MSA FORWARD 2018 – So much to learn!

May 21, 2018

By Barbara Liesenbein

This year I had the pleasure of attending my first MSA conference, and, as a relative newcomer to retail, the conference didn’t just meet my expectations — but far exceeded them!  I attended MSA Boot Camp —  where I learned not only many of the important metrics related to retail, but useful advice on store layout, negotiating with consignors, offering superior customer service,  using signage as a selling tool, and creating compelling displays. As a result of this information-packed program offered by MSA at the Conference in Washington, I was able to bring back ideas that we are likely to implement in the near future. We especially liked the idea of displaying our top ten best-sellers, or staff favorites throughout the store with descriptive information encased in frames. It is such a quick, easy, and effective way to point out our most popular items. The Ritz-Carlton session inspired me not only to think of simple ways to improve customer service in general, but to implement small ways of providing exceptional service to individual patrons. Their focus on the quality of the customer’s experience can be brought to all levels of service for our institutions – and their training was truly inspiring.

All of the sessions were highly informative, and there was ample opportunity for networking with colleagues, which was especially important to me as a newcomer. Business meetings, cocktail hours, the gala party with the Silent Auction – so many new people to meet and talk to! I was warmly welcomed by the North Atlantic chapter and was quite impressed with the rapport its members had established with each other. Their enthusiasm for their work and for MSA was contagious!

Another thing that impressed me was the vendor-buyer forum, in which vendors work together with buyers to improve the process for both. I had not expected this level of cooperation and was very pleasantly surprised that the relationship really aims to balance both parties’ needs.

The depth of vendors was impressive–there seemed to be something to appeal to every type of museum and the vendors were quite helpful. The quantity of vendors was just right—not so overwhelming!

I am still processing everything that I learned at the conference and suspect that I will be doing so for quite some time. As a part-time newbie to the world of museum retail, I am grateful that my institution had the confidence in me and foresight to make the investment to send me to this conference. I would barbara-l-photo-resizedencourage others to consider sending your part-timers as well. Your investment may reap multiple rewards.

Retired after a thirty- year career in academic librarianship, Barbara moved to New Hampshire where she became a docent for the Zimmerman House, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home owned by the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester.

Looking for a change of pace, she was hired as a part-time clerk in the museum shop, where she enjoys uniting customers with the perfect selection and interacting with people from around the world. She also serves as a part-time security officer at the museum, and recently became a museum docent as well.




Reflecting on MSA Forward 2018

May 14, 2018

By Nancy Dunitz

I just returned from the Museum Store Association‘s annual meeting and expo in Washington DC.  It was the first time Dunitz & Company has attended and I have several colleagues to thank for that. For years I have interacted (and sold to) museum buyers at larger trade shows such as NY NOW.  In recent times, both customers and vendor colleagues told me it was time to participate in MSA FORWARD. Those encouraging my attendance include Ione Saroyan (New-York Historical Society), Stuart Hata (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco), Debra Reiff (Origin Jewelry) and Susan Davis (Grandmother’s Buttons.) If it wasn’t for these friends, I might not have jumped on the bandwagon. nancy-dunitz_image-1

What’s different about seeing museum buyers (and vendor colleagues) at a MSA conference?  One word. OK, two. “The Atmosphere.”  At larger gift shows, everyone is in total business mode.  At the MSA conference, we were as well. But there was also a sense of family, camaraderie, community and supportive-ness you don’t typically sense in other business settings. Seriously. Have you ever seen buyers and vendors taking Ellen DeGeneres type selfies together at a gift show? nancy-dunitz_image-2

My adventures with the MSA Conference started with Terry Tarnow (Dennos Museum Center) inviting me to be her roommate at the Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel. Terry and I have worked together several times before. We had never before broken bread. Our glue? We both were raised in Detroit and had previously discovered people and places we love in common.  Now I can say Terry is a true friend and an easy roommate. We’ve even discussed returning to Washington DC (without a conference) to focus on the many museums and their gift shops. nancy-dunitz_image-3

