All posts by Zak Mensah

About Zak Mensah

I'm Head of Transformation for Bristol Culture, the best Bristol City Council Service. We welcome over 1 Million visitors each year. My job is to help the service and you make connections and DO the work that needs doing.

Pushing the needle: a shop in our front hall

Photo of front hall shop on day 1

Each year until at least 2022 we need to grow our retail revenue and profitability by 10% or greater. At Bristol Museum & Art Gallery our retail is typical of the sector in converting about 10% of visitors into shoppers. For us, this will not be enough to do what we need to do. But we must hit our target.

To work out if you have any hope of making your target you need to do a little maths:

  • Divide the total number of visitors by the expected number of shoppers to get your conversion rate e.g 10%
  • Take your expected Average Transaction Value (ATV) and multiple this by your conversion rate to get a baseline amount of sales revenue you expect to generate – remember sales are not profit
  • Take your baseline expected sales and divide by the expected visitor numbers to get your Spend Per Head (SPH)

The problem should be obvious…. an average is basically an assumption that IF A + B + C happens then success!

It is good to have a working set of data, averages and assumptions to use as a baseline but we can’t run our retail on assumptions and need to try everything to maximise sales. I know that to have more confidence in our programme we need to keep poking the box to try to positively increase our conversion and thus sales.

The best way to get the conversion up to is raise awareness to the visitor that we have a shop offer and try to affect behaviour. Our front hall has 100% of our visitors passing through.

During the summer holiday we’re testing the idea that more exposure should increase sales by introducing a small shop located in the front hall. This project will inform our future plans for growing the retail business which may include moving the location of the main shop.

The outline business case is below:

  1. A visually attractive retail offer located in the front hall will undoubtedly increase awareness of a retail offer in the Museum. Although improvements have been made to the entrance of the main shop including introducing a large bookstand and jewellery stand, some visitors still miss the retail offer. This project will hopefully encourage impulse buying and whilst signposting to the main shop either now or for Christmas.
  2. As an example we used a pop up shop for Chinese New Year which increased sales by 18% on the previous year 2015-2016. This also avoided the big queues in the shop and congestion in the entrance and exit in the shop which aids the visitor experience
  3. There will be almost no investment costs, as we already have the equipment needed to set up a small shop.
  4. Staff costs will be met using the current budget by moving the second retail assistant to the front hall. The downside of course will be less ability to deal with deliveries and some customers who want assistance.
  5. The shop in the front hall will be open daily during summer school holidays 24th July -1st September and be mobile enough to be able to close and move for any evening events.
  6. The space taken for the shop would measure 9ft (2.7 mtrs) by 11ft (3.4 mtrs).
  7. Meeting the potential for growth – going on last year’s August figs of ATV at £6.18 an increase of 5% conversion could lead to an increase £10,000.
  8. Hopefully a secondary benefit is that this will reduce queue pressure on the main shop
  9. Use the opportunity to engage the visitors about our cafe and exhibition Pliosaurus

So how did we do the first week?

Sales in the front hall accounted for 13% of sales. The first two days we were finding our feet so i’d expect this to increase in the coming week. At this stage we can’t tell if this has simply taken a share of the main shop’s sales or increased sales overall… we need to compare a few data sources and experiment with the product range…. watch this space!

Retail: Improving the buying process

Customers buy what they can pick from the shop floor or online catalogue. Not what is “on its way from a warehouse” or “gathering dust” on our stockroom shelf. Stock not available to the customer is therefore waste. A waste of committed money (cash flow concern which  immediately introduces risk) and a waste of space in our shop stockroom which in turns reduces overall shop floor space and slows staff looking for product.

Because “Buying” is the most critical of the four pillars of retail, it seems the sensible place to focus our attention on to gain further improvement. I’m going to challenge ourselves to use 2017-18 to maximise our buying by refining the workflow.    This will be a collaboration between me, retail, user research and our digital team.

