Everyone knows by now that at the beginning of the year we made the decision to move our long-standing, albeit somewhat physically removed, museum store to the main lobby of our building. Many factors influenced this decision, and while it has been met with mixed feelings from the public, we have seen a noticeable boost in merchandise sales since the move.

Feeling bolstered by this positive development, and already seeing representations of our building on everything from logos, to business card templates, to electrical boxes, we wanted to undertake a little bit of building-inspired merchandising. Our goal is to make a connection in people’s minds between us as an institution and the iconic building we call home.

Currently our extremely talented in-house designer, Katherine, is working on graphics for hats, magnets, key-chains, mugs, and two styles of shirts. Intrigued by the process, I asked her a couple of questions.

Shannon: Not being a store manager, were you intimidated by the prospect of the new merchandising?

Katherine: No, I like designing shirts – it’s fun! The ordering process is more intimidating because you have to find a printer who can deliver what you need, and you might be thinking of something really cool or innovative that they can’t accommodate. For example, one of our new shirt designs has the graphic printed in an unconventional location, so I had to find a printer that could make that happen.

Shannon: How did you pick items to sell? 

Katherine: I got lots of input from our admissions and sales staff. They know best what visitors are asking for and what they’ll buy. They also know what works best for us, and what has been less successful in the past. In the final stages of choosing what to actually take on, I gave lots of consideration to the size and weight of items, since so many visitors are traveling and have to pack everything to take home. Of course, I also had to consider quantities and price point for us, and what that would translate into as the price for customers – bulk buying is not always the best option! (laughs)

Shannon: What’s the general process – how do you actually go about getting this stuff into the store, especially if you’re not in the business of firing up a kiln or hopping on a sewing machine? 

Katherine: You start off by brainstorming what you’d really like to sell and researching what similar establishments are carrying. You check out what styles and designs they’re selling the most of, and what products those are on. When you have your own designs created, you find a printer with “blanks” on hand that fit your vision. After you get their specs, you send them your files and give them quantity numbers.

Shannon: How do you make sure you don’t get stuck with a bunch of stuff that doesn’t sell? How do you “test the waters?”

Katherine: I think “What would I buy?” I don’t collect knick-knacks or souvenirs, so I wanted to design things that would appeal to me if I was visiting a museum. Since our space is limited, the things we’re designing have to be strategically chosen and designed well, so they don’t sit around for a long time. We did some public polls at the admissions desk, and the feedback we got showed that everyone has different taste, so a little variety is important, but we have to be careful not to stretch ourselves too thin, either.

Shannon: If you could design and sell anything, and cost wasn’t an issue, what would it be?

Katherine: I have two options:

1) I am currently on the board of AIGA San Diego, a professional association for designers, and right now we’re working on an exciting new exhibit called Bowhaus. 50 artists, designers, sculptors, architects, and woodworkers will have the opportunity to design and build one-of-kind doghouses which will be sold at a public auction at the conclusion of the exhibit. Proceeds will benefit AIGA youth art outreach programming and Paws’itive Teams, a non-profit organization providing service dogs for persons with disabilities. 

This week I was chosen as a contributing artist. My dog house concept is based off of the Museum of Man’s California Building and features the iconic dome, tower, and blue entry doors. I am calling my dog house “Man’s Best Friend.” After this event, I would love to make a Museum of Man dog house kit to be sold in our museum store. 

2) An umbrella with our dome printed on it, like completely wrapped around. I just think the concept is so cool. It’s always very rewarding when you find some piece of simple merchandise, that you can transform and give a completely custom feel.