Museum and Botanical Garden Gift Shops
Selling More Apparel and Accessories

By Karen Appold

Apparel has become one of the top three selling sales departments for The Preservation Society of Newport County, Newport, R.I. So how did this category rise to such success? Laura Murphy, operations manager/buyer, said staff have made many efforts to increase clothing sales, such as displaying apparel in one location at a store. “Our goal is not just to sell one item of clothing, but to upsell to customers to increase the number of items per sale,” she said. One way to do this is for staff to create attractive ensembles, such as placing a scarf with a jacket and matching hat.

The Preservation Society of Newport County Sales Associate Corky Buckley photographed with apparel. The society sells a scarf with Oscar Wilde quotes to accompany an exhibition.

Each of the society’s six stores has its own theme. Because Rosecliff, one of Newport’s mansions, has an exhibition titled, “Bohemian Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement and Oscar Wilde’s Newport,” the shop sells a scarf featuring Oscar Wilde quotes. Staff members wear it and talk it up in the shop.

The society’s 1,000-square-foot downtown Newport store, located right on Newport Harbor, has a nautical theme and is its smallest store. Scarves featuring a Newport navigational map, created by a local vendor, sell well. The scarf is front and center along with Newport-lifestyle themed products.

A display at Discovery Place Science in Charlotte, N.C. The store director is a proponent of having staff wear store apparel.

Every three years, the society hosts an event called “Coaching Weekend,” in which antique horse-drawn coaches come to Newport. “It is like stepping back in time, when these mansions were built in the 19th century,” Murphy said. Women riding in the coaches wore great, luxurious hats. Its 2,000-square-foot store at The Breakers, its largest shop, has a horse theme and great hats, with signage to make the connection. “We want every woman to want one to wear to a summer afternoon tea.”

Store Manager Maria Goldberg of The Preservation Society of Newport County. Upselling apparel and accessories is a goal for the store.

Jenny Muck, store director, Discovery Place Science, Charlotte, N.C., is also a proponent of having staff wear store apparel. “Team members wear the shop’s T-shirts to promote them,” she said. “We add scarves and hats as temperatures allow. Guests often notice our shirts, and then staff show them where they are located in the store.”

Furthermore, Muck displays merchandise by theme or as a story, so employees can suggest similar items that may interest them. When the weather is cooler, a display featuring warmer accessories such as beanies, gloves and scarves is positioned at the store’s front.

Karen Windley, sales associate, Maria Goldberg, store manager, Karen Trombly, sales associate, and Laura Murphy, buyer/operations manager, posing wearing hats. Apparel has become one of the top three selling departments for The Preservation Society of Newport County, Newport, R.I.

According to Kathleen Cody Guy, gift shop manager, Atlanta Botanical Garden, Atlanta, Ga., T-shirts are prominently displayed on the 1,350-square-foot gift shop’s wall of branded merchandise. “Most customers seem to seek out the full range of souvenir items and then decide which type of product best fits their interest,” she said.

Scarves and socks are displayed in the shop’s “women’s” area. Sometimes scarves are also displayed in other areas if they can add dimension and texture to a themed display, Guy said.

Because the attraction is located in a warm state, Mark Jerrett, general retail manager, Mounts Botanical Garden of Palm Beach County, West Palm Beach, Fla., said the gift shop sells lightweight apparel and accessories made of silk, cotton, polyester or blends. Apparel is typically branded and features garden critters such as butterflies, hummingbirds and dragonflies or floral prints. It is displayed both on an endcap and on mannequins.

Employing Customer Service Skills
The Preservation Society of Newport County staff encourage customers to try on merchandise and see how it looks in a mirror. “Once a customer sees how great it looks on them, they cannot resist the purchase,” Murphy said.
Muck’s staff engages guests on the sales floor and asks what they can help them find. If a guest is looking at a specific T-shirt, staff members will mention if it’s part of its two for $30 value program, or if there is a headband or pin that coordinates with it.

Dinosaur toys at Discovery Place Science. The store director displays merchandise by theme or as a story.

Staff are prepared to help customers with questions regarding size, as well as open rolled shirts for their review and cheerfully restock them if needed. “We also take scarves off displays for guests to closely examine them and check drawers for other styles if a customer is interested,” Guy said.

Additionally, Guy said when sales associates are well-versed in the shop’s offerings, they can engage a customer by suggesting other items similar to the one they are interested in that they may not have noticed. “They do this in a gentle way, which can be especially helpful if a customer is looking for a gift,” she said.

Volunteers at Mounts Botanical Garden shop are knowledgeable about products—they know which ones have natural fibers and which ones are blends and how to wear them. They are also great at adding on to a sale with accessories such as earrings, bracelets or a necklace, Jerrett says. The shop, under 500 square feet, had $45,000 in sales last year and this year to date it has garnered more than $100,000.

Kate Corneille, sales associate, The Preservation Society of Newport County. The society’s 1,000-square-foot downtown Newport outlet has a nautical theme and is its smallest store.

Mindy Johnson, director of guest services, Frazier History Museum, Louisville, Ky., said staff greet each customer and suggestively sell hot products. “We also listen to customers and offer suggestions based on individual needs,” she says.

Other Advice
Murphy encourages sales staff to give advice to customers on how to build an outfit. “We offer assistance in finding the right size jacket,” she said. “We ask guests if they need a scarf or hat for a specific event, and encourage them to try it on. We work with them to find the one they are comfortable in. All of this personalizes the sale.”

At Discovery Place Science’s 2,482-square-foot gift shop, staff try to merchandise apparel and accessories in unique and fun ways. Mannequins are used on feature tables so guests can visualize what the items would look like when worn. For its newest science humor line of pins and patches, staff dressed a mannequin in jeans and a “nerd” T-shirt, added a denim jacket and a “Science Made Me Do It” hat, and put pins and patches all over it for an eye-catching display.

The Preservation Society of Newport County best-selling accessory item is scarves. “They are an easy addition to a wardrobe, are simple to pack and can be worn year-round,” Murphy said. The shops carry a wide selection from sheers to woolen ones with beaded work for a cool evening. The scarves are unique and cannot be found elsewhere. With its six stores and website, the society’s annual sales are around $3.8 million.

Currently, the best-seller at the Discovery Place Science’s gift shop is its metallic stars scarves. Stars are outlined in metallic thread, which makes them stand out. They are merchandised on its front feature table and on a mannequin as guests enter, so they get a lot of attention.

Laura Murphy, buyer/operations manager, The Preservation Society of Newport County. Each of the society’s six stores has its own theme.

Guy said jewelry is the shop’s best-selling accessory. Works are offered by a wide range of primarily American artists; unique items can be found in every price range. Jewelry with a botanical aspect sells well, but higher-end, artistic pieces are sought by travelers and locals alike who desire one-of-a-kind and noteworthy items.

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