In 2000 I participated in a committee charged with revamping gift shops throughout the 61 historic sites and museums operated by the Ohio Historical Society. One of things that the committee focused on was that in the consumer oriented culture of the United States, people had begun to associate the quality of their museum visit with what they had purchased in the gift shop. What they took home from the museum directly effected what they thought about the museum and what they told others about their museum experience.
In 1999, the American Association of Museums published an article that exactly explained what our committee was responding to: many museums put too much "focus on collections and exhibitions and overlook the possibility that visitors may also seek contemplative space; a sociable encounter; a distinctive shopping experience; or a place where a family can spend quality time together."
In 2000, another author concluded that: "Just marketing a museum isn't good enough any more. With increased competition among museums as culture destinations, each must distinguish itself from the others. That's branding, and all good marketers are doing it." The gift shop became the place to "brand" the museum.
Today, it should be clear to anyone who visits a successful museum that the gift shop is an important part of the experience. "The primary role of a gift shop in a museum setting is to generate financial support for, and to promote the mission of, the sponsoring institution," says Paulette Brown.
This idea of "brand" and "mission" are a key to the success of a museum shop. We are working hard to get our gift shop up and running by the annual membership meeting in October so that members can leave with our "brand" and hopefully they will help us with our "mission" by buying more of our "brand" to give to their friends.