At present we do our buying like any other retailer, we order by supplier when we feel or notice heavy product depletion. Furthermore at any one time we’re “holding” about 10% of our annual total stockholding in our stockroom and another 10% on the shop floor. If it is on the stockroom shelf it has zero chance of being sold.  In addition to having a costly quantity of product hanging around, the space used to hold our product could potentially be converted into public shop floor space. For example at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery there is a false wall which conceals our stockroom which is about 8m in length with a depth of 1.4m. If we’re about to improve how we buy, it is possible to push this wall back further and gain that space as public floor space that could be used for 2-4 nesting tables worth £10,000+. The challenge of course is that would reduce our total stockroom space by 2/3.

If we can nail our understanding of what to buy and when, this would unlock the potential to carry out operation “shrink the stockroom”. Order exactly what we need when we need it and not before.

The upsides would be:

  •  Move to a new process of ordering “just in time”
  • reduce stockroom size thus freeing up new floor space for customers worth £10,000+
  • reduce “out of stock” scenario by improving the buying process
  • order by need not assumption
  • reduce ordering time across the full year
  • reduce owning costly stock that may not sell which also takes up space
  • maximise available money set aside for buying products that sell
  • Reduce time lost by staff who have to hunt around a big stockroom
  • Heavily reduce human interaction which will reduce our cost per transaction and help us move to being digital by default
  • Allow retail manager to focus on other tasks

 

Challenge: Improving the buying process for retail

Customers buy what they can pick from the shop floor or online catalogue. Not what is “on its way from a warehouse” or gathering dust on our stockroom shelf. Stock not available to the customer is therefore waste. A waste of committed money (cash flow concerns and thus an introduction of risk) and a waste of space in our shop stockroom which in turns reduces overall shop floor space and slows staff looking for product.

Because “Buying” is the most critical of the four pillars of retail, it seems the sensible place to work on iterating to gain further improvement. I’m going to challenge ourselves to use 2017 to maximise our buying workflow.

At present we do our buying like any other retailer, we order by supplier when we feel or notice heavy product depletion. Furthermore we “hold” about 1/4 of our stockholding in our stockroom. If it is on the stockroom shelf it has zero chance of being sold. In addition to having a costly quantity of product hanging around, the space used to hold our product could potentially be converted into public shop floor space. For example at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery there is a false wall which conceals our stockroom which is about 8m in length with a depth of 1.4m. If we’re about to improve how we buy, it is possible to push this wall back further and gain that space as public floor space that could be used for 2-4 nesting tables worth £10,000+. The challenge of course is that would reduce our total stockroom space by 2/3.

If we can increase our understanding of what to buy and when this would unlock the potential to carry out operation “shrink the stockroom”.

The upsides would be:

  • move to a new process of ordering “just in time”
  • reduce stockroom size thus freeing up new floor space for customers worth £10,000+
  • reduce “out of stock” scenario by improving the buying process
  • order by need not assumption
  • reduce ordering time across the full year
  • reduce owning costly stock that may not sell which also takes up space
  • maximise available money set aside for buying products that sell
  • reduce time lost by staff who have to hunt around a big stockroom

The first major step forward has been moving to a fully digital ordering process to minimise the steps required for that particular part of the system. We use a combination of Shopify reporting and google spreadsheets to do this. Our internal system for generating purchase orders currently prevents us using automated ordering directly to the supplier.

I think the next step will be to understand the rhythm of how often each product is sold AND what minimum order size suppliers can accept.

Myself and the team will write about our successes and challenges throughout the year. It won’t be easy but nothing worth doing is!

Our shopify setup for running POS in our gift shops

Across our museums and archive we sell in-person using an iPad and Shopify app. I thought i’d share with you our Shopify point of sale (POS) set up seeing as we’ve now rolled it out to five locations. The setup cost is just under £1000 for the kit and running costs are approx £3000 per year for the Shopify software, reporting and add-ons. It is worth mentioning that originally we used the basic Shopify package which is $29 per month (plus $40 for retail pos) but once we started to get serious with our retail management we upgraded to the “Advanced Shopify” which is approx £2800 per year.