Ari Lowenstein of Emergent Workshop (and MSA Board Vendor Member Advisor) gave me some terrific advice before attending MSA FORWARD. And, I’m sharing it here with you.  He said if you are taking the time to participate in this conference, make sure to join in on the educational tours and seminars. Make a point of meeting other attendees. This was sage advice.  I, along with a bus-full of others, enjoyed a tour to Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens and Tudor Place and their gift shops! Whenever I could, I introduced myself to those I didn’t know.  I attended seminars when I could. At luncheons I consciously sat with people I didn’t know.  I joined the Western Chapter for their group pizza dinner.  Sometimes it’s tough to mingle with people you’re not acquainted with. It may seem awkward. Do your best and try it, always with a smile.  (Turns out many of those people I met stopped by my expo booth. And some wrote orders. I’m certain had I not dined with them, this might not have happened.)

On Saturday night, MSA staged their Gala. There was a fabulous band. Many of us danced for hours. (I can’t think of the last time I danced so much. That was sooooo much fun!) Staged concurrently with the party was a Silent Auction with a host of terrific products donated by vendors and museum gift shops. The goal: to raise lots of money for scholarships for deserving buyers to attend future conferences. Dunitz & Company donated two necklace/earring sets.  One, beaded; the other, fused glass. I wanted anyone seeing our donation to know that Dunitz & Company wholesales two very different fair trade collections.  I was nervous that no one would bid on our donation. I was thrilled to see by the end of the evening a bidding war had ensued.  The winner, Ryan Oswald (Vizcaya Museum & Gardens) had bid three times to make sure his wife would be wearing our pretties. Now that put a big smile on my face. nancy-dunitz_image-4

I was one of the lucky ones. I was able to set up my booth starting Friday morning, and not after dinner as many others.  Even using most of Friday for creating my attractive display (which I absentmindedly forgot to photograph), I was able to attend a couple of seminars.  I really had no idea what to expect when I attended Neal Cohen and Jeremy Richardson’s session “Year in Review, Your Annual Business Check Up.”  These guys are smart and they’re very savvy when it comes to issues of product safety, copyright and trademarks.  Some of these very BIG issues can actually have an impact on small businesses like ours. My view? Even if most of what is said doesn’t apply to you, if you take away one valuable point at a seminar, it was worth being there. I am better off for having attended their presentation. nancy-dunitz_image-5

And finally! Yes, the main clincher for why I attended MSA Forward.  I wanted Dunitz & Company to be seen at the Expo.  As my colleagues had promised, the Expo was a terrific way to get our jewelry in front of the faces of many museum buyers I’d never previously met. And do you remember my mentioning all those people I nervously sat with at lunches?  Several came by my booth. Some ordered. Many left their business cards for follow up. And yes, I did see several buyers I already knew, which accounted for reorders. Yeah! nancy-dunitz_image-6

Other feedback from me? Order the lights for your booth. I was told that the ballroom and exhibition spaces were well lit and extra lighting was not needed. My booth was dark. Thankfully most everyone’s booth was dark. With a small show and a captive audience, it seemed most buyers looked everywhere. My gut is if I’d had a few spotlights, my booth would have garnered a few more pauses.

The jury is no longer out.  Attending MSA FORWARD 2018 was a success for so many reasons. I enjoyed DC. I made new friends. I wrote business and I was able to pitch our fair trade jewelry line to those who didn’t previously know of Dunitz & Company.  And guess what? Next year MSA will be hosting its annual event in San Diego. (And may the hotel there have food as edible/delicious as the Renaissance Downtown DC.) I can even drive to San Diego!  Will you attend?nancy-dunitz_head-shot

Nancy Dunitz, owner of Dunitz & Company views herself as an artist and an explorer. These two character traits catapulted her from corporate America to the highlands of Guatemala in 1989. For more than 25 years, Nancy has been working and collaborating with the same community of women (and a few men) to successfully bring fashion forward beaded and fused glass jewelry to appreciative customers.  Dunitz & Company recently launched a customizable laser cut earring collection perfect for museums.  And, Dunitz is a proud member of MSA and Fair Trade Federation.


