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5 tips on stocking local


ShoppingBagsShop Local! Small Business Saturday! Go Green! We’ve all heard the logic of why shopping local makes sense for members of a community. You strengthen the economic base by having more of the dollars spent being reinvested locally (versus going to the big box retailers) and jobs are created for others who live, work and shop in the community.

In addition to residents of a community shopping local, it makes good business sense for a local shop to stock local—particularly for a museum store that depends on community support to keep the lights on and keep the museum thriving.

Here are five smart tips:

1) Increase traffic. Showcase the work of your local artist, writer, musician or photographer. You better believe they are going to let their friends, family, local artist’s guild, writer’s group and more know! Word of mouth will increase your local foot traffic.

2) Original merchandise. Even though the world marketplace is becoming smaller and smaller—the purchase of an item from Sub-Saharan Africa is just a mouse-click away—visitors still love the thought and feel of picking up a souvenir from a memorable outing or as part of a bigger vacation. Bringing home a treasure unique to where you’ve traveled feels like a marvelous little find! Create a display devoted to the artisan. Incorporate a picture of the artist and a short story about their work. Ask the artist if she has a prop to share that will attract attention to the display.

3) Form partnerships. Get creative with a store discount coupon or some free tickets to an exhibition in return for your local artisan promoting your shop and the museum. What about promoting your local framer every time you sell a print, in exchange for him keeping current museum exhibit fliers on his counter?

4) Social media exposure. Seek out local vendors who have a healthy social media fan base and link to their pages on your Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram pages. Share their posts and “like” information relevant to what you are stocking to increase your visibility online. This will generate some free advertising for your store.

5) Music to your ears.  Does your museum hold concert series in the summer or host weddings or other gatherings? Make sure to stock the CD of the local performer to cross-promote their gig and your store merchandise.

Have you had a good experience with a local artisan? We’d love to hear about it! Please share in the comments section below.

MSA 2014: Extend the Experience

In the news: Are you keeping your customers’ information safe?


creditcardSince last year’s hack into point-of-sale (POS) systems at large retail outlets Target and Neiman Marcus, consumers have become more aware of the activity taking place on their credit cards. New reports indicate this breach has affected one in three Americans. 

Revenue for credit monitoring companies has skyrocketed as a host of new clients are seeking to protect their financial data. Top executives from Target and Neiman Marcus were on Capitol Hill in February to testify on the incidents and propose solutions.  Target CFO John Mulligan detailed a plan to place a rush on the implementation of a chip system debuting early next year. The chip system is considered more secure than the magnetic strips found on today’s credit card. 

The issue has brought up a flurry of advocates, both for the consumer and retailer, on what laws and regulations should be in place. How far should national, state and local government go to protect the rights of the consumer and/or the rights of the retailer?

In addition to the concerns surrounding financial data, consumer suspicions have been raised towards the use of email addresses, phone numbers and other personal information. As museums, we often ask this information of our visitors for exhibit announcements, special event invitations and sales promotions. Data collection systems, from the store’s POS to the donor database, contain confidential information the museum is trusted to protect. What can we do as an industry to demonstrate our commitment to protect visitor information? Do you have a written procedure for the use and, when necessary, the destruction of this information?

There is no denying it—credit card and information fraud is here to stay. As technology improves to protect consumer data, so will the tools used to access that data illegally.

What has your museum store put in place to protect visitor information? Has your museum been discussing the use of visitors’ personal data?

MSA 2014: Extend the Experience

Spring forward: Checklist for effective museum store displays


JFKCenterDisplayMost of us are climbing out of the deep freeze and eagerly awaiting spring. With that thought in mind (and especially if in your area, springtime seems like it will never come!), it’s time to refresh our museum stores and spirits for the coming year. Here are some visual merchandising tips to get you started.

