museums&MORE Summer 2008
Indiana Historic Museum

History is a lot about numbers, and the Indiana Historic Museum Gift Shop in Indianapolis is no exception. The original museum opened in 1862 with the most recent move to its current location in 2002. The modern museum features a two-level store, both tiers filled with products showcasing the history and splendor of Indiana. There are three ways to purchase product — in-store, by phone and online. The possibilities? Endless.

Our store is unique in the way that it has two-levels,” said Kristin Peterson, manager of retail services. “It’s nice in the way of presentation and space, but it creates challenges with staffing issues. We always have to have at least three people working at all times to ensure that both levels are staffed and that we an extra ‘floater’ for relieving people.”

As a whole, the store showcases products from Indiana artisans and businesses. Those who visit will find cookbooks, South Bend chocolates and a variety of jams and jellies made in the Hoosier state. Visitors can also pick up the latest IMAX movie on DVD to add to their home entertainment collection or any number of books by Indiana authors or on Indiana subjects. Other items range from children’s crafts, stuffed animals and toys to fine art by local artists, collectible fossils and hand crafted kitchenware.

“The first floor of the store is 2,304 square feet and consists of books, gifts, food and the work of local artists,” Peterson said. “The second floor is 2,116 square feet and mainly focused on children’s items, including plush, scientific kits, nostalgic toys, and small, inexpensive items catering to the many school groups that visit.”

The Indiana Historic Museum welcomes approximately 550,000 visitors per year; a total that includes general museum exhibition attendance, school groups and special event
attendance, as well as visitors to the IMAX theater and two restaurants.

“We are unique in the way that we focus solely on products somehow related to the state of Indiana,” Peterson noted. “That could be through a tie to Indiana’s history, the fact that it was made by a local artist, etc. This gives most of our items a uniqueness that is hard to find elsewhere.”

Event Exhibits
What you will consistently find is a wide variety of products ranging in size, price and theme. “In terms of units sold, our best selling products would have to be all of the inexpensive toys geared towards to the school groups,” Peterson said. “We have a large amount of school attendance here, and it adds up! As for the higher-priced items, we do very well with books, food and handbags by Vera Bradley – the company was started here in Indiana and still is based here.”

The store also has a good deal of food from Indiana, including chocolate, popcorn, preserves, sauces, soups, etc. and currently stock the art and jewelry of many local artists, with hopes to increase those offerings in the future. Their busiest time is generally the holiday season, although that can vary due to what temporary exhibit they are hosting.

“The museum hosts several shows for local artists each year, the largest being the Hoosier Salon,” Peterson explained. “This annual juried art exhibit showcases art for visitors to admire and purchase and includes traditional and contemporary art from artists living all throughout the state.”

Hoosier Salon judges award thousands of dollars in prizes to artists each year, and portions of the show will travel to various places throughout the state following the completion of the museum’s exhibition.

“This event has been taking place for 83 years and always draws a big crowd,” she continued. “Many pieces of art are sold, and pieces that are not sold often make their way into our store inventory. Many local art collectors think of it as the event of the year for adding something to their collection. It’s also a great way for us to find new artists to feature in our regular store inventory.”

The museum also hosts several large traveling exhibits per year, some of which can be real blockbusters, both in attendance and store revenue. A ‘Lord of the Rings’ exhibit doubled all revenue and attendance projections, and they are currently gearing up for the wildly successful ‘Body Worlds’ exhibit.

High-End Hiring
A friendly and knowledgeable sales staff consisting of Peterson, a store manager, two part-time lead sales associates who can open and close the store and act as manager when neither store manager is around, and three part-time sales associates make the retail success possible. They also have several reliable volunteers who have committed to working a regular schedule there.

“I have monthly meetings with my staff to discuss any issues we have and to educate them on new products. I frequently print out and distribute articles to them related to customer service and sales, which they are required to read,” Peterson said. “I write up information about every major new line or product that comes into the store, and require that the staff study them until they are comfortable speaking with the public about them. All new artists featured in the store write biographies about themselves for our staff to learn, and we also distribute printed copies of these biographies to anyone who purchases their work.”

A trend that Peterson has noticed growing is that of “affordable luxury.” More and more consumers are asking for items that can be considered status symbols or items that make the consumer feel that they own something out of the ordinary.

“I think this is something museums can take advantage of because, first off, anything sold in museum stores tends to be perceived as higher-end, and museums can get away with a little higher price tag than other stores,” Peterson explained. “Museum stores are known as destinations for higher-end, unique items, and as the public’s appetite for luxury grows, hopefully museum revenues will, too.”

Wonderful Web
The other retail trend that has been and will continue to grow is that of Internet shopping. With attendance being down at a good deal of museums throughout the country, one of the few ways to keep sales up is by having a user-friendly e-commerce site available.

“I truly think it’s the most important thing for museum stores to do right now,” Peterson said.

“Although many managers will think it’s cost-prohibitive, it generally will pay for itself, especially when marketed properly.”

The Indiana Historic Museum Gift Shop has its own MySpace page and also partnered with nine other local museums and attractions to offer a joint online and print catalog featuring unique merchandise from each of our stores. Customers receiving this catalog or purchasing online are entitled to free shipping on combined orders more than $100. In addition, members of any of the institutions are entitled to receive their member discount at any of the stores.

“During the bulk of the year we do not receive a whole lot of orders, but during the holiday season we can have up to 50 orders a day,” Peterson said. “We are working on getting a secure e-commerce site of our own in 2008. Since we now share a site with other institutions, we don’t have a lot of control over when new items can be added or how the site is promoted.”

All of the Internet orders are processed right in the store by the staff. One of the lead sales associates also carries the title of shipping manager and is responsible for processing, packaging and shipping the orders. Regardless of how customers shop, Peterson and her staff try to offer excellent customer service and little “extras” like free gift-wrapping, free shipping on certain purchases and a call to their frequent customers when something comes in that they know they’d like.

While the museum itself is unique in that they focus on many aspects of the state — art, history, science and culture — so is the store. Whether you shop in person or online, there’s a little bit of something from the past, present and future. “

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