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Surreal Shopping

The Salvador Dali Museum, which maintains more than 2,000 pieces of works by the late Salvador Dali, boasts the world’s largest collection outside of Spain from this Spanish surrealist. Such a comprehensive compilation began long ago, in part, due to the lifelong efforts of A. Reynolds and Eleanor Reese Morse. Their collection went public years ago in Cleveland, Ohio. However, it gained world recognition when the Dali Museum opened its doors in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 1982.

Dali was best known for his surrealist painting entitled “The Persistence of Memory,” featuring bizarre clocks that seem to melt into the landscape. The Dali Museum offers an exciting and scholarly overview of Dali. “We study the artist and his prolific artistic accomplishments,” said Dianne Birmingham, museum sales and merchandise director. “One visit will tempt the intellect and beckon subsequent visits,” she added. Much like the art of its namesake, the museum and store reflect a passion for luxury and a flair for the unusual.

Museum Store Specifics
The museum store has a grand 3,800 square feet of space and the Dali Museum has earned the only Michelin Guide three-star rating as a Florida West Coast attraction.

One large area accommodates the lobby, store and admission area. Visitors pass through the store to enter the exhibit. “We have approximately 210,000 visitors each year, with merchandise sales volume of over $2 million annually,” Birmingham said, adding, “our gallery collection is vital to those sales.”

Aside from the museum store, there also is a Web site, which used to be responsible for about 10 percent of sales. Recently, however, online sales have seen significant growth due to some changes they made on their site, such as incorporating a more user-friendly format and daily monitoring of and response to incoming orders.
When there are large Dali exhibits, they also generate income from temporary satellite stores. In 2004, there were temporary stores in Venice, Italy. Through 2006 and into 2007, the museum had temporary stores with a traveling exhibit in Japan. “Several venues in Japan have included significant works that we’ve loaned for expansive Dali retrospective exhibits,” Birmingham said. Those venues purchased some of the museum store’s custom merchandise that related to the exhibit.

What’s Hot
“Home collectibles are popular here — everything from carpets to ceramic ware to scarves, jewelry and accessories,” Birmingham said.

Birmingham estimates that the top five best-selling products would include a portfolio of the collection, which is a poster package with 13 images that can be framed. Also popular is the Catalog of the Collection, a publication featuring the museum’s collection, accompanied by scholarly text. Because it’s become a signature favorite, an aptly named Signature T-shirt sports Dali’s artful handwriting as the design, and is available in several different colors — for less than $25.

“Wrapping up the top five is a set of six coasters, each with a different Dali painting and packaged for gift giving, along with our ceramic tapas accessories,” Birmingham summarized. “All of the serving ware pieces in the tapas line do well. However, our top products vary during major exhibits when we concentrate on images that highlight the current exhibit.”

Birmingham said that The Dali Jewels rank among the upper echelon of products, as these fine reproductions exemplify the broad talents of the artist. The beautiful “Eye of Time” pin is a functioning timepiece, a $245 reproduction that was developed with the Dali Museum in Spain, the Teatro Museo, home of the famed Dali Jewel Collection. In total, they have two dozen different reproductions from the Dali Jewel Collection. There also is a 5-foot by 8-foot carpet featuring an edgy Salvador Dali textile design made with 100 percent New Zealand wool that retails for $235. The least expensive item? A $1 Dali pencil.

So, what does the Dali Museum staff do to stay motivated in discovering and developing exciting new products? “We research trends and listen to staff and visitor feedback. We appreciate a wide array of vendors,” Birmingham said. “Approximately 85 percent of our products are created, developed and produced by the museum. We provide a suggestion box in the store that we refer to when designing new products.” Visitors’ ideas and multiple demands for certain items are taken into consideration.

Her advice to new buyers? “Have fun with the products but aim to echo the gallery experience. It’s so important to note that Dali painted his dreams. Many Dali works depict double imagery, fantasy and dream-like sequences and we aim to evoke the same in our products. Dali was also fascinated with insects and they are symbolic in many of his paintings,” Birmingham pointed out. “We also focus on the youth market and recognize children’s interest in related merchandise, as in the butterfly and ant finger puppets, etc. Our young visitors love these. Butterflies represent Dali’s intrigue with the process of metamorphoses; his immense fascination with the insect world paves the way for fun children’s products. It is important to us that we focus on our mission of educating the world about Dali, the man and his work.”

Museums, it seems, often struggle with the decision of how much is too much when it comes to developing new products that feature an artist’s work. But in Dali’s case, he had a commercial soul and allowed his work to be showcased in fashion design, apparel, furniture, wine bottles, animation, film, advertising and more. He had fun with design; the museum store seems to echo that sentiment in its offerings as well.

Wide Open Spaces
Birmingham has been with the Dali museum for over 13 years but began her career as an art educator, working for the Pennsylvania and Florida school systems. Birmingham left the world of education to join the sales and management force at a national department store, where she stayed for 10 years. Though she loved retail, she truly missed the art world. “When the opportunity arose to join the Salvador Dali Museum, I was thrilled,” Birmingham said. “It was the perfect blend of the two worlds of art and retail.”

She attributes a great deal of their retail success to the store’s welcoming atmosphere and layout and, equally, to its non-competing sales team. “We have an open space to work with and we’ve grouped our products by category using a lot of freestanding units with random placement.” As for the sales team, Birmingham advocates a team spirit. “A competitive atmosphere can result in a negative service experience for our visitors, so our sales teams are not commission based. We keep the atmosphere fun, informal and relaxed. Our staff enjoys the benefits of working in a world-renown facility and find it very rewarding to meet and serve visitors from all over the world.”

The Future Begins Now
When asked what the future holds, Birmingham said, “We’re planning a move to a new environmentally sound landmark facility with added gallery space in a beautiful waterside location downtown.” The move is in keeping with their mission, which is to continue to further educate the public and protect the artwork of one of the most significant artists of the 20th century.

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