I regularly get emails from folks who have been instructed to get in touch with me to learn how I make money for our service. Firstly, it isn’t me making money. I help wrangle the conditions for our teams to do their best work and in turn revenue is generated. The services we provide are either designed to generate revenue OR making revenue is a by-product of something else we do. I’m sure that fancy business cases, spreadsheets and presentations work but I always start a simple question to my boss:
“What is the bottom line that you need from us?”
Once I have that single figure I can then set about to see how things need to change to respond to the goal. Better still I then internalise the goal as “how little can we afford to grow?“. Surely you’d think I would be always seeking the maximise right? wrong. Growing too much too quickly always has an impact on our resources. Sure we can sell more events but we would suddenly need to close public spaces in core hours which negatively impacts our public offer. I could insist our retail only stocked products in the £25+ region but alienate a large chunk of people who are in the £5-£25 region. The list of things I could do is endless.
So instead of having no constraints I prefer to have clear constraints grounded in walking a fine line of making money without stepping too far. Find out what is a sensible level of business by asking similarly positioned services to give you a benchmark. For example we need our retail to be in the 50p to £1 spend per head region, host on average three events per week and attract 400-500 filming days per year.
Grow by all means but not at any cost.
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)
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.
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.
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
In the latest of our collaborative articles which address key issues facing the business community, Zak Mensah, Head of Transformation for the Culture team at Bristol City Council, shares his thoughts on what businesses need to do to avoid the pitfalls that can hamper the most well planned transformation projects.
Read over at Moon Consulting
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.
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?
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?”.