Museum Shop Retail
Tips to Stock the Right Souvenirs

November 2, 2013 No Comments

After visiting a museum, heading to the gift shop is a logical next step for a variety reasons. Perhaps guests want a keepsake that will remind them of their experience, a memento to add to their collection or an unusual souvenir.

Jamee Kloster, sales assistant II, at Split Rock Lighthouse in Two Harbors, Minn., photographed with a display. The store’s manager said it is important to have knowledgeable staff members that know the product line and can activity work with guests.

Jamee Kloster, sales assistant II, at Split Rock Lighthouse in Two Harbors, Minn., photographed with a display. The store’s manager said it is important to have knowledgeable staff members that know the product line and can activity work with guests.

At Split Rock Lighthouse in Two Harbors, Minn., many people purchase apparel so they can remember their visit, said Gloria Stern, museum store manager. “But many visitors buy sweatshirts out of necessity as well because the weather along the Lake Superior shoreline is variable. It may be 80 degrees away from the lake and 50 degrees by the shore,” she said.

In addition, travelers collect specific things when on vacation, making spoons, bells, shot glasses and other collectibles popular choices. Postcards are top picks as well, as they are still one of the most collected items. Minnesota-made candy is a big hit because, “it helps to take the edge off after hiking nearby trails.”

To increase sales at the 1,220-square-foot store, Stern said it is important to have a knowledgeable staff that knows the product line and actively works with guests. “Suggesting an item that complements what a visitor is already purchasing is key for add-on sales,” she said.

Good employees will “greet visitors and make them feel welcome. Offer assistance but don’t hover around them.” She also said attractive displays that are refreshed often are important. And she said strategically placing impulse items by the register will spur sales. The shop garners $600,000 in annual sales and serves more than 100,000 customers every year.

Made Locally Is All The Rage

When people visit the Muncie, Ind., home of the Ball Brothers, famous for Ball Canning jars,  they often purchase items at The Orchard Shop at Minnetrista that have something to do with a Ball jar or canning. In addition, Molly Harty, retail manager, said, “The economy in our region has really been affected by the recession. We recently noticed a huge increase in sales in anything made locally. People want to help their neighbors.” Such items are marked with “Made in Indiana” signs.

Assistant Manager Jennifer photographed in the Oklahoma History Center store with a plush bison display. The state has a long association with the animals and the first national preserve for bison was founded in Cache, Okla.

Assistant Manager Jennifer photographed in the Oklahoma History Center store with a plush bison display. The state has a long association with the animals and the first national preserve for bison was founded in Cache, Okla.

College students at Muncie’s Ball State University are interested in environmental movements, resulting in books about the environment or gardening flying off of the shelves. The shop also sells a lot of local history books that attract people who are visiting their hometown.

Because a lot of school students visit, children’s items such as rocks-in-a-bag are also best sellers. Toys that aren’t battery operated and combos of books and stuffed animals are also popular picks. ‘A lot of our shoppers are either grandparents or parents who are interested in unplugged sort of lifestyle,” Harty said. “We only sell stuffed toys and books that kids can actually see in our nature or river areas.”

In an effort to boost sales, the Orchard Shop at Minnetrista recently remodeled and expanded the store to 1,600 square feet. In addition, “We put a lot of time into creating provenance cards for local vendors,” Harty said. Shoppers can include them with gift purchases. “Shoppers say the cards make their purchases for other people seem much more special and help them to remember the stories behind the items long after they get home.”

Unusual Merchandise Rules

The purpose of the Carriage House Gift Shop at Luther Burbank Home & Gardens, Santa Rosa, Calif., is to support the site’s mission, which is to educate the public about Luther Burbank and his horticulture career. “We focus on products that use images from our collection and from antique Burbank catalogs; every product carries an educational provenance label on the hangtag,” said Dee Blackman, gift shop product development.

Almost every item the 250-square-foot store carries is locally designed and printed. “Visitors often comment that they like to buy unusual products which are focused on their experience at our historic house and garden site, which they can’t find anywhere else,” said Blackman, who noted that gross sales in 2012 were $42,727.

Best-selling souvenirs include seed packets, self-published postcards relating to the site and Burbank, self-published books and booklets about Burbank, and unique T-shirts with garden themes as well as garden caps, garden aprons and hand towels. Matted reproduction prints and beautiful photos of plants also sell well.

“The more we integrate shop products with exhibits, the more the products appeal to visitors,” Blackman said. “The products help to tell our story and remind people of a good experience.” The shop also aims to have a range of small and large items which are easy to pack or mail to friends. Interesting presentation and displays are crucial.

Mememtos Fly Off The Shelves

Jera Winters, store manager, Oklahoma History Center Museum Store at Oklahoma History Center, Oklahoma City, Okla., said top-selling souvenirs are items that feature the American bison or tornados. “Since the wildlife and weather of Oklahoma are unique and diverse, visitors often seek out these iconic items as a memento of the state,” she said. In particular, pet tornados, tornado shot glasses and magnets depicting tornados all sell well at the 1,500-square-foot store.

Winters said this is the case because they are easily and readily identifiable as iconic images of the state. “Oklahoma is home to the National Weather Center and has some of the most diverse geography and weather patterns in the United States,” she said. “An average of 54 tornados strike Oklahoma each year, which is one of the highest rates worldwide.”

In addition, Oklahoma has a long association with bison, from large herds roaming free, to near extinction, to a successful conservation effort. The first national preserve for bison was founded in Cache, Okla. “Visitors can view bison herds in parks, natural areas and refuges,” said Winters, who added that the American Bison is the state’s mammal.

To sell more souvenirs, Winters suggested identifying particular icons or images that best represent an organization. “Whether the focus is a state, an individual or a tourist attraction, it is important to carry souvenirs that speak to your brand,” she said. “Many visitors covet inexpensive items that can be easily shipped or carried in luggage, so we stock items that are light, compact and not easily damaged.” The store averages $120,000 to $150,000 in annual sales.

Memorable Keepsakes Are Top Picks

Magnets, coffee mugs, postcards/notecards, postcard books, books and earrings are all top-selling items at Crystal Bridges Museum Store, in Bentonville, Ark., said Mary Douthit, retail operations manager. “They are true reflections of the experience of being at Crystal Bridges,” said Douthit, who noted that the store garners $1,750,000 annually. For instance, the earrings were designed around the museum building’s architecture.

In order to boost souvenir sales at the 3,000-square-foot gift shop, Douthit advised selling a variety of souvenirs at the cash wrap. “We also put items in several different places, so they cannot be missed,” she said. When choosing which souvenirs to sell, Douthit said it is important to consider the nature of the product, its usefulness and how easy it is to take home. It should also relate to the visitor’s experience. –

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