Notes from Andrew Jennings at the Bristol Distinguished Address Series

Wednesday 23 October 2019

Title: The Changing Retail Landscape and how to succeed 

To succeed you must be inspiring, innovating and trying new things all the time. Examples of three business doing this well are Harrods, Fortnum & Mason and Primark. Two words for success: “Be relevant”. 
Ask yourself and your business to write four bullet points to show why you are relevant e.g:

  1. Do you know your customer – their wants, needs and desires?
  2. Are you innovating – what are you doing in all areas to make customer needs and improve the business?
  3. Do you hire talented people – give them training and then space to grow as people make or break the business. You need leaders to inspire, management to ruthlessly implement (failure happens) and exceed expectations 
  4. Do you keep change at the centre of your business – always move forward and get the whole team to move together to avoid silos

Homework

  1. am I doing everything I can be doing to thrill my customer?
  2. what am I doing to make my staff go from good to great?
  3. is the business making positive changes to succeed?

His book is Almost is Not Good Enough ISBN 9781911195641

100% growth in retail

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:
2015-16

  • 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:

2015

  • 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 

2016 

  • 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

2017

  • 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 

2018

  • 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.

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