museums&MORE Summer 2012
The Children’s Museum Store

The world’s largest children’s museum is award-winning, child approved

A visit to The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis — the world’s largest children’s museum at 500,000 square feet — isn’t complete without a trip to the museum’s award-winning specialty retail store, which stretches over 8,000 square feet with a variety of products geared towards learning and representative of the ever-changing museum exhibits.

But you don’t have to take my word for it, as The Children’s Museum Store has won the Playthings Merchandising Achievement Award” for store design and USA Today ranked the museum shop as one of the “10 Great Places to Find Fine Gifts at a Museum.”

Three years ago they extended the store by about 1,000 square feet, which created a large entrance into their new Welcome Center and several new store windows for merchandising. Because the store is conveniently located in the museum’s entry zone, customers can stop by and shop any time without purchasing a ticket. With annual sales at more than $2.3 million, people are obviously doing just that.

What’s In Store

The store strives to carry on the mission of the museum, “To create extraordinary learning experiences across the arts, sciences and humanities that have the power to transform the lives of children and families.” All of the exhibits have a merchandise plan that is then part of the master exhibit plan, and the store carries family entertaining games, books and science projects that can be used to transform the way families play and learn together.

“We have an amazing amount of fun features throughout the store like brand new state-of-the-art windows that advertise product and tie in with current exhibits, a tree with a bench around it for guests to relax on and many play stations throughout the store,” said

Carol Toth, buyer and product development manager. “We offer our customers an extension of their visit to our museum to take home with them and our product is constantly changing to reflect the exhibits.”

General logo items are always one of their top departments in sales, and to maximize on this interest, they offer a selection that appeals to both youth and adult audiences with T-shirts that represent the exhibit components and also toys with the museum logo on them. While they do carry lines that are in the mass, they strive to enhance those lines with special exhibit-related products.

For example, a “blockbuster” was the Barbie exhibit created with the guidance of Mattel, which has become one of the most successful moneymakers ever for the store. Toth was able to work with Mattel in creating their own logo merchandise with Barbie graphics pulled from their exhibit.

“We have an entire section of our store devoted to Barbie merchandise with everything from toddler items to adult works of art for display, all back-dropped against Barbie Pink and graphics from our exhibit features,” Toth said.

They carry Lego, but they also carry Lego Architecture and a new building product from Ohio Art called nanoblock, a micro-sized building block that is really catching on with their customers.

“Lego books by DK are merchandised along with our building department and our museum has hosted three Lego traveling exhibits,” Toth said. “Not only are they stellar in presentation, but so is our supporting product.”

Profitable Play

When it comes to presentation, the store is designed to allow plenty of hands-on testing. Play tables featuring Thomas the Tank, Chuggington and a Laser Peg table keep young visitors entertained, and parents can also put together a marble maze or play a game on display with their children.

“We have a play table set up in the front of the store with Zoob construction toys on it by Infinity that the kids love building things with,” Toth said. “The front of the store also has a huge opening ‘entrance,’ and because we placed our blown up and ready to ride Wahoo puppies by Marky Sparky there, we sell more than $50,000 in combined sales of these guys a year.”

They also carry an American-made sit-down skateboard called a Flying Turtle by Mason Corp., that’s on display for visitors to ride and experience the science of physics. For the holidays, they had a giant model of the new Perplexus Puzzle by PlaSmart on display, and Toth said the ball-shaped maze with several tracks inside to follow to the finish was such a huge hit and sales were so good it was hard to keep them in stock.

“Overall I see a slight raise in spending,” Toth said. “Parents are willing to buy items that are at a higher price point than a couple of years ago. Science products seem to be on an upswing, and we sell a vast amount of plush to girls and boys — my version of comfort food — and adults are buying themselves something too, such as jewelry and collectables.

The museum has a permanent Dale Chihuly tower of glass sculpture on display, so they also carry blown glass by local artists like Krista Bermeo who creates a variety of torchwork designs. The staff is trained and knowledgeable of each artist on display and can explain to customers how the artists obtain their results.

“When it comes to staff, we have 10 full time and usually five part time employees that can recommend gifts from infant development toys to beautiful glass jewelry and true Egyptian home décor items,” Toth said. “We are also trained to offer free gift wrap and gift baskets for any occasion.”

Toth provides overall management and direction to the store’s sales team and ensures that the product is merchandised in a manner that supports The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis wide diversity of experiences and programs. The inventory supervisor runs the warehouse and all inventory control matters, while the director of event and retail services oversees those positions.

All staff is provided with numerous training and class programs to provide the very best customer service and to help customers understand how to explore not just the museum, but also the store.

“We have product awareness meetings and sales reps come in for special training sessions with our staff,” Toth said. “They are all encouraged to play with our products to gain knowledge they can pass along to customers.”

After all, the only way to transform the lives of children and families is through a mix of fun and functional learning experiences across the arts, sciences and humanities. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

By Abby Heugel

Managing Editor

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