museums&MORE Fall 2009
Big Sky Country Sales

Do you walk into your store every day as if you are a customer and see through their eyes for a moment — are you drawn in? Are you interested in the merchandise? Do you feel welcomed and at ease? Sherry Jonckheere, retail sales supervisor and store manager at The Museum Store at Montana Historical Society in Helena, Mont., realizes that first reactions are important and that they’ll often determine if first-time visitors will come back as repeat customers.

Make sure you give a great first impression and keep your merchandise fun, fresh and varied,” Jonckheere said. “There’s not much that stays stagnant in our store, and although it can be challenging for staff to keep up with everything, it keeps our store fresh for the customers — repeat and first-timers — and keeps our days interesting and moving.”

And moving is something that The Museum Store knows a little bit about, as they moved from a 500-square foot space to a 1,000 square foot store in August 2008. One of the biggest challenges has been filling the space and extra room, as even though the size has doubled, Jonckheere is still on the same budget with the same amount of staff.

“It’s a challenge, but a fun challenge,” Jonckheere said. “The old store was so small and cramped that visitors couldn’t get a good perspective on everything available. Customers would come in and out quickly, so with the new store, the goal was to open things up and encourage people to linger.”

Local Flavor
Located near the State Capitol in Helena, the Montana Historical Society Museum itself collects, preserves and interprets fine art, historical, archaeological and ethnological artifacts that pertain to Montana and its adjoining geographic region. Housed within the Museum, The Museum Store extends the museum experience for visitors by offering quality replications of artwork and items on display, made in Montana products, original art by Native American artists and Montana artisans and an extensive book selection.

“My main merchandising focus is to provide quality, unique items that allow our visitors to take a piece of Montana home with them,” Jonckheere said.

With a permanent exhibit in the museum from artist Charles M. Russell, merchandise, prints and canvases that reflect his work are among the top items sold. The store offers a large variety of Russell’s work in various sizes, set in art flip racks around the store for easy viewing. Offering pricing to fit any budget, customers can own a piece of his work for as little as $2 for a print or spend as much as $500 for a limited edition framed lithograph.

“It’s vital to offer products made in Montana, original art from Montana artists and Native American artists, as well as books and reference materials that speak to our Montana and Western-history buffs,” Jonckheere said. “As far as Russell reproductions and merchandise, we’ve had great success in offering prints, notecards and bookmarks of his works, and have taken it a step further by offering framed canvases of his artwork prominently displayed on our cabin fireplace wall for easy and attractive viewing.”

The Museum Store’s unique “pioneer cabin” interior, made with hand-hewn logs and chinking, is complete with a granite-stone fireplace that creates a warm and inviting atmosphere for the customer’s shopping experience. However, it wasn’t always this way, as the old store was small and had wall-to-wall white slat-wall, something Jonckheere described as a bit cold and sterile, not offering much for the customer’s shopping experience.

“”The impetus to expand and remodel the museum store was prompted with the addition of a new MHS director who wanted to see a larger store for our visitors,”” Jonckheere said. “”The new store space is pretty much set up like the old space, in that certain displays are mainstays, with smaller displays moving around and revolving to keep things fresh and energetic. Now people like coming in and actually spending time looking at the new stuff. Even staff come in on breaks and comment on the changes and fresh products, whereas they had stopped coming in the old store at all.””

The new store concept came to light when it was announced that a new manager would be hired. As part of her job interview, Jonckheere was given 15 minutes to go into the existing store and then into a larger empty gallery space and come back with her version of how she would redesign and set up a new museum store in the larger space. That was the beginning of the process, and it took another year to design, construct and move in.

Jonckheere had studied retail space flow and customer buying habits — as well as color and lighting use as a means to maximize the customer’s shopping experience — and used all of this information, along with trade and western art magazines and publications, in designing the new space.

Organic Energy
While it’s a challenge to offer something for everyone, Jonckheere’s approach is to carefully listen to customers, ask questions to find out what appeals to them or what they’re looking for and use her own experience and gut instinct to find those special “must-have” items that they just won’t be able to pass up.

“”I’ve noticed with the current economic times that people are spending more on special items for themselves,” she noted. “Money and financing may not be available for big-ticket items like new cars and new homes, but there is still money available for smaller more affordable purchases.””

While she travels throughout the state to trade shows, the local farmers’ market and art shows to find product, Jonckheere often has to take the store on the road herself and set up shop at distant locations for off-site museum events. They recently held an event in Bozeman with Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, who discussed their documentary on Yellowstone National Park. A book signing after the event was arranged where Jonckheere had to have their DVDs and books on hand for registrants — titles she wouldn’t normally carry — along with other national park-related items.

“”I’ve also expanded on our holiday book-signing event,”” she added. “”We are fortunate enough to have quite a few great artists, photographers and authors here locally, so each year before the holidays I arrange an afternoon where visitors can come in and have their favorite book signed/personalized by the author.””

With four employees and three volunteers, Jonckheere looks at educating the sales staff as a sort of organic process. Because each staff person is different, she likes to maintain a personal approach to education by finding out how each one listens and learns best, as well as what they are interested in.

“”I like to utilize everyone’s strength to their advantage, but also to strengthen our team as a whole,” she said. “There are, of course, the general retail rules that are outlined to promote our consistency as salespeople for the museum, and time-tested sales techniques that translate retail-wide.””

One technique she doesn’t often use is that of planned sales, as she’s found customers will wait until a sale sign goes up and not bother coming in during the non-sale times. While they may offer specials on items they have a large quantity of, she feels the best way to get the energy moving is to move merchandise and create fresh displays and themes in one central display to draw interest.

“”If there’s an item that’s been on the shelf for awhile, I start a discussion and ask for staff input on moving it to another location or ideas on how to get it sold,”” Jonckheere said. “”Sometimes just handling and moving the item(s), or simply talking about it can attract buyer attention.””

But Jonckheere also studies quantum theory — how energy flows and manifests, the law of attraction and other energy modalities — as a hobby, so this phenomenon is not surprising to her.

“”It’s interesting to tap into what people are feeling and show others how easy it is to get the energy flowing again,”” she said. “”Trends and economic times are cyclical. The economic upswing will happen, and riding the wave and staying open to the changes is the best strategy to weather any storm.”””

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