation, discussed special events and offered ideas, and — most importantly — strategies to get our individual marketing departments behind our efforts.

In the weeks following, each store leader met with their marketing director to introduce them to Museum Store Sunday. They shared the press release, news of the local museum collaboration and the concept for the Pittsburgh Passport. They discussed in-store specials, giveaways, and events for their location and requested marketing support. Our group took full advantage of all ideas and offers from marketing teams at various museums. One marketing team set up a Museum Store Sunday Pittsburgh Facebook events page, another helped create an interactive google map of participating museums, and yet another donated his monthly time slot on a local TV show to promote Museum Store Sunday. Two marketing teams helped create the final passport design, which allowed each location to customize with their specifific events and promotions.


Our collaboration ultimately grew to include 13 Pittsburgh museum stores in all and got the Pittsburgh Passport and Museum Store Sunday a lot of local press interest and exposure. The unique store events, promotions and giveaways advertised via the passport promised a great experience to shoppers at each store and were well received. Events ranged from steep discounts on selected items, gift with purchase, complimentary gift wrap, holiday music performances and even a life-size dinosaur puppet show. The press coverage reminded local and regional residents what terrific shopping venues museum stores are with their unique offerings and purchases, which support valued institutions. I believe the press coverage helped drive significant increases to museum attendance for the day, as well. Like results achieved nationally, most of our group of stores achieved double digit or better sales increases for the day. I had the opportunity to walk one of the more concentrated “museum neighborhoods” on the afternoon of Museum Store Sunday, and I can’t tell you how exciting it was to see many people carrying multiple museum store packages!

If I had to narrow Pittsburgh’s success to one word, it would be “collaboration.” Having multiple sizes and genres of museum stores fueled creativity and offered the opportunity to pool resources on bigger parts of projects. It was our strength in numbers that helped us make a big splash and get media attention. It also fostered a competitive spirit among museum marketing teams — nobody wanted to be outdone!

As the season for planning your Museum Store Sunday is fast approaching, take a moment to thinking about possible partners outside your institution. You could even go outside the museum world and reach out to local coffee shops, universities and fellow small businesses. Here in Pittsburgh, we will be meeting soon to brainstorm, and I can’t wait to see what we come up with!

Happy planning!

headshotLori Brazos is the general manager of retail operations at the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. She oversees retail stores of four distinctive museums: The Carnegie Museum of Art, Museum of Natural History, The Carnegie Science Center and The Andy Warhol Museum.


Keeping our Chapter Scholarship Funds Healthy, Wealthy and Wise

August 20, 2018

By Ava Maxwell

As cliché as it sounds, keeping our scholarship funds healthy and wealthy will result in chapters filled with wise members! Utilizing the resources, invaluable education and information, and networking provided at chapter conferences, as well as at a national conference, can be the difference between stellar museum retail professionals and those struggling for success. For some, opportunities to attend these conferences can be challenging, but if the chapters can assist financially — and meetings gain a greater and more diverse group of attendees — we all benefit. We learn from each other and all become wiser.

But, how do we keep our scholarship funds healthy and wealthy so we can be wise?

I asked each chapter for some of their favorite, most successful fundraising ideas and tips — and to share any pitfalls, and don’t-ever-do-that-again flops! Here’s what I got:


The North Atlantic Chapter has been doing an online auction for the past two years. The first year they raised $1,000, and last year their earnings increased to $1,500. They used, because it was free to set up and auction fees were minimal, but they found the site was not as user-friendly as they would have liked. Another downside was that the auction was open to the public, and collecting payment was difficult (and, at times, impossible). They realized that a strictly MSA auction may be the best way to go, and they are looking into a new service: They are a tiered program, offering many features.

All in all, the results outweighed the problems, and they were pleased with the amount of money they raised! Their advice to any chapter planning an online auction: Establish a fundraising committee to help bear the load. This is a fundraiser that requires a well-organized plan and process, from start to finish: setting up the items online, obtaining donations, working with the vendors to ship to highest bidder, and collecting and managing the finances.

The chapter feels it was well worth the effort and hopes to continue in the future.img_0002

The Mid-Atlantic Chapter has kept their scholarship fund healthy by having a silent auction during their fall chapter meeting. This annual fundraiser has raised approximately $500 to add to their scholarship fund. The chapter has also been fortunate to receive a generous donation from the family of a former chapter member, now deceased. Though they are uncertain whether or not this will be an ongoing gift, the chapter has put this to good use. Honoring or remembering a special person or occasion is always a great way to raise monies for scholarships.

