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. 



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.





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!

Read more


What Is A Museum Store?

September 25, 2017

By Julie Steiner 

One of the admonishments I heard when I was new to this field was that I should not refer to museum store products as “souvenirs.” Souvenirs, it was said, evoke cheap and poorly-made things, rather than the quality merchandise of world-class institutions. But there’s another way of thinking about that word, and that is as souvenir — simply the French word for “memory.” What better compliment to a product could there be, than to have it contain a person’s memories? Elizabeth Merritt, the head of the AAM’s “Center for the Future of Museums” pointed out at an MSA conference a few years ago that the human mind simply can’t store all the memories that we gather in our lives. And that’s the true purpose of museum store products: good products done right become externalized memory, souvenirs that hold our memories and recall our experiences.

One thing I know for sure (and that my work in museums reinforces every day) is that museum stores are an invaluable part of the experience and that retail products serve an important purpose and wield an incredible power: they carry our collections and exhibits out into the world beyond the walls of our institutions. Once the exhibits have traveled on, the educational programs are completed, and in those hours when even the galleries of our permanent collections are hushed and dark, visitors continue to savor their experiences at our institutions through the objects they purchased (or were given as gifts) from our stores.

Above all, a museum store is the place where guests select a suitable container to hold their memories of the day.

I believe souvenirs are a compliment: we only buy objects to hold those memories we most wish to reinforce. We buy to hold on to positive experiences. Shopping at an institution is a conscious effort on the part of the visitor to turn that specific positive experience into a long-term memory. Gifts for others selected at museum stores carry an additional purpose: they are physical evidence of having thought of a person while in that institution. It’s so much more than an object handed on: a museum store gift reflects a deep human need to share a meaningful experience with another person.

Creating and selecting the right products to represent our institutions and imprint the visitor experience in the mind of the visitor is our imperative. The visitor needs to connect their delight and wonder — their cherished day with family and friends – to the items we offer them. It means that quality of experience must match quality of product: no other memory will work. Our primary job as non-profit retailers is to provide the extension of that experience and help to carry that memory into the homes and lsteiner-julie-headshot-smives of our audiences.

Often, when I give tours of the museum store where I work, I gesture with a flourish and proclaim “This is where the magic happens!” I am half mocking, but behind the joke lies seriousness, because I do think that there’s great “magic” to wrapping up the intense experience of a museum visit in a concrete memento, and the magic that happens when a guest finds the perfect thing to carry out, just the right object for them that will connect their long-term memory back to this experience: this day that they have had in this museum, and this specific object that will help them maintain the emotions, thoughts, and connections created during their visit. Museum stores are where the magic of connection and memory happens.

Julie Steiner is the Director of Retail Operations for the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, PA and the President of the Museum Store Association Board of Directors.


When It Comes To MAP Pricing You Snooze You LOSE

September 18, 2017

By Mike Lovett

As a museum store operator, or as a merchandise maker or distributor, you know that the ease of online shopping is a double-edged sword. Sure, it’s convenient — but for business owners and operators, the underbelly of counterfeited products, price discrepancies, and showrooming can quickly replace the thrill of finding a sale with the disappointment of losing one. The main culprits are usually on Amazon or eBay, selling the same product that you are for less.

These retail giants hijack MAP (Minimum Advertised Price) pricing, leaving you with inventory that’s difficult to move because you’re selling at the actual price. Your overhead costs don’t allow cutting margins to compete. And if sales continue to decline, you’re less inclined to take buying risks that might differentiate you and pay off down the road.

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New Shoptalk Group: Buyer – Vendor Friendly Forum

August 14, 2017

By Kristen Daniels

I like to think of a successful sales transaction as a win, win, win, win situation. The first winner is the producer, the second is the wholesaler (who is sometimes also the producer), the third is the retail store, and the final winner is the store visitor, who purchases the product.  When everybody wins, everybody’s happy!

Because of our commitment to museum visitors and each other, MSA vendor and buyer members are in a unique position to help one another rack up wins.  Even though working well together takes time, effort, and communication, I was pleased by the willingness of so many members of this community to send in their questions, comments and advice when David Graveen (Popcorn Custom Products) and I asked for suggested topics we could cover in our MSA conference session in Pittsburgh on buyers and vendors working well together. It is clear that we all want to talk to each other and find ways to work together in a way that will help the wins become easier and more plentiful.

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