‘Know your brand’ says MoMA’s director of stores

16th May 2017

Knowing your brand is vital to museum store success, reports Peter Crush

How do museum stores cope with customers that could range in age from 3-93 years old, and from all walks of life and backgrounds? Simple, according to New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) director of stores, Ruth Shapiro: “Know your brand.”

Ruth Shapiro

The keynote speaker at this year’s Retail Design Expo took delegates through an evolution that’s been happening in museum store merchandising, concluding that the point has been reached where customers seek more and more specialist shop-bought pieces – items that (like the content of museums) – cannot be seen or found anywhere else.

“The products we stock have to be as carefully curated as the items we display in the museum,” said Shapiro. “We have to know our brand. When you’re processing more than a million transactions a year – all profits of which fund our future initiatives – we have to get it right, making sure we get the right spread of products from inexpensive pencils and postcards to $20,000 statue reproductions.”

Describing work she had recently undertaken with Lumsden Design to redesign and relaunch MoMA’s Design Store, Shapiro said the project enabled her and her team to do the first root and branch review of products and store architecture for nearly 20 years.

“We realised we needed much more of an edited selection of products,” Shapiro explained. “We found out we were selling too many cheaper, impulse-buy products, when really we wanted to sell much more higher-priced ‘wow’ items that gave people a greater connection with the museum.”

These insights were found out through customer research which revealed shoppers wanted at least one of three things from the MoMA store: being educated, being inspired, and being delighted. “These needs are irrespective of age,” said Shapiro.

The new-look Design Store took these considerations on board. As well as opening up the space to bring in more light, creating different zones, and re-working its stocking system, more curated products were brought on board. “We now have a very different space,” says Shapiro, “but it’s still one that unifies people to the museum brand. And its importance cannot be under-estimated. Our stores now generate 35% of all MoMA revenue.”