The Midwest Chapter has a task force dedicated to the regional meeting. The task force has created a vendor sponsorship program with defined sponsorship levels that feed the monetary needs of all aspects of the conference. Each level (Bronze – $200, Silver – $400, Gold – $600 and Platinum – $800) is clearly outlined, and the incentives are well thought-out and a win-win for both the chapter and the sponsor. In addition to the sponsorship program, the chapter accepts in-kind gifts as well as raffle or silent auction items. Dollars earned will contribute to a lucky recipient’s registration to next year’s chapter meeting. Details of the sponsorship levels are available. For anyone interested in receiving a copy, please contact me at, and I will send a copy to you.


The Western Chapter uses their annual chapter meeting registration fee to maintain a healthy account balance. Their $95 registration fee not only covers the majority of event expenses but also leaves a little extra in their account. In this way, they are also able to support scholarship dollars.

The Florida Chapter has funded their scholarship account through a variety of ways:

One manager uses the “roundup” method at each POS terminal. Rounding up to the next dollar has earned the chapter close to $400 for their scholarship fund! Be sure to check with your finance director before you proceed.

Another museum shop has held a silent auction for museum employees only. Scheduled during the “slow season,” they used merchandise that may have arrived slightly flawed, samples and/or mistaken items (items that were to be donated or discarded.) These were organized individually or in groups and arranged on tables in a meeting room with bid sheets attached, including minimum bid amount and increments. Each museum employee was given a bid number to use. At the end of two weeks, all winners were notified. Cash payments were made, and all monies were deposited into the chapter scholarship account. (Since none of the auction items were ever entered into museum shop inventory, there was no inventory transfer that needed to be handled). Setup and tear down were somewhat time-consuming, but the chapter earned close to $400 for the scholarship fund, and the museum staff loves the event and looks forward to the next auction!

Dona Scarves created a beautiful silk scarf for the Florida Chapter, which included many of the museums and cultural institutions of Florida in the design. The scarf was launched on Museum Store Sunday, and Dona Scarves donated a portion of the sales to the Florida Chapter for its scholarship fund.

Vendor sponsors to the regional chapter meetings have been a valued and welcome source of dollars to the scholarship fund, but remember: vendors have limited resources too. A suggestion (from a vendor): Choose a vendor that many of your chapter members support in their shops, and ask if they will support your chapter’s scholarship fund by choosing one item in their collection, and designating 5 percent of (wholesale) sales worldwide to be donated to your chapter’s scholarship fund.


Keeping our scholarship funds in a prosperous state is challenging, but the challenge can be fun and rewarding. Shared ideas are always welcome, and chapter growth is often an immediate result of a healthy and wealthy scholarship fund. And we are the wiser for it!

ava-maxwellAva Maxwell is the manager of retail operations at The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park, Florida. Throughout her 29 year career (21 years at The Morse Museum and eight years at The Orlando Museum of Art), she has been an active volunteer for both the Florida Chapter and MSA national, serving on various committees, in leadership roles, and as a presenter during chapter conferences and MSA’s national conference. She is currently the Florida Chapter vice president and is chairperson of the National Board Development Committee.


PRO-Files: Colleagues in Culture

August 6, 2018

By David A. Duddy

Charlie Stathacos, David Somlyo and Marodeen Ebrahimzadeh are dynamic and personable colleagues and are all proud MSA members. Come and introduce yourself at the upcoming NYNOW in the Artobjects Booth (#7266) in the Museum Source section.

Charlie Stathacos, President, Artobjects Unlimited charlie-image

Where did you grow up? What has your life journey been like?

I grew up in Buffalo, New York, graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in anthropology. After a stint with the Peace Corps and USAID’s Office of Food for Peace, I received a master’s degree in applied economics from Cornell University. My international career, advising agriculturalists and small businesspeople, eventually brought me to Artobjects. My mother, Leta Stathacos, who had been store manager at the Albright-Knox and was very active in MSA (eventually honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award) founded Artobjects Unlimited in 1987 as a wholesale rep company, and it has been participating in MSA conventions ever since. I took over as president when Leta retired, and the company continues to act as representatives for American artists and designers as well as global artisans. Artobjects has acted as an incubator for art- and design-driven businesses, and we have watched many of them strike out on their own to forge a path to their own success (and a few becoming MSA vendors!).

