museums&MORE Fall 2013
Fort Worth Museum of Science and History

Shop Too! provides fun and functional finds

What will visitors find when they step into Shop Too!, the 3,000-square-foot gift shop at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History?

Along with recycled quartz counters, a textured feature wall and a comfortable sitting area with a large picture window that overlooks the museum entrance, they’ll find a dinosaur — the Bumpersaurus, to be more specific.

Constructed out of used car parts with headlights for eyes, hubcaps for scales and decorative license plates for siding, this 12-foot long, 6-foot tall slide is modeled after the stegosaurus dinosaur and includes sound and light features, both of which are triggered when a child slides down.

Needless to say, the Bumpersaurus is extremely popular with our younger guests,” said Amanda Brunnert, store manager.

But it’s not just fun that they sell; they sell an extended experience. Guided by the museum’s vision statement, “transforming lives through extraordinary learning environments,” Shop Too! continues the educational experience through the items they carry.

“It is our responsibility in Shop Too! to help expand upon and enhance the different experiences and events of the museum with our merchandise selection,” said Brunnert said. “While we carry a lot of products that bolster general knowledge and skills, we also carry products that help customers connect our gift store to their broader experience within the museum.”

Rock On
The museums itself is part of Fort Worth’s Cultural District and established its charter in 1941, changing location first in 1947 and again in 1954, when it finally moved onto the ground where it stands today. In 2007, the old facility was demolished and new construction began. The Fort Worth Museum of Science and History reopened in November of 2009, with areas specialized to the museum’s growing needs and a variety of unique educational programming that includes the Museum School Program, Family Science Night, Family Museum Night and Distance Learning.

They try to offer items at different price points that appeal to different levels of difficulty and development, but Brunnert said determining what to carry is the biggest challenge they face.

“We always want our products to be educational and well made, and we generally try to maintain a handful of broader categories that all of our products can fit into (dinosaurs, space, early childhood, etc.),” she said. “We also try to think of how the item can be merchandized and if it will fit in with our existing product. How an item is packaged can also be a large factor — if the packaging is not descriptive, outdated or if it seems likely that the product will become damaged or store worn before a customer can purchase it, we are likely not to carry it.”

Brunnert said rocks are, by far, their best-selling category. A large reason for their success is the wide range of price points they are able to carry them in. From the 50 cent (with tax) tumbled stones to the $1,500 Orthoceras Tower for collectors, rocks are universal in their appeal and abundant in the variety and quality of the pieces that they can be offered in.

Other must-have items include the Newton’s Cradle (Westminster), Bilibo (Kid-O), KEVA planks (Mindware), Snap Circuits (Elenco), the Disappearing Dinosaur Mug (Unemployed Philosophers) and singing spheres.

Brunnert said there are also several vendors whose lines they carry that round out their staple products. Mudpuppy and Crocodile Creek both offer a great selection of puzzles; Safari offers a selection of replica dinosaurs and other creatures; Aurora has high quality plush; and Eeboo and University Games both provide great games and other educational products.

“To a large extent though, determining what merchandise we carry is often one based on our personal experience and our personal preferences,” she said. “We are aware of what is selling well in our store, and what areas we always need to order for. We know our demographics and know that a significant percentage of our customers are going to be members — repeat customers, who need variety.”

A Learning Lantern
Brunnert admitted that with the prevalence of online shopping and mass-production, it’s hard to bring in items that are truly “unique.”

“It’s one of the challenges that all specialty stores face today,” she said. “Without switching to all custom, hand-crafted and other artisan items, all one can do to create the impression of uniqueness is to work with the smaller manufacturers and maximize the store format.”

Less square footage and merchandizing space means that the likelihood of a customer noticing a product is much better than in a big department store. Customers also don’t tend to come in with a list, so a well-prepared display has more potential to sway them to purchase.

Because they have a lot of field trips come through the museum, the store has two bin fixtures in front of the cash registers dedicated to “impulse” items that are generally $10 or less and have a readily understood use and purpose. These items also tie in, albeit sometimes loosely, with the broader educational categories they try to maintain elsewhere on the sales floor, but can also be more purely toy than the rest of their merchandise. For example, while they have tumbled stones, pencils, astronaut ice cream and gyroscopes all merchandized there, they also have bubbles, balls and toy cars.

“Teachers always receive a discount in our store, which helps encourage them to come back when they may have more time to look,” Brunnert said. “Because of the way we try to arrange the store, we also have sections that are easily identifiable by subject type, so they’re able to find the one that most applies to what they need in their classrooms.”

Museum educators and an advisory board also apply a “Learning Lantern” designation to products that provide exceptional educational value. These products are often those that are used in the exhibits, Innovation Studios and the museum’s classrooms, which legitimizes the value that is placed in them. To preserve the integrity of the designation, there is no set schedule for choosing these items and the item must go through a validation process in front of a committee.

Snap Circuits, Straws and Connectors, KEVA planks and the Firstscope Telescope are all items that currently hold this designation. Brunnert said retailers should never be afraid to add their personality to the store. After all, it’s what sets all specialty stores apart from the more generic big-box retailers.

If you really like a product, you’ll be more passionate about how you retail it and be more excited about introducing customers to it. That unexpected find might be something that customers remember — and come back for.

“For us, it was introducing a pop culture element to our store,” Brunnert said. “We started out small — a Star Wars book, a Batman lunchbox — and, as that merchandize kept selling, it evolved into a small, permanent section of the store for sci-fi and superhero books and merchandise.” she continued.

Personal contributions allow individuals to feel more connected and are what gives an institution life. However, you have to admit that a giant dinosaur slide is pretty cool, too.

By Abby Heugel
Managing Editor

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