Museums as toy distribution channels? Gone are the stodgy days of dusty tables in basements; there is a large, flashy and growing market in museum gift shops. TDmonthly Magazine touched base with over 25 manufacturers who sell to this source, finding the ins and outs to this growing and lucrative specialty market.
Greg Zesinger, marketing director for Action Products, a company that has sold toys in museums for over 30 years, said that museum gift shops offer different opportunities than bigger, conventional toy stores. “The product has to match the type of museum you’re working with. Most museums have pretty strict guidelines for their gift shops, and they make sure the products relate directly to what they’re exhibiting.”
Steve Hart, project manager of Front Porch Classics, said toys and games that are “culturally rich are a big plus in selling to museums.” Also, “museums buy craftsmanship.”
Carolyn Forsman, president and designer of Conversation Piece Jewelry, specializes in working with museums, becoming aware of the market when she first sold to MoMA. She finds the people working in them civilized, intelligent, helpful and noncompetitive. “They will talk a vendor up; they’re not out to get’cha.” One buyer will call another to get product ideas, especially when they share traveling exhibits. Because museums are driven by their exhibits, Forsman explains, “You must think, ‘How can I help them?’”
A plus in museums’ favor is they are extremely stable buyers. They are not subject to the same ebbs, radical shifts and Chapter 11’s as the rest of the toy industry because their funding is from other more solid footings. Also, because they usually schedule their exhibits years in advance, a manufacturer can make long-term business plans.
As Jason Wells, marketing and publicity director of Abrams Books explained, “They know well ahead of time. Because of that, we can partner with them, expert to expert, creating products that compliment their mission.”
Turnover in museum stores is a constant, too. They are a repeat market, like tourism: there are new consumers every day, from out-of-town visitors to school classes (different every year).
The one across-the-board tip from the manufacturers TDmonthly talked to: no hard sell. As Forsman made clear: “They all know each other. They want to do good. So, it’s about taking the time and building your rep.”
TDmonthly Magazine will go in-depth in future articles about this rising distribution channel.