Retail: living without a stockroom

In late June 2018 we ripped out our stockroom at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery shop to give us 20% more floorspace for selling during our refit.

Three months on and the decision remains a sound choice and acceptable risk.

When you think of a traditional shop and what is fundamental to success, having somewhere to store products is usually high up the list. Yet i was unconvinced. For various reasons our shop stockroom was full. Upon close inspection I estimated 50% or greater of the stock was very old and has long lost any sellable value. Unsold stock just stuck around. Unsold stock actually costs us money:

  • Stock over 2yrs old is effectively worthless as it’s a sunk cost yet requires regular stock checking
  • The space it occupies has a value and in our case approx 20% of the total footprint of the shop was lost
  • Old stock literally gets in the way which makes quickly finding products difficult when a customer says “Please can you check if you have this product out back?”
  • Restocking products is slower when the back up stock isn’t near the stock on the shop floor
  • Having a high stockholding ties up cash on the shelf which in turn increases the risk
  • Stock checking takes 2-3 times as long as much more products need checking and as it’s out of public view this increases costs because a dedicated member of staff is required as retail assistant cannot leave the floor
  • Opportunity for shrinkage is higher through theft and/or the attitude that there is plenty of stock so less care may be taken – neither were an issue for us but I hear this is a problem for others
  • Piling stock high introduces health and safety risks as ladders and lifting at high become a consideration
  • There is a temptation to over order without any actual margin benefit (in theory if you order in bulk you can negotiate better margins)
  • Modern ordering and fulfilment means typically an order can arrive the following day so there is less reason to bulk order

With quite the list of reasons to loath the stockroom myself and the retail manager decided to work though the stockroom. We discovered stock from the 1960s and each decade in-between I kid you not! I half jokingly said that any stock from before the year I was born 1983 automatically had to be removed. We made a sale table. If it failed to shift we offered it to charity groups and then finally recycling or the skip. The day we hired a skip was a turning point for rebooting the shop. After several months we managed to reduce the stockholding to approx 50% and mostly maintain this figure even when re-ordering.

Floor plan of original stockroom footprint which took up 20% of total available footprint[Fig 1] shows in the red and top 20% of the graphic is the original stockroom footprint.

Around this time we started to drum up the support needed to refit the shop itself. All the low hanging fruit had been uncovered and it was obvious the shop fittings wouldn’t help us grow. Initially the plan was to retain the stockroom but our exercise above proved it might just be possible to be effective with a reduced stockroom.

Floor plan of the initial revised stockroom which retained a small footprint for an office or stockroom [Fig 2] shows Initial revised floor plan which retained a small stockroom and office. 

I had asked others if the stockroom was needed as a way to sense check. Everyone told me to retain at least some stockroom OR place to sort products and just like that was the aha! Moment. I had just visited a whole lot of museum shops in recent months. All the newer designs included ample under bay storage. I calculated that the under bay storage was roughly equal to the amount we currently had. Furthermore I had just read The Toyota way which championed ordering “just in time”.

Armed with this information myself and the team decided losing the stockroom was worth the risk. At worst we would need to hide away products in one of the many random corners behind the scenes.

The final refit completely eliminates the stockroom and gave us 20% more shop floor space for selling[Fig 3] shows the final design of the shop which eliminated the stockroom completely

Fast forward to three months post refit and we haven’t had an big problems coping without the stockroom. In fact having the back up stock directly under the bays has made improvements to stock checking and merchandising. The team have reported that it works well too which is vitial of course!

Onwards

ACE shop of the Month

Bristol Museum & Art Gallery shop has been named shop of the month for August by the Association for Cultural Enterprises. It is great to join a long list of fantastic shops that have been highlighted in the past. This makes us eligible for submitting our shop for Best shop in the sector at the 2019 ACE convention. Since 2015 we have worked very hard to make incremental gains in all aspects of the retail offer. According to my personal retail changelog we have made over 350 notable changes since 2015. I hope the team are proud of the work they have done to date and I look forward to sharing more details of the project, its impact and our future roadmap. If you have any questions about our recent shop refit, our successes or failures then do get in touch. Onwards.

Video: Introducing Nesta…and Bristol Museum & Art Gallery

Back in 2014/15 when I was still Head of Digital we worked on a cutting edge ibeacon game called The Hidden Museum. Thanks to the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts including Nesta  [Nesta is a global innovation foundation] and partners  aardman, University of Bristol we had a grant funded fun time!

In a recently launched video showcasing Nesta you can see our game at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery in action in this 100 second video. Come to visit us and play the game on your iPad.

Video link

Paper has a place in my toolkit

At work I’m known for being paperless. Like everyone else I use a computer at my desk. During meetings I switch to using my phone around folks who I work with often. It feels more comfortable than using the iPad but I feel less comfortable using my phone around new folks with the whole “I’m using my phone for work I promise” vibe. In this cases I use the clunky ipad. We have Apple TV and Chromecast devices in all our primary meeting spaces so I can show what’s on my devices to the big screen eg Trello or Basecamp.

