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


Preparing for the MSA Conference & Expo

February 26, 2018                                                                                                         […]


Engagement Is Everything

February 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Paul Ogburn

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





MSA Forward 2018: “Mastering Non-Profit Retail”

April 26-30, 2018, Washington, DC


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

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

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

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

Ways to show value for your Conference & Expo attendance:

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

Tips on saving money at the Conference & Expo:

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








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

By Angela Colasanti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


PRO-File – MSA Vendor Member

January 8, 2018

Name: Kelly Jones

Job Title: Owner / Designer / Maker

Business Name: Wraptillion

Location: near Seattle, Washington

Interviewed by: Blue Anderson of the Columbia River Maritime Museum

Where did you grow up?

I grew up north of San Francisco, in the small town of Fairfax (which got its first traffic light after I moved away for college.) And yes, I’ve spent a lot of time in Bay Area museums, botanical gardens, and other amazingly cool places!

What does your company do? How long has your company been in existence?

Wraptillion started in 2009, when I began to sell the modern industrial jewelry I was making.

As an artist, I see the beauty in everyday things you might never have noticed, especially hardware. My jewelry appeals to others who see things a little differently, and who value the intersections of art and science, engineering and design.

To show off that beauty, I take stainless steel hardware that’s used in car transmissions, airplane hydraulics, motorcycle wheel hubs, and lots of other engineering applications, and I link it together into articulated, wearable patterns, using chainmaille techniques. These materials are what make space shuttles strong and lightweight, and they’re easy to care for (like your stainless silverware.) My titanium ear wires are as hypoallergenic as titanium hip replacements, so most people with metal allergies won’t have a reaction to them. And the same flexibility that makes chainmaille great for armor joints makes my jewelry comfortable to wear (and a little edgy, too.)

What is your role within your company? Have you changed positions within the company? Worked for another company?

Wraptillion is my one-woman show, and always has been. I manage my workload by keeping my focus on my line of art jewelry, plus a little custom work, and by focusing on wholesale sales. It’s much more efficient for me to fill one order for a store than to try to sell, make, and ship many pieces to many individual customers. I’ve never worked for another jewelry company, but I grew up working in my mother and grandmother’s stores, which both sold jewelry, and attending trade shows with them, so I’ve spent some time on the other side of the counter.

Describe the life journey that brought you to this career (i.e. tell our readers about your interesting life so far …)

I’m the daughter of a calligrapher/gift shop owner and an engineer/musician, both very creative people who see beauty everywhere; my brother is a printmaker and tattoo artist. I was lucky to have role models early on for business as well as art. I grew up making jewelry out of macaroni and everything else I could find, and I kept stretching and growing that hobby as I went to school and became a librarian. I’ve picked up techniques here and there, and incorporated them into my work, but since no one else really does what I do, experimentation and sheer stubbornness have been my best teachers. When I finally pulled my hardware ideas together and decided the result was too cool to keep to myself, I began selling my work. It was discovered by some local nonprofit galleries, and then was a finalist in the NICHE awards. Eventually I found my way to museum stores and the MSA.

Tell us about the first sale you ever made to a museum or non-profit institution… what was it?  Who did you sell it to?

The FriendShop in Seattle’s Central Library (a Rem Koolhaas building and architectural destination) was my first non-profit wholesale sale, and I’ve been working with them ever since. They sell book-related products but also design and architecture-focused work from a very small shop whose walls slide on tracks in the library’s floor. (Talk about seeing things differently!) I’ve done custom designs for them featuring an engraved portion of the library’s exterior, as well as my standard lines. To our surprise and delight, the custom pieces were incredibly popular with library staff and locals, who appreciated high-quality work that they could wear every day without feeling like a tourist.

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

Absolutely! My job is to connect what I know about my work, and the custom work I can do, to what buyers know about their customers. I’m the expert in my work, but they’re the expert in theirs; the intersections are where the magic happens.

For the FriendShop’s custom example above, we went back and forth together to get a design and colors that really spoke to their audience, to get the signage right, and to make sure everyone knew why these pieces were special. And it paid off for both of us: when they put the designs in the case, their local customers weren’t deciding whether to buy, they were deciding which color they wanted, because they’d heard what was coming, they’d weighed in on decisions, and they felt like partners too.

What is unique about your product or production technique or design or other aspect?  What would the MSA Membership really want to know about you?

