MSA Member Dispatches from Home: Historic Deerfield Museum Store

March 30, 2020

By Tina Harding

In these truly challenging and unsure days, all our members are inventing and reinventing ways to sustain their businesses — and themselves. So many of us have had to create new ways to communicate with our colleagues and each other — many, many of them now working at home. As we navigate this time — with no fixed date for a return to normalcy — we would like to offer a series of weekly blogs that are “Dispatches from Home.” Our authors will send ideas about how they are coping with this emergency — with tips, innovations and good humor. We hope that all the varied people in our community help each other, survive and thrive during these incredibly difficult days, and arrive on the other side of this national emergency with their spirits — and businesses — intact.

When I wrote this blog this morning, I thought our museum would be the last to reopen. Reading today’s Shoptalk posts has shaken my thinking and rattled my perspective.

No matter when the ban on opening is lifted, our annual opening date will have passed. With no interim events planned, the Historic Deerfield museum store’s new opening day will be Friday, May 15.

How are you selling products?  

Unlike many of my colleagues, I am at the office Monday through Friday. With my marketing department’s help, we are using social media to highlight in-stock books written by the speakers whose lectures are now canceled. Normally, we do not have a great response rate, but this time our members and friends stepped up. It was a lovely to see the orders fly in — not so lovely was realizing I was the only one to process and ship all these orders.

How are you interacting with your customers?

When filing all the paperwork, I noticed I mistakenly shipped two books by USPS when the customer had requested and paid for a FedEx delivery. I emailed him, relayed the mistake, apologized and offered a refund. Surprisingly, he wrote the kindest note telling me he understood and to keep the money. This short, sweet note made my day. I didn’t feel so alone; I no longer felt my work was unrecognized. A little kindness in this turbulent time is a wonderful thing.

How are you keeping busy?

I continue to keep busy, adding items to both our internet and Amazon site. I’ll work on more social media posts, and clean, clean, clean. The hardest part of being here alone is standing strong in the face of a tempting display of the internationally award-winning chocolate.

Things are changing daily for all of us. By the time you read this, there may be very different news from here. We are working apart, but we are together.



Tina Harding is the director of merchandising at Historic Deerfield. She has held this position for 10 years. She oversees all aspects of retail store management while also managing a robust wholesale division. Her museum retailing career began at Old Sturbridge Village where she also served as director of merchandising for 10 years.


How to be Digital (And Not Alienate People)

March 16, 2020

By Tom Dykes

Last year, while scrolling through the National Theatre Bookshop’s work feed over morning coffee (read: being easily distracted by Twitter), I came across an article on Medium by a digital marketing specialist, Lori Byrd-McDevitt, that really stayed with me.

“Museums have this funny problem of needing to keep up with the Joneses (other leisure time activities) but refusing to play in the same sandbox. For museum social media managers, it means keeping up with companies like Coca Cola and Disney with 0.01% of the budget that these monster accounts have … or sometimes no budget at all. Generally speaking, this is because museum leadership has been slow to understand the importance of digital as compared to traditional media, or the impact of social as a first touchpoint.”

This struck me for a few reasons, notably that you could swap out the job title and replace it with any number of roles in an arts institution. But it particularly appealed to my personal experience of juggling social media with several other roles in my day-to-day job. I’m sure many of us recognize the curse of working in the arts: that we love what we do and where we work and therefore should put up with more expectations (and workload) for less money than the private sector, precisely because of the “privilege” of working where we do and the understood squeeze on funds.

So, how do you do it? Through using what the private sector doesn’t have: the love, passion and sense of ownership our visitors have for our unique cultural organizations.

In my talk at MSA FORWARD, I’ll discuss digital in a wider sense, but here I wanted to focus on how to get the best out of your social media if you’re juggling other roles and don’t have large amounts of time or resources.

1. Exploit your unique selling proposition.

For me, this meant learning to get the National Theatre’s social content editor and marketing team on board and leveraging the expertise and reach of our institution. Instead of working in isolation, I went out of my way to cultivate relationships with colleagues in other parts of the building. We’re all aware that it can be difficult getting the artistic or curatorial sides of our organizations to engage with the commercial sides, but I made this a priority. The NT has over 450,000 followers on Twitter and over 210,000 on Instagram. Although I’ve worked hard to get the NT Bookshop’s Twitter from zero to 11,500, it’s a no-brainer.

We worked hard at finding the right kind of content that the main marketing team would love and would fit with the NT’s digital strategy. This meant pitching online-exclusive products that spoke directly to our audiences and to not being overly commercial.

2. Engage your customers.

Listen to what they talk about and feel passionate about. For example, we partnered with Tonic Theatre for International Women’s Day — featuring plays by women in the shop’s merchandise offerings and online for a few years — or items from the National Theatre’s Black Plays Archive. Some of my favorite experiences have been when a young writer finds their play on our shelves.

3. Personalize your content.

The National Theatre Bookshop’s niche is as the world’s greatest performing arts shop, with knowledgeable and passionate staff who are usually writers, actors or directors themselves. So, how could we use that on social? We created #MonologueMonday where one of our brilliant team members would sit with me one day a month and answer people’s questions live. It was a hit. We’re currently looking to how this could expand onto the main NT channel.