What was your first experience with a museum or nonprofit? What work did you do with them?

I remember my first MSA conference in Chicago on Navy Pier. It was very interesting! Since then, I have come to work closely with many institutions, often trying to provide the right products for their stores that fit upcoming exhibitions. In addition to working with and representing U.S. art and design companies, I have managed to fuse my career in international trade and development with Artobjects, working on projects for which I have provided access to trade shows in the U.S. And with funding not always available, I assist my international clients with developing their own businesses and products, so they may participate in the Artobjects booth and we can help sell for them. We even started a GoFundMe page to support travel, training, product development and getting samples shipped ( The experience of a wholesale trade show is new to many of my clients, but it offers them a unique opportunity to present their work and meet the buyers directly. There are some learning curve moments for them. Don’t be so anxious to please the buyers to the point where you sell all of your samples!

There are many challenges in the current retail world. What are you trying to use to your advantage, and what keeps you awake at night?

I think e-commerce is the answer to both of those questions. Just as we try to make our offerings more global by working with overseas artists and artisans, the whole marketplace has global access through the internet. There are so many challenges to keeping all of our channels open and current, particularly when you represent small artisanal businesses. Keeping websites fresh and inviting and balancing that with still doing trade shows to meet the clients in person.

Have you ever been to an MSA chapter meeting?

No, but I may make it to the one coming up in September!

What do you eat for breakfast? Is it always the same?

Two slices of super multi-gain toast — maybe with peanut butter. Sometimes eggs and potatoes.

Any hobbies? Special talents?

I love biking and rollerblading!

David M. Somlyo,Owner, Museum Music Inc. / Museum Coffee House Inc.david-image

Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school? What has your life journey been like?

I grew up in NYC — very close to where I live now. I went to Friends School, then Vassar College, then Syracuse University Law School. I practiced law for five years with a small litigation firm on Wall Street, then started my own firm practicing entertainment law for about four years. I was very motivated to live abroad at some point in my life, and in 1997 moved to Budapest working as an attorney there for more than two years. It was a spectacular experience! When I returned to the U.S., a client of mine had been working on creating a CD with MoMA, New York, and I helped with some advice. I became very interested in the company and wound up joining it and then running it in 1999.

What was your first experience with a museum or nonprofit? What work did you do with them?

My first collaboration was with the MET, on our “Painters in Paris” CD. We have continued to partner with museums and have now produced more than 80 custom CDs for over 40 institutions! With the decline in interest in CDs and DVDs in the general population, museum stores remain the best and most targeted market for our products. They are still seen as gifts or souvenirs of the cultural experience, and customers will still purchase them on that basis. We find the MSA Expo is a great way to directly connect with the market that we primarily target.

There are many challenges in the current retail world. What are you trying to use to your advantage, and what keeps you awake at night?

The whole CD industry is challenged by MP3s and streaming music. Initially, most of our products were compilations of music, and my knowledge and skill as an entertainment lawyer was incredibly useful in obtaining rights. We now pursue more projects involving original content that can only be found through us. For example, it took us three years working with MoMA to create a really terrific children’s CD called “Pop! Goes the Easel” with original songs performed by Broadway stars. Prep and design time is much longer, but you wind up with a truly original product that you control. We also have diversified with a new product line: Museum Coffee House, offering certified organic and fair trade premium packaged coffee targeted to the museum market.

Have you ever been to an MSA chapter meeting?

Not yet, but I should investigate one if it is close by.

What do you eat for breakfast? Is it always the same?

Steel-cut oatmeal with bananas and sometimes other fruit.

Any hobbies? Special talents?

I swim on a regular basis and often test out our latest music using waterproof earphones while I swim. We need to know what it sounds like however people listen! I see a lot of theater with my daughter, and I go fishing with my son, mostly in Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, and in Central Park! You wouldn’t believe the fish we have caught (and released!) there. I have cage-dived with great white sharks, tracked mountain gorillas in the Congo, and, yes, I can juggle!

Marodeen Ebrahimzadeh, Owner, ETANA Inc. and Made 4 Museum marodeen-image

Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school? What has your life journey been like?

I was born in an Assyrian Christian family in Iran, and so we fled the country in 1978. In Iran, I had a master’s in fine art and interior design. In the U.S., I went back to school studying fine art printmaking. My concentration in Iran — my first love — was bronze sculpture. It led to my own extensive personal collection and to my business of providing fine art reproductions to museums in this country and globally since 1985. After Cal State Fullerton, I did some fine art framing, printmaking and jewelry design. I then began to start sculpting for others as well as doing my own work. I started doing wholesale shows around the year 2000 in New York City and other venues. In my travels and through referrals, I identified MSA as a great potential market for my line of reproductions.