My jewelry comes out of a true intersection between art and engineering, and it celebrates that intersection in a way I don’t see very often. Engineers, mechanics, and pilots immediately recognize my materials, and appreciate the engineering it takes to create a design whose structure comes from tension and aspect ratios, not welding or glue. The pieces in my Heat Patina collection are heated until the surface of my metals oxidizes, bringing out unexpected colors that are a little different every time. Modern art and design lovers appreciate my focus on unadorned hardware: nothing’s extraneous, the materials are industrial and utilitarian, and yet the designs feel classic, wearable, and truly beautiful.

This means that my work fits into a wide range of missions. I’ve worked with transportation museums who want to grow into the artisan jewelry market, as well as art museums known for their armor collections who want to add a different take on chainmail to their cases. Both science and art museums are looking to add STEAM-inspired designs and repurposed materials done well. And engineered jewelry can be part of what welcomes women to your technology exhibit or career day.

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

What I see dominating the retail world is the focus on the race to the bottom: more broadly available products, with competition on who can sell them for the lowest price. But what I see customers currently responding to is high-quality products that speak to them in a unique way. When they know it’s perfect for them, the decision isn’t about price. It’s about how to make that purchase happen.

There’s no way I can compete with big box stores on jewelry prices – and I don’t want to! I’m more interested in the markets they aren’t serving, the ones that know my work is perfect for them, and who value it. Around a third of the customers for my work are men buying gifts, who recognize my materials; that connection makes their gift special. Another third is women who don’t buy or wear other jewelry, because it’s too fussy, too feminine, makes their ears itch, or just doesn’t feel like them. Others respond to my particular aesthetic, and tell me there’s nothing else like it.

You know what the big box stores can’t compete with? A particular artist’s vision. Filling that particular niche for someone who never found their perfect pair of earrings before. It’s a great time to be an artist, and not just another commodity. I want my work to be in the company of other art, so my work will never be as broadly available, and it will never be part of that race to the bottom. It’s more efficient for me to sell fewer pieces of higher-quality, higher-priced jewelry than a higher volume of lower-quality, lower-priced jewelry. Yes, it can take a customer a little longer to make that first purchase – but they’ll come back again and again, because there’s nothing else like it.

There is a lot of turmoil currently in the retail world.  Can you tell us one thing that keeps you up at night? What steps will you take in light of that?

Supply chain disruption is my big fear. The hardware I use is still produced in the US by one company, but I worry about global trends, so I keep tabs on my options too. There are fewer than you’d expect, but it isn’t keeping me up at night.

What are some concrete goals for your next three years working with members of the Museum Store Association? How do you see MSA helping you achieve that?

As a Vendor Advisor for the Pacific Northwest Chapter, I’m committed to bring the vendor perspective to my chapter’s board, as well as being a resource for all members. I enjoy finding ways vendors and buyers can help each other out, learn from each other, and have fun working together. We have so much in common, including many of the same struggles, that it seems a waste not to share our experiences with each other.

Beyond that, I’d love to dig deep and discover more specifically what working artists and artisans like me can bring to MSA, and vice versa, beyond creating and selling great products. I feel like that’s a relatively unexplored connection in two communities with a lot in common. For instance, I’d love to do a talk for high school students on the business side of art, or a STEAM demonstration. And I think it would be wonderful for MSA to create a basic tip sheet and/or resource list for artists who’d like to approach museum stores. I imagine we all get the same questions, so why not share the work of answering them?

Inspired by MSA Next, I’d also like to help think about what the next generation of vendor members will bring, how they’ll find MSA, and what they’ll value in this partnership. I’ve been part of some interesting mentorship models with the American Craft Council, among others. Someone once told me my superpower was connecting people, and with great power comes great responsibility, so if you have ideas on this too (or are already working on efforts I haven’t heard about yet,) let’s chat!

Have you ever attended an MSA Chapter meeting? Tell us about that experience.

Yes, lots! For my first few, it was hard for me to see where I fit in and where I could be useful, as a non-voting member. But over the years the Pacific Northwest Chapter has come up with more natural connection points, including the very popular product share, where every member brings one product from their store or their line to tell other members about. It’s a fun way to learn and share in a non-sales setting.

How long have you been a MSA vendor member? How did you connect with the MSA?

