By Karen Appold

There are many reasons why visitors buy gifts for someone else when traveling. They may want to get something for a loved one who couldn’t make the trip. Or, they want to buy something for someone who is helping out while they’re away, such as a pet or house sitter. Even though they may not have intended to buy a gift for a certain person, a visitor may be tempted to do so if they know someone would love a certain item. Another reason might be to buy a gift for someone who has a birthday or another special occasion coming up.

Museum Shop Associate Kellie Strawley of The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park, Fla., photographed with Modgy vases and glass ornaments. Modgy gifts are perfect as they are modestly priced, lightweight and packaged flat, according to the museum’s manager of retail operations.

So what gift items are selling best at museums these days? Ava Maxwell, manager of retail operations at The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park, Fla., has found that Modgy vases and Modgy lumizu are perfect gifts because they are modestly priced, lightweight, and are packaged flat. They expand when water is poured into the vessel. They are beautifully designed from the large collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany works in the museum. 

Umbrellas reproducing some of Tiffany’s most treasured works always awe Maxwell’s customers. Eye-catching and bold in color and pattern, the custom umbrellas produced by The Product of Design, MP Barcelona, Raincapers, La Selva Designs, and Galleria Enterprises come in collapsible and stick forms. “They are easy to carry or pack in a suitcase or tote bag, are well priced, and are often a necessity during a sudden Florida shower,” she said.

Theresa Danneffel, retail store manager and buyer at the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Mich. On the job since August, 2020, she had turned over about 60 percent of the 800-square-foot store.

Boxed notes and notecard folios with gorgeous Tiffany images compete in sales with Maxwell’s vast assortment of small, four-inch round glass ornaments with details of Tiffany windows in the Morse’s collection. The notecard sets are by U.S.-based Museum Store Products and the notecard folios are made by Bekking & Blitz Uitgevers in the Netherlands. 

Small glass ornaments created by U.S.-based Museum Masterworks can be used year-round by either hanging them in front of a window or as a holiday ornament on a tree. They are packaged well with a descriptive text pertaining to the work of art and artist inside a small acetate covered box, Maxwell said.

Name-dropped sweatshirts at the Gilmore Car Museum. Guests like souvenir logo apparel they can wear to car shows, according to the retail store
manager and buyer.

For Theresa Danneffel, retail store manager and buyer at the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Mich., ScandiCal’s street signs with names are popular with guests because they are personalized. “We feature our cars on the signs to make them unique to the museum,” she said. “Our older generation of guests like to get gifts for their children and grandchildren, and these make a great little gift at an affordable price point.”

Custom-designed T-shirts by Out of Hand Graphics and Black Metal Apparel also fly off the shelves, Danneffel said. “Guests want something different with a car design on it to wear to their next car show,” Danneffel said. 

Danneffel has also had great success with Magnets by Charles Products, Kalan, and Desperate Enterprises over the past year. “People still want a small souvenir to take home and put on their refrigerator, or in our case, probably out in their car shop on a tool box,” she said. The shop sells custom magnets featuring its buildings or logo on them with cars sprinkled in. It also carries magnets with name brand logos such as Ford, Chevy, and Cadillac.

Magnets displayed on a car door at the Gilmore Car Museum. The store has had great success with magnets by Charles Products, Kalan, and Desperate Enterprises over the past year.

Sara Turner, gift shop manager at Taliesin Preservation in Spring Green, Wis., the home, studio, school, and 800-acre estate of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, said that Taliesin T-shirts by American Needle sell well because they are wearable souvenirs. Throws with designs featuring famous art glass pieces by Wright are colorful conversation pieces and a fun souvenir. Coasters, designed after Wright’s art glass designs are a fun, decorative gift. 

At Graceland, the Home of Elvis Presley in Memphis, Tenn., Laurie Williams, director of merchandising, said Elvis name mugs are hot sellers. They feature an artwork design of Graceland and Elvis imagery. The “Elvis Presley’s Graceland: The Official Guidebook Hardcover Edition,” a collectible book filled with images of Graceland and Elvis, is also popular. The book tells the story of Elvis’ life and career in addition to giving readers an extensive tour of Graceland, its history, and its accompanying exhibits and attractions. Elvis Presley TCB Gold Sunglasses also fly off the shelves. They are replicas of Elvis’ iconic sunglasses.

Stocking Tips 

So how can gift buyers put their best foot forward in choosing gift merchandise that will knock guests’ socks off? “Knowing where your customers come from and their reasons for visiting your shop can help guide a buyer in selecting merchandise that will sell,” Maxwell said. “After they have toured the galleries and enter the shop, visitors are often looking for something to take home a memento of their experience. With transportability in mind, gift pieces must also represent the museum’s collection.”

Turner chooses merchandise that is relevant to the Wright estate. “The most popular sellers are things that help to tell the story of what they learned while visiting Taliesin,” she said. 

For Williams, it’s important to offer exclusive products that can only be purchased at Graceland. Merchandise features designs depicting Graceland’s images and icons. Offering a range of price points that appeal to everyone also works well. The campus operates eight retail outlets on its campus, which total approximately 18,000 square feet. Each retail outlet includes an assortment of themed products specific to its location.

Car books and apparel at the Gilmore Car Museum. More recently added ladies apparel is selling well for the store, according to the retail store manager and buyer.

Helping Customers

Staff at the Morse Museum Shop are very familiar and knowledgeable with both the museum’s collection and the shop’s merchandise. When a customer is looking for a gift, staff ask some questions about the recipient. Is it for a special occasion? The shop offers complimentary gift wrap using paper designed from Tiffany’s wisteria windows. “A gift from the Morse is a beauty before it’s unwrapped to reveal its contents,” Maxwell said.

When looking to help customers find the right gift, Danneffel asks guests who they are shopping for, how old they are, and if they have a favorite car. From there, she can help them pick out the perfect gift.

Changes in Merchandise 

Over the last two years, museum shops have experienced some changes, most notably due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Maxwell’s 1,600-square-foot shop has added face coverings and hand sanitizer merchandise. These items are custom pieces bearing images of Tiffany’s works of art. “We have increased our stock of custom puzzles and have slightly decreased quantities of personal accessories such as jewelry, scarves, and shawls, due to the temporary restrictions of handling items during the pandemic,” Maxwell said.

Employee Kelsey photographed at a Gilmore Car Museum mobile store. Custom-designed T-shirts by Out of Hand Graphics and Black Metal Apparel sell well for the operation.

Although Danneffel just started her job at the museum in August 2020, she has turned over about 60 percent of the 800-square-foot store. “I brought in less expensive items, souvenir items, and newer items that will appeal to all ages,” she said. “We had a lot of higher-end items previously, which we still have, but I wanted to make sure that there was a price point for everyone. We’ve also added a lot more kid-friendly items for parents and grandparents to buy for that age group. We didn’t have much in ladies apparel either, so I added more which already has been proven to sell very well.”

Merchandise at Turner’s 1,700-square-foot shop has changed to better incorporate local artists in the Driftless region and share their mission. “We’re growing our relationships with local artisans and craftspeople and featuring beautiful handcrafted items such as pottery and exclusive artwork inspired by the beauty of the Driftless and Taliesin,” she said. “Many items are exclusive to our shop.”

Ava Maxwell, manager of retail operations at The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art. Umbrellas reproducing some of Tiffany’s most treasured works always awe Maxwell’s customers, she said.