our new museum

Museum Store Association – Atlanta 2016 Conference Blog

Head of Operations, Paul Griffiths, takes us through his recent visit to Atlanta, attending a rather prestigious conference…


The Museum Store Association supports and promotes the heritage retail business and, although mainly US based, they have members across the world, including the Mary Rose Museum! We joined the MSA in 2014 and since then we have been an active member, contributing a number of articles about our museum shop to the MSA quarterly journal.


In 2015, I was invited to the annual MSA Conference in Hartford, Connecticut to share with our overseas peers the journey that the Mary Rose Museum has been on, with particular emphasis on our shop. This conference was a great success for both the MSA and for us at the Mary Rose. We made lots of friends with fellow museums from across the world and shared our story with a great crowd.


Following the 2015 conference, I was delighted to be asked to join the MSA Education Advisory Group, working with the MSA board to develop the education programme offered both by the learning sessions at the annual conference and the year round certification programme which reviews and updates the knowledge standards which underpin the education programme. This work led to me being asked to attend the 2016 conference in Atlanta, chairing a discussion panel with Senior Museum Directors.  How could I refuse?


So, on the 14th April I set off on my 19 hour journey to Atlanta, which included a stopover in  Orlando This meant that for most of the journey I shared a plane with scores of excited kids off to see Mickey Mouse at Disney World – how do such small people make so much noise?!



Only in America…

Eventually I made it to Atlanta, and the Westin Peachtree Plaza, my hotel and the Conference venue.  A mix up at reception found me being given the wrong room, which meant that upon entering ‘my’ room on the 53rd floor I discovered a rather angry man already in there! After a quick return to reception I was given a room on the 43rd floor, although due to another mix-up I was awoken from my sleep at 1.30am by a man from reception saying they had no idea who I was!


Making new friends

Luckily everything was quickly sorted, and I returned to my bed as I had to be up early for the first conference learning session; an excursion to the ‘World of Coca-Cola’!  Over the course of our visit we were guided through various exhibits, including the actual vault holding the secret recipe, created in Atlanta in the 1800s.  The museum was very well presented, a good mix of mixed media with personal interaction with the staff – just like we try to do at the Mary Rose!


The afternoon saw us take a trip out of Downtown Atlanta into the suburbs to the visit the impressive Atlanta History Centre.  Here, I met with one of my fellow panellists – Paul Carriere, Executive Vice President – for the session I was chairing on Monday.


Paul took me on a tour, which included some tremendous exhibits including a fascinating ‘Atlanta in 50 objects’, featuring local icons ranging from Martin Luther King Jr, who was born and lived in Atlanta, to ‘Chick-A-Fil’ , a US fried chicken chain and Atlanta institution!

I also met Paul’s enthusiastic English secretary Susan, a Mary Rose fan who was full of ideas on why she sank!


After all this there was a trip back into town on the Marta (the Atlanta tube) as I had a date that evening with Duran Duran at the impressive Philips Arena and wow what an excellent show they put on with a hits packed 2 hours which had the American crowd eating out of their hands – a pretty good English export!


The conference began in earnest on Saturday morning with an opening key note speech by Laura Lott, the current CEO of the American Alliance of Museums (the US version of our Museums Association). This was followed by conference sessions exploring e-commerce and how to make it profitable, as well as the challenges of working with a millennial work force.


Saturday afternoon allowed time for touring the trade fair, meeting many suppliers both old and new. I also took the opportunity to visit Centennial Olympic park, which is a splendid place where Atlanta residents come together. Of course, I couldn’t miss the chance to sample an amazing cheese hot dog from one of the many delicious looking (and smelling) vendors!


For me Saturday night was one of the real highlights of the conference as we were hosted for networking and drinks at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum. This was a real privilege as we enjoyed the chance to walk around the beautiful grounds and explore the expertly curated museum.


Sunday saw more learning sessions on leadership and shop design before retiring to make my final preparations for the leadership panel. After a dinner meeting with my second co-panellist, Dave Pearson, Deputy Director at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon, I had an early night, ready for the big day on Monday.


I am delighted to say that the Senior Management Panel went extremely well, starting off with some of the questions I had prepared for the panel. We then took questions from the floor and over an hour and half period covered all aspects of how retail operations fit within museum goals and missions, what success looks like, outsourcing, areas for development for retail and also working with senior directors to achieve retail success.


After this there was just enough time to enjoy the closing keynote speaker which featured the Global Director for Retail Merchandising at Coca-Cola, as he talked us through their retail manifesto and the set up for their flagship store, opening in Orlando this summer.


Following lunch, it was time to pack and head back to the UK, bringing back a number of new ideas we’ll be implementing when we reopen the museum in Summer 2016 after our Phase 2 works.

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