What was your first experience with a museum or nonprofit? What work did you do with them?

I was fortunate to connect with the British Museum in London and to create for them a Lamassu, a winged deity with the body of a lion and the head of a man, originally from Assyria. Many such reproductions are being made now overseas in resin, but I try to remain true to the bronze materials that lend real quality to a small piece like that. I sell to many other institutions with encyclopedic collections, like the de Young in San Francisco and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Getty in Los Angeles. There is an upcoming special exhibition at the British Museum that I am creating work for now that focuses on pieces from Ashurbanipal, which has always been a particular special interest of my studies and my own collections.

There are many challenges in the current retail world. What are you trying to use to your advantage, and what keeps you awake at night?

There are a lot of middlemen flooding the market with cheap reproductions, and, of course, many such things can be found on the internet. I am beginning to use sales reps to gain more access to fine art galleries in order to open up those wholesale markets to find more suitable markets for my work. Certainly, clients from MSA are very knowledgeable and interested in quality.

I am not that concerned about 3-D printing … yet. There are still many flaws in the production process, requiring the hand of an artist or craftsman to finish a piece properly. If you are insisting on quality, there is still the hand of an artist involved.

Have you ever been to an MSA chapter meeting?

I was a sponsor for a Western Chapter meeting in Santa Barbara that Stuart Hata from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco was part of, as well as David Howell, another MSA vendor. I know that MSA has been making many changes with more inclusion of vendors in the direction they are taking. So I am considering participating more with MSA in the future, as long as those partnerships continue to be fruitful.

What do you eat for breakfast? Is it always the same?

I usually have cereal with almond milk — sometimes a boiled egg. I usually go to the gym in the morning before work, so a healthy diet is very important to me.

Any hobbies? Special talents?

I have an extensive personal art collection since I also operate a fine art gallery: Square I Gallery in Claremont, California. I have a large number of small bronzes, which have a particular fascination for me for all the fine detail they can record. Although I am devoted to sports, I am told that I am an excellent dancer. I took some physical education courses in college at the suggestion of my basketball coach, when I would sometimes get roughed up on the court by the other players who may not have been that happy with an Iranian on the team. And I always loved those old movies with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly!

David Duddy is the Deputy Director for Operations at the deCordova Sculpture Park & Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts,  and is a past president of the MSA Board of Directors.dec_staff_headshots_print_anchorimagery-20


Putting the Retail Industry Report to Work for Your Store

                                                                                                                                                                                    By Julie Steiner 

Have you ever heard any of the following questions at your institution?

  1. Why doesn’t the store sell more, given our visitation?
  2. Inventory? Why does the store have so much money tied up in inventory?
  3. Personnel is one of our biggest expenses—can’t you do the same work with fewer people?
  4. Can’t you increase prices and get a higher profit margin?
  5. The store takes up a lot of space in our institution—what if we use part of it for [fill in the blank: a café, ticket sales, event space, etc.]?
  6. Everyone’s shopping online these days—can’t we just move to selling on our website?

How do you answer such questions when they come your way? Some might feel a moment of defensiveness, or put on the spot. The Museum Store Association 2018 Retail Industry Report is created to give non-profit retail professionals up-to-date benchmarking data to use: first for assessment of your retail operation, and second to advocate for your store’s business needs. When you understand not only your own business data but also the metrics describing the industry, you can contextualize your business and talk about it with confidence.

Before looking specifically at how to put the MSA Retail Industry Report to work in your assessment and departmental advocating, consider two essential factors:

