museums&MORE Summer 2009
KidSmart Educational Gift Shop

Considering that the Miami Children’s Museum (MCM) is one of the top 10 largest children’s museums in the country, it would stand to reason that the KidSmart Educational Gift Shop inside would be expected to measure up. Lucky for visitors, this 1,000-square-foot store doesn’t disappoint. With interactive displays and a variety of items for any age, KidSmart offers both fun and function to those who visit the museum.

The MCM itself — located on Watson Island between downtown Miami and South Beach, facing the Port of Miami — prides itself on being the town center for South Florida’s children and families. Dedicated to enriching the lives of all children by encouraging a love of learning and enabling children to realize their highest potential, both the museum and the gift shop encourage visitors of all ages to play, learn, imagine and create by offering interactive and bilingual exhibits, daily programs and learning materials related to arts, culture, community and communication.

And lucky for Gift Shop Manager Johanne Bitton, the KidSmart Educational Gift Shop is the first and the last place visitors see. Located at the entrance of the MCM, the store’s brightly colored walls match the décor throughout the museum and offer an extension of the museum experience.

To carry on the interactive theme from exhibits, I have a blackboard up where kids can draw, as well as a map of the world,” Bitton said. “I recently added a reading nook, complete with rug, table and chairs, for our storytelling programming that happens there daily.”

Having been involved in retail since 1976, Bitton has been with the museum for almost a year. She believes that if you love what you do, you never feel like you’re working, and she loves what she does. Because KidSmart prides itself on being the only educational store for children in downtown Miami, it specializes in stimulating toys for children of all ages.

“It is challenging and rewarding to find what the customer wants and having them as a repeat client, especially children,” Bitton said. “All merchandise is carefully chosen to meet developmental needs, stimulate curiosity, evoke creativity, and most of all, for fun and play! Items are carefully chosen to reflect the content of the exhibits
and seasonality of the year.”

Educational Offerings

While being developmentally appropriate for the children that visit MCM, each item in the store is carefully chosen on how it relates to the museum’s four common themes: arts, literature, culture and communications. The store offers items that encourage object-based learning, free-choice learning, family learning and independent play.

KidSmart even offers educational programming of its own with daily storytelling in the store’s reading nook, parent/child craft projects and a special coloring project every last Wednesday of the month. Because visitors tend to be drawn to interactive activities that adults and children can work on together, they created a corner so guests can feel welcome and engaged.

“I always try to choose items that allow children to learn while having fun,” Bitton said. “We have children’s laminated maps of the world on one wall; adjacent to it we have a big blackboard for the kids to draw and a bright area rug for children to sit on when it is story time. Once or twice a month we offer a program for parents and children to participate in together. We try to offer an activity that goes along with our monthly theme, such as Gingerbread house making in December, for example.”

Craft and arts-related merchandise, art books, science kits and, especially, the store’s own logo fancy pal dogs do very well in the store, as does logo merchandise such as T-shirts, bears, magnets and umbrellas. Items range anywhere from $5 to $25, with more inexpensive $1 to $3 items located in a variety of bins throughout the store.

“I try to place our best-selling merchandise in the middle of the store on tables that are decorated with brightly colored tablecloths to draw the customer in,” Bitton said. “We always try to incorporate bright colors, such as with our modern spandex tablecloths. Our shelves are at eye level for children, with higher shelves for adults. I also have fun bins with smaller, less expensive gifts for kids to test out while in the store.”

They cater to adults by offering items that encourage parental learning and also offer classes that promote adult-child interactions. Adults can find unique items such as handmade jewelry, beautiful art glass key chains and purse hangers, with one of the more popular items being a magnetic stainless steel globe puzzle that Bitton said is “the perfect gift for someone’s desk.”

Personal Service

Age appropriateness, packaging, pricing and product materials are the qualities Bitton looks for when purchasing. She works very closely with their sales representatives on choosing the highest quality products for the store and also attends toy fairs in the community and Toy Fair in New York City. Aside from the Internet and toy magazines, she also has found that interacting with the visitors, especially the kids, and asking them about their favorite toys gives her guidance as well.

“Always talk to your customers,” Bitton advised. “Their feedback can guide you in selecting the best merchandise for your store. Also, try to make your store more than just a store; provide an area that allows kids to interact with each other and interact with some of the merchandise. This also helps to engage the customer.”

The store is busiest during the summer and winter seasons, and during this time they work to build their personal shopper service — targeting the busy parents and grandparents and making their shopping experience more convenient.

“Because of the extensive knowledge our staff has of our products, we are able to provide a personal shopping experience in assisting our guests to choose the perfect gift for them,” Bitton said. “One can call ahead and we will prepare and ship a beautiful basket for a newborn, a birthday boy or girl, holidays or just for fun.”

Members always get a 10 percent discount, and they offer specials on days when the Museum is holding a signature event and during the holiday season, also offering services such as free giftwrapping. When Bitton knows the museum is having a signature event, she tries to incorporate the theme in the store, offering a special for that day only to visitors.

“Regardless of the season, making every guest feel special is a key element in customer service and the mantra at MCM,” Bitton said. “We encourage our staff to be enthusiastic, always smiling and we train them on all of the merchandise we carry so that they are knowledgeable when a customer is ready to purchase.”

It’s through this type of service that the KidSmart Education Gift Shop not only promotes retail purchasing, but also promotes a love of learning and encourages children to realize their highest potential — a true win-win. “

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