I’ve been a MSA vendor member since 2015. I’d heard about the association before that when researching trade shows, but at that point the general consensus among the artisan and maker communities I was part of was that most MSA Expo buyers were looking for lower-priced work with very broad appeal, and that wasn’t my niche. Still, I kept the organization on my radar, and as I began to work with more museum stores and to do more custom work, I asked Mary Christensen at the Museum of Flight about it. She invited me to a PNW Chapter networking event, so I could get a better feel for it before deciding for myself. And, here I am!

Which museums do you currently work with?

I’m currently working with MSA buyer members at the Museum of Flight, the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, the Currier Museum of Art, the National Czech and Slovak Heritage Museum and Library, the Pittock Mansion, and (as you know!), the Columbia River Maritime Museum.

Why did you agree to be a MSA Vendor Advisor for your regional chapter? Are you working on specific projects right now?

I agreed to be a MSA Vendor Advisor because I saw ways that buyer and vendor members could work even better together, and to help give other vendor members something I didn’t have when I joined: a friendly resource for private questions at the chapter level, so that chapter meetings and public forums aren’t the only place a new vendor member can ask questions. (Yes, please feel free to email me that question you’ve always wanted to ask to me, even if you’re in a different chapter — but know that your chapter probably has a Vendor Advisor now too!) Also, I’m not shy about speaking up.

Most vendor members come into MSA with buyer connections, but those are business relationships too. Yes, we find out the answers to our questions eventually, but I worry that there are missed opportunities when members have to take the long way around to learn things. It’s nice to be able to ask a fellow vendor instead, but vendor members might not already know each other.

Right now, I’m involved in two PNW Chapter projects:

The first is co-teaching an education session at the PNW Chapter’s January meeting with Beth Shafer of the Museum of Flight on quick social media tips, focusing on using Instagram at events, pop-ups, and on the sales floor. We felt it would be useful for buyers and for vendors, and is an area where we can help each other out.

The second is proposing a volunteer booth sitter role for MSA Forward in DC, and helping to coordinate it if the chapter is interested in trying it. The idea is to give our chapter’s buyer and non-exhibiting vendor members a simple way to offer assistance to our chapter’s exhibiting vendor members by covering a quick break. As a vendor who usually exhibits alone, I think this would be a really friendly gesture, as well as a fun way for buyers and vendors to connect in a non-sales situation.

Do you have a hobby?

I have something better than a hobby: monthly exploration days! As a self-taught, constantly evolving artist, I push myself to think differently and stay out of ruts by exploring techniques and activities I’ll never bring to my day to daheadshot_1_museumofflightkjonesy work. Most recently, I took a blacksmithing workshop and learned to hammer red-hot steel from a woman my height (I’m 5’1”), in a working studio that looks nothing like the magazines. I love seeing what happens when I take the time to try something, and I love discovering what I can learn to do. Let me know if you have suggestions for what I should try next!

Kelly Jones handcrafts Wraptillion jewelry to celebrate the beauty of everyday industrial objects. By linking American-manufactured steel hardware with titanium, she creates lightweight, striking jewelry that never needs polishing. Every piece made in her studio near Seattle, Washington is designed to show your edge and fit your life. She has been a member of MSA since 2015.

Photo credits: Kelly Jones, guest artist in the Museum of Flight’s booth at Geek Girl Con; Clustered Circles necklace at the Museum of Flight; Banister earrings at the Pittcock Mansion; Architecture earrings at the FriendShop Seattle Central Library and Boeing 727 hydraulics at The Museum of Flight’s Restoration Center. Photographer: Susan Brown.






Museum Shop Sunday – Success Across the Pond

December 18, 2017

By Joanne Whitworth

Here at the Association for Cultural Enterprises (ACE), we were delighted to work with the MSA and Museum Shops Association of Australia & New Zealand (MSAANZ) to help make the very first Museum Store Sunday (or Museum Shop Sunday as it’s known to us Brits!) a truly global event. We’re even more pleased to tell you that it was a huge success over here, not just in the UK but elsewhere in Europe too. Over 125 cultural venues in the UK, Ireland and even Hungary put on special events and promotions on the day, attracting new customers to enjoy shopping for unique and special Christmas gifts in the relaxing and inspiring surroundings of their local museum or gallery.

Our hashtag #museumshopsunday was trending on Twitter all day (alongside such events as the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix!) and there was some fantastic press coverage in high profile titles such as Metro, a free paper distributed nationwide, and The Londonist, an online title which has over 1.3m followers on Twitter, so it was fantastic to see Museum Shop Sunday featured in their ‘Top Things to Do This Week’ column.