  1. Context is key. All of the answers to the list of questions above are relative. The key question to continually ask in any assessment is “compared to what?” Profits aren’t objectively high or low, they are high or low when compared to some other profits. Maybe it’s profits from a previous fiscal year, maybe profits of a similar institution in another city, maybe profits of a nearby corporate/for-profit retailer. Likewise, a store isn’t inherently big or small, a store is bigger or smaller than some other store or perhaps is being compared to some other department. Inventory, personnel, sales, e-commerce: no single measurement is objective, they only make sense in comparison, and the context for comparison needs definition and clarification. The Retail Industry Report is designed to give you that definition and point of comparison to answer detailed questions about your business.
  2. Data is neutral. It’s human tendency to shrink from statistical feedback, as if numbers reveal something we won’t want to see. It’s like refusing to go for a medical checkup to avoid hearing something we’d maybe rather not hear. But the numbers don’t care about us: they are impartial, and non-judgmental. We bring the judgment, the data itself is neutral. And when we look at those numbers as neutral feedback, and know how to assess context, they can only help. Ask yourself “what’s the worst that can happen?” Maybe the worst is that we find our business strategy has a weak spot—but just as we want to know our daily sales totals on the days when business is slow, as well as when it’s busy, we can’t fix what we haven’t measured. At the end of the day, it’s not knowing that presents the most risk. So let’s take a look at some of those hypothetical questions listed above, and how the MSA Retail Industry Report can help answer them. First of all, the report covers a variety of institutional types and sizes of operations. For the purposes of this exercise, I have pulled the stats specifically for art museums to use as examples. Data for stores from history, natural science, and other types of museums and institutions are included in the report too, and you can do this same comparison for those stores.chart-1-store-sizeI prefer to study and present statistics in graphic form, so I’ve made some example charts based on the summary statistics in the Retail Industry Report. The graph represents the median figures for all art museums responding to the MSA survey. Other art museums can plot their size against this graph. I’ll use extreme examples for purposes of illustration: perhaps a store has sales of $500,000, and takes up 4,000 square feet in a museum’s entry lobby. That museum board might be reasonable in saying “some of this space could be better used, apportioned to a different use.”chart-2On the chart above, I’ve added visitation: the axis on the left shows attendance to the museum, the axis on the right is square footage of stores. Here, a store making $450,000 a year in a 500 square foot space, with 300,000 visitors coming through each year, might look at this and say “we could increase our retail earnings by expanding the physical space given over to our store.” Of course, many other factors play into each conversation, but how do you know if your store is “big” or “small” unless you know “compared to what?” Plotting your own store on a graph allows you to compare to the “average art museum store, of a certain visitation number and gross retail sales volume.”

As for the rest of the questions listed above? The stats in the Retail Industry Report that can help you answer those questions fully, and compare to your segment of the market, include but are not limited to:

  1. Sales per visitor, average transaction values, and proportion of attendance that comes from school groups, tour groups, and special events (particularly useful when those groups exhibit different buying behaviors from the general admission visitors).
  2. Inventory values, cost of goods sold, annual inventory turn, number of vendors and number of SKUs.
  3. Tallies of paid staff and volunteer positions, with wages, salaries and benefits, including sales associate’s positions.
  4. Profit margins, cost of goods sold, margin per transaction, margin per visitor, margin per square foot.
  5. Store sizes, visitors per square foot, sales per square foot, and gross margin per square foot.
  6. Percentage of retail sales from e-commerce, median purchase amounts for e-commerce, number of items offered online, and top-performing items sold online.

I’ve highlighted only a few among many of the conversations museum retail professionals have about their operations every single day, that can be clarified and contextualized with data from the MSA Retail Industry Report. The amount of data compiled in the survey process is enormous, and the ways of looking at it are as varied as the stores represented. Aggregating and sharing our community data is one of the top services an industry association such as MSA can provide. Whatever challenges and questions you face in your organization, chances are that understanding those within the context of the industry will highlight strengths and opportunities that can help your business grow stronger. It will help you advocate to the decision-makers for the improvements you need to strengthen your business!

The 2018 MSA Retail Industry Report can be ordered online here. The 2018 MSA Retail Industry Report is sponsored by Andoniadis Retail Services.andoniadis

Julie Steiner is the Director of Retail Operations for the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, PA and the 2017-18 President of the Museum Store Association Board of Directors.jsteiner-2018-msa-sm


MSA FORWARD: An International Perspective

June 25, 2018

By Rebecca Allport

I recently traveled to the USA on a Gallery scholarship to attend the annual Museum Store Association conference in Washington, DC, followed by a trip to New York City to meet with the retail teams at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

What a trip!

It came about because we are in the middle of expanding the Art Gallery of New South Wales and transforming it into one of the world’s great art museums. Called the Sydney Modern Project, this expansion will enable the display of more of our art collection and the hosting of more major exhibitions from around the world.

