5 Things I’ve Learnt as a Retail Coordinator

On my last day at the Museum of Brands as Visitor Services Coordinator (which includes managing the retail aspect of the museum) I thought I’d reflect on my first time dipping my toes in retail management. And, importantly, make the most of my access to a SLR camera, that DEPTH. I’ve convinced myself I need to buy an SLR for this blog now. Or maybe an iPhone 7 plus will do… (I don’t need either)

It’s worth mentioning first, I’ve never before been a retail manager of any description, and probably wont be again. I enjoyed it a lot, I learnt a lot, but ultimately it’s not entirely for me. Seeing as I reflected on volunteer management, that I LOVE, in 5 points, here’s the same of things i’ve learnt as a retail coordinator. I’ve probably learnt more than 5 things, at least I hope I hope I have. But

  1. Suppliers can be a nightmare, and can also be so so lovely. As I said, I’ve never before been a retail manager of any description, so the world of pro-forma invoices was entirely new. Likewise, I was aware that trade discounts exist, but not how to negotiate them and set up accounts. Most companies are a breeze, and make the process as simple as possible for the customer, and some not. Reaching out to publishers directly to stock books, for example, difficult. Lot’s of suppliers, perhaps rightfully so, want payment before the stock is dispatched, which is fine unless your outstanding invoices are paid monthly. Heritage Books were my guardian angel in this, and I couldn’t recommend them more. As a small independent company, they basically run as the middle man between the museum and the publisher. But they also do so much more than that, they research books that would be suitable for your collection and audience, as well as sending samples of books your undecided on. Basically, if the shop needs a middle man, find a middle man. Try find one as brilliant as Heritage Books, you wont find better.
  2. My maths is terrible. I sort of knew this before. I’ve not used any form of maths since secondary school, through choice, and everything has a calculator these days so it’s easy to get lazy. Thinking about percentages and divisions again has certainly taught me a lot, mostly that numbers always have been my weak point. That said, learning again how to even think about percentages has taught me a lot. That feeling we all had in school of “I will NEVER use maths outside of the classroom”… its not true, unfortunately.
  3. Visual merchandising is everything. I guess perhaps I already knew that. Psychology of buying is something I was slightly aware of, of course it’s the premise behind the Museum of Brands itself. What I wasn’t aware of is just how integral it is, and how much of a balancing act. If the quantitiy stock on the shelves is too low, like with postcards from experience, they wont sell. Likewise, if the quantitiy stock on the shelves is too high, like with books from experience, they wont sell. I knew enough about making shelves look pretty, but there is so so much more to it than that. I have a new found respect for retail managers of big stores, museum related or not.
  4. Spend Per Visitor and Retail Conversions are different things. The average retail conversion in the museum and gallery sector in 2016 was 18%, and that basically means that 18% of visitors to a museum convert into retail buyers. Spend Per Visitor, on the other hand, means the average amount the overall visitor number spends, which is of course dragged down by non-buyers. Both are important, but I’ve learnt the value of contradicting, confusing, and complicated statistics! (Kind of)
  5. Basically, it’s unpredictable. There is an enormous amount of studies and advice on how to manage retail, both in and out of the museum sector, but ultimately customers are unpredictable. Advice that works one month might not work the next. Planning ahead is key, as well as being flexible.
  6. As a bonus number 6, because this is the most difficult, don’t stock things just because you personally like them. And likewise don’t not stock things just because you don’t personally like them. Shedding your subjectivity is nearly impossible, but worth the effort, I learnt this the hard way!

I’m aware this blog post is coming across as wholly negative. It’s not intended to be, it’s just a bit funnier that way. I tend to learn more from my own mistakes than from my own successes, and of course I don’t want to be read as arrogant! While retail management isn’t my forte, there is a lot I loved about it. Making shelves look pretty (which is not the professional way to describe it, I know), placing orders, and testing out new products has been a creative and exciting process.

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