Hardware

We purchased our kit from POS hardware as a bundle for approx £455 (ex vat) excluding the iPad and card reader. Most small merchants skip on getting the receipt printer and prefer to use “email this receipt”.

  • iPad air 2 – £379
  • Bluetooth barcode reader
  • Standard till drawer
  • Receipt printer
  • Contactless Credit/debit card reader with Applepay (approx £20 per month rental)
  • iPad secure stand
  • Router to avoid public wifi and maintain security – fitted by IT services

Software

A good thing about shopify is that you can scale up your options with the click of a button to install new features. Once you pay you can also install it on as many devices as you like which is great for pop-up shops.

Shopify retail $40 per month and is essential for turning your standard shopify account into a retail POS
Advanced Shopify £2800 per year which we use for the “reporting” features
– App – ALT Text FREE used to automatically generate image ALT text for our online shop
– App – Low Stock Alert FREE sends us an email warning which products are running low
– App – Profiteer $15 per month used to add the cost of goods to all products so we can understand our profit
– App – SEO Doctor FREE used to improve our online shop
– App – Shopify Theme Tool which we use for our custom online shop theme

Top tips

Updating shopify or iOS. It normally takes about 45mins to update the app shopify AND update iOS so never do this during hte business day..also avoid Friday or weekends if you have IT support who work Mon-Fri

If possible it is worth having a second iPad in case the primary device falls over for any reason. I’d also suggest you upgrade the software and test it using the second device before unleashing the latest version on the primary device

Shopify has 24/7 support so when I hit a snag I normally use their live chat to help get it resolved

Transformation: Business as Usual

Transformation is made one day at a time. Ideas, mistakes, doing and refining. Ship early, ship often. There are no ribbon cutting moments just the quiet satisfaction that a tool or way things are done become normal and it’s seen as business as usual. I love this transformation.
To counteract my nervous energy on my Dublin to New York City flight I made a brief list of things we’ve introduced in the recent past.
We’ve introduced new roles including Head of Digital and user researchers. New as in never been seen in the service before. How cool is that?! We’ve pushed as many decisions out from management as possible to keep the responsibility with whomever has the direct expertise and to release the bottleneck of waiting for the four of us. Yes we can still override a preferred course of direction.
We’re getting digital tools (basecamp and trello, emu) into position as THE way we do business – freeing up meeting time and being transparent. We’re also chipping away at a culture of being a ‘cultural business’. And that’s just on the staff front. All things to be super proud of from those across the team. What I love though is how “normal” all this is now. Tools like Basecamp were seen as for the nerds like me back in 2014 in the team. Yet in 2016 I can see we now use it for project managing all exhibitions as a matter of course.

We’re cooking on gas using google drive now too as the spreadsheet sharing and linking data gets more critical eg for kpi work. Accurate information over live/ancient information.
The public are seeing some of this work through our ‘Pay What You Think’ approach to our own in-house programme. Tinkering with pricing and value.
Stroll into Bristol Museum & Art Gallery and you’re now greeted upon entry and asked if you’d like to donate without delay.
All of the above are super closely aligned to our core value of “excellence” by focusing on the needs of the user – staff or public. You may be asked on your visit about any number of our services and we use this to make our service better.
Long live business as usual.

A special welcome for every visitor at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery

Photo showing our new welcome area with the public at the desk

Image credit: Oliver Merchant

Post by Valerie Harland

If you have been at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery within the last week, you might have noticed that our street-level entrance lobby is now a much more welcoming place for our visitors.

Staff at a new Welcome Desk now greet everyone as they enter the museum. Visitors are asked if they’ve been to the museum before, if they’ve come for a general look around or for an exhibition, talk or particular gallery or artefact.

Welcome Desk staff state that there’s no general admission fee and that donations are welcome, adding any highlights or their own personal favourites from what’s on display.

The visitor map has been improved to more graphically show the layout of the museum and share some of the highlights in the galleries. Finally, visitors are asked if they would like to make a donation today to Bristol Museums Development Trust (the independent registered charity that raises funds for Bristol Museums and Archives).

