museums&MORE Winter 2009
International Spy Museum Store

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find authentic spy gear. If you travel to downtown Washington, D.C., within the Pennsylvania Quarter neighborhood, to the International Spy Museum, it will be mission accomplished.

With 5,000 square feet devoted to a diverse selection of merchandise that mirrors the International Spy Museum’s presentation of espionage tradecraft and history, the Spy Museum Store is a one-stop shop for all things spy-related and a destination in itself. Featuring all things espionage for real spies, kid spies and everyone in between, the store has a unique selection of gadgets, gear, games, toys, accessories, tools-of-the-trade, books, DVDs and CDs with just the combination of imagination, style and, of course, intrigue. Visitors can also find unique designs inspired by the International Spy Museum’s popular exhibits, plus an exclusive selection of Museum logo merchandise for agents of all ages, tastes and sophistication.

The International Spy Museum is the only museum in the U.S. solely dedicated to espionage and the only one in the world to provide a global perspective on this all-but-invisible profession,” said Jodi Zeppelin, director of retail. “We are a mission-driven, for-profit Museum that has welcomed over 4 million guests since 2002.

“Many people think the two are at odds and the International Spy Museum has proven that they are not,” she continued. “We have been a leader in re-inventing the traditional Museum model and have both a strong education mission and content, and we are self-sustaining.”

The Mission

The mission of the Museum is to educate the public about espionage and to provide a dynamic context that fosters understanding of its important role in current and historic events. As such, the Museum Store’s merchandise mirrors the Museum’s unique exhibits.

What sets this store apart is the unique merchandise that reflects the content and branding of the Museum, dynamic and professional merchandise presentation, educated and helpful staff and the size and scope of the store. They continually update merchandise and offer a great shopping experience.
“Visitors to the store will find hundreds of books and DVDs; a wide range of spy-related kits and toys, including an extensive offering of Op Spy gadgets and gear exclusive to the International Spy Museum,” said Cathy Landry, senior buyer. “We also have spy attire, including distinctive T-shirts, hoodies and jackets; pop culture merchandise; spy craft items; exhibit-related products; strategy games; spy collectibles; spy logo and souvenir items and much more.”

Because they are exclusive to the International Spy Museum, the best-selling items are unique, private-
labeled spy items such as spy pens, listening devices, code kits, CD’s, an exclusive handbook and a variety of spy tools and gear. The prices on these items range from $6.95 to $24.95.

“We merchandise the focal areas in the store with our private-label assortment to ensure maximum exposure to the customer,” Zeppelin said. “We work closely with our vendors who look for new and unusual items for us, we read trade magazines, shop competitors and work closely with the store staff to find out what customers are looking for. We attend New York Gift, Book Expo and Toy Fair.”

“The re-merchandising and changing of visual displays gives the floor a fresh look,” Landry added. “The staff also continuously introduces new themes and designs based on what is happening in the retail market.”

Spy Staff and Challenges

New retail staff goes through a training process with management and are then paired with a seasoned sales associate for one to two weeks. In addition, all new staff attends a New Employee Orientation that lasts four to five hours where they tour and learn about both the history and content of the Museum, as well as policies and procedures. They then meet key staff from each department within the Museum.

“The retail department holds quarterly sales meetings where the Buying Team presents and answers questions about products and solicits feedback from the staff,” said Zeppelin. “At least once a year we have one of the key vendors demo and answer questions about products in coordination with an annual in-store sales event.”
They also hold daily morning briefings where managers and buyers provide updates and answer staff questions. Management and buying staff can be found on the sales floor merchandising, answering questions and assisting customers on a daily basis.

“Customers are looking for value for their money, which reflects the current economic trend,” Landry added. “They want a quality item at a fair price. Customers are going to continue to be price conscious, and wholesale prices are going to rise due to fuel costs, so retailers will have to be sensitive when pricing their merchandise.”

Another challenge that the store faces during peak seasons is merchandise storage, as they have limited on-site space. To counter this, Zeppelin said they have experimented with a variety of off-site and on-site storage options and were recently able to lease an extra storage area in an adjacent building rather than using an off-site warehouse and delivery service.

“Staffing — recruiting, training and retaining top-tier staff — has also been a challenge for us, specifically this year,” Zeppelin said. “Our managers are taking a very proactive approach to staffing and are trying new media and venues for recruiting, even during periods when we are fully staffed. We also plan to enhance our sales associate training this year and we do everything we can to create a dynamic, fun, productive workplace in order to retain top staff.”

Despite these challenges, Zeppelin feels the museum has been fortunate and is proud to say that in the six years the store has been open for business, they haven’t experienced stagnant sales. For those shoppers who look for sales and special values, they continually maintain a small section with merchandise that has been reduced in price or discontinued.

“In off-peak seasons when traffic to the Museum is slower, we are able to provide more personalized customer service, which in turn increases the value of our per-cap and average sale,” she said. “The Spy Museum is a multi-use facility, and as such we hold private after-hour events and run a large number of unique programs including a popular ‘Scavenger Hunt.’ Coupons are often provided to attendees of these events to promote our retail store.”

Zeppelin feels the keys to the store’s six years of success are great staff, fabulous products and excellent customer service.

“Listen to your staff and customers; they will give you your best information,” she shared. “Develop positive working relationships with other departments in your Museum and remain open to new ideas and change.”
Mission accomplished. “

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