  1. To offer visitors a clear view of their shopping options, it’s ideal to create displays that are simpler and lower toward the front of the store, becoming higher and denser toward the back.
  2. Use height and depth to create visual interest and show more product in a smaller footprint. Using risers of various sizes, start at the back and move forward and down as you go. Place the tallest risers towards the back and smaller risers towards the front. Usually the tallest products look best on the tallest risers, but be sure each item is stable.
  3. Best sellers should always be in the sweet spot—between knee height (20” to 24” from the floor) and eye level (66” to 70” from the floor). Products displayed directly on the floor create tripping hazards, gather dust and devalue the product
  4. With the exception of large or fragile objects, every product display should be “shoppable.” This means a shopper can remove a product from a display and handle it without worrying that the entire display will take a tumble.
  5. Choose a container type for small products and stick with it. No tippy or shop-worn containers! The cash wrap desk is a great place for smaller impulse items, but keep containers neat and organized. Be sure cash wrap displays don’t clog up the line to ring up sales.
  6. Keep signs simple, readable, clean and in good condition. No more than one color and type of paper. Choose a font and a typeface that coordinate with your museum brand (get help from your marketing department). Signs should be near their objects and facing the same way as merchandise.

A spring refresh—even if there’s still snow on the ground—will help you prepare for the busy seasons ahead and re-energize you, your staff and your visitors.

Tell us about your favorite, creative and shoppable visual merchandising display!

Become a Master Merchandiser

5 reasons you should complete the MSA Retail Industry Report Survey


Monthly SalesWe are very excited to announce the return of the MSA Retail Industry Report! Chock full of financial, operations, salary and best practice information for the nonprofit retail industry, the last report was released in 2009—and it’s time to get some updated and accurate data.

Last week, MSA members and other nonprofit retail professionals received an invitation to participate in the 2014 MSA Retail Industry Report Survey and we strongly encourage everyone to take the time to complete it. The more stores that participate, the better the data collected and the more useful this data will be to the success of your store operations.

We know it takes time to collect and organize all that information—you’ll want to have your last full fiscal year data at hand when you take the survey. But, we’ve created a few perks for your participation.  When you complete the survey, you can enjoy the benefits of:

  1. A complete report of the data you entered. Perfect for the next time the grant writer asks you for detailed sales data, especially when she needs it “tomorrow” to meet the grant deadline.
  2. The option to buy the full report at a deep discount at the end of the completed survey.  You’ll be ahead of the game. Nothing more to think about. Just wait for the report to come to your email inbox.
  3. The option to purchase a customized report built for your specific museum type. Want to know how you compare to other history museums or science centers? This customized report will help you make even more accurate decisions about purchasing, staffing and strategic planning.
  4. Knowing you helped to create a better report for the nonprofit retail industry. The more data collected, the better the report will be. (The full report will release in June and presales begin in April.) 
  5. The chance to win an Apple iPad Mini with the submission of a completed the survey! This handy device can help you with mobile store sales, emails and social media, plus so much more.

If you have questions about the survey, please contact Andrea Miller, MSA, at If you did not receive the email inviting you to participate, but think you should have, please contact Martha Love, On Campus Research, at

MSA 2014: Extend the Experience

5 beautiful and easy-to-navigate e-commerce sites


AddtoCartWhether you have a brick-and-mortar storefront or sell exclusively online, having a website is critical to your business success. Customers are constantly engaging on the Internet prior to making purchase decisions, as well as social decisions. If your store is part of a community they may be visiting or even part of customer’s hometown, you want to have strong visibility on the web. On the contrary, if you sell online only, your website is even that much more valuable to your business since it’s your one and only chance to capture customer attention.

To help see if your website is standing out among the online crowds of stores, consider checking out these five sites below. They all have a few things in common, but our reason for choosing these websites is that they are beautiful and easy to navigate.

1. Au Lit Fine Linens

The soft, delicate features of this site caught our attention, but it was the easy-to-navigate layout that kept our attention. This is key when trying to keep customers on your website versus losing them because they don’t like shopping your online store due to lack of ease and frustrating next steps.

