15 Essential Tips for Selling to Museum Stores

Interested in wholesaling your handmade work to museum shops? Marketing art and craft to museums is different than selling to traditional galleries and stores.


Fifteen tips which are critical to your success:

1. Make sure that your artwork is a good fit. They must make sense for the museum and connect with the collection. Find this out on their website, and by visiting the museum in person if possible. The products that are sold in the museum store reflect the experience that visitors have had in viewing the collections, and current show. Does your line fit into this parameter?

2.  Connect with the collection.  Make sure each art product you market has a hangtag or collateral information that connects the item to the museum collection.  Use those words that any museum curator wants to hear…  inspired by an era or place, victorian, nouveau, modern, historic, and deco, just to name a few.

3. Exhibitions and programming at museums change. This means that your product may work well for the museum store for some exhibitions, but not all. This could also mean a short-term relationship with the museum store, even for just the length of one exhibition. Pursuing museum accounts with this understanding will help you plan and follow through accordingly.

4. Prepare a targeted pitch for your product line to the museum store buyer prepared with knowledge of their mission, permanent collection, upcoming exhibitions and programming. Create marketing materials for your artwork that addresses this. Why should they buy your work? Why should they buy from you?

5. Your website content is important. If the museum store market makes sense for your art studio line, make it a point to include biographical and product marketing information online that targets these buyers.

6. Can you produce in sufficient quantities and quickly enough to fill museum shop orders? Lead times can be shortened given exhibition schedules, and some orders can be large. Is your art studio in a position to ship complete orders, on time?

7. Become familiar with process.  Know the internal structure of the museum store buying process. Larger art institutions and museums may have multiple buyers, who specialize in certain product areas, or are buying for particular shops at the museum. Find out who the decision maker is by calling the museum, or checking their website for the appropriate contact.

8. Look on the museum’s website for information about submitting products for consideration. Sometimes this is available, making it easy for you to contact the buyer about your product line. Make sure you follow instructions to the letter to ensure your work is seen.

9. Join the clubs. Consider becoming a member of the American Association of Museums and the Museum Store Association, and sign up for their newsletters. It not only helps you to become more familiar with how to market your work to this unique industry.

10. Understand museum buying cycles. When is the museum crowded with visitors, when is the slow season? Buyers are always looking forward to future exhibitions and what merchandise will be stocked in their stores to complement them. They may be buying a year in advance. Timing your pitch correctly will enhance your chances of success.

11. Prepare your order sheet thoughtfully. Marketing materials should include photos of your line, wholesale pricing, minimum orders, your production capabilities and information about yourself as an artist.

12. Educate yourself on the average price points of products in the museum stores you wish to approach. What are the demographics of their visitors? Can they easily afford your products? Is the store’s stock seasonal, or targeting primarily school groups? Make sure it makes sense for you to approach the buyer to pitch your line.

13. Promote that your work is “Made in America.” This is a selling point which addresses the demand of consumers who consider it important to support American artists and keeping jobs and money in this country. It adds value to your work which will be considered in the buyer’s decision making process.

14. Museum stores work on a Net 30 basis, and expect quantity discounts. Take this into consideration when planning to approach them.

15. Shipping orders complete and on-time is crucial. Make sure you follow directions as to shipping dates, reference purchase order numbers, and know where merchandise must be shipped. This may be a separate receiving department in a warehouse.

Market your artwork or fine crafts to museum store buyers with foreknowledge of the industry and a plan will enhance your prospects of making sales and keeping ongoing business relationships.

Many thanks to the Buyers Market of American Craft discussion panel presentation, “Market Your Work to Museum Stores,” with museum store buyers Chris DerDerian, Betsy Poole, Deborah Palazzo, Susan Sisk, Erin Kelley, Julia Mosley, and moderated by Michael Higdon, buyer for the National Building Museum. Panelists represented the Smithsonian Institution, U.S. Capitol Visitor CenterThe Foundation for the National Archives, Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and Fallingwater Museum. 

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  1. These tips were very well-thought out to maximize the relationship between artist and museum store. Now we can all be Artists With a Strategy. Thanks for preparing them!

  2. Great reminders, specially the aspect of programming changes. Just because your work fits today, doesn’t mean that’s true for tomorrow.


  3. Very useful thanks (wish I had read this yesterday before taking our cards to the James Joyce museum).

  4. Practical and right on point, thanks.

  5. I have heard there are a few key Sales organizations that specialize in marketing to the museum shop trade. How to find these organizations when you are just starting out? It’s very hard to get to first base!

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