Many venues saw a significant uplift in sales and footfall as a result of Museum Shop Sunday. Paul Griffiths, Head of Operations at the Mary Rose Museum, couldn’t have been happier with how the day went – “Our spend per visitor was up 81% on the average Sunday for the last two months, which is truly amazing. The retail team loved taking part as well!” At Yorkshire Museum sales were up by an incredible 185% and at Castle Museum, York, by 74%. Ginny Leadley, Buying & Merchandising Manager at York Museums Trust, said the numbers were amazing, adding, “This was the first weekend of Christmas activities so visitor numbers were high, however retail sales increased by significantly more.”

Museum Shop Sunday was a great opportunity to engage with new customers, and it was particularly pleasing to see the impact on smaller venues, many of whom seized the opportunity to draw in new visitors. The Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter gave away festive nibbles and offered a discount, resulting in a 30% increase in footfall and 38% increase in sales versus the same day last year. The Freud Museum in north London gave out free Freud cookies, which captured the imagination of the local press and public alike. Local paper Ham & High ran a feature, and the museum welcomed 55% more visitors than the same day last year. Shop Manager Iveta Rozlapa told us, “Museum Shop Sunday really helped us to connect with our local audience and spread the word about our gift shop. We had lots of smiles from visitors on the day!”

Museum Shop Sunday saw all sorts of events and activities, as well as tasty treats, festive fun and giveaways! Events included craft fairs, book signings, product launches and kids’ activities. The RAF Museum gave away their iconic pilot teddy bear with purchases over £30, while other venues treated their customers to mulled wine and mince pies. The Hungarian National Gallery Museum shop ran craft workshops in which customers were invited to create their own gifts relating to the museum’s collection. There was dinosaur story telling at the Natural History Museum, soap making at Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and glass blowing at Ulster Museum. Catherine McGoldrick, Retail Manager at National Museums Northern Ireland, said it had been a really positive experience – “It was well worth doing and gives us something to build on for next year. All the visitors enjoyed the activities and learned a bit more about our makers.”

Browse our Photo Gallery to see some of the fun Museum Shop Sunday events from around the UK – from Freudian cookies to dinosaur story telling!

As you can tell, the enthusiasm for Museum Shop Sunday has been phenomenal, and our members are already thinking oheadshot_jo-whitworth-2f ways to make next year’s event on Sunday 25 November 2018 even bigger and better! It’s been a fantastic global collaboration and we are all looking forward to continuing to work together to introduce even more new customers to the amazing and unique world of cultural retail.

Joanne Whitworth is the Communications & Media Manager for the Association for Cultural Enterprises (ACE). Promoting excellence in cultural trading is at the heart of the business of ACE. ACE is an association of Members and Associate members who are passionate about their work in the cultural and heritage sector. Follow ACE on Twitter @acenterprises



Museum Store Sunday: A Message from the MSA Board of Directors

December 11, 2017

By Ione Saroyan and the 2017-18 MSA Board of Directors

Museum Store Sunday. It is a reality. We did it – we all did it. I’m just going to put that right there and invite you all to bask in it for a moment. We announced it in late April at the MSA Forward 2017 in Pittsburgh. And in less than seven months, it launched in a spectacular way. This bright, creative, diligent, resourceful community of Museum Store Association members and partners succeeded in launching a global initiative. We succeeded in putting a spotlight on Museum Stores right smack in the middle of the busiest shopping weekend of the year. Congratulations to all of us!

For me, Museum Store Sunday (MSS) existed on multiple plains. First and foremost, as one of the pillars of MSA’s strategic plan: advocacy. “To communicate to the world the value and importance of non-profit retail with its curated products and unique experiences.” Within my own institution, this was a struggle at times. For example, I had to persuade my museum’s brand guardians to allow my promotions to go forward without changing the color of the MSS brand. Second, as a volunteer on the MSS Outreach Committee – I wrote letters and made phone calls, and experienced the thrill of the success of my efforts each time the MSS store locator was updated. Finally, as a museum store retailer, I offered special discounts to museum members and the general public, a free gift with purchase, and raffled off prizes including a museum membership. I am delighted to say that we had a fantastic day, with a 212% increase over the previous Sunday, and a 334% increase over the Sunday of the 2016 Thanksgiving weekend. And it was so exciting to read and watch the great press that came in from all over!

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