museums&MORE Fall 2015
Manager’s Corner: Kathleen McLaughlin, Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum By Zeke Jennings

kamclaughlinMM: What is your retail background?

KM: My inventory history goes back to my 28-year career with San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E, 1972-2000). As inventory coordinator, I was responsible for over $23 million in inventory. In the mid-1990s, my husband, John Hutchison, and I opened a seasonal Halloween store, the Wicked Witch. The costume trade shows were amazing and I discovered I loved retail. Creating displays and assisting customers in choosing the right costume for their party was entertaining. We had the store for four years before the burden of finding a seasonal space became overwhelming.

In 1998, I purchased a small west-coast equestrian magazine, Driving West.” I was participating in competitive carriage driving and had always been interested in journalism. I learned graphic design and assisted many of my advertisers by creating ads for them. Although the magazine appealed to a niche market, by the time I sold it in 2001, the circulation had increased from 200 to more than 3,500 and became nationwide.

I came to work at the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum (FLAM) in 2004. The FLAM was a perfect fit. I love museums (I had one in a shed when I was 7) and I love airplanes (I have a pilot license).

MM: In what ways do you apply the experience from your previous career to managing the store?

KM: While working at SDG&E, I became adamant about inventory accuracy. If a particular part was not available, the lights went off. Although, the inventory in the museum store is not as crucial as SDG&E, it is still imperative. The Wicked Witch experience was extremely beneficial, because, as at the FLAM, you usually only see a customer once. Most visitors are from out of town. It’s important to have the right product at the right time. The duties of editor and publisher have helped my ability to work with suppliers.

MM: What is the best retail advice you’ve received?

KM: It’s difficult to pinpoint specific advice, but having been passionate about museums my entire life, I visit them frequently. I love the benefit I receive from meeting other museum store managers and sharing ideas, problems and finding solutions.

MM: What are your biggest frustrations? How do you handle them?

KM: My biggest frustration is the lack of space. Our store is 11 by 44 feet and has been referred to, in jest, as a “bowling alley.” It is exasperating to have such a small store as it limits the inventory and the types of displays that can exist in such a narrow space. Fortunately, several of my vendors have assisted in providing displays that fit our area. Our entire museum building is small and has historic military exhibits nicely displayed, but, unfortunately, many exhibits are in storage due to lack of space. There are plans to build a new facility in the future. The military aircraft is exhibited outside on seven acres.

MM: How do you stay passionate about what you do?

KM: The experience of meeting visitors from across the country and around the world is amazing. San Diego is a destination for many tourists. Being a military aviation museum, we hear numerous stories from retired, former and active military service personnel visiting the area. Many visitors enjoy being at Miramar Air Station, where the 1986 movie “Top Gun” was filmed. Some of our best selling items are “Top Gun” hats, patches and mugs even though the Top Gun Naval Fighter Weapons School moved to Fallon, Nevada, in 1996.

MM: If you had $10,000 to spend to improve your store, what would you spend it on?

KM: If I had $10,000 to improve my store, I would faint. Once I got up from the floor, I would install slat-wall throughout the store. I would relocate the register from its current central location to the end of the store which would create an additional 37 linear feet of exhibit space. I would purchase matching display cases, and install better lighting and maybe a tile floor.

MM: What’s the one thing you wish someone would have shared with you before you started in retail?

KM: I wish someone would have warned me about the extended hours spent on the job. I find myself constantly searching for new and different products for the store even when grocery shopping for my family. I cannot walk past a toy store without peeking inside to see if they have airplanes, helicopters or models and, if they do, I’m trying to find out who the manufacturer is. I look in book stores for military and aviation books. It has become an obsession, but, the truth is, I enjoy it.

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Zeke Jennings

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