4. Reward people with free stuff.

People love free stuff. Don’t be above doing competitions and asking people to follow you in return. If we’re running smaller accounts specific to our retail outlets, or a small venue with a local footprint or few resources, this is a brilliant way to gain attention. It also has the very important benefit of rewarding your followers.

5. Take creative risks.

Nobody is going to pay attention to another magnet or tea towel. If you take risks with your product development and design, you stand a chance of going viral (the good kind). A great example of the above playing out well on social was the National Theatre Bookshop’s Lady Macbeth’s Hand Sanitizer (tagline: Out, Damned Spot!). This sold well and gained a lot of engagement from our own social posts. Most importantly it got people talking. Some in the theatre thought it wasn’t deferential enough to the production, or that people might not get the sense of humor. But it went viral on social several times. NT has even experimented with partnerships with local breweries, creating exclusive beers for certain shows.


If you do it right, you get messages like this.

I hope to see as many of you as possible at “How to be Digital (And Not Alienate People)” at MSA FORWARD in Cleveland on April 21 at 9:15 a.m.


Tom Dykes is the recipient of MSA’s International Exchange Program with the United Kingdom’s Association for Cultural Enterprises and will be talking at MSA FOWARD. He has worked at the National Theatre in London for over 10 years, currently as business development manager running the e-commerce business, as well as working on marketing and PR for National Theatre Enterprises. Dykes is starting as the new director of digital at the Association for Cultural Enterprises in April.


13 Great Ways to Make Your Time at MSA FORWARD in Cleveland Rock!

March 2, 2020

By Kristen Daniels and Geoff Carroll

Greetings from your national MSA vendor advisors! Soon, MSA members will be rocking Cleveland at MSA FORWARD, and we want to be sure that all participating vendors get the most out of their time at conference.

The word “conference” is what we suggest you focus on, because the most important thing to understand is that this is not just another gift show, and if you treat it as one, you may go home disappointed.

Unlike most other gift shows, where you are usually unfamiliar with the vast majority of people walking past your booth, MSA is a tight-knit, welcoming community characterized by meaningful and respectful relationships. This is what defines the MSA conference experience. Moreover, the conference schedule is intentionally packed with events, most of which are open to all members.

Here are the activities we think you should know about in order to benefit from what happens before, during and after MSA FORWARD:

1. Join us on the preconference webinar for vendors.

In conjunction with Elizabeth Eppinger, the trade show manager at the MSA office, we will be hosting a live webinar to go over everything you need to know about the expo and the conference as a whole, including many of the points below. This webinar will likely take place during the week of March 9-16, so please be on the lookout for more information. We are confident you will not want to miss it.

2. Research the museum attendees who will be there, and send a direct -mail to those for whom you think your product will be perfect.

Sometime in April, you will be receiving a list of buyer attendees who will be in Cleveland. Instead of sending them all a mass email or newsletter, look carefully at the list and research their websites to determine which stores would be perfect for your products. Once you narrow it down, send direct emails to each of these buyers explaining what you have and inviting them to visit your booth. We can tell you from experience that this really does work.

3. Choose from a wide variety of sponsorships.

A great way to support MSA (while also getting your company’s name out there) is to be a sponsor. You can read about the various sponsorship opportunities starting on page 11 of the MSA FORWARD prospectus. There is everything from buying drink tickets to give to your favorite customers to having your company’s name on a strategically placed charging station on the expo floor.

4. Go on a learning excursion.

In addition to doing what you love to do anyway (i.e., going to museums and shopping in their stores), you get to do this with a bus full of fun people. Full-day excursions take place on Thursday, the day before the expo setup, and half-day excursions take place in the morning on Friday (before setup) and in the afternoon on Monday after the conference has officially ended. Sign up for an excursion.

5. Volunteer.

There are all kinds of ways to help make MSA FORWARD a success, and they all involve putting yourself out there so that people get a chance to meet you — and you them. See what volunteer opportunities are still available.

6. Go to your regional chapter’s meeting.

Every member of MSA is part of one of eight regional chapters, each of which has its own separate board of directors. Chapters have official business meetings twice a year, one at conference and one that is usually a weekend-long, mini-conference somewhere in the region. This is a great time to introduce yourself if you haven’t already met the folks whose businesses and institutions are in your part of the country. There are lots of great volunteer opportunities at the chapter level, too, including being your chapter’s CVA, which stands for chapter vendor advisor.

7. Don’t skip meals.

All meals listed on the schedule, including everything from the continental breakfasts starting on Saturday to Monday’s Closing Luncheon and Awards Ceremony, are not only part of your booth cost, they are a great opportunity to get to know members you haven’t yet met. Don’t be afraid to ask someone you don’t know if you can sit next to them. You never know what you two might find you have in common.

8. Attend the educational sessions.

You are encouraged to attend the educational sessions, all of which happen outside of Expo hours. One session you should definitely not miss is “A Guide for Vendors and Buyers Working ‘The Mingle’ and Driving Business,” which takes place Saturday from 10:30-11:30 a.m. This session is led by two of MSA’s senior chapter vendor advisors and has a panel of four speakers who are all buyer members. We are looking forward to attending and learning all kinds of useful tips from this session.

