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.




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)


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.





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.


How Effective Is Your Store’s Customer Service?

May 8, 2017

At MSA Forward 2017, we were surrounded by colleagues and connections so willing to offer insight, guidance and open minds. Some of those individuals sat next to us during the educational sessions and some led the discussion from the podium.

To close out MSA’s 62nd annual Retail Conference & Expo, we welcomed Louis Roden, founder and lead facilitator of Inspire Consulting Group, to the stage during the Closing Keynote Session, sponsored by Popcorn Custom Products. His presentation, “Creating Customer Loyalty for Life!” resonated immediately with MSA Forward 2017 attendees, who walked out of the ballroom buzzing with excitement and inspiration, and striking up conversations with fellow attendees to discuss immediate actions they could implement upon their return to their institutions.

In case you were unable to join us in Pittsburgh, had to catch an early flight or would simply like a refresher on the great material Roden shared, here’s a snapshot of his dynamic insight.

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Image from Columbia River Maritime Museum's Facebook

Keeping Staff Engaged During Quieter Times

February 6, 2017

By Blue Anderson

Winter can be a time when we relish comfort from the elements with whatever we are most familiar—comfort foods, comfortably warm and toasty fires in the hearth, Southern Comfort. It is also a quiet time for many retail stores. Inventory is done and major holidays are tucked away—and we can find ourselves a little too at ease in our workplaces.

I know I’m guilty of it.

We might hold conversations that we were too busy to have during season changes, everything from work-related to personal stories, political beliefs to gossip about the store down the street. And some may say that there is nothing wrong with that, we’re “bonding” with staff. Except sometimes when it is slow in our stores, we don’t give the same customer service to the visitors that do come in.

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The Four Rs of Retailing (Yes, Four!)

December 12, 2016

By Susan Tudor

Every time we go to the grocery store or a restaurant or shop online, we are making financial and strategic decisions regarding our personal lives: Is this item really what I was looking for? Is this the right time to make this purchase or should I wait? Can I afford this? Is it the right price, or can I find this same item somewhere else for less?

These buying decisions in our personal lives are similar to the financial and strategic decisions we make as retail merchants in our institutions.

I have heard it said that the key to retail success comes down to three Rs: carrying the right merchandise at the right time and at the right price. This statement is simple but challenging. It is intuitive yet calculated. And it can serve as a great reminder of how simple strategy can help make or break our stores’ bottom lines.

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How National Customer Service Week Can Benefit Your Museum Store

November 7, 2016

By Bill Gessert

In 1984, the International Customer Service Association (ICSA) spearheaded the first National Customer Service Week (NCSW). Since then, during the first full week in October, businesses and organizations nationally and internationally use this week as an opportunity to do something special for their customer service staffs. (Think celebrations with fun and games, food and beverages, and employee recognition.)

But is fun and games what the founders of NCSW had in mind back in 1984? No, not really. The true spirit of the week goes beyond fun activities. Its real meaning is a much deeper, more important philosophy that can change the level of service in your museum store.

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Visitor Service Standards: Go for 100 Percent

October 31, 2016

By Kate Neumiller Schureman

It doesn’t take much time on TripAdvisor to find the following review, “Great museum, horrible customer service!” I would guess that many of you might be thinking to yourself, “I am sure that is not part of a review for my museum,” or maybe, “That’s not about our museum store.” Well, you are not alone. More than 80 percent of American businesses, including museum stores, think they provide “superior customer service.”

If that is truly the case, then how do we explain the $41 billion per year that American businesses lose due to poor customer service?

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Building and Defining a Retail Culture

July 25, 2016

Culture is intangible. It’s hard to define, it’s difficult to understand, and yet it shapes behavior and structure of an organization. The word “culture” comes from the Latin word “colere” which means to tend to the earth and grow, or cultivate and nurture. Everyone belongs to multiple cultures. You have a work culture, a culture you grew up in, a culture with friends, and with volunteer organizations. But have you ever thought about defining one for your retail operation? And why do you want to do such a thing? Because culture shapes behavior and because that behavior can be changed.
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