To explain why we are asking for donations, the editorial on the reverse of the visitor map explains that behind the scenes curators, conservators, documentation professionals and a host of other specialist staff are working to care for the collections, create new displays and encourage people of all ages and interests to discover more.

Illustrated examples of how the £5 suggested donation could help are also provided in the visitor map, for example to conserve an artefact, examine minerals more closely, or conserve a painting.  The visitor map also outlines Bristol Museums’ sources of funds: this is approximately 40% from Bristol City Council, 30% from Arts Council England, and the remaining 30% coming from our shops, cafes, event hires, Friends groups, and fundraising from a variety of sources including visitors.

It is anticipated the new Welcome Desk will give passers-by more of an idea of what happens inside this Edwardian building, resulting in more people crossing the threshold. It should also significantly increase the donation per head (currently 7p per head at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery), thus bringing in much needed funds that will enable us to do more with our collections and thus improve the visitor experience.

The Welcome Desk is being trialled for four months, until the end of October. If you have any comments about the Welcome Desk project, please contact Valerie Harland at valerie.harland@bristol.gov.uk

Introducing exhibition entry gates

Photo of a visitor entering the exhibition through the barrier

Image of Jake Mensah walking successfully through the barrier

This week we installed an entry gate system to our exhibition gallery at M Shed just in time for the opening of Children’s TV. Our “exhibition” gallery is located on the top floor, far away from the ground floor reception and not naturally easy to stumble across for the average wandering visitor. The project scope was to reduce the overall cost of an exhibition to the service and encourage as many visitors as possible to purchase tickets in advance. We’ll then test the success of the project against three of our key performance indicators – customer satisfaction, cost per transaction, and digital take-up.

Against each KPI we aim to:

Customer satisfaction – We don’t want people to experience a notable difference between our old approach of buying from a member of staff at the entrance and them buying online/kiosk and then entering the exhibition via the gate. We expect teething issues around the “behaviour” of this new approach but not from the technology itself which should be robust. The outcome we need is for little to no complaints within the first two weeks or until we find solutions for the teething problems.

Reduce cost per transaction – a typical paid exhibition costs approximately £7,000 to staff the ticket station. By moving to a one off fee (plus annual service) we’ll save money within 12 months and then in year two this will return a large saving for this function.

Increase digital take-up – until now it wasn’t possible to buy exhibition tickets online or using your mobile device at the museum. This is a feature that the new system enables so we’ll spend the next 18 months actively encouraging the public to buy a ticket “digitally” as part of our move to being digital by default. An additional benefit of using our website to buy tickets is that hopefully a percentage of these visitors will discover other services and events we offer. I also do wonder if we need to get a self-service kiosk to reduce the impact on the reception.

Setting up the entry gates

The third party supplier obviously manufactured and installed the gates but there was still lots for our team to deal with. We needed input from a whole gang of people. Our operations duo worked on ensuring we had the correct physical location, power, security and fire systems integration. Via collective feedback our visitor assistants provided various customer journeys and likely pinch points. Our digital team then helped with the installation and software integration for buying tickets. Design and marketing then helped with messaging. Throughout I was charged with overseeing the project and site visits with the supplier.

The major components of the project are:

  • Physical barriers – two stainless steel coated gates with a bunch of sensors and glass doors
  • Software for the barrier
  • Web service to purchase tickets
  • Onsite EPOS to sell tickets and print which is currently located at main reception

Initial observations

I was onsite for the launch and saw the first 50 or so visitors use the entry gates. My initial observations were that the gates didn’t negatively slow or concern the visitor and having asked a number of them it wasn’t a big deal. However an obvious pinch-point is that the barcode scanner doesn’t always read the barcode, leaving the visitor struggling. My hunch at this point is that our paper tickets are too thin and bendy which means the barcode scanner fails to recognise the barcode. In the coming week we’ll need to investigate if it is the barcode or barcode scanner as the primary cause and find a fix.

When multiple visitors arrive at the barrier there can be some confusion about how “one at a time” actually works. I’m hopeful that clear messaging will iron this out.