2. Ugmonk 

Clean and crisp sums this site up. It’s easy on the eyes and enjoyable to experience, making it a top pick in our website favorites.  Another reason we love this site is because their product images were strong. Never underestimate the value of good photography for your website!

3. Leather Head Sports 

Like Ugmonk, this site is clean and crisp in design. But what makes Leather Head truly stand out is its use of rotating images on the home page that really highlight their products’ unique qualities. Have one-of-a-kind products to sell? This may be a site to consider mimicking in comparable design.

4. Leif 

Once again, Leif stood out as a favorite e-commerce site thanks to its easy navigation, beautiful design and overall easy-on-the-eyes appeal. It doesn’t hurt that their products are absolutely stunning, as well. We particularly loved how their products so beautifully popped out on their website…allowing them to truly capture their customer’s attention. This comes down to web design, plain and simple.

5. Good as Gold 

So here’s the thing…when you have a lot of inventory to sell, you need a well-crafted website to help you do it without compromising user experience and overall web aesthetics. This website accomplishes just that. They have lots to sell and lots going on, yet their website never loses focus on retaining the customer and helping to capture sales. Brilliantly done.

The best part about all of these websites, is that they were created from website templates, allowing the store owners to better manage their time and budget while also supporting them in well-constructed, well thought-out, beautiful online stores. Another thing they had in common? Each of these websites used

Whether you sell exclusively online or want to support your brick-and-mortar business with a stronger website experience, remember to consider how customers like to shop online. Keeping your website free from clutter, easy to navigate and beautiful in overall aesthetics and layout can help. You should also consider your checkout process, website security and overall management of your website to ensure you are best prepared to not only support your customers effectively, but also yourself.

Do you have any tips on how to easily create and update your museum store’s e-commerce site? Let us know!

MSA 2014: Extend the Experience

Don’t miss this golden opportunity


AuctioneerAre you ready for an auction? They can be great fun, but a little noisy. So, MSA is going with the idea that silence can be golden by hosting our first silent auction in Houston at MSA 2014 this April! 

We’re excited for you to participate—and you won’t even have to bequeath a Monet or the $80.4 million for it! However, in order to make it great, we do need your donations—and we know that you have a lot of interesting, unique and extraordinary merchandise! Please consider donating items and experiences that will attract bids from our conference and expo attendees and exhibitors. These items can be any price range (within reason!).

MSA members love to experience the host region’s many attractions, restaurants and shops. If you’re a local, be an ambassador for Houston and get your name in front of these passionate shoppers/tourists!

The auction will benefit MSA to strengthen the association and enable MSA to provide the tools, resources and events our members in the nonprofit retail industry need to make their businesses successful. Plus, 10 percent of the net proceeds will benefit MSA’s Southwest Central Chapter for their assistance as the host chapter. 

Check out all of the details and guidelines and donate an item by downloading the Silent Auction Donation Form. The deadline to ship donations is April 1, 2014! Contact  me at (720) 390-7610 with any questions.

4 tips for retail displays that get noticed!


FIDM Museum ShopWhen you are thirsty, you grab a drink of water. (Unless, of course, you need a caffeine hit!).  What about your displays? When they are looking thirsty, do you ensure they get a drink right away?

Proper merchandising is critical in conveying to your museum store customers the message you want to send, i.e., “This merchandise is fresh and interesting; you must have it, or at the very least—consider it!”

Here are four tips to keep your displays looking inviting:

1. Replenish displays.  When you have a hot-selling product line that turns over quickly and often, it is important to restock displays to convey a message of abundance. Nothing looks more tired than a half-empty display. It also makes your customers wonder about your ability to reorder. (Financial difficulties anyone?)

2. Use back lighting. Effective back lighting is a great strategy to attract attention. However, don’t neglect lighting the display from the front, as well. When only lit from behind, the product face can become too dark, making signage difficult to read and product actually more difficult to see.