9. Spend some time in the Buyer-Vendor Hub at the Expo.

“The Hub” is a brand-new meeting place in the middle of the expo floor that is a place for members to socialize, have a snack, engage in business and get to know each other better without anyone having to leave the expo floor. Join your fellow members for networking breaks or for a nice glass of wine during one of the two happy hours. Buyers are encouraged to spend time in The Hub, and you are too. Check it out!

10. Don’t miss the Gala and Silent Auction.

We know where we’ll be on Saturday night, and it will be on or near the dance floor! The Gala and Silent Auction conveniently take place in the hotel’s ballroom, so there’s no reason not to come. You may be tired from working your booth, but we simply cannot stress enough that you should make an effort to join this and all other networking events. There will be a band, a cash bar and some more of that food that is included in your booth fee.

Don’t forget to donate to and also shop the silent auction; it’s a great way to show your support for MSA while also getting lots of eyes on your product. Sign up to join the other silent auction donors.

11. Do not leave after the Expo.

If possible, stick around for Monday’s activities, because there are more educational sessions as well as the closing luncheon and yearly awards ceremony, to which all are invited. Remember at the beginning when we told you to think of this as a conference and not just a gift show? This is what we are talking about! Use every single minute of your time in Cleveland to learn, meet and mingle with your fellow MSA members — you will be glad you did.

12. Follow up with the people you talked to.

When you get back to your office, don’t forget to follow up with the people whose business cards you’ve received. Even if a potential new customer can’t buy from you now, they might have a future exhibition that your products will be perfect for.

13. Give your opinion by filling out the surveys.

Please fill out an evaluation form after every educational session you attend. You will also receive an online survey about the different parts of the conference from the MSA office shortly after the conference ends. The best way to make future conferences and the educational sessions even better is to let the MSA board and the MSA office know what you thought of it all.


As vendor advisors, we have talked to many new vendor members over the last few years about how to get the most of your MSA membership, and the one thing we always stress is that you have to be there for the long haul. Whether in person or virtually, the key step is making yourself visible.

MSA vendors tend to be storytellers; we offer products that have meaning, symbolism and fascinating stories. MSA FORWARD is the single best tool we have to tell our stories. If you don’t have a booth this year, utilize other avenues for raising your company’s visibility. Go to your chapter’s regional meeting, sponsor and/or go to the networking events at NY NOW and AmericasMart, respond to a post on ShopTalk or start up a new discussion on the Buyer-Vendor Forum.

Just joining MSA does not mean that you will automatically get a slew of new customers, but it does mean that you are now in a community of professionals who respect vendors and embrace. Now, let’s go rock out on this great stage at MSA FORWARD in Cleveland and wow our wonderful buyer-member audience!


Kristen Daniels is the president of Kamibashi (the string doll people) and one of two vendor advisers to the MSA Board. When she and her husband Chris travel, they love to visit museums and their shops, so attending regional chapter meetings is going to be something they happily do for many years to come.


Geoffrey Carroll, president of Original Source, has been active in MSA for 20 years. Geoff’s involvement with museums began when he moved to Asia in 1994 and opened his own office. At a time when most products from Asia were controlled by trading companies, Geoff and his partners pioneered a direct grassroots approach with artisans in China, Thailand and Vietnam. His permanent presence in Asia has resulted in a business model that provides more benefits for the artisans and better products for museums. Geoff is passionate about teaching and often visits museums to provide education sessions on Asian culture.


Visual Merchandising in Museums

February 17, 2020

By Catherine McGoldrick

This article was originally published by the Association for Cultural Enterprises.

Cultural Enterprises Academy

A few months ago, I was in a premier visitor attraction shop (as I often am!) and noticed that, despite exiting through the gift shop, visitors were tending to drift through the shop and leave without a purchase.


Often the difference between whether one purchases or not in a museum shop comes down to one powerful factor: visual merchandising. I love this quote from Michael Guajardo of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts:

“Visual merchandising is the silent sales team that is always working to impact the bottom line … is always on the clock, and never takes breaks.”

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Good visual merchandising will boost your conversion rate, your average transaction value and even attract visitors to your shop on a standalone basis. Here are my top tips for using it successfully.

1. Get them in.

If, like a lot of us, you aren’t lucky enough to have visitors exit through the gift shop, it is absolutely essential to catch the eye of the customer on the way past. Use your shop windows creatively to draw customers in, and make sure the displays at the front of the shop reflect current exhibitions or seasonality to tempt them to come in for a look. If you are lucky enough to have exit through the gift shop, wow them with displays to make sure they stay and purchase.

2. Know what you are selling – and who you are selling to!

Dippy on Tour

Dippy on Tour

It’s really important to know who your customers are and reflect this in your visual merchandising. Nowhere is this more important than in your shop layout. In National Museums NI, all our shop spaces need to offer products for both children and adults. In order to manage this, the shop floor is clearly zoned so customers can find “their” area with color and signage. No one wants to try on expensive jewelry with bouncy balls whizzing past their ears! Products and visual displays are targeted to the target market. A display to attract children is very different than one for adults.

3. Make sure your customer knows, too.

I am obsessed with clean lines on our displays and have clear rules on merchandise positioning. A customer should be able to go to any area of a shop and understand the merchandise immediately. What is the story you are telling? It could be dippy, Irish art, local history, but it should be crystal clear to the customer.

Displays that are fussy and aren’t thought through can actually be detrimental to sales. If the customer doesn’t understand what an area or display is telling/selling, they get confused and drift off bemused by too much “stuff.” As a buyer, I don’t purchase anything if I don’t know exactly where that product will go in the shop and what story it will fit into.

