Field notes from Oslo 2018

I was invited to Oslo, Norway to give a talk and workshop to a network who represent 200 museums and galleries. I had previously visited Norway twice before and it’s definitely under the radar for most people. I arrived to Heathrow Terminal 2 early and used this as an opportunity to see how the shops were. Airports retail is often interesting as they usually invest in beautiful displays and make a lot of money. The mini John Lewis was a standout and I nearly fainted at the £68 at Dixon’s wanted for a MacBook air to hdmi connector which I passed on. The flight was full and they insisted my bag go into the overhead storage. This of course led to the breaking of my iPad screen. I still really really hate flying and my stomach felt like I’d been through the ringer even though the flight was smooth!

Oslo airport was impressive with great architecture and food shops as I whizzed by. The airport run into Oslo centre was via the efficient express train. It is only about 20mins and £20 each way. You can simply swipe your credit card for payment which is probably as frictionless as you can get. After a short walk to my hotel I went for dinner on the harbour at Olivia Aker Brygge with my host Elisabeth. Most of the city seemed closed which surprised me as they want to increase tourism. More food options on a Sunday evening please.

We had a very pleasant meal and chat.

The network met Monday to have a session with Innovative Norway to hear about the latest tourism plans. As the sessions were in Norwegian I had alternative plans to pass the time. After a nice walk through the Royal Palace Park and a glance at some royalty arriving with an escort I met with Ingrid who works at The National Gallery. The Gallery is most well known for displaying The Scream by Edvard Munch. I had an hour to really look around the retail offer and hear about the new plans for 2020 when the Gallery relocates to the the new location at Aker Brygge. I was stunned to hear that they will retain the existing building too. Great work whoever negotiated that deal. The retail offer had a really nice local artist and bespoke range that was also very popular. The long layout spread between two levels is challenging so I’m sure the team will be pleased to move to the new build where they will have three retail offers. I insisted on seeing the stockroom too as a lot is gleaned from the stockroom. I am very grateful to Ingrid for taking the time to host me.

Next I was due to meet Véronique from Astrup Fearnley Museet. Astrup Fearnley Museet is a private museum which re-located to the harbour in 2012. The building is stunning and set amongst law firms on the Fjord. I chuckled when I discovered that the collection store is under the water line. Brave! The retail area was designed by the architect so it has some very “interesting” challenges as is always the case with non-retail experts. That being said the shop looks amazing both as a piece of design and how Véronique and team have carefully considered the products and visual merchandising. Even the floor power had beautifully designed metal covers. I got to hear about how the team work with artists for in-store workshops and are constantly finding fun ways to engage with customers. I was mightily impressed with the retail. The product range was as good as anywhere i’ve ever been and they are quite rightly profitable.

I was visiting on a Monday when they were closed to the public which gave a rare chance to quickly explore the galleries including Jeff Koon’s latest exhibition and the permanent collection which includes Damian Hirst. The museum is a popular place to hire too and I enjoyed the visit. If the shop had been open and I had more time I’m confident I would have spent lots of money. The match boxes made using the collection were a personal highlight – the low light throughout winter means matches are a very popular purchase. They will launch an online shop before the end of the year.

Zak standing next to a piece of art by Jeff Koon's called Michael Jackson and Bubbles is a porcelain sculpture
Jeff Koon’s sculpture – Michael Jackson and Bubbles

By this point it was mid-afternoon and we rejoined the rest of the group to get a coach to a number of museums and galleries outside of the central. We started with the home of Roald Amundsen who was the first person to reach the South Pole in 1911. The house is located about 45min drive from the centre of Oslo on the Fjord in the type of location that these days money can’t buy. The house has pretty much been left as it since the day Roald left it for the last time. The home is restricted to 2000 visitors per year so I felt pretty lucky. The tour was in Norwegian but my partner in crime Mathilde Emilie Johnsen kindly kept me in the loop.

