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Museum Store Sunday: A Tale of One City

Category: Alliance Blog
Inside a museum store with Christmas decorations and lots of people milling around.

This article is republished with permission from the Museum Store Association.

When I heard of Museum Store Sunday for the first time, my immediate thought was “brilliant!” What a perfect way to promote museum stores. Not only do we have the best selection of awesome things, but purchases also support worthy institutions; it’s a win-win situation. I have seen the success of Small Business Saturday, so I knew Museum Store Sunday could be a great way to market the four museum stores I oversee as holiday shopping destinations. While the idea excited me, I knew I would need support — first and foremost from the marketing directors at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.

View looking at the exterior of the Carnegie Museum of Art with a sandwich board sign standing on the sidewalk that says "Shop Nov. 26, 2017 - Museum Store Sunday Be a Patron"This introduction to Museum Store Sunday occurred at the MSA FORWARD 2017 Conference held in Pittsburgh. There were several representatives from Pittsburgh’s numerous cultural institutions in attendance, many I had never met — thank you MSA for bringing so many of us together! As it turned out, the reaction I had to the Museum Store Sunday announcement was not unique. My new Pittsburgh museum store friends were equally as excited. On the last day of the conference, the Pittsburgh attendees gathered for a few minutes and decided on the spot to join forces and meet soon to form our Museum Store Sunday citywide strategy. We would all need the support of our marketing departments, but we would support and inspire each other, as well.

About a month later, we met at one of our museum stores. When this group of then seven museum store leaders started discussing ideas, the creative sparks flew! Out of our first formal strategy session grew the concept for the Pittsburgh Passport, a sweepstake designed to encourage patrons to visit multiple participating museum stores on Museum Store Sunday. In addition to the passport, we planned outreach to additional museum stores in the area to grow participation, discussed special events and offered ideas, and — most importantly — strategies to get our individual marketing departments behind our efforts.

In the weeks following, each store leader met with their marketing director to introduce them to Museum Store Sunday. They shared the press release, news of the local museum collaboration and the concept for the Pittsburgh Passport. They discussed in-store specials, giveaways, and events for their location and requested marketing support. Our group took full advantage of all ideas and offers from marketing teams at various museums. One marketing team set up a Museum Store Sunday Pittsburgh Facebook events page, another helped create an interactive Google map of participating museums, and yet another donated his monthly time slot on a local TV show to promote Museum Store Sunday. Two marketing teams helped create the final passport design, which allowed each location to customize with their specific events and promotions.

Interior view of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History's Museum store with a few people shopping.

Our collaboration ultimately grew to include 13 Pittsburgh museum stores in all and got the Pittsburgh Passport and Museum Store Sunday a lot of local press interest and exposure. The unique store events, promotions, and giveaways advertised via the passport promised a great experience to shoppers at each store and were well received. Events ranged from steep discounts on selected items, gift with purchase, complimentary gift wrap, holiday music performances, and even a life-size dinosaur puppet show. The press coverage reminded local and regional residents what terrific shopping venues museum stores are with their unique offerings and purchases, which support valued institutions. I believe the press coverage helped drive significant increases to museum attendance for the day, as well. Like results achieved nationally, most of our group of stores achieved double-digit or better sales increases for the day. I had the opportunity to walk one of the more concentrated “museum neighborhoods” on the afternoon of Museum Store Sunday, and I can’t tell you how exciting it was to see many people carrying multiple museum store packages!

If I had to narrow Pittsburgh’s success to one word, it would be “collaboration.” Having multiple sizes and genres of museum stores fueled creativity and offered the opportunity to pool resources on bigger parts of projects. It was our strength in numbers that helped us make a big splash and get media attention. It also fostered a competitive spirit among museum marketing teams — nobody wanted to be outdone!

As the season for planning your Museum Store Sunday is fast approaching, take a moment to think about possible partners outside your institution. You could even go outside the museum world and reach out to local coffee shops, universities and fellow small businesses. Here in Pittsburgh, we will be meeting soon to brainstorm, and I can’t wait to see what we come up with!

Happy planning!

Lori Brazos is the general manager of retail operations at the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. She oversees retail stores of four distinctive museums: The Carnegie Museum of Art, Museum of Natural History, The Carnegie Science Center and The Andy Warhol Museum.

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