3. Don’t skimp on props. Inexpensive props can cheapen the look of a nice product line. For instance, a chintzy, poorly constructed backdrop that doesn’t hang straight will take attention away from your display. Cheap dollar store paper products made into props can bring the image of your store down a notch. You may think your customers won’t notice, but believe me, they will!

4. Coordinate displays with one another. Ensure that your displays work well with one another in order to create visual order and harmony. Keeping your space looking coordinated makes it easy for your customers to concentrate on the displays they are seeing, rather than trying to make sense of the environment over all.

Do you have any tricks that have worked particularly well for you? Share them. We’d love to hear from you!

MSA 2014: Extend the Experience

Counting your chickens…even if they aren’t hatched


ChickensMuseums are increasingly engaged in a more rigorous system of evaluation for programs and events. They are hiring evaluators, whether as a part of the staff or as consultants. As a former museum professional, I remember creating surveys on half sheets of paper to assess an annual Girl Scout Day event at a living history museum. Looking back on this project, I realize I asked questions about their experience in a short-sighted way:

  • Did they learn anything? How was the leader supposed to know that as they were walking out the door? I didn’t ask the scouts as I should have.
  • Was it engaging? People in cool costumes, historic houses and farm animals—of course they answered yes!

After the event had ended and all the supplies were put away, I’d look through the pieces of paper. Then, into the file cabinet they would go. I didn’t have time to properly collate the data and report to my supervisor. While this scenario is still common in many museums, others are putting a concerted effort on evaluation, using the results as a vehicle to justify changes to staffing, programming and even building layout. Seriously, listening to the visitor pays off.

So…how can formal evaluation work in the museum store? 

Tracking and Timing

By looking at sales data, you can see the most popular items and the time of day that most sales occur. You can determine your best-selling product category, capture rate, sales per square foot and more. (By the way, if you want to learn great techniques for basic statistical analysis and how to use these key stats, don’t miss MSA’s next webinar, “Evaluating Your Museum Store,” presented by Andrew Andoniadis!)

Another way to gather data on store layout and product interest is through tracking and timing. I’ll admit, it can feel a little like stalking someone.  The process is simple: You track the places a particular visitor goes within the store and how long they stay in those landing places. You will need the following:

  1. A clipboard
  2. A pencil
  3. A sheet with the layout of your store, i.e., entrance, exit, fixtures, walls, areas of interest (books, children’s jewelry, etc.)
  4. A watch or clock

Your page should also have a place to list time of entry/exit, approximate age of visitor and gender.  This will help you analyze the data later on. Also consider whether they are alone or with a group as this might affect how long they stay in the store.

With the supplies in hand, choose a visitor as they come in. Mark the appropriate details listed above. Place an x or some other symbol to represent the places they stop in addition to marking the total time at each place. If they glance at a display, you may make note of that, but don’t need to consider it a “stop-and-look” location. In the end, you will draw a line between each symbol to indicate their path.  And of course, make note if the customer makes a purchase.

It is up to you how many you gather before you begin any analysis. You will start to see patterns based on school tours versus quiet days, male versus female customers, mom with kids versus a couple on a museum date, etc.

The question, “What if I’m caught?” often comes up. Be sure you are wearing a name tag (even if it’s a peel and stick) or staff shirt of some kind. Try to be as inconspicuous as possible so as not to affect the outcome. Stand at the counter, or if you have good sightlines of the entire store, stay in one place. People will walk straight out if they feel watched. If asked directly, tell the visitors what you are doing and how they are helping. 

Try it out for a week. See if it results in any “a-ha!” moments.  You might be surprised.

Have you tried any techniques for tracking how your customers interact with your museum store and staff?


Hartford welcomes MSA in 2015


Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

The 60th annual MSA Retail Conference & Expo is coming to Hartford, Conn., in 2015!