It’s due for completion in 2021 for the Gallery’s 150th anniversary, and the new building complex will provide space for art in all its evolving forms, with opportunities to learn, create, discover and engage. Oh, and let’s not forget about a brand new shop, in prime position in the entrance foyer. This will give us two permanent shops, one in each building, and the potential for more temporary exhibition

We are currently in the planning phase for the Sydney Modern shop design, so it was timely for me to attend the MSA conference in Washington, DC, and to visit New York City, as both are overflowing with incredible museums and galleries – and they really know how to do cultural retail well.

I arrived in Washington, DC’s cherry blossom season, and before the conference started I hit as many museums as I possibly could. Now, I have a confession to make and I know this is a safe environment in which to make it, because we all live and breathe cultural retail, right? Oh boy I hope so. Here goes: whenever I visit a museum or gallery, I visit the shop first. The art comes second. I can’t help myself, my feet just automatically take me to the shops. You do the same, right???

So – I did see some breathtaking art. I am always struck by the size and calibre of many international gallery collections. They really are very impressive. But – back to the shops.

It was an incredible opportunity for me to look at what other retailers are doing in cultural spaces. What challenges do their retail teams face? How are the teams divided across various trading areas? How is product mix split across multiple shops? What are the latest trends for branded merchandise? Are we, as Australian cultural retailers, keeping abreast of international trends, and are we competing on a global level?

I was particularly impressed by the National Gallery of Art, and how they cleverly adapted their retail spaces across both heritage and contemporary buildings.

Once the conference began, I attended so many interesting and informative sessions. Among my favorite topics up for discussion were managing social media, creating a strategic plan for your museum shop, and public relations for museum retailing. There was even a session on the 2018 Museum Store Sunday, with creative ideas discussed about promoting the day and getting your institution’s marketing team on board. And lastly, store metrics and KPIs: telling your story through numbers. These really are an excellent way to advocate for your shop to your institution’s executive and management team. Metrics matter because they enhance our stories with quantitative measurements of success, and our board members and executive strategic planners respond to these. Those metrics help to give us a clear voice and demonstrate the worth of our having a seat at the table.

This also ties into something I’ve noted in Australia that was reinforced for me in Washington, DC while listening to opening keynote speaker Rich Pedott, VP and General Manager of the Met. It’s that no matter our size, we all struggle with the same issues.

For example, with 7 million visitors per year, 33 million online visitors and a 70-80% conversion rate, the main Met shop has not been refurbished since 1992! Don’t get me wrong – I saw it when I visited, and they still manage to make it look fabulous – but as Rich explained, the fittings are dated and tired and in need of a refurbish. Their ongoing issue is securing funds through convincing the institution’s board members to invest in the retail business.

On many levels, we all face these funding challenges, and we need to continue to be advocates for our shops, within and beyond our galleries and museums. We need our voices to be heard and we need that seat at the table. This will be my challenge with the Gallery Shop’s new design and fit-out – to balance our commercial and logistical needs with the architect’s and retail designer’s visions – and I’m anticipating many opportunities for me to champion best-practice cultural retail!

Once in NYC, I looked closely at the big guns, the Met and MoMA, to inspire me for the road ahead. Their shop fit-outs and design, product and merchandising ideas, signage options, packaging solutions, messaging about the importance of supporting the shop and gallery membership, online presence – visiting these places really does open up a world of possibilities. The Met blew me away with their immaculate presentation and merchandising, MoMA was the pinnacle of on-brand aesthetic, and the Whitney showed the world how to build a stunning shop in a glass cube with no walls!

These visits also reminded about me about what we are already doing well at home. We may not have the budget, huge teams, or big name of the Met or MoMA, but by benchmarking ourselves against the best in the business, we can better measure our strengths.

Overall, the trip was an invaluable way to prepare for the Gallery’s retail future. At the conference, it was amazing to be in a room with hundreds of people passionate about cultural retailing to discuss our unique industry niche. Throughout my visit, I met wonderful people who were full of enthusiasm for what they do and the institutions they work for, and I’m more determined than ever to keep raising the bar here in Sydney.

And since this is a museum shop readership, I should also answer the most important question about my trip – yes, I bought loads of cool stuff.

Rebecca has worked at The Gallery Shop at The Art Gallery of New South Wales since 2001, and has been the Retail Manager since 2013. She starterebecca-allport-headshot-1d as a Stock and Sales Officer, then became the Retail Operations Manager and Giftware Buyer in 2008. She is responsible for the commercial retail business, including temporary exhibition shops and advises the Publications Committee on all AGNSW publications. 

[Photos courtesy of the Art Gallery of New South Wales]

*** Local Caption *** Interior view of the gallery shop and products.