Profitable Times Newsletter

Below the Radar Best Practices

Every museum store manager knows of cultural commerce best practices including buying mission related products, using an Open To Buy to manage inventory, visitor/customer sensory engagement in the store, applying extraordinary customer service, maintaining strong mark-ups, consistently keeping good data and others.

When engaged to do assessments of existing museum stores, I have with some frequency encountered stores with too much inventory of printed museum-focused materials (rarely the manager's fault but often saddled with the responsibility of selling the inventory), stores that are not maximizing revenue from school groups and managers that have had their attention diverted from things that were working well. Three MSA members will address these topics below and I will raise two additional lesser-acknowledged best practices that are below the radar with, sometimes, equally significant impact.

Benchmarking Publications

Greg McKay
Associate Director of Retail Operations
Denver Art Museum

Estimating accurate numbers for exhibition catalog sales is a challenge that many of us have in common. One of the challenges is that not all exhibitions are the same. Coming up with a one size fits all base quantity or percentage does not address the variety of factors that impact catalog sales. How can we become more effective and precise in our estimates, which are sometimes needed years in advance of an exhibition, using data to mitigate the Kool-Aid infused emotional opinions of the vested parties that may have contributed to the publication? When we underestimate, we lose sales. On the other hand, overestimating can lead to a stockroom full of leftovers that take up valuable real estate that still needs to be dealt with, and have caused needless financial expense to the institutions we serve.

At the Denver Art Museum we have been trying to get more accurate with these estimates and find that the data indicates there are at least three different publication types for our institution. We are creating a benchmark program based on; beacon exhibitions (ticketed), general admission exhibitions, and collection publications. From these categories we analyze a number of factors from exhibitions going back to 2006, including retail price vs. cost, total sales, rate of sales, attendance numbers, conversion rate, and whether the publication sold is hardcover vs. softcover or both. Conducting this analysis has been eye opening, especially for publications oriented for collections and general admission exhibitions, which have generated considerably less in sales than beacon exhibitions.

Each institution is going to be different but by doing this benchmarking exercise it allows the data to speak for itself, without emotion which can help shape the decisions of future publication quantity estimates.

Store Exit Interview

Andrew Andoniadis
Museum Store Consultant
Andoniadis Retail Services

Recently on ShopTalk and the AAM Museum Junction Open Forum, there have been threads of communication about how to get reactions about various aspects of a museum experience from visitors. Passive and proactive, contemporary and post visit, written and electronic surveys have been addressed. It is my experience that subtle, pro-active, contemporary probing for negatives has significant value. Consideration should be given to conducting an exit survey of visitors who leave the store without making a purchase. The goal of the survey is to determine if there are consistent negative reactions to any aspect of the retail experience.

To do this, station a nicely dressed, lesser known staff person or volunteer with knowledge of store, at the main exit. Give them a nametag and clipboard. They should be directed to reach out to people who have not bought anything (identified by the lack of a bag) by innocently asking, "Did you find what you were looking for?" or similar open-ended question. Obviously, they did not find something to buy so their answer(s) may provide clues as to what can be improved to increase the number of transactions.

The surveyor should be instructed to not push back on any response but they could lead a respondent back into the store if they know of a product that might meet the needs expressed in their response. We have heard comments about not buying from not finding items with specific images, inattentive sales staff, the temperature in the store (too hot), prices are too high, etc. Any individual response is relatively insignificant, but trends of similar responses can be invaluable input and actionable.

Do More of What Works

Miriam Works
Works Consulting

Retail managers spend so much time trying to figure out what's wrong and fixing problems. My favorite retail best practice may feel counterintuitive, but invariably has good results: do more of what works. When an aspect of your store is successful there's a tendency to let that area putter along, paying more attention to problem areas. But that very human tendency leaves potential untapped. When something works well, ask — what can be added, enhanced or increased? Many stores use this approach in their customer service. Stores identify valuable customers and reward them with special incentives, showering them with attention. Use this logic throughout your entire store operation.

Other examples include: One merchandise department outsells the others. Focus on improved signage, more staff education in that area and more products to choose from.

One sales associate greets regulars by name. Pay attention to the associate's method, reward them for going the extra mile and ask them to teach others.

Sold products are replaced immediately on one shift, while other shifts have holes in their displays. Find out how the reliable replacers are doing it. Recognize them and ask them to teach and document their practices.

Store Contact List

Andrew Andoniadis
Museum Store Consultant
Andoniadis Retail Services

Build a store customer contact list that is more tightly focused (i.e., smaller) than any list of members, volunteers and other constituencies maintained by the museum. This list could follow the adage that "The best future customer is a current customer". The list could include repeat customers eligible because of the frequency or size of their purchases, local destination store customers and others based on criterion you establish.

Offer a signup card to each potential contact requesting their name, email address, telephone number and perhaps product preferences. These potential contacts should not be collected through an unedited mailing list signup sheet in the store but rather by asking for their contact information in a personal manner.

When requesting a customer's participation, verbalize the benefits and tell them that you will not sell, rent or trade their names to anyone. Some of the benefits can include special store event invitations, early sale announcements, and notice of new products and the arrival of products favored by the customer.

These customers should be contacted regularly, primarily via email and occasionally with post cards, increasing the frequency of contact before traditional gift-giving periods.

School Bag Program

Becky Wildman
Store Manager
Ohio Statehouse

A very successful program for us has been our schoolbag program. We mail a packet of information to each booked school group to encourage them to come into the store and/or order souvenir bags on the day of their visit. We sell 1,000's of bags each year.

We offer six bags, a $1, $2, $3, $4, $5 or a custom bag created from the list of items we provide. (We back tax from the standard bags so the teacher doesn't have to deal with change.) Each group must preorder and can order one or two different bags. We send a reminder postcard to all the groups two weeks later (Very Important). Volunteers usually put the bags together for us. The bags include pencils, postcards, paper bookmarks with Ohio symbols, an Ohio flag, a candy buckeye, wooden nickel, a piece of flint with a story card or a pen to name a few of our selections.

All bags must be paid for and picked up at one time on the day of the visit. In other words each child cannot come in and pay for his own bag.

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