While I knew the Connecticut Convention Center in downtown Hartford (which links to the Marriott) was a good place for people from all over the world to meet and connect, it turns out that Jama Rice, MSA Executive Director/CEO, had staffed a conference in my fair city a few years back. She knew Hartford to be affordable and the convention center a pleasant place for networking and educational sessions, as well as the perfect place for vendors to share their latest products.

Jama checked in with me about potential venues in and around the city that our members might like to visit. In addition to my personal favorite (the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, of course!) I was happy to share with her a small sampling of the vibrant cultural scene in my neck of the woods, including MSA member institutions such as the Connecticut Historical Society Museum & Library, Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, New Britain Museum of American Art and Friends of Dinosaur State Park and Arboretum. I was thrilled to learn MSA decided to bring MSA 2015 to Hartford.

While the West Coast and the Gulf Coast (thank you Houston, Los Angeles and New Orleans!) have lots of charm, it’s time to welcome you to the Northeast, where so many of MSA’s Institution Members and Vendor Affiliates call home base.

I moved to Hartford 11 years ago and can’t wait to share all that the city and the surrounding area offers. Mark your calendars now—the 2015 event will be held April 17–20!

MSA 2014: Extend the Experience

The most significant factor impacting volunteerism


volunteer nurturing imageMany nonprofits are merely scratching the surface of their potential in the huge numbers of volunteers they could engage because they are ignoring the number one impact factor. In fact, I believe that if nonprofits don't take this factor seriously, they could be out of business in 10 years.

What is that factor?

It is not technology, the change in family dynamics, episodic volunteers, or today's hectic, busy lifestyle that is challenging volunteer leaders the most. Although these factors are significant, the most subtle and often overlooked, but most important, cultural change that is affecting the future of volunteerism is the emergence of the “interpreneur”—that 21st century volunteer who is a product of the "knowledge worker" workplace. Many nonprofits don't realize how the knowledge worker is affecting their engagement of volunteers, and many of those who do understand the problem, don't know what to do about it.

What is the impact of the knowledge worker?

It all started back in 1959 when Peter Drucker wrote about the shift in corporate management. It took almost 50 years, but as we approached the end of the 20th century the workplace was being transformed into a whole new culture. In the spring 2000 issue of Leader to Leader Journal, Peter Drucker wrote, “In a few hundred years, when the history of our time will be written from a long-term perspective, it is likely that the most important event historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not e-commerce. It is an unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time—literally—substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time, they will have to manage themselves. And society is totally unprepared for it.”

People would no longer work for 40 years for the same company and retire. Employees would be an institution unto themselves because of their greatest asset—knowledge. These “knowledge workers" own their assets—the knowledge. When they keep their knowledge up-to-date and use it to deliver valuable assets to a job, their careers outlast most businesses, so they don't rely on their employers for job security and advancement. As we entered the 21st century I would hear knowledge workers refer to themselves as free agents—looking for the best opportunity (and most money) to use their knowledge-based skills.

I have begun to see a whole new breed of high-capacity, knowledge-worker volunteers who are ready and eager to get involved in nonprofit organizations. However, they do not want to serve under the old systems of management. The 21st century workplace was filled with knowledge workers who didn't need to ask their managers for permission to act. They were empowered to make decisions. "Intrepreneurial" was a word often used in the 90s to describe these new kinds of supervisors and managers.

What does this mean for nonprofits as we engage volunteers?

From enthusiastic Millennials to retiring boomers, knowledge workers can bring to our organizations excitement and energy—if we know how to unleash all that passion by effective 21st-century leadership know-how. Volunteers are seeking flexible schedules and pursuing a role in defining how projects should be completed. They want to feel a sense of responsibility for an organization's overall mission. These volunteers don't want to simply make a contribution; they want to make a difference! If all you are going to do is use them up and assign them stuff, then they are out of there and they'll find a place to volunteer that wants their skill, knowledge and expertise.

What new ways do you use to engage with volunteers in your museum store?

MSA 2014: Extend the Experience
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