Below is a fantastic example of a clean, clear storytelling display — one glance tells the customer everything. This display says if you love this painting, here is the place to shop!

National Gallery, London

National Gallery, London

4. Create beautiful displays.

An unusual or lovely display can stop customers in their tracks. When building a display, start with the core pieces those you need/want to sell; it could be a catalogue or some key exhibition merchandise. Then layer in complementary product such as more generalist books on the topic. Items in a display should be clearly related to the main products.

Create eye appeal by using focal points to add height or creating pyramid displays. I always step away a few times while building the display and come back to review. Is it too busy? Does it feel unbalanced? Often the key is to simplify rather than try to throw too much into the mix. Products should be able to “breathe” within the display and not feel cramped and squashed. If you are selling high-end products in a display, it is crucial to build in space around them to convey the special nature of the product and suggest luxury and value. Add striking accessories or specialist fittings to add drama and interest.

Where you are selling a disparate collection of items — for example, assorted ceramics or homeware — use color palettes to bring them together. Always bear in mind the purpose of the display is to sell. Displays should be easy to access and feel “shoppable” — the customer doesn’t want to feel afraid to touch or reach for products.

5. Add height.


Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

6. Use color to tie the display together.

Picasso Museum, Paris

Picasso Museum, Paris

7. Add striking accessories.

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

8. Use your suppliers.

The suppliers who provide artisan jewelry or handmade ceramics to your museum are talented, design-led people. Why not use this to get them to come in and merchandise their product for you? They often use props and materials that reflect their own unique vision and help to create special and memorable displays. The supplier below uses etchings, paintings and antique looking drawing books to create a unique look. It’s a win-win for the museum shop and for their brand.


Ghost & Bonesetter – Ulster Museum, Belfast

Ghost & Bonesetter – Ulster Museum, Belfast

9. Use clear point of sale to highlight the special nature of local or hand made products and their provenance.


10. Don’t forget to grab an extra sale.

Once you have the customers at the till point, why not try to motivate an additional impulse purchase? Provide another chance to buy exhibition catalogues or motivate an impulse add-on buy with items such as beautiful bookmarks or striking wrapping paper.

“We’ve done surveys, and about a third of the people who come to the museum say that they plan to shop here,” Rich Perdott, the Met’s vice president of merchandising, told the New York Times. “They’ve said they want to buy something that’s a tangible memory of their visit. Part of our goal always is to give them something they couldn’t get elsewhere.”

Remember, the visitors are already on-site and motivated to purchase; don’t let the opportunity slip through your fingers!


Catherine McGoldrick has 20 years of experience in retail buying. Previously, she held a senior role with a major retailer in high street fashion, responsible for buying and sourcing for multiple stores across several countries. She is currently the retail manager for National Museums NI. This role comprises all aspects of retail, including buying and product development for all the NMNI sites, shop fits and pop-up shops. She has 10 years of experience in the cultural retail sector.


What’s Next for MSA NEXT? An Interview With Kelli Davis, Store Manager for the Iowa Science Center

February 3, 2020

By David Duddy

Editor’s Note: This article includes information from Aubrey Herr of The Walters Art Museum and Steve Santangelo from Popcorn Products.

What is MSA NEXT?

It is a group of young professionals within MSA that provides a resource and support for those beginning their careers in nonprofit retail, whether from an institution or a vendor. We want to help build membership in MSA by embracing new sources of inclusion, collaboration, technology and innovation. We want to make these things available to all members and attract and support future leaders for the association.

What effect has this had on MSA?

I think it helps to broaden the base of engaged nonprofit professionals that are in MSA, especially those staff members who may not be able to attend conference or meetings. We want to provide them with a community and a voice in the future growth of MSA. They may not find it easy to locate or interact with a group of their peers, but we want to invite them to be a part of this community, bring their fresh ideas, and create new conversations that will help them build their own careers and inspire new initiatives for all members. We want the future leaders in the association to feel a part of the planning of that future.

Has your own career and planning been changed by being a part of MSA NEXT?

I think it has given me more “branches” and offered me a broader perspective about nonprofit retail and its place in the world of commerce. But if you manage young staff members, get them involved! Make them feel like part of the future of MSA and in planning their own careers.

MSA NEXT has its own strategic plan. What does that look like for the future?

The three-year plan is about growing membership and providing an inclusive space for young professionals. We want to establish a community — both online and in person. We want to build cross-generational connections that will inspire, promote and drive innovation in our industry. We will be rolling out some of these plans in Cleveland, including our Facebook platform. Here is a link to the full plan.

How will MSA NEXT affect the future of MSA itself?

Besides giving our young professionals a voice, we want to build an engaging community and wrap people in sooner. We really want to welcome newcomers — come sit with us, talk with us and interact online! We want them to gain a comfort level that is welcoming and inclusive. MSA has shown the forethought to realize that we must add these new professionals to the mix; they are the ones who will drive innovation in all areas and build the stronger future that will keep MSA meaningful and viable.

You have been part of the planning for MSA NEXT. What can the association do to support those efforts?