Rewarding (and Awarding) the Spirit of MSA

May 9, 2018

From April 26 – 30, over  600 MSA members—museum store professionals and vendors alike—had the opportunity to come together to learn, buy, sell, network and explore at MSA FORWARD 2018: Mastering Non-Profit Retail, the 63rd annual Retail Conference & Expo, in Washington, DC.

Our time in DC was incredible! We took part in a wide variety of relevant learning sessions designed for all our MSA members. We made new connections during our many capital city excursions and networking events. At our top-notch expo, we discovered extraordinary products surely destined to be top-sellers in our stores.

In addition, during the Membership Meeting and again at the Gala, we recognized and celebrated several of our MSA leaders for their creativity, passion, hard work and dedication that make the MSA community so special and so vibrant. As non-profit retail professionals, we constantly challenge ourselves to create new products, stunning displays, and innovative processes for the businesses we oversee. We tackle each challenge with energy and verve – and we always know there is a colleague at the other end of that phone line when we need some sage advice.

We are thrilled to recognize the 2018 winners for the MSA Buyer’s Choice Awards, the MSA Recognition Awards and the MSA Board Awards for outstanding service to our association.

MSA Buyer’s Choice Awards

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

  • Books and Multimedia:

“Jazz in Available Light: Illuminating the Jazz Greats from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s Stories & Photographs” from Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. Through both personal stories and stunning photographs captured behind the scenes, this book allows you to lose yourself in this bygone era of jazz that celebrates dozens of the most recognized and formidable jazz artists.

  • Custom Design:

African Art Earrings by Kinzoku Customs. Inspired by the patterns found in the Barnes Foundation’s renowned African Art Collection, these custom enamel earrings represent a modern take on ancient rhythms.

  • Eco-Friendly:

BAMBOO Jewelry by California Pacific Designs. Inspired by endangered wildlife and crafted by kiln-firing glass onto recycled silver, then packaged in eco-friendly bamboo gift boxes, BAMBOO Jewelry is one of the greenest jewelry lines produced.

  • Education and Games:

“It’s Hard to Get a Handle on Modern Art” Cup from Unemployed Philosophers Guild. UPG’s porcelain teacup, made in the style of a traditional Japanese yunomi, is debossed with original portraits depicting 65 great modern artists – from Courbet to Warhol.

  • Fashion:

Bespoke Project from STEWART/STAND®. This is a custom project developed in partnership with museums that offers reproduction quality printed accessories inspired by an institution’s work of art, architectural detail, or brand identity.

  • Paper Products:

ZentangleSphere® by Wizheads. This art based on the Zentangle method lets anyone draw patterns on flat pieces of pre-cut cardstock and then later assemble them into a sphere that reduces stress while promoting creativity.

MSA Recognition Awards

These annual awards acknowledge the essential role that nonprofit retail professionals and museum store vendors play in the success of cultural institutions. New for 2018 – two Museum Store Sunday awards!

Product Development:

  • Winner: National Mall and Memorial Parks – Eastern National

A customized  virtual reality headset to enhance their Timelooper app that shows the changing landscape of Washington DC or interprets moments in history, such as Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at the Lincoln Memorial.

  • Finalist: de Young – Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, which created Stanley Mouse “Summer of Love” Limited Edition Silkscreen Poster .
  • Finalist: Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, which created a trouser sock using the artwork of Nova Scotia Folk Artist Maud Lewis.

Vendor of the Year:

Winner: MP Barcelona — recognized for their high quality and unique products, great customer service, and ongoing partnerships with MSA buyers as well as sponsorships of MSA initiatives. . Their products are recognized, both nationally and internationally, for their devotion to design and excellence in execution.

Visual Merchandising:

  • Winner: Filoli Historic House and Garden —Designed to celebrate the Autumn change in bird populations and activities at Filoli, their display combined books on birds, bird themed home décor, and custom product utilizing Audobon images of bird species found on their property.
  • Finalist: Mint Museum of Art for its creation of a spring garden setting for an exhibition on the designs of Oscar de la Renta, who drew inspiration from the beauty found in nature.

Web Presence:

  • Winner: The Preservation Society of Newport County —for their website with lifestyle branding elements and social media that builds brand support across demographic groups and is geared to reach an audience outside of their local region.
  • Finalist: Japanese American National Museum for their store’s website presence that connects with all facets’ of their museum’s website.

