museums&MORE Spring 2009
Rev Up Sales

The Harley-Davidson Museum claims that whatever you call yourself — an enthusiast, a curiosity-seeker, an educator or a family looking for a fun change of pace — you’re all invited to jump on and enjoy the ride. This holds true for shoppers as well. If you were looking for a unique retail experience, it wouldn’t hurt to rev up your engine and head over to the 20-acre site in downtown Milwaukee, Wis., that is home to The Harley-Davidson Museum. Open 364 days a year, it’s not your typical Museum, so it’s no surprise that the Museum Shop isn’t your typical store.

Just as Harley-Davidson is more than our motorcycles, The Shop at the Harley-Davidson Museum is more than just souvenirs,” said Barb Mannion, manager of retail, events and programs for the Harley-Davidson Museum and Factory Tours. “The Shop is an extension of the excitement visitors feel when they visit our Museum. It’s a place where visitors will find unique items to commemorate their visit — items that are only available here.”

The Harley-Davidson Museum, including The Shop, officially opened its doors to the public on July 12, 2008. After they obtained approval of the business plan in 2006, they began moving forward with the design plans. The design process was highly collaborative between Harley-Davidson and Pentagram, the Museum’s architect.

The Shop itself is a 5,000-square-foot space constructed of concrete, steel and glass. Two walls in The Shop are made entirely of glass, which allowed them to add some unique custom fixtures that accentuate the merchandise. In fact, much of their merchandise is featured in large wall systems with minimal floor fixtures to allow for an easy flow when they have large crowds.

“The majority of our products are custom-made exclusively for the Museum,” Mannion said, “so we had to begin the product design process very early. The Museum retail group first developed an assortment plan that reflected our main objective: that the merchandise would closely reflect and connect to the Museum exhibits.”

They then worked with their suppliers and their internal Harley-Davidson General Merchandise design department to design and develop the products they wanted, supplementing the assortment with products available through their Harley-Davidson licensees. To complete the merchandising process, they leveraged their Museum retail team expertise along with the added benefit of having an existing Retail Environment Group at Harley-Davidson to support their dealerships.

“The Harley-Davidson Museum brings passion alive through stories of the people, products and history of Harley-Davidson,” Mannion said. “It is a place where riders feel right at home, and those who are new to Harley-Davidson can experience the freedom and passion that our riders feel every time they fire up their motorcycles.

“In the store,” she continued, “we want everyone who visits us to feel inspired. Our retail experience builds upon the excitement visitors feel when they are inside the Museum and offers products that have a direct tie to exhibits and artifacts. We want visitors to be able to bring a piece of their experience back home with them when they leave.”

Limited Edition

One example is a replica motorcycle club uniform shirt that pays homage to the authentic motorcycle club memorabilia in the Museum’s “Clubs and Competition” gallery. They try to appeal to a wide variety of visitors so that everyone who visits the Harley-Davidson Museum can find something special to commemorate their visit, offering everything from postcards, guitar picks and customized Harley-Davidson Museum poker chips to hand-made purses created from recycled tire tubes.

They even have a one-of-a-kind, 200-plus pound bronze statue of a 1920s Hillclimber motorcycle and rider that was the inspiration for a larger-than-life-sized bronze statue just outside the Museum. But it’s their unique T-shirts that are, by far, their best seller.

“Collecting T-shirts is kind of a ‘Harley thing,'” Mannion said. “Riders and enthusiasts collect T-shirts from the different Harley-Davidson dealerships and retail stores they visit around the world. The Museum has the benefit of drawing from the artifacts in our Archives collection to create some really cool T-shirt designs that are found only here in our Shop.”

Mannion said that the guests have really responded well to the wide variety of unique images and logos from the Archives. And getting a T-shirt from the Harley-Davidson Museum gives you priceless bragging rights, because most of the shirt designs are found nowhere else but the Museum.

“Knowing in advance that T-shirts would be our most popular item, we developed an eye-catching display system that allows us to maximize the number of styles, sizes and quantity and also reduces the time and energy involved in constantly re-folding them,” Mannion said.

They took the best-selling shirts, folded them and placed them in clear, plastic tubes. The tubes are stacked on top of each other by size and run 10 feet up the wall. The design on each shirt is displayed in a frame at the bottom of each tube column and samples of each size are available in case the customer is unsure of sizing. The customer simply pulls out the bottom tube of the shirt they are interested in purchasing. This also provides the added benefit of unique packaging if they wish to give the shirt as a gift.

They have also had great success with their limited-edition items such as a numbered print of Serial Number One, the oldest Harley-Davidson motorcycle in the world and one of the highlight exhibits inside the Museum.

“We also have a beautiful, leather-bound book that features our complete Archives collection of motorcycles; the special Museum edition includes 16 additional pages not available at general retail,” Mannion said. “These items are highly desirable to our core customers, and by offering them periodically in The Shop we are guaranteeing repeat traffic. For this reason, we will likely increase our offering of these special items but will be careful not to overdo it to the point that they are not special anymore.”

Enjoy the Ride

Speaking of special, Mannion said that one of the highlights of the Museum is that it makes a great venue for special events. When an event is booked, the client is given a merchandise flyer and the opportunity to talk with a coordinator that can help them with any merchandise needs they might have. The Museum has a full calendar of events, some of which are large enough to support a unique selection of merchandise.

Along with a store manager, three leads and eight sales associates staffing the shop, they supplement with seasonal employees during peak times. Prior to opening, all store staff underwent basic customer service and merchandising training. In addition, the staff experienced an intensive Harley-Davidson “immersion” course to give them insight into the Harley-Davidson brand, the experience and the Museum.

“We hold product information sessions on our merchandise, provided by our product manager, to review new item features and benefits,” Mannion said. “Our Archives team also educates the retail staff about how the products in The Shop reflect the artifacts displayed inside the Museum exhibits.

The staff has an opportunity to learn the history of the item and also to see the original artifact up close. This gives the sales associates the confidence to effectively sell the merchandise.”

Mannion stressed that it’s very important to stay close to your customers, and to get feedback whenever possible. Along with some questions on the Museum visitor survey, they have their own feedback card in The Shop and take this input very seriously. It not only helps them to identify opportunities for improvement, but they also get some great ideas.

So whatever you call yourself — an enthusiast, a curiosity-seeker, an educator or a family looking for a fun change of pace — a trip into The Shop will ensure that you enjoy the ride.”

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