Increasing Jewelry and Home Décor Sales at Art Museum Shops

By Karen Appold

When looking to increase sales of jewelry and home décor at art museum shops, take some tips from other shopkeepers such as what sells well. Barbara Dunn, museum store manager, The Vero Beach Museum of Art, Vero Beach, Fla., said her top jewelry sellers are necklaces by LPL Creations. This Florida-based jewelry artist creates 18-carat gold plate handmade pieces and freshwater pearls, which makes the price point affordable.
Because Sea Lily Jewelry is made from piano wire jewelry, it is unique and a conversation starter, Dunn said. Necklaces sell better than earrings and bracelets at the 690-square-foot shop.
Rings from RS Covenant feature designs that are suitable for all ages and are incredible imitation pieces, Dunn said. “The pieces are so good that many patrons like them for show, but also to travel with because they don’t have to worry about loss or theft,” she said.
Julie Steiner, senior director of admissions and retail operations at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia Pa., is seeing the strongest jewelry sales among her least expensive lines, particularly lightweight laser cut wood and bamboo earrings by Green Tree jewelry. The latter has the added benefit of being made in the United States, which has proved to be an important consideration with all of the supply chain disruptions of the past year.

Museum Gift Shops offer an array of jewelry.

In second place are pleated fabric necklaces from Alexandra Tsoukala in Greece. “Again, lightweight and inexpensive materials are the key,” Steiner said.
Chacho Herman, associate director of earned income, The San Diego Museum of Art at Balboa Park in California, said Sheri Liebert necklaces are top sellers. This local San Diego designer makes high-end pieces ranging from $250 to $750. “Her pieces tend to be one-of-a-kind items, which is a strong selling point,” he said. “Since reopening, we’ve found that visitors are more willing to support local San Diego designers. Her popularity can also be attributed to her frequent trunk shows at the gift shop, so guests recognize her name.” 
Another good seller is KJK Jewelry bracelets and earrings. “The story behind Kathrine Kornblaus’s (KJK) jewelry is fun,” Herman said. “People love hearing that she was eager to work with me to develop a cohesive and beautiful collection that reflected exhibitions’ themes. Priced between $45 and $150, her items are not inexpensive, but can be considered affordable.” 
Rings by Alexandra Scarlet, another local designer, also fly off the shelves. Again, this is because customers are excited to buy local merchandise. Her rings are modern designs, using semi-precious materials, and the price is right in the sweet spot of $125 to $175 per ring, Herman said. 
Cheryl Tuttle, director of finance and operations at the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa, said her top jewelry seller is Iris de la Torre brooches made by a Mexican artist living in the United Kingdom. The brooches are made from recyclable acrylic inspired by traditional Mexican folk arts and crafts. They are available in a wide variety of colors and styles.

Top-Selling Home Décor
At the San Diego Art Museum gift shop, contemporary Tibetan vases from Art Floral Trading are a best-seller. “From diminutive single bud vases to large bouquet pieces, this line is a consistent good seller,” Herman said.
Vasa tabletop décor by Los Angeles-based artist Vasa Mihich also does well. His multi-colored tabletop home décor pieces are made from laminated acrylic. “His pieces spark whimsy and broadcast color, both of which appeal to customers,” Herman said. “And when we tell customers that he’s a Southern California artist, of course they’re even more likely to be supportive and purchase a piece.” Prices range from $300 to $750 per item. 
Unique wall clocks from Clever Clocks are also popular. “The approach is artistic with inspiration from artists as varied as MC Escher to Russian constructivists,” Herman said. “People looking for a unique way to tell time without looking at their phones find that these wall clocks suit their need.”
The gift shop at The Vero Beach Museum of Art does well with merchandise from C&F Enterprise, particularly dish towels with beautiful prints and fun quotes or sayings. Fabric placemats made of quality material available in bright colorful prints are also good sellers, Dunn said.
Homefire Rugs are another constant best-seller. “Customers love the bright colored prints and patterns, and the fact that they’re washable,” Dunn said.
Two’s Company’s home items also sell well. “With so many new and different products coming in, it’s hard to say what works best for us,” Dunn said.
Pillows are all the rage for Steiner. “We’ve seen a great increase in a wide variety of styles because people are spending more time at home and refreshing and revamping their home décor,” she said. “Pillows are cozy and comfortable and provide an easy way to update your look and bring in a bit of color and art.”
Among Tuttle’s best-sellers are Gurgle Pots—which are unique, colorful, fish-shaped water pots that produce a delightful gurgling sound. Guests frequently purchase them to use as a pitcher or vase. The 2,000-square-foot shop garners around $250,000 annually.

Discovering Interesting Jewelry
Finding new jewelry is not always easy. “Price is a big factor as well as style,” Dunn said. “We like finding jewelry designers at the Marts, Trendz shows, and by asking other stores and museums what they stock. That way you can see and feel the jewelry and ensure the quality of products before making an investment.”
Steiner looks for jewelry makers with an interesting story or a local or mission-related connection to her museum. She also looks for novel designs.
Herman is always on the lookout for new jewelry. He asks jewelers whom he respects if they have any recommendations and he gets ideas from Instagram. He also finds new jewelers at gift shows. Due to current travel restrictions, he has to depend on word-of-mouth and social media for now. 
The Des Moines Art Museum’s buyer frequently attends gift markets and finds items on Faire, especially during the pandemic. One newer method that has worked well for her has been to contact a vendor individually if she sees something interesting in her travels and asking if they would be willing to sell wholesale, Tuttle said.

Choosing New Home Décor
It’s always challenging to find items that you think customers might purchase, especially when you have a small store and many of your customers are members, said Dunn, who tends to reach out to industry groups like the Museum Store Association (MSA) or other museum store managers for new ideas.
Dunn advised constantly refreshing shelves with new items, but also offering things at multiple price points. “As a museum store, we find items relating to the current exhibition or collection sell well such as exhibition catalogues, art books, and items showcasing the main artworks on view,” she said.
Buyers for the Barnes Museum’s 1,100-square-foot gift shop have done a variety of virtual trade shows and virtual showroom appointments; however it’s quite difficult to see the quality and style of products through a screen, said Steiner, who looks forward to buying in-person again soon.
The best way for Herman to find home décor for his 1,100-square-foot shop is by attending trade shows. Due to current travel restrictions, he is taking advantage of online shows and visiting the new MSA marketplace, which offers many new and unique products.

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