A slight issue was that we couldn’t take online payments due to a gateway issue which we’ll have fixed Monday.

Overall I’m very happy with the introduction of the gates and once we deal with the aforementioned teething issues it should be on to the next location for these gates. This is one of those projects that can only really be tested once they go live with real visitors, and the team did a fantastic job!

The Hidden Museum app has shipped!

This week we quietly shipped/launched/released the Hidden Museum app on itunes.

You can read lots about how the project came about by reading the various blog posts on here with the tag “hidden museum“.

The reason we haven’t made a big splash about the launch comes down to one word BATTERIES. As the app has taken so long to get into the app store we are yet to get the chance to run around the building and check all the battery levels of the ibeacons. Thus the app is available but living by its moniker and being hidden from general view for a few days. If you do get a chance to play the game please do let me know what you thought by leaving a comment, tweeting @bristolmuseum or email.

On to the next projects to ship, CRM and alpha visitor giving.

Thanks to all the good folks who made the project a reality on our team, aardman and The University of Bristol. Finally to The Digital R&D Fund for supporting us, challenging us and helping us make a little dent in the world.

The Final report for The Hidden Museum project

We’re pleased AND relieved to share with you our final report on the Hidden Museum project. The project was 12 months of graft and a partnering up with Aardman Animations and the University of Bristol. We rolled our sleeves up with ibeacons, user research and working in a truly agile and remote manner.

We’ll have app publicly available very shortly and we’d love you to come along and give it a go.
Direct link to Report (PDF)

100 days of using Shopify POS tills

We’ve just passed our 100 day mark since the introduction of Shopify till system in our retail shops. In case you don’t intend on reading the whole post, i’ll tell you now that we’re still using Shopify and i think it’s safe to say it is a success.

In this post I want to cover us going live, what features we use at the moment and what our next steps are.

Choosing Shopify

Our previous system was never properly setup and as a team we didn’t take advantage of its potential. I could of stuck with it but I saw this as an opportunity to explore using the latest shopping cart technology from the web. I’m a big fan of popular tools that I’ve seen ‘scale’ regardless of the sector. I had heard about lots of arts/museum sector specific approaches which quite frankly scare me. As a sector we aren’t really all that ‘special’ when it comes to doing normal things like running a shop. So instead of looking at any of these potentially risky solutions where the market is small and we can get tied to one small supplier I just went straight to looking at what local shops and market stalls were using as i’m treating our retail as a small business so what better place to look. All of these were using web services via tablet or phone. Having attended a Shopify workshop back in June 2014 run by Keir Whitaker I felt that it had what the other systems had to offer so why not use this – no long spec document just a nose for good software and services.

Fast forward to launch

After an initial alpha use of Shopify using the free trial (tip: use the 7 day trial as your alpha test so you have no money to front) I felt happy to use Shopify with the public. Our fallback was to keep the old system plugged in and as we use a separate card reader, we could easily manually take orders with that and a calculator if we really got jammed up.

We decided to launch in early May at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. We decided to do one shop first and then if all went well we’d do live at M Shed, followed by our tills used by the exhibition team.

As Shopify is pretty user friendly we showed Helen how to add products, how to make a custom sale and how to cash up at the end of the day in less than 20mins. It turns out that Helen had never used an iPad before, let alone Shopify. But within minutes Helen was comfortable enough to plough on with only a little arm twisting from me.

Rather than add 100s of products to the inventory we decided to use the ‘custom sale’ option on the first day and then add any purchased products to the inventory retrospectively. As a word of advice, i think this approach makes the most sense instead of committing many hours to adding products to the Shopify inventory which you may or may not run with. Instead, add as you go.

On the first day I made sure that we had both Zahid and myself available. I spent the first ‘live’ hour down in the shop. Within an hour it was clear that I wasn’t needed. By the day of the first day Helen and Zahid knew way more than I did – in this type of case i’m glad to be made redundant!