Pop-Up Store or Store Special Event:

  • Winner: Asia Society — for its “SINGAPORE DESIGN NOW”, a retail showcase presenting a collaboration between Asia Store and a select group of Singapore designers, celebrating their artistic visions and providing a glimpse into the vibrancy and multiculturalism of Singapore.
  • Finalist: Columbia River Maritime Museum for its “Survival Store”  that displayed everything you could possibly want or need to survive the elements or help you get rescued in an emergency .
  • Finalist: New- York Historical Society which created “The Eloise at the Museum Shop” as an immersive retail experience for visitors exiting their Eloise at the Museum exhibition.

Museum Store Sunday Event (Institution):

  • Winner: Preservation Society of Newport County —who worked with Applewood Books to create the content for a personalized souvenir book for The Breakers visitor on Museum Store Sunday. Using the Applewood Book Party Van, all MSS visitors could have their photo taken and used as the cover of their own personalized souvenir book of their visit.
  • Finalist: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, whose MSS event included special offers to both members and non-members as well as two artisan trunk shows.

Museum Store Sunday Event (Vendor):

  • Winner: DONA Scarves — who created a Florida souvenir scarf using the MSA logo to emulate a road map of Florida’s museums. The scarf was specifically made to debut on the launch of Museum Store Sunday and to generate support of the MSA Florida Chapter scholarship fund.

MSA Board Awards

Each year, MSA’s Board of Directors has the opportunity to recognize individuals within the Museum Store Association who exemplify the MSA spirit—leaving a lasting impact on MSA and paving the way for the association’s future. This year, these awards took four forms: the MSA Service Award, MSA Merit Award, MSA Next Award and M Award.

MSA Service Award:

This award is given in recognition of outstanding service or a contribution to the association by a member or non-member. This year the MSA Board of Directors chose to recognize three individuals:

  • Angela Colasanti is the President and Designer of VIELÄ Jewelry and MSA member, volunteering on both the MSA Advocacy Committee and the MSA Marketing & Communications Committee. Last year, Angela led the design and construction of the Museum Store Sunday website. She diligently worked to create the site’s visual aesthetic, architecture, and content- incorporating the new MSS brand identity, integrating a museum store locator, and building a participant database. An extraordinary success, the MSS site had over 36,000 visits in the two months it was available before Museum Store Sunday.
  • Kristen Daniels is the President of Kamibashi and an MSA member. Last year Kristen sent a proposal to the MSA Board, outlining her idea for a forum that would allow buyers and vendors to talk openly about merchandise and business without the formality of Shop Talk — and volunteering to  take the helm.  And the Buyer Vendor Friendly Forum was born!  Kristen spends every week posting topics, answering questions, and being a champion of both the BVFF and the MSA.
  • Joanne Whitworth is the Communications & Media Manager for the Association for Cultural Enterprises (ACE) headquartered in the United Kingdom. She is also a member of the MSA Advocacy Committee and a main contributor to the Museum Store Sunday initiative on the global front. Jo was the lead on Museum Shop Sunday (as the Brits like to say), singlehandedly making a great success of year one by pulling in over 125 cultural venues in the UK, Ireland, and even Hungary.

MSA Merit Award:

In order to honor those who have significantly contributed to the improvement of MSA, the Merit Award can be given to those who are current members or sponsors for five years or more, have volunteered at the annual meeting, served on a committee or task force, and have been involved with MSA at the chapter level. This year the MSA Board of Directors chose to recognize two individuals:

  • David Graveen/Popcorn Custom Products — At conferences, in MSA’s magazines, blog posts, and various MSA initiatives, David has been an MSA presence for many years — giving both financial and in-kind support to innumerable MSA activities. He has a tremendous ability to articulate the importance of MSA and the uniqueness of our community and industry as seen in his continuing volunteerism and two year service as Vendor advisor to the MSA board of directors. He continually demonstrates how, through small and large gestures, always selfless, we can have a meaningful impact.
  • Mary Christensen/Museum of Flight —Mary’s commitment to MSA has informed her work at the Chapter level as well as service on the National Board as a Director at Large. Her input on the Board Development Committee has been invaluable in helping to identify and shape the next leaders of MSA. Her involvement with MSA is a huge benefit to all who meet her – connecting old and new friends and colleagues in our association – and forging networks of information so valuable to us all.


