No museum or tourist attraction is complete without a commercial offering, but for a select few it can become a global phenomenon.

MoMA is the most obvious example in action: starting with its standalone Design Store in New York – designed by us in Lumsden – it has now opened other stores in Tokyo, Kyoto, Hong Kong and one in East Germany. on the way. The New York-based museum has also launched a series of retail spaces within Loft, one of Japan’s largest department stores, including Kyoto.

But there are others who have also begun to recognize the benefits of an international presence. People can make sure your museum is a stop every time they visit the country you’re based in and visit the gift shop while they’re there, but what if you could bring them some of that joy? Take the V&A: In 2020, the museum launched an art deco pop-up — The Grand Time Hotel — in Shanghai, where visitors could purchase cocktails and limited-edition merchandise.

People yearn to own something beautiful or historical and museums contain an abundance of these. In an increasingly connected world, the time has come for cultural institutions to bring this to a wider international audience. Elevating museum retail in this way is no easy task, but will be incredibly rewarding if done right. Here are the most important things to keep in mind for those ready to take it to the next level.

Understanding the museum brand
Successful museum stores are always those that aren’t just an afterthought. They reflect why people visit the museum, what it represents and understand what people really want to buy. Once it’s over, this experience can be enjoyed all over the world.

The first step is always to understand the aspirations of the museum. What element of the museum do you want to present to the global public? What will this say about the museum? Who is this for? How involved can curators be when it comes to checking and commissioning products in the store? What stories about the collection do you want to communicate with the merchandise?

I’ve seen internationally renowned museums or galleries where tourists flock, flounder when they open a concession elsewhere. Why would you go to a department store to buy a poster for an exhibition you didn’t go to? Or a fridge magnet representing a place you haven’t visited?

Bringing this brand to life
The MoMA is another perfect example: the store caters to art and design lovers as well as tourists. A tourist is looking for an item that says “I was there”, a design or art lover or enthusiast wants something that looks great and has been beautifully crafted. At MoMA, even the most touristy pieces are not only well-designed, but also made with purpose, connecting with the museum’s brand, values, and collection.

Any commercial offer must be strong, thoughtful and independent of the museum setting. Products should be iconic in themselves or should be intrinsically linked to the collection, so it’s like taking a piece from the museum in a way that people can appreciate – even if they haven’t visited the museum. Having museum curators involved in merchandising is a real plus here.

The center of any international retail operation must be this brand identity. Stand-alone stores will need to reflect this through the materials and color palettes used, so it’s all about taking a piece from the museum to a new destination. The MoMA brand never loses its ties to New York, but brings it to Japan, Hong Kong and Europe, while the V&A brings its authority and an extensive collection of couture and Art Deco products, for example.

Looking for new partnerships
Another tactic savvy museums are now getting into is launching brand partnerships. The National Gallery of England recently teamed up with Doc Marten to create a series of shoes featuring the work of Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh and Georges Seurat. American skate brand Vans has partnered with the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam to feature the artist’s masterpieces on its shoes, while watch brand Swatch previously launched a collection with the Louvre Museum , as well as with the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid. In 2021, the British Museum launched an ancient Egyptian-influenced eyeshadow palette with Chinese makeup brand Zeesea.

These tie-ups allow the museum to align its brand with products that capture the attention of a global market and allow the museum to target certain demographic groups. It works both ways, of course: brands need museum identity as much as the reverse, linking brands to high culture and history. Doc Martens and Van Gogh may seem like an unlikely duo, but his sunflowers look great on a DM boot – and it was a big hit for both parties.

What to pay attention to
Before diving in, any museum should be aware of the issues. There are operational logistics to run a retail business that is not physically connected to the museum and its visitors. From overhead and personnel costs to inventory control and deliveries, these need to be considered carefully.

The biggest challenge for every museum is to avoid the temptation to overdo it and undermine its reputation. Successful museums will be those that maintain the integrity of their brand.

It is crucial. For any cultural institution looking to globalize its retail brand, it must first really understand what it stands for, what its brand is. The original stores must be updated and kept in line with this philosophy. Only then can he make a leap into the world of global retail.


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