I would say to spread the word to younger staff members that this is their way to voice their opinions, talk about their ideas and participate in the planning of their own careers. Make sure they know about MSA NEXT and encourage them to make this their entrée into MSA. These emerging professionals are a group that is passionate about careers that have meaning — and nonprofit retail fits the bill.

What should I have asked that I missed?

This is pretty thorough, but I just want to say that I was invited to be a leader in MSA NEXT after I was on a panel about mentoring, which really says a lot about what we want to do. Offer to help — welcome people in. What can you offer them? What can they offer MSA? Make sure they know that they can be our next leaders.


Kelli Davis is currently the gift store manager for the Science Center of Iowa. She has been with SCI for over nine years, where she has led implementing new organizational procedures for the operation of the gift shop. She originated this role for SCI and is currently the only person to have held this position. She is a member of MSA NEXT and encourages inclusivity and mentorship for the organization. In her free time, she loves trying art and learning new skills but mostly hanging with her husband and dog.



Holy Toledo!

January 20, 2020

By Patricia Sampson, Stacey Stachow and Lilia Villasenor

We’ve all heard of Toledo, Ohio, but did you know that it’s named after the holy city of Toledo, Spain? Hence the expression: “Holy Toledo.”

Toledo in Spain is known as the “city of three cultures” because of the cultural influences of Christians, Muslims and Jews reflected in its history. The old city sits on top of a hill surrounded by the city wall and overlooks the plains of Castilla-La Mancha.


In 1986, Toledo was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, there are still excavations going on, but Toledo has become a bustling and quaint city. It’s a fascinating town and a center for Spanish tourism, which yearly hosts FARCAMA: Féria de Artesania de Castilla-La Mancha.

Last October, Stacey Stachow from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Lilia Villasenor from the International Rose Test Garden, and I took part in the Hosted Buyers Program of the Regional Handcrafts Show FARCAMA 2019 held in the historic city of Toledo, Spain. FARCAMA is sponsored by the Castilla-La Mancha government and the Foreign Trade and Investment Institute of Castilla-La Mancha (IPEX) and is the leading exhibition of handcraft artisans in the region. Each year, IPEX invites buyers from MSA to take part in their craft show and to learn more about how we shop gift markets. This year, the three of us were their invited delegates to the fair.

During our trip to FARCAMA, we had the opportunity to meet with many Spanish artisans in their studios. We went to Nava’s storefront in the old town of Toledo where we were educated on the traditional techniques of hand-embroidered silk shawls with fringe, which originated in the municipality of Lagartera. Our next visit was to the Anframa showroom. Founded in 1970 after a gathering of several Toledo craftsmen and damascene masters who wished to maintain the centenary tradition, Anframa has become a leader in the manufacturing of damascened articles.


Damascene is the technique of inlaying metal to metal using 18- and 24-carat gold foil and wire to create intricate designs. Building off the tradition of damascene is contemporary artist Oscar Martin Garrido, who is applying the traditional technique to contemporary subjects. His studio was very exciting to visit. We had the chance to see him work firsthand on a new work of art and had the opportunity to play with swords that he had created. Yes, sword making is going strong (and you need to be strong to lift them) in Toledo. We also visited Credansa Grupo, which reminded me of the Spanish version of Popcorn Custom Products and Museum Store Products rolled into one. They make lovely cork-back coasters and ceramic magnets and keychains among parts for airplanes. These were just the studios we visited, now let’s talk about FARCMA.

FARCAMA is a vibrant craft show of Spanish artists who make traditional crafts along with other items with contemporary flare. We saw handmade copper kettles, silk scarves, soap makers, jewelers, ceramics, swords, etc. They even had a furniture and food section where we were able to taste test olives, cheeses and vino. Many of the buyers were from different regions and countries. One of the interesting components of the show was that it’s open to the general public. Also, your purchases were packed in a shopping bag that had the FARCAMA logo. We thought this was a great marketing tool!

This was an amazing adventure, and we highly recommend everyone visit Toledo and FARCAMA if you ever have the chance. A couple of words of advice: Do your research and study up on your Spanish. We were fortunate to have our wonderful hosts, Jose, Armelle and Javier who translated for us during the day but explored on our own for dinner. It was a true adventure in an amazing city!


Patricia Sampson is the manager of retail shops and visual merchandising at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. She is a native of New York and attended Marist College, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in fashion design and merchandising. Her career in for-profit retail began shortly after graduating college, when she went on to work as an assistant buyer for a resident buying office and then moved into department store retail. Patricia’s involvement with MSA began a year after joining The High. Her passion to give back to the MSA community lead her to a position on the regional board of the South Atlantic Chapter. She currently is on the MSA Board of Directors as Director at Large. Patricia also has served on many other MSA committees both at the national and local chapter level. Her other organizational involvements included the Speakers Bureau for the High Museum of Art, The Jennifer Keith Institute, AIDS Advocate for the American Red Cross, and she is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. She also is an active member at Word of Faith Family Worship Cathedral. Lastly, Patricia is an avid sports fan, volleyball being her favorite. She enjoys sewing, cooking and spending quality time with family and friends.


