6 essential tips for selling to museum stores
Today's post is by Michael Higdon, Retail Manager at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.
Have you ever said to yourself that you wish you could get your handmade works or products into a museum store? Landing that opportunity can happen, but you will need to know these six essential tips when working with museum store buyers.
- Make sure your artwork and products are a good fit. Products sold in a museum store generally reflect the experience that a visitor has when viewing the collections and exhibitions at the museum. The mission of a museum determines the products carried by a museum store, so make sure your product or craft is a good fit. Product selections will vary according to the changing exhibitions and programming at the museum. Although your product may work well in one museum, it may not be a fit for another museum. Visit a museum’s website to learn about their particular programs and exhibitions.
- Do your due diligence and target your pitch. Don’t get lost in the crowd. Make sure you take the time to learn about the museums and focus your efforts toward those museums where the mission, collections and exhibitions are appropriate for the craft or product you have. Prepare a targeted pitch to the museum store buyer that includes knowledge of their institution. Identify how your product and craft will support and enhance the visitor’s experience, making sure to point out the features that add value. Educate yourself on the average price points of the products sold in the museum store you are approaching; the retail price of a product always matters to the buyer. It’s also important to learn the demographics of the museum. Can the museum’s customer easily afford your products? How do your products compare with other products in the same price range? Remember, the buyer may be working with a limited amount of money to spend—have a reason for them to spend it on your product and make sure that those reasons can translate to the consumer.
- Make sure you can meet the expectations. Embarking on a relationship with a museum store can come to a quick halt if you are not prepared, so take the time to ensure that you can meet expectations. Can you produce in sufficient quantities and quickly enough to fill a museum store’s orders? Are you in a position to sell and ship the product to the museum store? Shipping orders complete and on time is crucial. Take the time to develop your portfolio and the presentation of your line and make sure that you are able to provide the museum buyer with product information about your work. Have photos and descriptive text available for all products, including medium, material, etc. Establish your wholesale price sheets and ordering information before you visit the buyer. Most museums work on Net 30 terms when purchasing product, so be prepared to offer terms or alternative methods of payment. When you get the opportunity to meet a buyer make sure you are prepared to provide them with the information they will need to make a decision. You want them to remember your work.
- Become familiar with the processes. Make sure that you take the time to understand and learn about the internal structure of the museum. Understanding whom you need to reach is important. Large institutions and museums may have multiple buyers who specialize in product areas or who are buying for a particular shop at the museum. Find out who the decision makers are. Understand how the buying cycle influences the buying process. Buyers often buy up to a year in advance so scheduling your appointment or product submission correctly will enhance your success. Know when upcoming exhibitions and programs are in the museum. Also, take the time to learn the process of how things work once you have gotten a buyer to purchase your craft or product. You might be working with another person when it comes time for a museum to reorder.
- Delivering the goods. Once you have gotten to the buyer and they have decided to buy your product, make sure to find out if there are any special requirements that you need to fulfill when selling your product. Some museums may require special product information such as a hang tag telling about the product, the museum or pricing information. Some may want you to include biographical information about yourself in a specific way. Are there any special packaging requirements? Does the museum expect each unit to be packaged separately? Are there any details you need to know about shipping the product and getting paid for the product? Remember, you want to be in it for the long haul, so once you get there, don’t fall short by not being able to meet the expectations.
- Finding what you need to know to get you where you want to be. Make sure that you visit a museum‘s website—most have a site that will tell you about their collection, their upcoming events and current attractions. Consider visiting the museum to learn more if you have the opportunity. Visiting a museum’s online store can tell you about the types of products sold in the museum store and can give you an understanding of what the museum’s visitors are interested in purchasing. Consider becoming a member of the Museum Store Association or the American Association of Museums. These associations offer a variety of services to their members and have valuable resources for promoting your products to museums.
Have you had success in selling your products to museum stores? If you are a buyer, do you have any additional suggestions for getting products into your stores?
MSA would like to acknowledge the contribution of the panelists from the Buyers Market of American Craft’s workshop, “Market Your Work to Museum Stores”: Chris DerDerian, Betsy Poole, Deborah Palazzo, Susan Sisk, Erin Kelley, Julia Mosley, and moderated by Michael Higdon, buyer for the National Building Museum. Panelists represented the Smithsonian Institution, U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, The Foundation for the National Archives, Mount Vernon Estate, Museum & Gardens, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and Fallingwater Museum.
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