Extend Your Merchandising Wingspan
Go, Go Gadget Arms: Extend Your Merchandising Wingspan
Jan. 24, 2006
By Abny Santicola, associate editor, FundRaising Success
Winterthur Museum & Country Estate, located in Delaware, sits on acreage settled and lived on by the du Pont family since the early 1800s. In the early 20th century, Henry Francis du Pont had a house -- later named Winterthur -- built to resemble 18th- and 19th-century European country houses. Decorating the house's interior to match this time period, du Pont began to amass a collection of rare antiques and Americana, giving the home and estate as a whole an otherworldly air. Recognizing this and Winterthur's value as an anchor to a time past, du Pont turned the estate into a museum in 1951.
Today the museum serves as an educational tool, acquainting visitors with decorative arts made and used in America between 1640 and 1860, and also boasts a 60-acre garden and a library of American art and material culture.
What does this have to do with merchandising, you wonder?
One of Winterthur's main focuses in its marketing efforts is selling things related to the museum, such as books on decorative arts and gardening, home furnishings, gifts, jewelry and plants at its on-site retail stores. Winterthur also has a Licensed Products Department, which works with licensees (various outside retailers) who "reproduce, adapt or interpret designs from the museum, garden and library collections" bearing the Winterthur trademark, sell them in their stores and pay royalties to the museum. Most of the products are home furnishings.
While the additional exposure gained by having its products sold by licensees generates funds and increases the museum's visibility, Cathy Maxwell, general manager of the museum's licensed products department, says one of the challenges that comes with such a program is that you give up a level of control of the trademark/brand, and a bit of the museum's destiny.
To make a program like this work, Maxwell says, it's important, first off, to select companies wisely -- researching them before you do business to ensure that they're able to develop and provide a quality product. It's also important that the company has a presence in the marketplace and can be aggressive at marketing your products.
Marketing revenues have accounted for less than 5 percent of the museum's annual budget over the last 10 years, but for an organization with a fiscal budget this year of about $24 million, that's not pennies. The tangible money accrued for the museum from marketing efforts pales in comparison to the funds generated by things like membership and gifts, grants from corporations and private individuals, tours, special events, exhibitions, conferences, and its endowment. But, Maxwell stresses, there's an intangible value, however hard to calculate, derived from product promotion.
A key component that makes Winterthur's merchandising efforts, which have been going strong since 1981, successful is the support of the museum's board of trustees and senior managers, Maxwell says. She also adds that it's important that museum staff are educated on the products they're developing. Just slapping its trademark on merchandise is the antithesis of what this organization is about.
"Every product that bears the Winterthur trademark has historical copy developed for it by a team of marketing assistants who work with museum professionals to assure accuracy in background detail and provenance of each design," Maxwell says. "The Winterthur Prototype Review Committee, made up of curators, conservators, librarians, garden curators and marketing professionals, evaluates every product for quality and adherence to product specifications. ... Only after the committee's approval can the trademark be used on a product and the product placed into commerce."
Prior to the Web, the museum merchandised mostly through direct mail, such as catalogs, special mailings and "product-driven press kits sent to targeted trade and consumer editors," Maxwell says. Today, the museum has a Web site (www.winterthurgifts.com) devoted exclusively to the sale of products, and 26 of its 28 licensees have a Web presence, some selling directly to the consumer while others include online catalogs.
Maxwell says integrating the licensees' efforts with the Winterthur Web presence has been challenging, but changes to the museum's "various Web presences are in the works and should provide positive and exciting results."
"We are in the development phase of an online presence and hope to be up and streaming in 2006, providing a visual directory of all licensed products to consumer and trade constituencies alike," she adds.
All in all, Maxwell stresses that Winterthur's merchandising efforts are successful at marketing for the museum. To show the power of this effort, she uses the example of boxes of note cards it sells with images of Americana on the front, the Winterthur logo on the back and a note on the inside about where the image comes from. In terms of points of contact, Maxwell explains, it's a marketing effort that reaches not only the person who purchases the cards, but also the eight to 10 people who receive them. A similar, viral-marketing effect takes hold when owners of Winterthur's reproduced home furnishings share with friends and family the stories associated with those items.
As for words of merchandising advice, Maxwell says: "Be consistent and regular in merchandising efforts and in building brand awareness. Stick to the game plan. For Winterthur, the bottom line is excellence and will continue to be."
Cathy Maxwell can be reached via http://www.winterthur.org