Lilia Villasenor stumbled into the museum world and found her way into museum stores when she received a grant from the Smithsonian in 1987. Upon moving to Oregon, she was presented with the challenge of building a museum store for the Portland Children’s Museum. No pay was promised, any profit would be split with the board and it basically was a volunteer position. The museum store was pleasantly rewarded with a profit the first year and while the job was enjoyable, a second child made it impossible to continue. After an eight-year hiatus, some of it spent teaching and in for-profit retail, she returned to manage the Oregon Historical Society Museum Store. She spent almost a decade there and became involved in MSA, first at the chapter level and then at the national level.
She accepted her current position at The International Rose Test Garden in 2008 and continues to believe that she truly did land in a bed of roses!


Stacey Stachow, is the manager of the museum shop at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.


Ethics as an Everyday Practice

January 6, 2020

By Blue Anderson

The term “specialty store” is defined by as: A small retail outlet that focuses on selling a particular product range and associated items. Most specialty store business operators will maintain considerable depth in the type of product that they specialize in selling, usually at premium prices, in addition to providing higher service quality and expert guidance to shoppers.

The types of specialty stores can be broad: a small health food store, a high-end women’s boutique that offers couture clothing, a museum store, or a little bait-and-tackle shop are examples of such a store. Even though prices might be higher at these establishments, customers often prefer the expertise offered by small stores, which are often run by people who are passionate about the products they sell.

Moody’s Investors Service recently predicted the 2020 growth trends of the retail industry, and specialty retailers are poised “above the fold” at a 5.7% growth rate — above the 4.2% of online retailers and apparel and footwear retailers. That’s a nice place to be if you are a specialty store!

Of course, there are all kinds of new years’ predictions out there — decades of them, in fact — and there will be years more ahead. But at the core of a museum store — a true “specialty store” — are our MSA members, committed to carrying out our roles and responsibilities with the highest standards of professional and personal ethics. We assume the responsibility for providing professional leadership in our organizations, communities and the nonprofit retail industry. We are committed to maintaining standards of exemplary personal and professional conduct.

If these past few sentences sound familiar, they are; I pretty much lifted them from our MSA Code of Ethics. This exemplary code ensures we are indeed specialty stores, passionate about products and proud of our institutions and businesses. To these ends, we subscribe to the following standards:

  • We fulfill our professional responsibilities with honesty and integrity.
  • We stay informed of, and comply with, institutional policies, as well as all relevant local, state and national laws.
  • We support and recognize the need to preserve and protect our cultural and natural heritage.
  • We support and recognize socially responsible practices such as fair trade, environmental conservation, and the integrity of product components, function and safety.
  • We uphold the importance of quality sources, educational value and relatedness of all products sold in the retail operation.
  • We ensure that all reproductions and replicas of cultural and natural artifacts are clearly labeled as such.
  • We adhere to institutional policies regarding proper disposal of deaccessioned materials.
  • We treat all business affiliations with respect.
  • We do not conduct business with organizations or individuals with whom we have a conflict of interest.
  • We never use our position for personal gain.
  • We use MSA’s Knowledge Standards to educate and encourage high standards of professional competence and conduct.
  • We champion the retail operation as an important asset of the organization and a benefit to enhance the visitor’s experience.

These ethical signposts are meant to inform and mold our approach and behavior as we go about our jobs every day — not just when we review them at some point in the year. We also need to make sure that anyone we supervise understands that there is such a code — and that there are many compelling reasons for upholding it. It is part of what puts “special” in specialty stores!

Keeping these solid and proven Code of Ethics points in our vision each day is the true measure of our growth rate. If we can capture each of these points all year, we will, indeed, remain over the fold.


Blue Anderson is the director of visitor services for the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon. Blue has been a member of MSA since 2000 and is a past president of the Pacific Northwest Chapter. She also is a member of the Board Governance Committee and MSA’s Education Advisory Group (EAG). Blue’s passion is education and her outstanding commitment to advancing educational programs and opportunities will help MSA achieve its strategic goals in the future.


2020 New Year’s Resolutions

December 9, 2019

By Raymond McKenzie

As the holidays race by in a rush of business and time with friends and family, it is also the time of year when people are looking at resolutions to improve their lives. Many will sign up for the gym, quit smoking, promise to eat better and commit to organizing their house. While it is great to set new goals in our personal lives, it is also an excellent time to set goals in our work lives.

After doing some research (i.e., Google), here are five common resolutions — and how I think they can and should be applied so that you can be your best store manager in 2020. These are all resolutions that you can tackle without making huge impacts on your already busy schedule.

1. Lose Weight – No, I’m not talking about your weight, I’m talking about inventory weight. Every store has excess inventory. Inventory that we can’t seem to give up on, or we’ve tried everything to sell without much success. We all make some mistakes in buying (it is part of the job!), but the real test as a manager is having an exit strategy for all buying decisions. Do you know your process for writing off dead inventory? This deadweight is not only tying up your stockroom and inventory dollars, but it is a detriment to your career since your CEOs and CFOs closely monitor inventory levels. Money tied up in dead inventory is money that doesn’t go to a program or a salary.

Start by reviewing your internal procedures for marking out inventory: What records does your finance department require? Is it budgeted in your P&L? Can you do a big sweep, or will they expect you to do incremental mark outs?

Once you know how to go about handling it and how much you need to mark out, then you can schedule it.