Our next museum was a cartoon museum with gallery called Avistegnernes Hus, DrØbak. The space was across two floors with plenty of cartoons (Newspaper cartoons) and was showing photography from Willibald Storn. Our host gave an overview of the history of the space which is famous in the newspaper cartoon world. Tasty local apple juice made for a very pleasant time.

Next we took a ferry boat across a Fjord to an island to Ank Oscarsborg. A fortress that was in use until about 2000. We had a wonderful dinner and great conversations about Norway. I really enjoyed the afternoon and evening not only to see the museums but to just “see” Oslo and surrounding area as the bus whizzed around. A quick beer at the hotel saw in midnight. Tuesday was my day to deliver a 90min talk with discussion and a practical workshop. I love days like this which hark back to my time delivering training at University of Leicester and for Jisc as part of the University of Bristol. I feed off the energy of the room and we all get to exchange ideas and challenge everything. I always learn a lot too even as the presenter. For example the majority of the room said they were running at 35%-40% gross profit margin. This makes it hard to be profitable and was a nugget for the day which I used for reference. The group seemed to really enjoy the day and I loved a short session where each person gave a 5min presentation with photos of their retail offer. A good way to see where they come from and the scale of the retail offer. If I had to guess which two areas they really engaged with the most I would say making a roadmap and learning what your museum “touch points” are. A roadmap using trello is a quick and easy way to work with colleagues on delivering incremental benefits. A touch point is any point of contact that any member of the workforce has with a visitor. There was a definite lightbulb moment when the room realised just how many interactions a visitor can have. The point is to surface opportunities to delight a visitor and to show that retail needs to be out in the museum not just in the retail space in order to maximise the opportunity to raise awareness. Follow the visitor. In practice it may be that placing a display in the cafe or a sign in the toilet is a way to become visible to visitor who would normally just skip the retail offer by default.

After the sessions I headed to the airport with a few of the group. I had a few hours to spare so got to people watch and relax after a long day on my feet. I had a quiet flight back and crawled into bed about 3am.

I would like to thank everyone that I had the privilege of talking to and Norway continues to be a delight. I hope to return for more workshops in the next year.

[Music I listened to: Belly – Immigrant, Edvard Grieg – The Best of Grieg, 6Lack – East Atlanta Love Letter, Travis Scott – Astroworld, Westside Gunn – Supreme Blientele].

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.

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

How to be considered for stocking your products in our shops

Dear XXX

Thank you for your interest in wanting to sell your product(s) in one or more of our shops (including online). We run a successful profitable commercial business. We have over 1000 individual products but we’re always looking for new products to add to our range and the best way to get considered is outlined below. Please note that due to the high volume of enquiries we receive we will only respond if we wish to take the offer to the next stage of consideration. We aim to get in touch within 10 working days for suppliers we wish to consider further.

Please note that the decision for taking new products sits with the Retail Manager and any decision is final.

  1. Send a brief introductory email to museumretail@bristol.gov.uk with product photos and descriptions including SKUs, cost prices, RRP, timescales for delivery and if these are firm sale or ‘Sale or Return’
  2. We will take an initial look and see if the margins, business terms and products meet any of our requirements.
  3. If we think the product(s) have potential we’ll be in touch within 10 working days. We read every email but if we don’t reply within 10 days unfortunately we don’t think your product(s) will be right for our retail operation and wish you all the best.
  4. Please don’t just turn up to a shop and do a sales pitch. We’re all very busy and need to set appointments. We only book appointments following steps 1-3. If you just turn up then the answer no matter how great the product will be a “no thanks”.

How do we choose products?