This award was created to honor a young and/or emerging professional whose efforts inspire future museum retail professional leaders through unique contributions that benefit all MSA members.

  • Aubrey Herr/The Walters Art Museum — Aubrey Herr is a millennial on a mission, using her non-profit retail skills to advance rapidly at the Walters Art museum to Assistant Manager of Retail Operations. Currently serving as the Mid-Atlantic Chapter Vice President, Aubrey is also the co-chair of MSA NEXT.

MSA “M” Award:

Not every year does the Board decide to bestow the coveted “M” award- the highest award given in MSA.  To receive the “M” award the recipient must have shown outstanding dedication and loyalty to the association through creativity, effectiveness and the spirit of volunteerism and support.

Stuart Hata/de Young and Legion of  Honor, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco — Throughout his many years with MSA, Stuart has been the exemplar of making a career in non-profit retail. His longtime dedication to our community, both as an industry expert in publications and helpful guru, are legendary. His service on the board in recent years solidified his investment in our association, as he spearheaded the 2016-19 strategic plan, refocusing the association on MSA’s core mission and member value. As past president, he continues to dedicate many hours of volunteer service to MSA through active committee work, spearheading our marketing and communications initiatives, among many other things. His dedication and commitment to this organization continue to set an example for leadership.

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


“MSA Forward Starts in One Week – Four Reasons I am Excited to Attend!”

April 16, 2018

By Julie Steiner

MSA FORWARD in Washington DC marks my 9th MSA conference, and I’m looking forward to it more than any previous one. Why? Because, beyond my involvement in the process as a volunteer, and all of the great changes to our conference model that the association is proud to launch—putting all of that aside, I’m excited because of the support and information I gain by connecting with MSA members in person.

Retail is changing. Museums are changing. Our culture is changing, and with it, all the ways that we do business. With all of these changes, the best way to think about my business differently and adapt my business is to tap into the knowledge of peers in my industry. Collectively, we share ideas and experiences about what works, what doesn’t work, and what might work if we approach it differently. Museum peers are the single most valuable resource to me in professional development and ongoing education. I learn from each of you, and I rely on your knowledge to constantly reassess the way I do business.

As I look around at our changing industry, I see several consistent themes, and MSA FORWARD offers me tools to navigate each of them:

More and more, business today is collaborative. Corporations and non-profits alike are building partnerships to enhance their brands and bring nuance to their value proposition. MSA FORWARD gives me a chance to build relationships that inspire me to think about future collaborations.

Business is more globalized. The world is shrinking, and trends quickly become international. This year, MSA FORWARD offers opportunities to think about our business in a broader, more global context: MSA’s collaboration with international museums through Museum Store Sunday is a particular highlight, and the conference brings us together to think creatively about this year’s Museum Store Sunday around the world.

Business is innovative, and museums are flexing to become innovators. Museums are reaching for broader audiences, undertaking new community engagement and digital initiatives, and our retail stores are adapting to take advantage of these innovations. MSA FORWARD gives us a chance to hear directly from the people behind these innovations and to share stories, data, and real-life practical case studies we can use in our own innovations.

Consumer behavior is becoming more ethics-driven, as shoppers seek to use buying power as a way of demonstrating their values and beliefs. I often say that museum stores are uniquely positioned to capture this cultural trend, and MSA FORWARD gives us the platform to think differently about the ways that our stores support and reinforce and can capture these changing consumer needs. This event provides us with both a forum and an audience for open discussion about how our non-profit missions can best be supported, even advanced, in our retail stores.

In our MSA Strategic Plan, the leaders of this organization envisioned MSA FORWARD as a reorganized event that would inspire, delight, and connect our stakeholders. I believe it does exactly that, ajsteiner-2018-msa-smnd I look forward to being inspired, delighted, and to connecting with each of you next week in Washington DC.

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.


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

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 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 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