Last year, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts renovated its first-floor lobby to include a dining space and retooled museum shop. The concept: to give visitors a reason to stick around longer or to visit more often. And “to continue to generate profit to further the mission of the museum,” says chief retail strategist Maria Hemsley.
The store (no longer deemed a “museum gift shop”) now operates more like a standalone boutique, offering a selection of home and gift items that changes monthly.
“We want it to be a destination for people who are coming to the museum to view the items in the galleries,” says Hemsley, “but also to be a destination for people who aren’t coming to the museum to see the art, and are just coming to use the store as a store.”
While Hemsley says the old store did “quite well,” she admits it needed refreshing. Out went clothing, much of the MIA-branded merchandise and a hefty chunk of kids’ items and stationery. In came artisan jewelry, glass and handbags, making it more akin to Patina or Bibelot than another museum gift shop.
Key to it all was refocusing on products that aren’t available elsewhere in the Twin Cities. This included scaling back children’s merchandise. “Creative Kidstuff and Target and Toys ‘R’ Us now carry a very wide selection of great toys for kids,” says Hemsley, “and we didn’t want to have the same things they do.”
While there are still books that coincide with current exhibitions, the rest of the assortment doesn’t necessarily tie in directly to what’s on display. “What we want to provide visitors with,” says Hemsley, “are memory-provoking items that reminded them of the galleries” but aren’t necessarily obviously linked to the exhibitions.
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2,900 Square feet
The MIA store upped its customer-service game by hiring staff with extensive retail experience. This has enabled more of a personal-shopping experience, with each salesperson versed in the stories behind the artisan-made goods. So far, the changes have paid off.
In the short time since the store opened, Hemsley says the Matisse exhibition drove 60 percent more in sales volume than 2012’s Rembrandt exhibition, on nearly identical attendance. Art in Bloom retail sales in the museum store were 166 percent of 2013, and the average transaction in this year is up 12 percent over last year. “Given the transition was only made nine months ago,” says Hemsley, “we are thrilled about the outcome and proud to contribute to the mission of the museum through the profitability that is coming out of retail.”