museums&MORE Winter 2013
American Museum of Natural History

Four stores, three levels, endless possibilities

With 25 connecting buildings spread over 20 acres with more than 1 million square feet of display space, the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) is the largest natural history museum in the world. It’s also home to four permanent retail locations —The Museum Shop, DinoStore, The Shop for Earth and Space and Cosmic Shop — plus two special exhibition shops that run with the museum’s exhibition schedule.

The AMNH’s collection of more than 32 million specimens provides us in the museum stores the opportunity to offer one of the most diverse collections of products available in any store anywhere,” said Michael Sagar, who has worked at the AMNH for the past 13 years as everything from store manager to (now) director of stores. “We pay particular attention to connecting the products we carry in our museum stores to the various exhibition halls throughout the museum.”

Those exhibition halls are a living institute constantly evolving with new discoveries and ideas, as the museum is a working community of more than 200 scientists that conduct around 100 field expeditions a year all over the world.

The AMNH has the largest consolidated natural history library in the western hemisphere, the largest collection of fossils and fossil exhibits in the world, the largest scale animal model on display in the world (the blue whale at 94 feet), the largest meteorite on display in any museum on Earth, the largest and most famous star sapphire in the world, the world’s tallest free-standing dinosaur (Barosaurus at 50 feet tall) and more than 32 million specimens and cultural artifacts in the museum’s collections.

Only 1 percent is on display at any given time, but the stores hold countless displays of unique retail products throughout all of the museum stores.

Floors of Functional Fun
The main Museum Shop, a three-level 13,000-square-foot store, offers everything from a collection of educational toys, games, stuffed animals, kids books, apparel and souvenirs on the first floor to a book mezzanine with a diverse collections of natural history titles with an emphasis on the museum’s own authors both past and present. The top level of the Museum Shop is a unique collection of one-of-a-kind cultural crafts, jewelry, geology specimens, dinosaur and space collectables and gift items inspired by the natural world.

“Our goal with the three-level store was to create three distinct shopping areas,” Sagar said. “The first floor is primarily for children — the colors are bright and we’re constantly demoing product to create a light and fun hands-on atmosphere. Our Book Mezz is a smaller and more intimate environment with dark wood fixtures and floors, comfortable chairs and even a couch and a big screen TV to check out some of our DVD offerings. The top floor has a truly diverse collection of adult gift items and collectables based on the depth and diversity of the museum’s collection.”

Inspired by the museum’s fossil halls, the fourth floor DinoStore shop contains an extensive collection of dinosaur-themed merchandise. The two space themed shops are in the exit path from the Planetarium Show and allow adults and children to continue their adventure with items such as meteorite specimens, gems and minerals, books, movies and iconic museum apparel and memorabilia.

The stores offer everything from dinosaur erasers for 69 cents to a set of amethyst cathedrals that retails for $5,000.

“We carry one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces, including pieces from Native American, African and Asian artists and a kind furniture collection that has been retro-fitted with lighting that serves both as display fixtures and as items available for sale to the museum guest,” Sagar said. “We also offer an assortment of cultural crafts — many of which are hand painted, hand forged, hand carved and/or hand tooled.”

Must-have items include their collection of PVC dinosaur replicas with several of the styles inspired by the museum’s collection, an assortment of amber jewelry that’s popular year round, a geology and fossil assortment that’s one of the broadest offered anywhere in New York City and the Museum Guide Book, something Sagar said is a great keepsake of the day at the museum.

Inspire Exploration
They also offer brain fitness books to keep the mind sharp and collections of kits that allow users to do everything from building a soda can robot to constructing a working windmill.
“‘Science is Fun’ and S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) seem to be a trend in the market and have been a focus for some time,” Sagar said. “Accessible products around these focus areas have included items with the periodic table and books from past exhibits like ‘Brain: The inside story.'”

Telescopes and planispheres allow visitors to continue their exploration of the stars and Dino dig kits help to inspire budding paleontologists. A large collection of books written by museum curators help both children and adults to further their exploration on any of the varied natural history topics represented at the museum.

Like every retailer in this economy, they’re challenged to find new ways to inspire their guests to make purchases while in the museum shops.

“We are always thinking about our product assortment and if we’re doing everything that we can do to meet the needs and up-sell to our guest,” Sagar said. “We offer special value items that sales associates are encouraged to recommend to visitors and encourage our sales staff to be engaged and interact with the visitor to make the experience more personal.”

Sagar said the staff strives to create a fun and interactive experience in their stores and that they schedule staff every day just to demo products to their guests. They want the time a museum visitor spends in the stores to be an extension of their great experience at the museum.

“Appreciate your customer, strive to make every interaction with every guest unique and always remember to say thank you, every time, to every guest, even the rare one with an issue or complaint,” Sagar said. “This is the guest you should appreciate the most because they are providing you with information that can improve your business.”

And even when that business is spread over 20 acres with more than 1 million square feet of display space, there’s always room for improvement — and additional sales.

By Abby Heugel
Managing Editor

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