We review the following in our consideration:

  • We’re a £500,000+ operation so every product should be able to sell in the dozens/hundreds and have an individual value of £400+ in annual sales to be considered
  • Do the products have relevance to our collection and values?
  • Do we have an existing product that is very similar ? – for example we only use 3-4 card suppliers for all our range. Whilst we’d love to have more unique cards the admin effort makes this not viable for us
  • IS the product suitable all year around or is it seasonal, exhibition  or event specific e.g. Valentine’s day or “Christmas”
  • What’s the product story? for example one of our local suppliers, Emmeline Simpson, has a great story “Contemporary gifts celebrating British cities
  • Do any of our nearby competitors already stock the range? – we avoid selling identical products to competitors in 99% cases unless we were first!
  • Is the profit margin within expectations – whilst this can vary we aim that across our range we have a 50% or greater margin. We will never stock a product with less than 45% margin sorry
  • Can we get a very similar product from an existing suppler?
  • Can the supplier demonstrate strong sales in a related shop ?
  • Do all the products have barcodes as this is a requirement from 2018 unless there is a very good reason
  • Can we store the product(s) effectively?
  • Will the supplier regularly come into the shop, check the visual merchandising and ensuring the products work effectively?
  • Will the supplier exchange slow sellers ?
  • If the product sells quickly, how fast can the stock be replenished ?
  • Is the product local or Made in the UK?
  • Can we have square photos [100kb max file size) and product descriptions to sell online?
  • Do you offer dropshipping?

Bulk pricing for museum retail?

I was waiting at the nearby DIY shop (i think I made the problem worse but I digress) and noticed that all the price labels offer a discount if you buy in bulk, 3 or more. They offered four or so tiers of discount the more you buy. an Interesting approach that I wonder could port well to museum shops. We already buy in bulk. We know what products sell well. Buy 3+ prints at a reduced rate for instance. I’ll see if we can experiment with this approach online. I’ll Let you know if we get anywhere.

UPDATE: Started with bulk discount on our Guide to the Art Collection

Building a better museum shop 2018

What’s the project?

An exciting project i’ll ship this year is to extend the size of Bristol Museum & Art Gallery shop (by removing the stockroom to gain 20%), introducing new fittings (better flexible bays) and align the ‘feel’  to our brand. The constraints are that it must happen in-between exhibitions, cost no more than £30,000 (thanks BMDT for the funding) and address the issues that removing 20% of stockroom entails! Here are a bunch of photos of the current shop for reference.

When does it ship?

We’re currently reviewing tender submissions but it MUST happen before the summer holidays. Once we’ve awarded the contract I’ll be more loose-lipped I promise. I can promise the team that we’ll be burning the candle at both ends to get all the stock back into the shop and get it looking sweet.

Who is responsible for shipping it?

I take responsibility for the delivery of this project. It won’t be possible however without the support of the retail team – Sue, Julie, Helen, Jane and the great extended “casual pool”, Retail Thinking consultancy, Darren, James, Rowan and David. I’ll be roping in more people  throughout the project so apologises if I haven’t named you here.

What are you afraid of?

  • Unforeseen delays to the schedule. The period in-between exhibitions is fleeting and a delay can result in the project being kicked into touch by up to 16 weeks at a time YIKES!
  • Removing the stockroom is bold but also scary. The new design must ensure that the stockroom lose isn’t negative to the team workflow
  • How will we fill the new space as our existing product range isn’t enough
  • What if the new shop is Meh?
  • What if the contractor doesn’t treat this project like its life and death?
  • I lead lots of areas so what happens if I’m pulled from pillar to post on those other priorities? I take my eye off a critical detail on this project?

What else (the truth this time)?

We predict that we’ll make an additional £30,000 in sales per year…what if I botched my calculations and we don’t boost sales significantly?

Why are you afraid?

Failing potentially means losing staff in the future. I need to find more and more money to maintain our resourcing at the level it is at now… £30,000 is the equivalent of ‘whole’ member of staff.