So when I occasionally whip out my paper index cards or field notes notebook someone usually remarks in surprise. I’m surprised that they are surprised. I’m only human after all. Being human means I forget to charge my devices and need an alternative. Or I know I need to conserve battery life for something later that day. I try to follow Cory Doctorow’s ABCs “Always Be Charging” but alas again I’m only human and easy access sockets aren’t a thing.

I love index cards because they are affordable and I only ever write outline notes to jot my memory. I love field notes because they are small, the cover is indestructible and I heart the company behind them. So next time you see me with paper don’t be surprised…I always forget a pen though (or on purpose as I live in fear of pen eruption in my bag)…

So can I borrow a pen?

So…five years at Bristol City Council

1st July 2018 is a significant personal milestone for me as I turn five as an employee of Bristol City Council’s Culture team. Most importantly I’m happy. I absolutely love what I do and where I work. As a Bristolian, I feel immensely proud of helping the Council run such a great cultural service.

If you’ve ever heard me give a talk there is a good chance you have heard my tongue in cheek remark that “I originally came on a 18 month fixed term contract and by the time they work out how to get rid of me I’d be out the door anyway”.

In reality I set about using that first 12 months to show that digital was a key ingredient to the museum’s current and future success. I got to build a digital team from the ground up and since those early days my role has grown from one team to ten as well as shedding two job titles through promotion.

“We” have delivered lots of pieces of work in the past five years. I say “we” as no project is shipped without the effort from some of the most talented people I’ve had the delight to work with. We do so much that it is literally impossible to keep track 100% of what is delivered even though I try my best. Across the team’s there is at least 1-2 people working 7am to 2am most days of the week which is mind-blowing.

We are a team of teams and these five years have taught me a great deal about other people’s passions within the Culture team. I really love that both digital and transformation get to weave around all the corners of the Culture service so I get a glimpse behind the curtain of a much bigger picture.

I have met hundreds if not thousands of people across the globe who care deeply about using Culture as a force of good in the world. I have spoken at dozens of events and had the privilege of learning from lots of people who care enough to share time with me and the sector.

Do. Try. Deliver. Learn. Repeat.

I just wanted to pause to take the time to say thank you to anyone I’ve come into contact with, worked with, agreed with or “respectively disagreed” with. Transformation is a process not a project. Looking ahead, I continue to work on growing as a leader and helping the greatest city on Earth to deliver the best cultural offer. Getting better means regularly asking my colleagues what can I do more of, less of or what is good enough that should be kept as it is. Seth Godin says be “defenseless” in order to grow …also helps to keep the old ego in check.

I remember reading a guidance document that said a museum professional is somebody with “five” years or more experience. Totally incorrect way to foster good relations eh. I guess my tenture means I need to drop my joke that I’m a professional unprofessional…. and go make a ruckus.

1000 true fans

According to Kevin Kelly, every organisation has 1000 true fans. We have approximately 1,000,000 museum visitors per year. Some come for the gardens, to research, to play, to use the WiFi, to duck the rain, to feel safe, to pique their curiosity and many more reasons.

We tend to lump them together as a whole, as “1,000,000+” which also happens to be our only core required KPI measure. Get a million and get a small pat on the back.

We then group these visitors into segments – cohorts that as a group have meaning to staff for our own ends. Within this large number hiding in plain sight are 1000 true fans or 0.1% of our 1,000,000. These 1000 fans are the backbone to our service. They REALLY use one or more of our services. The daily coffee buyers who we know by name, the frequent Archive researchers or young parent support group who come together every single week.

These fans can’t be put into our “average user” boxes. They will tell us how great we are or how disappointed they are if we make a change they don’t like. We should listen as failing to heed their warning will only end badly. A slow death.

It’s far easier to think of our visitors as a whole and offer everybody the same industrial interactions, time after time. Instead, let’s delight each of these 1000 true fans. The impact of meeting their needs is far greater than a generic cohort who could take it or leave it. Let’s not look at the averages which feels like “chasing ghosts” but instead ask ”who are my 1000 true fans?”.

2018 Shopify POS wish list

Since 2015 when we launched Shopify POS for our shops we’ve put over £1.75m through the app (about £800K this year alone). So yes I trust it. We’e just signed up for another three years in fact to take advantage of the multi year discount. I was recently testing a new feature which reminded me to jot down a few wish list features i’m hoping Shopify will make on the POS app or admin:

  1. Provide Cost of Goods (COGS) feature by default
  2. The ability to have more granular account types so I can restrict the majority of the team to only edit a product’s quantity. At the moment in order to allow staff to alter quantities when products get delivered you must be an admin which is overkill and leads to tinkering of product information
  3. Allow admin to  force all accounts to use two-step authentication to provide better security for web facing accounts
  4. STOP forcing POS app updates to occur at 11am GMT…. right in the middle of our trading. Consider a European update time window or alternative from US to Europe so you can see how it feels!
  5. Allow the mobile app to read the barcode of a product and show its quantity to enable quick stock counting
  6.  Allow a toggle to switch off online shop features if you are POS only
  7. Give me an easy way to connect to Google Sheets so I can play with the data as your reports are ok but I Google Sheets is way more powerful