Profitable Times Newsletter

Making Your Store a Destination Venue

We frequently discuss three very broad purposes for museum stores. One is revenue generation to support the mission and programs, and any other financial needs, of the host institution. All the effort that goes into product selection, management of costs, merchandising, staff training, etc., directly contributes to this purpose. A second purpose is continuing education with the store being a good source of incremental information for the visitor to take with them after a visit. Thirdly, the store is a superior vehicle for community outreach through product selection and volunteerism. It is this third purpose that can lead to the store becoming a destination venue.

Most commercial retail definitions of destination stores refer to things like, "large store combining several categories", "mass merchandiser, "killer store" and "low prices". In the cultural commerce world the approach to becoming a destination store is quite different. Without the space and often the financial resources, and with having to contend with UBIT (Unrelated Business Income Tax) limitations, it is difficult for a museum store to become a destination in the commercial sense. But these limits can be turned into benefits with an equally powerful attraction.

Our experience is that there are three overriding aspects to creating a successful destination museum store. First, the product selection has to be compelling and merchandised in such an appealing manner as to encourage people to make a special trip. There are multiple characteristics of compelling. One is a range of products that is somewhere between different and unique. A selection of products that adheres to the mission of the museum is often a natural path to 'different'. This path can lead to a relatively narrow breadth of products (focused on the mission) but considerable depth. In most cases, a person who is interested in the focus of the museum or gardens or any institution is fine with having the products focused just on this area of interest and delighted to have a depth of selection within the focus.

The range of products that moves the selection towards the unique often comes in the form of original art, and handcrafted and custom items. Handmade greeting cards, bowls made from downed trees, jewelry created using local materials and proprietary products reflecting images from the museum are typical examples. Locally made food is only a slight variation on this theme. Selling products that reflect the talents of local artists enhances the uniqueness of these products and builds a connection between the community and the museum store as a local destination-shopping venue.

The second overriding aspect of a successful destination store is the ease of the shopping experience. Convenient and low or no-cost parking and direct access to the store from the outside or through the museum without having to deal with the hassle of admissions, is another perquisite. Finally, engagement with a knowledgeable and helpful store staff typically seals the deal for the immediate purchase and goes a long way towards building a return visit and a reputation as a destination venue.

Using volunteers in the store as full sales clerks or simply as 'ambassadors' on the floor with core responsibilities of engaging and helping customers is another way to get the public to regard the museum store as a destination shopping venue. Typically, the volunteer becomes a stealth community salesperson, spreading the word among their friends and acquaintances about new and exciting products and generally radiating pride and support. They, of course, have proven over and over again that they can be significant buyers too.

Community engagement through the use of volunteers in the store can be enhanced by using nametags — as can the connection with all store staff. My favorite nametag style lists the volunteer's first name above a line like, "Associated with the XYZ Museum since 2002". The date helps to trigger people buy people conversations between museum members / customers and store staff by highlighting how long the staff person has been with the museum. The conversation often leads to what they have experienced in that time or to a warm welcome to new volunteers.

A more proactive activity to get the public to regard the museum store as a destination-shopping venue is to frequently remind them that you are there. A way to do this is to build an opt-in store customer contact list that adheres to the adage, "The best future customer is a current customer". The list could encompass repeat customers including museum personnel, members, volunteers and local destination shop customers but should be tightly controlled to make it both manageable and effective. Names on the list should be contacted regularly, primarily via email and occasionally with post cards, increasing the frequency of contact before traditional gift-giving periods and around significant museum events.

When soliciting a customer's participation in the marketing program, highlight benefits including special shop event invitations, early sale announcements, notice of new products and, if possible, the arrival of products favored by the customer.

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