The Success of the New Exhibit/Retail Hybrid

Topic: Culture Subtopic: General

Case Study

of an Exhibition

by Pixie Hearn

Published on August 13, 2012

  • Description and goals

    As in any industry, museum and visitor organizations must shift and change to follow the trends of the economy and the desires of the consumer. We are beginning to see innovations in museum and public education models created to entice and accommodate larger and more diverse audiences, and to generate revenue in new ways, circumventing the limitations of entrance fees and institutional underwriting. “Hybrids” that blend retail displays with educational exhibits can make high-quality, immersive and exciting exhibits available to the public with a very low barrier to entry. Two unique, recent examples opened in May 2012 in San Francisco to help mark the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge: Lands End Lookout, and the Golden Gate Bridge Pavilion. Our company, Cinnabar, collaborated closely with designer Jeremy Regenbogen of Macchiatto to produce these two environments for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the National Parks Service.

    The Lands End Lookout is a visitor’s center situated on Point Lobos at the main entrance to the California Coastal Trail at Lands End. The Lookout is a rich resource of information about the area, detailing its cultural and natural history and offering information about native and invasive species, as well as habitat restoration and protection. Hikers can find maps and personal advice about local hiking trails. Rather than house the retail in a separate, designated museum shop area, the Lookout was specifically designed as a hybrid – to maximize the education experience through entertaining and innovative displays interspersed with historic artifacts, while integrating sophisticated merchandising into the design of the built environment.

    The Golden Gate Bridge Pavilion, a visitor’s center located in the Golden Gate Bridge Toll Plaza, is another such hybrid. The venue is filled with Bridge-related merchandise while simultaneously offering detailed information and history on the design and construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. Much of the merchandise for sale expands upon the informational exhibits themselves, with literature, historic images, and everyday items that the visitors can incorporate into their daily lives.

  • Development process and challenges

    The benefits of this approach are multi-fold:

    • Low barrier to entry. With no entrance fee, the experience is more accessible to all visitors – to groups large and small, regardless of income bracket or family size. It also increases the likelihood of repeat visitation.
    • Economical use of the space. With intelligent space-utilization and sustainability, the multipurpose design of the location enables two distinct aspects of the institution to share the same space- a reduction of the physical footprint consistent with a growing movement towards awareness and consideration of environmental impact.
    • Cost savings. By utilizing the same space for retail and exhibits, the need to build a separate area for retail is eliminated.
    • Revenue stream. The integrated marketing approach provides the revenue that pays for free access, and contributes to funding for maintenance, upkeep and upgrading of exhibition displays and content.

    By integrating retail with the curatorial aspect of the space, the Visitor’s Center becomes an inviting hybrid – a comfortable place even for those who might be intimidated by, or less open to, a traditional museum experience. They are likely to linger longer in the hybrid environment than they might do in either a separate retail or separate exhibit area, which increases both the learning and the shopping potential. This thoughtful and considered approach to merchandising also enhances the interactive experience. Merchandise is carefully designed and selected to complement the exhibit content, and is located within the exhibit such that a relationship is created between the object being purchased and the informational content presented, giving the visitor the opportunity to take a part of the exhibit home with them. Furthermore, the items purchased and taken out of the exhibition area can work as a marketing tool for the organization, sparking conversations, working as a reference tool, and inspiring both new and return visits.

  • Lessons learned, mistakes we made (and what we did about them)

    Producing this hybrid environment successfully requires a much higher level of collaboration between all involved, from the owner, to the designer, to the fabricator, in every aspect of production. In addition to the usual issues of an interpretive environment, there are questions of merchandizing: stocking, volume and size relationships for both the merchandise and the displays, coordination with both content and look & feel of the design- all have to be smoothly integrated from the beginning. The success of Lands End Lookout and the Bridge Pavilion was enabled by this necessary level of communication and collaboration between the Conservancy, the National Parks Service, Macchiatto, and Cinnabar, throughout the entire process.

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