Share this article

print logo

Helping to fill the coffers Museum gift shops are crucial to success

In the Darwin Martin Complex's recently reconstructed carriage house and stable, books, glassware and miniature Frank Lloyd Wright-replica furnishings beckon visitors at tour's end.

At Chauncey's shop in the Buffalo Museum of Science, nature and dinosaur merchandise now greet visitors on the second floor, where museum-goers enter and exit exhibits.

Over at the Buffalo Zoo, where the gift shop was reconfigured last year to improve its appearance, a new fluff-making machine allows customers to fill stuffed animals. Eventually, a new shop is planned for a new entry plaza.

All are examples of how cultural groups are putting gift shops front and center as they try to capitalize on their revenue-generating potential during fiscally lean times.

"I think gift shops are essential for revenue, and they're really found money," said Leslie Ohl, Chauncey's new buyer and manager. "[Upgrading the gift store] was something we needed to do, and we couldn't ignore it anymore."

The results have been dramatic, said Anne Conable, director of museum experience.

"Chauncey's opened on March 10, and we had our biggest day in retail in five years. We have pulled in well over twice as much income through this shop than the same time last year, so it is producing beautifully," she said.

After years of losing money, Conable said, the Museum of Science is projecting shop earnings to account for 10 percent of the museum's revenue in 2007, with a goal of doubling that in five years.

The zoo's gift shop accounted for 10 percent of revenue in 2006, said spokeswoman Jennifer Fields.

The Martin House earned 14 percent of its operating revenue from gift shop sales in 2006, and projects more than 20 percent this year, according to Mary Roberts, chief operating officer.

For culturals with smaller operating budgets, such as the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum in North Tonawanda, earnings from gift shops carry particular importance.

"Our gift shop brings in 20 percent of our revenue, so that's pretty significant," said Rae Proefrock, a museum board member.

"It's especially helpful when we have bus tours with people traveling from out of town wanting to take souvenirs back. We recently had tour operators from Ireland here, and I think they bought up everything in sight."

Since cultural operations usually have a strong educational component, gift store buyers seek merchandise supporting that mission. At the zoo, for instance, paper recycled from elephant waste is sold to promote recycling. There are educational books and games, science experiments and information on endangered species.

"The gift shop provides a lot of support for the zoo," Fields said. "It's a win-win situation because visitors are taking something away from their visit, and we're getting something back for our animal collection."

Chauncey's was named for Chauncey Hamlin, president of the Buffalo Museum of Science from 1920 to 1948. Seeking to create a store evocative of what could have been Hamlin's study -- what Ohl calls "merchandise with ambience" -- the room includes artifacts behind glass cases, a comfortable seating area and shelves of books.

There are plans to add a food vendor and dining area outside the Goodyear Hall shop.

Conable said they were able to achieve the results on a low-cost basis.

"Nine-tenths of the furnishings were found items from a scavenger hunt in the building. Most of what is being used for display areas and cabinets was stuff we already had, and repurposed in a nice kind of way," Conable said.

"We're really excited about the way Chauncey's has been received so far," said Carroll Ann Simon, the Buffalo Museum of Science's acting president and chief executive officer.

So are the operators of the Martin House Complex's Wisteria Gift Shop.

The shop, with its airy, 12-foot ceilings and nearly 2,000 square feet of space adorned in cypress, red brick and cement, became fully operational this month. It is able to offer more gifts, including glassware and statuary, in a much more comfortable environment than before.

The gift shop's components were designed and fabricated by Hadley Exhibits. Jamie Robideau of Hamilton Houston Lownie Architects served as lead architect.

"The environment is one in which we have allowed the original building to shine through as much as possible, so that the guests can have an interpretive experience in the same setting that they're having a retailing experience," Roberts said.

The gift shop is incorporating exhibits, in this case, an installation explaining how much art glass went into Wright's famed "Tree of Life," how it was constructed and information on how much more needs to be fabricated for the site.

Replica furnishings licensed by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, including those once located in the Martin House, are eventually to be displayed and sold among the four horse stalls and in the Barton House.

Maggie Cammarata, a part-time employee, said the increased space has paid immediate dividends in attendance and revenue.

"We were in such a small room that when it was crowded people would just leave. Now, it seems like a place to come," Cammarata said.

Jean DuBow, who served as Hadley Exhibits project manager for the Martin House Complex and the recently completed Nash House Museum, believes museum gift shops have a unique opportunity to address their own needs, and the public's.

"Museums are all looking for revenue any place they can get it, because they're not getting as much public funding as they used to," DuBow said.

"I think people get tired of looking at the same stuff all the time, and museum shops have the opportunity to [carry] things others don't have."



>Gift shop proceeds

Cultural gift shops and percentage of overall revenue:

Buffalo Museum of Science: 2006 -- lost money; 2007 -- 10 percent projected.

Buffalo Zoo -- 10 percent in 2006; 2007 -- same.

Martin House -- 14 percent in 2006; 2007 -- more than 20 percent projected.

Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum -- 20 percent in 2006; 2007 -- same.

There are no comments - be the first to comment