More than a million people, which includes 100,000 school-aged children, visit Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center annually. This historic Pennsylvania landmark is situated on the site of the Battle of Gettysburg (1863) and is the place where President Abraham Lincoln outlined the future of the nation in his Gettysburg Address, Chuck Hollabaugh, store director, explained.
“In addition to the battle site, the grounds include the 17-acre Gettysburg National Cemetery (with several notable monuments including the Soldiers’ National Monument), and a Museum and Visitor Center,” Hollabaugh said. “The museum houses one of the most extensive collections of Civil War related objects, artifacts and archival materials in the world.”
The Gift Shop is located inside the Museum and Visitor Center, and is often the first stop at this national landmark. The store offers educational and souvenir guide books, which are geared towards individuals who wish to conduct a self- guided tour of the Battlefield. According to Hollabaugh, “the store has an exceptionally high capture rate – on average over half the guests that come through the Visitor Center purchase an item within the Gift Shop.” In addition to the in-store experience, shoppers can purchase items online at https://shop. gettysburgfoundation.org/.
Read more about the store’s best-sellers, merchandising, retail operations and how it is coping with supply chain challenges in this interview with Chuck Hollabaugh.
What are your top-sellers?
Chuck Hollabaugh: Books are the top-sellers here. Visitors and history buffs can browse an extensive selection of Gettysburg, Civil War, Lincoln, and Eisenhower-related titles for all ages, as well as a variety of Gettysburg-related gifts and memorabilia. The Gettysburg Battlefield Tour and Souvenir Guide books, souvenir coins, masks, and branded mugs are widely popular items.
Have you felt the impact of the supply chain challenges? How are you adjusting your inventory and ordering process to mitigate any difficulties?
CH: Certainly, the pandemic-related supply chain challenges have affected the retail store. There are shortages of raw materials to create product and longer lead times. We have worked closely with our vendors and planned further out to ensure that we have product for upcoming seasons as well as adjusting our visual displays to optimize performance based on inventory on hand.
It’s all about being nimble and pivoting to supply guests with options to commemorate their visit. Celebrate and promote what you have – you may be having difficulty getting in one of your top-sellers, but use that as an opportunity to identify a product that could be your next best-seller (whether it’s a new item or one you currently have on hand).
How often do you rotate your merchandise displays?
CH: Often! Whether it’s adjusting displays based on product availability or promoting events and seasonality, it’s important to keep the stores fresh. We often create displays in support of a special event happening on the grounds, an exhibit on view in the museum and the different seasons throughout the year. For example, summer brings Civil War reenactments and author book-signing events, while holiday gifting ideas are on display in December.
What works best in the displays you create?
CH: The visual merchandising serves to extend the museum visit for guests. We use portraits, maps, the American flag, informational/fun fact signage and artifact/relic recreations that complement our product stories that also reinforces the key themes of the museum experience. We try to create an authentic connection to the past and visually convey the causes and consequences of war, the soldiers’ experiences on the battlefield, and the Battle’s historic and lasting significance to our nation.
How frequently do you place merchandise orders?
CH: We plan product orders well in advance based on events and upcoming holidays/season to ensure availability, but also monitor sales on an ongoing basis to replenish items that are resonating well with guests.
Do you have any tips to share with other museum or destination retailers regarding sourcing, marketing, operations or displays?
CH: It’s important to be mindful of the store presentation and narratives when dealing with historical accounts, as visitors trust museums (and their retail shops) to be a credible source of information. Providing provenance for an authentic piece is a good example of upholding this credibility. The retail shop should really be the last exhibit of the day – so making it an immersive experience is important. How can you further extend the experience into the shop through artifacts or props that keep guests engaged and in the moment? Look for vendors that align with your location’s values and share that information with your guests through signage, so they know that product came from a local vendor, a veteran owned business, etc.