The Mary Rose Museum has been active members of the Museum Store Association (MSA) since 2014 and the annual conference held by the MSA each year is an amazing gathering of Museum professionals specialising in the commercial aspects of museum, especially the ever present gift shop.
The invitation to attend the 2017 conference in Pittsburgh to talk about the Mary Rose relaunch and shop revolution was not to turn down. As we had worked so closely with CRE8 Ltd impartially Andy Logan it made sense for us to do a joint session focusing both on the Mary Rose and the best practise for shop design Andy has developed over the years.
So on 20th April this found Andy and I at Heathrow heading to Pittsburgh – first heading to New York, a great flight for me with 8 hours of catching up on work and recent unseen films but for Andy sat next to one of the world’s most talkative people who spent the journey ‘entertaining’ Andy with his life story of various encounters with A list celebrities!
Our second leg was not without adventure, on one of the smallest planes I have every flown on the captain started by telling us he was expecting dreadful turbulence, so much so that the air stewards would remain strapped for the journey! Luckily the flight passed with barely any turbulence, and we had fabulous views as we came into the Pittsburgh.
With the formal business of the conference starting on the Saturday, Friday gave us the chance to view the city. Starting early at the Heinz History Centre, which focused not only on H.J Heinz empire and his fascinating business ethics and leadership skills, but also explored the vibrant history of Pittsburgh especially in the field of sport where for a small city by American standards it has celebrated success in all major sports (think Leicester winning the premier league as a British comparator). The theme of sporting success in Pittsburgh takes up a whole floor of the history centre with a great variety of impressive interpretation method including a hands on have a go American Football touchdown pass experience which both Andy and I were rubbish at!
Sport them become the topic for the day – after the history centre we walked to Heinz Field, home to the Pittsburgh Steelers, where we joined tour of the stadium and museum enjoying the enthusiasm and knowledge of our volunteer guide Linda.
On early Saturday morning the conference kicked off in earnest with opening key note speaker Mike Tougias take us through the fascinating leadership and problem solving skills displayed by heroic efforts of the US coastguard in rescuing the crews of stricken ships – a subject we at the Mary Rose obviously feel strongly about!
Later fascinating sessions on retail store development and strategy ensured a note book full of new ideas for the Mary Rose. Especially of interest was the launch of Museum Store Sunday, which will be a worldwide event on 26th November to encourage the public to show their support for local museum shops by spending in them day, a huge wave of publicity is planned to support this initiative and I am sure we will be heavily involved.
On Saturday evening we were lucky enough to attend a reception at the Andy Warhol museum, the great American pop artist, an amazing chance to network with our peers assisted by background music exclusively of British 80’s pop music. I even got a chance to sit in a replica of Mr Warhol’s famous red sofa.
Which takes us to Sunday and time for our ‘15 minutes of fame’ (as Andy Warhol talked of – but in our case actually an hour!) with our talk to the conference. In it, we discussed the design of giftshop layouts, taking inspiration from other attractions, and how simple things like till location, queue systems and creating a ‘sense of place’, where the shop becomes almost part of the museum, can help boost profits, which support the work of the Mary Rose Trust.
I’m delighted to say it went really well with a packed hall of over 100 commercial museum professionals and lively questions after we had finished our main presentation, so a fabulous chance to show the Mary Rose as a world leading museum .
The final day allowed us to take an excellent session with Paul Hansey which explored leadership skills and our roles in improving our visitor’s experience – a fascinating and thought provoking session, after talking to Paul afterwards we hope he will come and visit us at the Mary Rose. After that we had just time for the closing key note from Training Guru Louis Roden before heading back to the airport for the long trip.
A fabulous conference and hope we can attend next year when MSA head to Washington DC.
Head of Operations, Mary Rose Museum