May 17, 2007
Gift shops can ring up $$$By Jean

When Scotty Heuck was helping to organize a children’s shop at the then-new Cincinnati Museum Center in the early 1990s, her allotted space was three floors down, and “you had to pay to get in” because it was in the natural science museum, she recalls.

The gift shop at the Cincinnati Art Museum had even humbler beginnings. It was formed in 1969 by a few volunteers with a borrowed budget of $3,000 and an empty museum closet for a storefront.

Over the next decade, the children’s store at the Museum Center moved its way up to the main floor as it became more profitable. Nonprofit institutions everywhere have caught on to a simple fact: “People like to shop. They like to take something home with them,” said Irene Light, buyer and manager for the Hamilton County Park District gift shops.

Today’s nonprofits are way beyond souvenir postcards and pencils, and the gift shop can provide major budget contributions to cash-strapped organizations. They’re an important visitor amenity as well as revenue source, said Museum Center chief executive officer Douglass McDonald. “I tell our retail people, ‘Your mission is to make a profit.’ “

How the different area gift shops do that is as varied as the nonprofit institutions they serve.

Both the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Museum Center ring up close to and right at, respectively, the $1 million mark in annual sales in their shops but share little else in common. Their managers have learned to identify their most loyal constituents and present the most profitable merchandise accordingly, while adhering to the primary mission of their institution.

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