Slides from my 16th May 2019 talk at Museums + Heritage show at Olympia London. Do get in touch if you have any questions.
Zak will show you how Bristol changed from being a museum service to a cultural business. A focus on delighting visitors and being data-informed has seen the team of teams rise to the opportunities of income generation in the face of big challenges.
See the slides (8mb PDF)
During a trip to Manchester I took a few minutes to walkthrough the shop with the manager. This was an aside to the main reason for the visit but I spotted something immediately. Most of the products either weren’t priced or their related pricing point of sale wasn’t close enough. Hiding in plain sight was a big hurdle for the potential customer. It’s human nature to not ask staff about the price. Show me the price so I have as little friction as possible when considering a product.
Retail is 1000 little details like this.
The 22nd March 2019 officially marks the day our retail business revenue hit 100% growth since 2014-15 which you can see in the performance spreadsheet. A proud moment for the service. I want to kick-off by thanking the retail team who have worked their socks off and have been up for the challenge since day 1 in 2015. Also none of our success would be possible without the support of the other teams who contribute to the effort including Retail Thinking, user research, design & marketing, digital, documentation, programming and operations. Retail is a living breathing example of our team-of-teams approach to solving problems. Why try to do everything yourself when you have some of the best talent in other parts of the service willing to rolling their sleeves up.
Transformation is not easy but our goal has been to grow the business year on year using the four retail pillars of Buying, Staff skills, Visual merchandising (VM) and Performance. The Culture team need to make or save £436,000 between 2017-2021 as part of the wider Council savings programme. Retail is a core player in this growth.
A quick recap of the marathon to date:
- understand the retail business and begin to destroy and rebuild from the ground up (discovered we were running at a loss)
- Returned to the simple principle that “we should sell what people buy”
- 2016-17 – return to profitability and aim to maximise existing resources
- 2017-18 – build the case for long-term investment including roadmap for shop refits at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery and M Shed and further staff roles (starting with a Buyer)
- 2018-19 Ship projects that deliver against our objectives – bring the annual roadmap to life instead of it just being a paper exercise.
- 2019-20 increase the pace and profitability hi
We expect our services to be the best they can possibly be in our sector. Not just better than before or better than our nearest comparable museums. We should be as good as the best of the best anywhere on the planet.
We have made over 300 changes to the retail business. We have made every mistake possible and will make more mistakes in the future.
In no particular order I present a number of key changes:
- Spent lots of time watching how customers used the shop and listening to the retail teams views on everything
- Hired the services of an expert – Retail Thinking are a a consultancy who specialise in heritage retail and have been key to accelerating our growth. I have engaged Retail Thinking to help me learn the business of retail and act essentially as a head of retail. Money well spent
- Visit dozens of retail businesses all over the world and understand what works and doesn’t – I cannot stress enough how important it is to just watch other retail in action
- Ask for help – I have contacted and had help from many many amazing people in the sector. A special hat tip to Genevieve, Lycia, John and Alex
- 04/05/2015 rolled out Shopify POS as until now the staff EPOS didn’t collect product sales history or have any useful reporting – choose Shopify as it is affordable, great 24/7 support and has scalability
- Introduce Performance as a key strand Collect, Share, Use – Collect data , share it widely and especially publicly and make an effort to use that data. Sharing our performance data has led to invaluable collections. Performance is one of the four key pillars of retail. The others are Buying, staff skills and visual merchandising. Thinking of everything we do through these four strands helps keep us organised
- Removed the £5 minimum limit on card payments which immediately boosted sales
- Instead of calling the retail manager or me to get permission every time a customer had a non standard enquiry I told all staff that if the decision has a value of £100 or less they are free to make the decision – rapidly speeds things up and improves customer service. Typically the customer wants to do a deal on bulk orders
- 28/09/2015 started using user researcher
- Completed team review
- 9/10/2015 launched first bespoke range using La Belle Dame Sans Merci
- 04/11/2015 completed a partial shop refit at Bristol Museum & Art gallery as a small investment with Shop Services
- 04/11/2015 had first online order
- Discovering the Association for Cultural Enterprises who are a bunch of super talented people who are super happy to help us improve
- Focused on increasing awareness of the shops including putting glass cabinets in high traffic parts of the museums
- Worked on reducing the number of products and keeping our top 100 products in stock at all times
- Introduced exhibition inspired products which until now had been too weak
- Sales grew 20% compared to the previous year
- Focused on improving the online shop by handing the responsibility to the digital team – thanks Fay!