2. Get Organized – The need to get better organized applies to many aspects of our jobs. It is ensuring you make time to clean up that office, stockroom, shipping area, visual display and any other areas you have that never seem to get enough attention. Every manager’s office I’ve ever visited looks like 100 people are working at the same desk. The messy office is generally reflective of the 100 hats we wear each day. Clutter keeps us from being efficient, and it adds stress to our already hectic days. Set aside an hour a week for each task to clean up paper, do filing, organize pens and pencils, and other housekeeping needs. An hour a week is an excellent opportunity to delegate some organizational projects to team members, giving them a sense of ownership. Watch one of your associates after they’ve worked hours to reorganize your stockrooms. If they know they are the ones who will have to do it again, all staff may start cooperating on keeping it that way!

3. Learn A New Skill – Admit it, you know there are some things you need or want to learn that would make your job more productive and profitable. There is no time like today to start developing new skills. Maybe you need to learn about SEO terms to improve your e-commerce? How much time would it be worth spending if you could grow your online sales? Perhaps it is honing up your understanding of UBIT or other tax laws?

Taking an hour a week to learn a new skill can have a considerable impact on your career without having to disrupt weeks with off-site classes. There are online courses from MSA and commercial sites that provide skill-sharing seminars.

4. Travel More – It is essential to get out of your store! It is too easy to have our creativity stifled under a mountain of to-dos that never end. The surge in creativity at conferences or markets is evidence that we need to do this regularly. Ensure you go to markets even if that market is a local craft show or trade show. Conferences will leave you with 100 ideas and resources to take back to your store. Simply visiting other stores in your area to get inspiration should be something you do regularly.

Create a diary or photo album of inspirations on these visits so that when you are in need of a new idea, you can pull out this reference and get re-inspired. Encourage your staff to take photos of displays and products they see when they are out. Let them contribute to a valuable resource the whole team can use.

5. Spend More Time WithFamily and Friends – How much time do you spend with your staff? On average, we spend one-third of our day with our work colleagues. They are your work family, and, just like our home family, you can either spend quality time or just get through the day. How often do you take your staff to lunch one on one? Or have lunch with them in the staff area?

Spending time not talking about work will give you great insights into your team’s desires, goals and motivations. It also allows you to share your vision and goals in a more engaged and relaxed environment.

As you look forward to 2020 and all that it entails, I hope that you and your team will set some New Year’s resolutions for your store. Take the time to achieve your goals and create the most successful year ever!


With over 20 years in retail, Raymond McKenzie is a professional dedicated to visitor experience, profitable buying and audience engagement. A Museum Store Association member since 2008, Raymond has served as a member of the Program Resource Group, Western Chapter President and Secretary of the National Board of Directors.


Shining Together Across Five Continents

November 25, 2019

By Susan Tudor

“A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.” This Mahatma Gandhi quote reminds me how Museum Store Sunday started — a small group of MSA volunteers committed to what they believed in.

For the third year in a row, Museum Store Sunday will take place the way it began. However, there is a difference. That small body of determined spirits has grown. On Dec. 1, 2019, a much larger group has banded together to advocate for shopping in support of museums and other cultural institutions.

When MSA launched Museum Store Sunday in 2017, we knew it was an opportunity to showcase our stores with their unique, mission-related products and meaningful experiences, but we didn’t realize its reach. Here we are in year three with over 1,400 institutions united to celebrate nonprofit retail in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., 20 countries and five continents. Museum Store Sunday is educating consumers around the world about the importance of shopping in museum stores. With participating institutions across North America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Australia, it’s thrilling to see our local, national and international cultural communities embrace this global day of museum store advocacy.

Museum Store Sunday has become the moment for our stores to shine in the eyes of the world. It is the one chance per year when all of us, on an international stage, get to say, “We’re here, and here’s why we matter!” Every participant, every employee, every vendor and every institution has a unique opportunity to be part of this. Don’t you think it’s truly amazing that on Dec. 1, over 1,400 museums throughout the world will be celebrating Museum Store Sunday? And by doing so, they will be connecting consumers to their institutions through shopping in their stores.

When I think of all the messages that Museum Store Sunday speaks to, what resonates most with me is purpose-driven shopping. I think it will always be our advantage in the marketplace. Purpose-driven shopping is about encouraging consumers and visitors to consciously contribute to the future sustainability and success of our cultural institutions. It’s about encouraging our visitors to be a patron and to support their local economy through shopping in their local museum stores. As Geoff Carroll, MSA Board Vendor Member Advisor, pointed out in his recent Museum Store magazine article, “We want and need the market for cultural commerce to grow. We want more families to wake up on Black Friday weekend and make a conscious decision to give their spending dollars to our community of museums.”

One of the major focus points of the MSA 2016–2019 Strategic Plan was to “develop a strategic program to communicate to the world the value and importance of nonprofit retail.” That our community has spread its reach literally around the globe with Museum Store Sunday dovetails perfectly with our intent and demonstrates the vitality, power and clarity of that intent. In three short and very focused years, we have made immediate and tangible progress toward one of our most significant goals of advocacy. Our MSA community should feel proud, indeed, of our “all shoulders to the wheel” attitude and our commitment to deliver on this goal!

It’s inspiring to see how this campaign has developed. To reference Gandhi’s quote again, “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history,” MSA’s signature advocacy event is changing the course of retail history, especially that shopping period during the Thanksgiving weekend. I cannot wait to see where the next three years — and beyond — will take us.

As we shine together on Dec. 1, let’s remember that Museum Store Sunday is a continual opportunity to advocate for our stores, our institutions and our communities!


