Profitable Times Newsletter

Writing a Museum Store Mission Statement

The museum store mission statement is a concise (no more than a short paragraph) statement, written so that it can be understood by all, that defines the store in terms of the:

  • Goals of the retail presence
  • Focus on the store's customers
  • Means the store will use to meet its mission

Although closely aligned with the museum's mission statement the store's mission statement is considerably different and a separate document. The framework of the store mission statement can, after making adjustments in wording, be applied to ecommerce, wholesaling, product development and licensing.

Before exploring the mission statement it is valuable to distinguish it from a vision statement. In general language the vision statement is the end at some time in the future. The mission statement is the means to that end.

The vision statement helps determine where you're headed so you'll know when you've arrived. For example, the vision statement could be a supporting partner of the museum's strategic plan for continuing education by stating that the store will become the best source of books on a specific subject. The vision statement can be changed as goals are met and new goals are established. It is also not uncommon to have a blended mission and vision statement.

Mission Statement Goals

It is not too dramatic to say the store mission statement states the reasons for its existence. A store that operates without a mission statement runs the risk of developing into a "gift shop" instead of a museum store or museum shop. In conjunction with adherence to Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT) requirements, the mission statement can take the role of buying blinders to help make certain the product selection reflects the museum and distinguishes the store from other museum's and commercial retail operations. In other words, the mission statement can define the breadth of the product selection and establish limits.

Regardless of the specific goals of the mission statement it should be broad enough to encourage inventiveness and growth and put an emphasis on what is valued in the institution. It can also be a document by which to evaluate current conditions.

What are some goals to be included in a mission statement? Although it makes the hairs on the back of the neck of some curators stand on end, I believe, for two reasons, the first goal should be to contribute to earned income. The primary reason for this being the first goal is that most museums could use the money.

Equally important, however, is that by setting a goal of making a profit, not just generating gross revenue, the store will have to be managed in a business-like manner that is constantly evaluated by its customers through the quantity of their purchases and by museum management based on profitability. Even though the product selection, customers and mission may be different than those for commercial retail establishments, profitability and the contribution to earned revenue is the principal way success is measured. This focus on profitability in the mission statement does not undermine the store being a visitor amenity; it just places the emphasis on the amenity being delivered in a way that supports the financial needs of the museum.

Another important goal that can be included in the mission statement is community outreach. This outreach can be via the use of community volunteers in selling and non-selling positions and the sale of products made in the community. The community can be defined as a city, county, segments of a state or a region with common characteristics. The products can include, for example, jewelry made by local artists using indigenous materials, other original art and crafts, jars of jams and jellies made from local fruits and vegetables or products generally representative of cultures in the community.

Mission Statement Focus

The focus is usually on the store's customers including visitors, volunteers, members, staff and destination store customers. General descriptions like "visitors" and "guests" can be used or the reference can include specific stakeholders like "members" or "school aged children". Where the store is not perceived as competitive with local commercial retail or the retail environment is so big the museum store does not really affect it, the focus can also be on destination store shoppers.

Mission Statement Means

The means is typically the core of the mission statement and can include appropriate customized phrases that may include:

  • Enhance knowledge, appreciation and enjoyment
  • Continuing education
  • Descriptions of the type of product such as sustainable, American, locally made, indigenous, local artists, etc.
  • References to the museum's mission, collections and exhibits

If one of the goals is maximized profitability it is sometimes difficult to balance a continuing education goal and the pursuit of profits. For example, books are a major contributor to continuing education but most evaluations of the category's contribution to profitability based on gross margin or dollars per square or linear foot would find books lagging behind other categories. Putting an emphasis on continuing education in the mission statement will help to support an appropriate amount of space being dedicated to books or other product categories as a mission statement means even though the categories are typically not as strong a profit generator as others.

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