- Experimented with pop up shops over holiday periods
- 31 August Launched Guide to The Art Collection
- 8th July Accidentally turned off the ice cream freezer and lost all the products …whoops
- Used spare fittings to give Blaise at least
- Installed a number of lit glass cabinets at M Shed to raise awareness of the offer at the opposite end of the museum
- Started (and continue) to work with Jane Le Bon for key visual merchandising dates
- Banksygate – sorry !
- 30/06/2018 Refit Bristol Museum & Art gallery which included removing the stockroom to enable 20% more selling floor space – funded by Bristol Museum Development Trust [sales ended 52% up on previous year] and refit by ARJ-CRE8
- Introduced the new role of Buyer which has been a fantastic decision and the benefits are already showing
- Experiments with pricing including bulk discounts for buying The Guide to the Art Collection
- Sales 100% increase compared to 2014/15 for 2018/19
2019 (current year to do)
- 28/03/2019 launched M Shed Souvenir Guide which is the second print publication of its type. The original wasn’t popular largely due to a weak cover
- Refit at M Shed due in July
- 1/04/2019 Introduced new retail at Red Lodge and The Georgian House
- M Shed underperforms when you consider our visit figure so will be a focus for the year
- Publish a souvenir guide book to Bristol Museum & Art Gallery
- Consider refit at Blaise Castle Museum for 2020
- Let’s ship more projects and make a ruckus
Do email me if you have any further questions, advice or want to come and visit at zak dot mensah at bristol dot gov uk
PS At the time of finalising these notes Nipsey Hussle on 31 March died. I am a big hip-hop fan and listened to Victory Lap lots throughout 2018/19 and find business tips/books/ideas from rap. RIP.
Friday 22nd March 2019 marks a fantastic milestone as our retail officially tipped over the 100% growth in revenue since taking over in 2015. A huge thanks to all our customers, teams and those who have helped us make every possible mistake and still keep on rolling.
We trust our workforce (yes including volunteers who are super critical) to fly the flag for us day in and day out. To represent our brand in the flesh and to tell the stories of our organisation. Oh and no small feat to ensure the safety of both the public and our collections. Every interaction with our customers at our venues, on the phone or by email is an opportunity to delight. Our museums alone welcome over a million people a year.
Yet nearly every organisation still insists on holding tightly to social media with a select few as guardians. Worried about tone of voice or that something bad may happen. We are happy to let folks loose in the physical environment (and again keep us all safe) and tell amazing stories to people, protect rare and priceless objects but not tweet ?! Who better to tell stories online than the very workforce who do this for us on a daily basis.
Please set your social media free. Provide simple guidelines [see our social media principles] and training then bring the rest of the workforce online. Social media wants to be free. It will pay you back with the stories people will tell that they already know captivate your audience.
According to Twitter, today marks 10 years on the platform for me @zakmensah
. I remember resisting for over a year having grown tired of signing up for platforms that never gained traction beyond the early adopters. I’ve never been that interested in being first to the party. I was at Jisc
at the time and traveling the UK for events and conferences was a big part of my role. I started to notice that the various unconference/meet-ups were being organised on twitter and I felt left out. I wanted to know which pub was the
pub folks were gathering at. As with all new platforms I didn’t get the point for awhile but once I started to discover groups in the pub I was set ha. Fast forward 10 years and I’m glad I jumped on twitter and its evolution has been interesting to watch. From nerds to the mainstream. In the same period of time many other social platforms have risen and fallen including Google Wave, myspace, snapchat and many others I’ve long forgotten.
I have met great people on twitter, some I have yet to meet in person and others I have hollered at when in their country. I have had wonderful work opportunities, learned a bunch and its often the first port of call when I’m stuck and need advice for work. I like the little tribes such as museumhour
and following the boxing or F1 for the wit and live emotion.
I like to share on twitter and also keep lots of things private. I can pick and choose as I please which is the whole point. For example I never post family photos and try to avoid tweeting much when at the pub for obvious reasons. Tweets wash over the timeline so I don’t pay too much attention to crafting messages or take myself too seriously. But I do want to live my life a bit on the web as a dry serious me online would be a dull shame.
Happy birthday to the 10 year @zakmensah version of me. Oh and the oldest tweet I can find is me saying hello to someone’s mum
I was just publishing my annual blog post for my reading list and my wife asked “How many people actually read your blog?”. I responded with “I dunno let’s see”. Except I can’t actually show her as it turns out my analytics stopped recording a long time ago. My bad. I decided ages ago not to bother looking at the analytics as I didn’t want to be fixated on growing per se. I write very niche posts here and at the Culture team labs blog for people like me. And there must only be a few hundred people like me across the planet. I know that the right people stumble across here as I regularly get email to ask me questions, jump on a skype call with folks across the world or to invite me to speak at a conference.