Susan Tudor is the manager of visitor services and store buyer for the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens in Jacksonville, Florida, and the current President of the MSA Board of Directors. Susan has chaired multiple MSA committees including the MSA Advocacy Committee responsible for the inaugural launch of the global initiative Museum Store Sunday.  


MSA PRO-File: Lynne Francis-Lunn

November 11, 2019

By David Duddy

Until very recently, our colleague Lynne Francis-Lunn was the leader and creative force behind the extraordinary store at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. After a career at the museum for 33 years, she has retired from her position to pursue new endeavors and paths. We caught up with her for this PRO-File before she became completely enmeshed in her new plans.

Where did you grow up? Tell us a few basics: born, raised, training, education?KJK

I was born and raised on Martha’s Vineyard, the lovely little island off the coast of Massachusetts. In high school, I became very interested in weaving, and I pursued my training at Southeastern Massachusetts University, hoping for a career in the fabric design industry.

What was your professional aim? Was it museums? In a retail capacity or another?

Well, a job in the fabric design world was not the easiest at the time — a lot of that work was leaving this country and moving offshore. I knew the director of the Essex Institute (later to join with the Peabody Museum to become the new Peabody Essex Museum), and I ran into her in a yarn shop. She needed someone to run their store for a few weeks while they searched for a new manager, and I took a three-week contract to do that. Three weeks became six, which became 12, and I thought “I could really do something here. Maybe this would be a great step for me.” I applied and was hired — and have been a part of the institution ever since.

What other types of jobs have you had?

I had a few other retail jobs and was very familiar with retail management, and I had also been teaching part time at Newbury College — some courses in textile technology.

No one imagines they will do something for 33 years when they start out. What kept you going?

I am not very good with the same sort of work over and over again. Every new exhibition created opportunities for learning — truly learning something new every day! When a new exhibition was proposed, I would dive into the details and begin the search for new merchandise or what new products could be developed to accompany it. Every exhibition brought a new challenge and a new chance to learn.

You witnessed a lot of growth at PEM. Were you a part of the expansion?

There were so many changes in my time at PEM — a 25-year expansion project after the two institutions had merged their collections and their strategic plans. I was involved in the design of the new store and had been asked by the director to select the proper consultant. After assessing two proposals, I did more research, and with the help of my MSA connections, I located a third choice, and we went with that.

How did your relationships with vendors, artists, curators and collectors affect the business? How was MSA part of your career in nonprofit retail?

Relationships have been absolutely key to the success of PEM’s business — through MSA and with all other business connections. Trust is essential to my work — to all of our work. You need to understand the abilities of the vendors to be a partner in a project. And they need to understand that a deadline is a deadline — that exhibition will open on the appointed day, and I must have the merchandise as promised. I can only work with partners who fully understand our needs. Trust will always provide the best possible result.

What was the biggest change you saw through those years? In the business? In the audience and clientele?

I think it must be the same for all of us: online business, Amazon — they represent the biggest change and challenge. But you have to move with those times and develop strategies for your own business.

What was your favorite moment in the course of your time at PEM?

There were many, but the thing of which I am the most proud is all of the terrific working relationships I developed with many colleagues and departments across the institution. We would collaborate on programming and events that wove the store into the exhibition in interesting and supportive ways. When we had our hat show at PEM, on loan from the Victoria and Albert in London, the store orchestrated a hat fashion show. The guest curator was Stephen Jones, one of the top milliners in the world (think hats at the races at Ascot). He allowed us to use hats from his personal collection, and it became a sold-out event. That required working with many others at the museum. During the course of the exhibition, we sold 3,500 hats. That was beyond anyone’s expectations at the time.

What was the craziest thing you experienced?

Not so much crazy as unexpected, but meeting and working with fashion icon Iris Apfel during the course of her exhibition at PEM. What started as meeting the donor became an incredible working relationship — and a friendship. She opens doors to many creative worlds but has the solid background of a business person. We would actually meet with Iris in New York and visit shows and showrooms. And, let me tell you, when you travel with Iris, you may meet a number of celebrities! It made me up my game wardrobe-wise, and she was an inspiration for that as well.

What was the biggest lesson from the years at PEM?

At the end of the day, people matter most. Over the course of my career, it is the people I met and worked with — colleagues, co-workers, vendors, customers, staff — people from every area of my life. I worked very hard at my job and truly sought success, but I really remember and cherish the people I knew (and know) the most.

What is next for you?

I am focusing on art making — now that I have actual time to do it! I have always worked on my art, but 10 p.m. is not really the best time for me to start a project, which had been when I could begin to create. Right now I am doing “30 art projects in 30 days” on Instagram. I have a piece in a Kentucky Museum as part of an exhibition organized by the National Basketry Association and another piece in the Cultural Center at Rocky Neck in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Just the beginning — stay tuned for more!

Lynne Francis-Lunn is the former director of merchandising at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. She retired in October 2019 after 33 years. Lynne held the titles of museum shop manager, director of licensing and product development and director of merchandising at PEM. She was a former president of the New England Chapter of the Museum Store Association and presented a several national MSA conferences on licensing and product development. She also presented on museum store practices at the Cooperstown Graduate Program Symposium and at the American Associations of Museums. You can find Lynne on Instagram @Lynnefl.