Pick some edges

If I need to compromise then I guess its best to determine what fittings and fixtures will give me the best return for 2018. For example I want to remove the ceiling to reveal the architecture but I can’t afford it and its a ‘nice to have’. I’d rather have fewer but durable components that will least ten years or more. I need to ensure I have storage. I can add less expensive components at a later date but it’s best to ensure the core of the new design is complete. I’m happy to use cutting edge techniques that aren’t yet proven. It should be done as fast as possible but no faster.

Who is your customer?

I am trying to please members of the public who may come once in their lifetime or who visit 5+ a year.  If you walk into the shop we should have something for you and the occasion you need to buy for.

Who are the key influencers, gatekeepers and authorities?

The public, the wider retail team, Operations and the retail community through the Association of Cultural Enterprises.

Does anyone else matter?

[Redacted]. Nope.

Questions and ideas for the devil’s advocate (things to say to slow things down, average things out or create panic or malaise):

  • It’s too soon
  • It’s too late
  • It’s technically risky
  • It’s boring
  • It will offend retailers
  • There are significant legal issues
  • The plant is too backed up to produce this
  • It will take too much training to support
  • The Media won’t get it
  • Our industry is too regulated
  • The home office won’t approve
  • There’s no room in this year’s budget, let’s review in a few months
  • It might fail
  • Our big competitor will steal it
  • It’s been done before
  • It’s never been done before
  • People will laugh at us

If you hear any of these, underline them. If you find yourself saying them, stop yourself.

Who can stop this project?

Nobody. Well maybe [redacted].

Who else can stop this project?

Really, nobody.

Who is essential to our success?

  • Association for Cultural Enterprises
  • Becky Peters
  • BMDT
  • Collections team
  • David M
  • Helen and Co
  • Mark and Steve
  • Peter Holloway from Retail Thinking
  • Simon Fenn

What does perfect look like?

All boundary walls fitted with bays that are flexible. Well lit. Solution for all storage needs. Two till points that ease congestion. New ceiling or no ceiling. Additional floor units for merchandising that are movable and encourage pick-up lust. Removal of 1990s wood effect look. Movable till area.

What does good enough look like?

All boundary walls fitted with bays that are flexible. Well lit. Solution for all storage needs. Two till points that ease congestion. Removal of most of the 1990s wood effect look. Scope to add components at a later date.

List every task and event that needs to happen, by whom, and by when.

  1. Review and moderate tender submissions – ZM and DM by 31st Jan
  2. Seek CPG approval to award – ZM by 8th Feb
  3. Award tender – ZM by 8th Feb
  4. Standstill period – PS by 19th Feb
  5. Engage contractor – ZM from 20th Feb
  6. Agree approach – ZM/Contractor
  7. Finalise design  – ZM/Contractor
  8. Build off-site – Contractor
  9. Agree VM plan – HL/PH/ZM
  10. Agree post install merchandising team – HL
  11. Installation – Contractor
  12. Restock – everybody!
  13. Open

Who becomes your competition?

Nearby high street retailers. Bring it on.

What does failure look like?

  • Due to unforeseen issues with the structure the project has to grind to a halt due to lack of reserve funding.
  • Sales decrease
  • New fittings confuse our VM plan
  • The sector don’t like the resulting shop extension and pan it

Plus it!

List up to ten things you could add that would radically or subtly improve your project:

  1. Ensure we have a full range plan ahead of the build with all locations for new stock
  2. Ensure feedback from the retail team is integrated into the finer detail of the till area
  3. Somebody gives me an extra £20,000 to really finish the project – remove the ceiling, introduce exhibition retail unit area, building proper pop-up shop units, fit out the remaining original bays
  4. Understand what types of product will make customers talk about the shop to their friends
  5. Build a prototype of each new component to test assumptions
  6. Enlist Jane le Bon at design and stocking stage to turn the visual merchandising from good to brilliant.
  7. Reduce install time
  8. Promotion at launch in all the Bristol media
  9. Contractor already uses Basecamp for managing projects
  10. Launch with a killer product that everybody thinks they need but can’t put down

Minus it!

List up to ten things you could subtract that would radically or subtly improve your project or get it out the door.

