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  • Writer's pictureKendraB

Museum Monday: Presentation Is Everything!

Updated: May 17, 2023

Of course you have a lot in common with local retail shops. But never forget how integral you are to the museum. Your sales contribute to the museum's bottom line. But that's not all. You're an extension of the museum experience. You don't want to let visitors down after their museum visit.

So to help you keep the vibration high, here are a baker's dozen of tips for display and merchandise:

1- Make a Splash

Appeal to your audience. Bright and colorful for kids. Lots of book displays for the serious students of a subject. Inexpensive souvenirs if you're catering to the school groups. Well you get the picture. The point is make a big splash but make it match your target customers.

2- But KISS and Focus

A splash is important but it needs a focal point. Think of your store as telling a story. You want the customer to understand what you're all about through displays, merchandise and signage. And Keep It Simple; don't make them think to understand your focus. Let them feel it almost the minute they walk in.

3- Let There Be Light

Lighting is critical. The light not only puts people in a better mood to buy but makes it easier for them see everything you have...and even read the tags. Not too many years ago we worried about the power bill, but the cost of LED, fluorescent and low energy light bulbs makes it quite affordable to go bright.

4- Remember the Ladies

That was what Abigail Adams wrote to husband John back in 1776. This time, I'm using her words to address the military, car, flight and heavy equipment museums that think they cater mostly to men. Male visitors have wives, girlfriends, families accompanying them, and many women enjoy coming to these museums on their own. A military museum without Rosie the Riveter gear in the gift shop is missing a big selling opportunity. So remember the ladies.

5- Go Vertical

Some of our best customers are museum shops with very little floor space. They, and others, don't let cubic feet limit their sales options. They've gone vertical with rack shelves, stacked cubes, pedestals, and pegboards with hooks for merchandise. Get creative and go vertical.

6- Three is the Magic Number

When putting together a display that will catch the attention of museum visitors, always group items in threes. One is just not enough. Two is too symmetrical. But three allows you to keep it simple and organized with just enough randomness for the display to appeal to most people. With four, you're back to the problem of symmetry, and with five or more, most displays begin to look cluttered.

7- Take the Shop to the Visitor Center

You'll have to talk with the museum staff about this one, but think about putting a small display of items and some signage in the visitor center so people see your store as soon as they come into the museum. This is particularly important if your museum shop is not located in a prominent location where people will see it on the way out. In either case, it's always good to prep people--get them thinking about gifts and souvenirs early.

8- Look Good on All Sides

A good retail display looks inviting from all angles. So look at your displays critically. Look at everything through the eyes of the visitor. Is there any direction to approach the display that doesn't invite closer inspection?

9- Say it on a Sign

Even if you can't have a display in the visitor center, at least get some signage out there. Tell people where you are and if you are having any sort of special offer or discount, broadcast it on your signs. But keep your signs clear--short and to the point--and easy to read. Sometimes visitors won't actually stop to read, just take in your message by osmosis. You want them to absorb your message.

10- Plan for Impulse Buys

I've mentioned this one before, but it's that important. The key is to find that sweet spot between value and inexpensive enough to be a no-brainer purchase. If it's an item that's exclusive to your museum--they're not going to get another chance to buy one--so much the better. Pins buttons and magnets are all good options.

11- Keep the Displays Relevant

One thing you don't share with retail is the constant repeat customer. Most stores have to keep their displays fresh to keep enticing the local buyers. However, you should plan your displays seasonally or around events or special exhibits.

12- Create Experiential Displays

Look, don't touch. You break it, you buy it. These are well-worn phrases in the retail world, but for a museum store it might not be the best policy. While we're not suggesting retail chaos, increasingly museums are integrating immersive experiential activity into exhibits. You should think about ways to carry the mood forward and get customers engaged in your store displays.

13- Ask Your Vendor for Help

While creativity is an important element of your displays, promotion and merchandising, customer service still comes first. If you and your staff don't have the time or mindset for promoting your products, talk with your vendors. They may be able to help with ideas, product display materials and more. Don't hesitate to ask. Even if they can't help, they may know where you can get exactly what you need.


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