After two days Helen asked us to remove the old system as she was very happy with how things were progressing. We have a small retail team of four part-time staff and a small bank of casual staff. Within 2-3 weeks I was getting staff thanking me for introducing the new system. In my previous two years I’ve never had such positive feedback. After the third week we also replaced our M Shed till too. On week six we also used this for our third till which is used to buy tickets for our exhibition (William Hogarth: Painter and Printmaker).

Helpful documentation and support

One of the things I love about modern day web services is that they normally offer good documentation and Shopify is no different. This not only helps us to learn about how to best use the service but saves any of us having to write lengthy support documentation. I’ve since used their live online chat a few times when i’ve got stuck and it’s 24/7. A service i’m sure many of the museum POS vendors can only dream of offering. You can ring, live chat, email or use the forums. All of which help staff when none of us digital types are around, which is the way it should be.

Mobile app for the win

I have a great retail team led by Helen Lewis. In theory I just need to know our current financial position. The mobile app lets me see live sales income for the last 90 days. This alone is a leap forward for POS and i get ‘POS envy’ now by all other retail managers whenever I show them. Furthermore I can see what product inventory level is is at anytime and i can scan barcodes to make sales if i really wanted to. I’m currently keeping an eye on our Hogarth mugs, scarfs, a book by Louise Brown and drinks. All new products that I like to track.

Reporting sales

To keep the cost down there a number of features which don’t come as standard and reporting is one of them. We have paid for the reporting features which we mostly use for splitting vat/non-vat and exhibition tickets at this point. In the next few months we will really get our head around what reports we want.

A few problems and issues

We’re very happy so far with our shopify service but there have been a few teething problems worth mentioning.

We hit our first major technical snag – till drawer says No!

Our exhibition till has a unique challenge compared to our retail shops. We have over 50 visitor assistants. For each day of the exhibition we may have any one or more of them on the till. This poses a few challenges, mainly around processes and training. Some people had no problems but others really struggled with the idea of an iPad for a till. Nothing too bad. But then it happened. I got a call to say that the exhibition till wasn’t working. I went down and sure enough it was working. False alarm right? Another call 30mins later. This time I could see the problem. Although we could use the Shopify app, the till cash drawer refused to open. Turn it off, turn it back on. Boom. Fixed…. so I thought. This kept happening, time after time. Anyway it turns out that although Shopify will run perfectly happily offline, the cash drawer NEEDS wifi to be triggered to open. A major problem that made lots of visitor assistants quite reluctant to use the till. The problem only occurred on one of the four tills. Zahid tracked down the issue to the router. Apparently there is a known issue with some routers – despite it working fine with the same router elsewhere. Zahid swapped out the router and the problem hasn’t come back. Luckily for us we could use the shop as a fallback till but this wasn’t the best customer service period.

Costs of goods isn’t standard

By default there isn’t a feature to include the ‘cost of goods – COGS’ which are essential for knowing the price you paid against the retail price and thus your profit margin. How did I miss that in the alpha! Luckily one of the reasons I chose Shopify was for its adaptability. Shopify has a useful feature to allow them or third parties to make apps for beefing up the default service. One of these, deepmine looks like it has COGS so we’ll be trialling this very soon.

Not many hints and tricks yet

I haven’t found much information about using Shopify POS as it is still quite new. This means that it hasn’t been super fast to find answers to some of our issues. One of the reasons i’m writing this is to increase that information pool. Oh and there is no public roadmap for what’s coming so follow the blog to stay in the loop

What’s coming next

Now that we’re comfortable with Shopify we’re starting to turn our attention to the next phase of work.

  • Trial deepmine app to get COGs and deep reporting
  • Setup better custom reports to help staff
  • Offer group workshops on basic training and reporting
  • Add inventory levels to all products
  • Add photos to all products
  • Explore email upsell and sales offers

Get in touch

I’ve had several chats with other museums who spotted by last blog post asking about Shopify. Please do get in touch by phone 0117 922 3571 or zak.mensah@bristol.gov.uk if you want me to help you with anything around our use of Shopify. We’ll also be happy to be paid consultants to set up your service if you need a proper hand.