Ahhhh…the magical world of retail shopping! It’s called many things from “therapy” to “a necessary evil” to “entertainment” to “an addiction.” The retail industry is a complicated, beautiful, sometimes crazy sector of our culture and economy that reaches every individual in some way.
Tomorrow, November 25, is Small Business Saturday, a day dedicated to encouraging us to shop in and support local businesses from smaller merchants and mom-and-pop stores to independent restaurants and cafes. And these small, local businesses include “miscellaneous store retailers” or “specialty retailers” like the stores and gift shops that can be found in museums, cultural venues, and even libraries. A tiny niche within the vast retail sector, but one that has impact nonetheless!
I started working for the Birthplace of Country Music in 2014 as the Museum Manager – this, of course, covered a lot of responsibilities, including stocking and running The Museum Store. Which led to a lot of questions: What must a small museum store do to stand out in the crowd among big box giants in a society where bigger is almost always perceived to be better? How do we compete for our piece of the estimated $4.785 trillion retail sales in the United States? And finally, how do we inspire customers to come into The Museum Store as a place to shop when there are so many wonderful and unique shopping opportunities in our historic downtown in Bristol, TN/VA?
The first step in creating an inspiring and meaningful museum store was to look to the museum’s mission statement: “To explore the history, impact, and legacy of the Bristol Sessions through educational, engaging, and fun experiences and provide our patrons with museum experiences that teach, entertain, delight, and spark curiosity.” It was important, therefore, to make every effort to create a museum store that was firmly part of that mission – this was accomplished by bringing together a variety of items that dig deeper into our content, for instance through books and media. The books give our visitors an opportunity to learn more about the 1927 Bristol Sessions, to explore their impact and legacy on other musical genres and later musicians, and to understand the Appalachian history and heritage that is a part of these musical traditions. And records, CDs, box sets, and videos provide numerous ways for interested patrons to take the music they’ve been tapping their feet to in our exhibits home with them! The aim was to strive to be an extension of the museum and an integral part of the overall museum experience. While this is obviously very important to our visitors, from near and far, it is especially important for our local residents as it is another way to encourage knowledge of and pride in the heritage of their region.
Another way to extend the museum’s mission through the store is by offering elements of our Appalachian culture to our store visitors, for instance through local items that showcase the best of tradition and innovation in this region in a way that connects back to our community. The store has a host of unique, handmade goods from local and regional artisans in The Museum Store, bringing a truly special element to the retail space. Our artisan items include pottery, jewelry, steampunk lamps, glass, textiles, folk art, woodwork, soaps and lotions, and hand-printed notecards, just to name a few! As part of the store display, they bring a gallery affect that is widely appealing to store customers and museum patrons alike. Additionally, the ability to consign the merchandise from artisans is financially beneficial to a museum store as the artisans are paid as items sell. Most importantly, featuring artisans in the store is a great way to support these artists and to highlight and celebrate the craft traditions in this region. We are fortunate to have so many talented local and regional artisans, all producing beautiful items, and we are glad to work with them in this mutually beneficial way.
And finally, let’s face it…any time you visit a museum or historic site, you’ve gotta get the t-shirt! Most museum visitors love to take home an easy-to-pack souvenir, and our locals love to send a piece of Bristol to far-away friends and family for special occasions. From a marketing standpoint, souvenir items – like t-shirts, hats, magnets, mugs, bumper stickers, patches, etc. – are an effective means of getting the BCM name around the world! T-shirts remain a top seller and never go out of style. We work with local screen printers, but also offer custom designed tees and sweatshirts created just for our store that have proven to be very popular as well.
This combination of content-driven items, handmade goods, and souvenirs provides a truly unique atmosphere in our museum store and sets us apart from other retailers in our area. It also makes us one more asset in our quaint historic downtown, one that helps tourists and visitors to have an enjoyable and engaging experience – from visiting the museum and its store to eating at a local restaurant and strolling around State Street popping into the many wonderful shops.
And so it’s worth remembering the importance of shopping local and patronizing small businesses, tomorrow on Small Business Saturday, and every day of the year! For every $100 spent in your community, $68 stays in the local economy – which is a big deal. And, of course, you’ll be supporting our fantastic museum; you’ll be helping regional artisans to continue producing their amazing work; and, as you wear or gift that BCM t-shirt or hat, you will show your pride in the awesome and very important musical heritage that makes Bristol the birthplace of country music!
* Check out our website for information on all of our great specials and promotions in The Museum Store and online over the weekend, including Bristol Rhythm tickets, discount promotions, and free shipping!
Guest blogger Landy Mathes is the former Museum Manager at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. In that role, she often tapped into the Museum Store Association, a great place to gain the knowledge and resources needed for a museum store to thrive in a competitive retail environment.