The aim for me is to share my experiences for people like me and it appears to work. That is good enough for me.
Last year I started quite a few books but only managed to read 7. Let’s hope I find more time this year.
- This is Marketing by Seth Godin finished 11 Jan 2019. Paperback ISBN 9780241370148. I always enjoy how Seth Godin manages to make compelling stories to explain how to level up regardless of your resources. I particularly enjoyed the section on direct and brand marketing.
- Creativity: Why it Matters by Darren Henley, finished 25 March 2019. Hardback ISBN 9781783963782.
- Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink finished 25 April 2019. Kindle format. A look at how we should move to a new form of motivate that suits the non-industrial work we now largely do. Dan frames motivation around autonomy , mastery and purpose.
- Retail Therapy: Why the Retail Industry is Broken by Mark Pilkington finished 12 May 2019. Hardback 9781472965103. A good summary of the issues facing UK/USA retail industry. The book is easy to read and challenges the industry to make a ruckus. One great a-ha moment for me was that we typically mark products up by 2.4 but with online it should fundamentally be a cheaper as we have less overheads. Also the supply chain should be shorter so yet more reason to reduce the cost for your bespoke range. The last 1/4 alone is worth the book cost.
- First Man In by Ant Middleton finished 16th May 2019. Paperback ISBN 9780008245733
Unless I’m at risk of being fired for sharing data I happily throw out our numbers publicly. Money, satisfaction, raw data on X, y and Z. I think that sharing is vital and by sharing it leads to connecting with others seeking similar answers. I get messages from people across the globe who have googled an issue and found a talk, tweet or blog I’ve shared. I’ve already done the work so sharing costs me nothing but has led to real connections.
An unexpected benefit has been that others have spotted trends or interesting insights that I’ve overlooked. Everything looks like a nail when you’re welding a hammer. Opening up the data gives a new perspective which can only be a good thing.
So please do tell me what you see when you look at my data or dashboards.
P.S. I get push back from others who think they aren’t able to share their data verbally let alone publicly – I’m fairly confident an FOI request could be made on 99.9% of things you haven’t shared. So share because you can not because you’re being forced to.
We make decisions everyday. If it’s a one off decision then you may as well use as much information as you have to hand then commit. You’ll be right or wrong quickly. But if the valuable work you seek is repeatable then you need a system. A way to help you make better decisions and measure the impact. Here at the culture team we realise that whilst quick decisions, assumptions and gut feelings can be good, there are many times that we could be better prepared at the point of decision. Especially where the pattern is repeated over and over. We “expect” various things to happen daily such as visits and enquiries. These patterns typically have a limited number of outcomes. We want to be better at spotting patterns to help us continuously improve.
Currently I am working on transforming how we use PERFORMANCE within the service to measure our success. Small wins and large wins. And before you shout that being data heavy can also be a burden, i know, i know. Let’s suspend disbelief for awhile though and trust that tinkering never hurt anybody… For data I keep coming back to the phrase “Collect, Share, Use”.
Collect – what minimum pieces of data can we collect in a consistent way over multiple cycles? e.g. daily/weekly/monthly/yearly and can we collect easily
Share – let everybody see the streams of data as they may have a use for your data eg school visits may impact retail so share it all
Use – take one or more data sets and use them to contribute to understanding user needs which in turn allows us to make business decisions. Pssst your business needs are to meet user needs. For example if we identify spikes in visits to events/retail/café what was happening that day? Was it a one off? Was it a school or coach visit? Can we replicate again and again? we can then resource accordingly. If we have a 4-6 week weather forecast for rain then we expect to be busy so let’s get casuals on stand-by as we can map the forecast to this year’s forecasted visitor figures and/or use last year for a comparison. We shouldn’t be surprised if there is a band of rain for a long period as that data exists out on the web and we can overlay to ours in theory. IF I want to do a lunchtime curator talk I want the best chance of being busy so which days are we busier? As I can see visitor flow hourly is 12pm ideal or 1pm? Etc etc or would 11:30 be best so I can then promote the café offer for lunch immediately after?
I want our workforce and partners to explore our data to help us make a ruckus. I really hope teams start to be interested in bits of data instead of thinking it is for management only. For now we are sharing two data points, satisfaction and number of visits publicly at https://performance.bristolmuseums.org.uk/
Internally we’re building dashboards using Google Data studio. The hope is that in addition to standard reports, individuals or teams will grow their own dashboards, customised to teams and/or individuals with the things that are important to them. This makes it more personalised for a member of staff instead of dozens of seemingly unloved/viewed data.
I will be chipping away at encouraging us collectively to Collect and Share for the next 12-18 months…onwards