Manager’s Corner: Justina Doyle, International Museum of Surgical Science
Justina Doyle is the backbone of a museum store all about backbones, not to mention every other kind of bone, organ, muscle, tendon and artery.
Doyle is the Manager of Education and Events at the International Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago. Her duties include overseeing the gift shop at IMSS, which offers medical models, health education resources, stationery, souvenirs, snacks and toys, among other items.
MM: What is your retail background?
JD: I got my undergraduate degree in music business and a graduate degree in arts management. Both degrees had elements of business and I learned a lot about how important it is to anticipate visitor needs. I also have experience waitressing, so I’m very customer-service conscious.
MM: What is the best retail advice you’ve received?
JD: I don’t know about retail advice, but some great general advice I have received that can be applied across disciplines would be: Don’t be afraid to take risks. Always try new things, if they work great, if they don’t, reevaluate and learn from your mistakes.
MM: Where do you find new merchandise?
JD: I draw inspiration from the museum’s collection and once I get an idea, I try to figure out how it could be made into a gift shop item. For instance, I know visitors enjoy our collection of skulls and bones, so I started thinking of ways we could make some sort of gift shop item that included them. I found a local chocolate maker who was once a pediatrician (Veruca Chocolates) and the rest is history. Following the local theme, I also found a Chicago-based medical illustrator who creates anatomical jewelry, and her company is called Anatomical Element. She creates very unique items from tooth earrings to lung necklaces, and visitors find her work to be highly intriguing. I also draw on ideas that other museums have used. For example, the Museum of Science and Industry sells the I Heart Guts collection and I thought a collection of large plush organs would fit very well into our gift shop. Now we sell the organs, and visitors love them. It’s all about finding items that fit into the museum’s mission, while also exciting visitors, which means constantly trying to understand visitor needs is the first step to finding good gift shop items.
MM: What are some of the shop’s bestsellers?
JD: Some of our gift shop’s best sellers are I Heart Surgery” buttons and “I Lobe You Magnets.” Visitors also enjoy our collection of Madame Talbot posters, which are all hand-drawn and cover topics found in the Museum such as prosthetics, cures for what ails you, poison and more. We also sell many large plush organs from the I Heart Guts company and microbes from the GIANT Microbes company. And again, our rib cage and skull chocolates are very popular, as they are very unique.
MM: What are your biggest frustrations? How do you handle them?
JD: One of my biggest frustrations is lack of display space. The museum is housed in a historic mansion, which I love but it comes with its share of space limitations, both for display, as well as storage. Guests often comment that they wish the gift shop were bigger.
MM: How do you stay passionate about what you do?
JD: I stay passionate about what I do by drawing from visitor energy. Every time someone says, “I love those skull chocolates,” or “The I Lobe You Magnets are great,” I feel a real sense of accomplishment.
MM: If you had $10,000 to spend to improve your store, what would you spend it on?
JD: I would spend some of the money on overall shop appearance, and some money on creating new gift shop items. I would purchase new track lighting for the shop to make the space more inviting and purchase wooden desks and storage desks to make the shop look more time appropriate for the time when it was a home (1917-1950). I would also create more gift shop items such as sweatshirts, bags, mugs and more with the museum’s logo.
MM: What are your goals for 2016?
JD: My main goal is to continue to increase gift shop sales by anticipating guest needs (and) wants and creating new gift shop items that relate to this research. I would like to continue to create items with the museum’s logo such as new postcards and bags, so that our name is being seen more frequently in the public.
MM: What’s the one thing you wish someone would have shared with you before you started in retail?
JD: I wish I would have had a general mentor in the retail business, someone to discuss everything from pricing to purchasing to stocking. I was thrown into the retail business in a trial-by-fire setting and it would have been much more helpful to have a mentor in the process when I first started.
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