  1. Remove boring services that are on two perimeter boundary walls and impede the design
  2. Not have any evening events that week which hinder having a pop-up shop
  3. Meetings with people who aren’t domain experts

Thrash

List every element of the project that needs to be settled, designed or approved before you can ship.

  • A solid project plan
  • Contractor to advise, design and build the extension – moderation 30th Jan
  • CPG approval to award
  • Lock in dates that don’t mess with the exhibition space next door
  • Conceive a new product range plan for the launch
  • Enlist a team to decamp all the shop contents ahead of the works and then put it all back at the end of the build phase
  • Design a suitable till area that works for the team and the new workflow which includes being paperless for all BUYING tasks
  • Agree what can be swapped out if the budget hits the max limiter e.g. wall bays are a bigger priority than floor units
  • Agree with Operations what approach we can take to hiding all the services but ensuring they are accessible when required
  • Need to settle how big the kids range should be
  • Regarding the initial eye view from outside the shop – agree what type of product will entice passersby

Gated Thrashing

Take the items on the list above and force them into one of four categories, with as many as possible in the first two.

First: before you start design and production

  • A solid project plan
  • Contractor to advise, design and build the extension – moderation 30th Jan
  • CPG approval to award
  • Lock in dates that don’t mess with the exhibition space next door
  • Conceive a new product range plan for the launch
  • Enlist a team to decamp all the shop contents ahead of the works and then put it all back at the end of the build phase
  • Design a suitable till area that works for the team and the new workflow which includes being paperless for all BUYING tasks
  • Agree what can be swapped out if the budget hits the max limiter e.g. wall bays are a bigger priority than floor units
  • Agree with Operations what approach we can take to hiding all the services but ensuring they are accessible when required
  • Need to settle how big the kids range should be

During: while you’re working

  • Regarding the initial eye view from outside the shop – agree what type of product will entice passersby

Testing

  • Design a suitable till area that works for the team and the new workflow which includes being paperless for all BUYING tasks

Final

  • Need to settle how big the kids range should be

 

Don’t worry if you don’t think what you ship is good enough. It is. The scarce part is the shipping.

This post uses the SHIPIT project checklist which is a handy PDF.

Say hello to Doris and BMAG Guide to the Art Collection

I’m super excited that after lots of graft from the team we’ve just released two very special products:

Doris the Pliosaurus After 150 million years Doris, based on a model of our Pliosaurus, has come to life again as a retail product!  Doris is currently the star of our exhibition  Pliosaurus! until Jan 2018 and marks our first foray into making our own models. Darren Roberts worked directly with the manufacturer in China via Alibaba which in itself marks a shift in how retail is evolving – working direct instead of through a wholesaler or brand.

Bristol Museum & Art Gallery: Guide to the Art Collection. Julia Carver worked incredibly hard to meet my objective [book that will retail for less than £10 and appeal to 10,000 or more people a year] and tight deadline of producing in conjunction with Bristol Books, the museums first ever guide to some highlights of our 1300 paintings. The public are constantly asking for books about the collection so I’m proud I’ve been part of making the project happen. Its not easy finding “firsts” in a near 200 year old service! Books that are self published have a fantastic margin and we’re hoping this book really lights up the till. ISBN: 9781909446120 A special thanks to the generous financial and moral support from Simon Baker, David Speller, and the Friends of Bristol Art Gallery.

Shopify feature request for two-step

Two-step authentication is one of the tools we should all use to help prevent our accounts being compromised. Shopify now has this feature but its implementation could do with a further feature. At present as the master admin I cannot enforce two-step authentication for staff who have admin rights. I have to rely that individual staff will choose to set this up and/or stand over their shoulder which isn’t going to win hearts and minds!

I would like to request that the master admin account has a way to invoke all admin accounts to be forced to have two-step switched on/set-up to ensure the security of our admin area.

Over to you shopify.