What can museums learn from institutions that aren’t museums? A few posts ago I posed this question and looked at the similarities and differences between museum exhibitions and grocery store displays. This past week, I ventured from New York to New England on a road trip that took me to Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. While in Freeport, ME, I stumbled upon the L.L. Bean Flagship Store and was surprised at how much of an attraction the company has built. It seemed like the Disney of outdoor wear with a store open 24 hours a day, cafe, restaurant, outlet center, active programming schedule, and host of other opportunities to spend time (and money). What can museums learn from the cooperate world? Check it out:
Visitor Experience: The L.L. Bean Store is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in the town of Freeport, ME. They have made themselves a tourist destination and cater to the masses. Public restrooms are available to browsers and customers alike – you just have to wind your way around 3 floors of merchandise to get to them! A cafe and restaurant are conveniently located on the campus, which boasts greeters at every door who can direct you to the department of your choosing.
Exhibitions: If you build it, they will come. Moose are a big thing in the Maine area, and in every corner of the store there seemed to be another interpretive panel and display integrated into racks of clothing. I observed groups of family visitors reading the panels and interacting with the dioramas. Was this the best “museum” display I’ve ever seen? No. Did the space draw new audiences into the L.L. Bean Store that may have not wandered much past the lobby? Yes.
Amenities: Tired after a long day of shopping? Check out the restaurant across the street. Bored of dragging around mom’s shopping bags in the stroller? Check out the amazing array of free workshops, lessons, and outdoor discovery camps offered during the peak season. The L.L. Bean cooperation has narrowed in on several types of visitors that make their way to Freeport and has incorporated programming to suit all types of shoppers, adventures, travelers, and passive walker-byers!
So what can museums learn from the cooperate world? Do your research and know your audience. L.L. Bean provides services (other than selling products) so that it will meet the needs of its customers. In turn, it sells more of its product. Seriously – you should see the bright yellow rain boots I bought. The store is not a museum, but it has turned itself into a museum-like experience using exhibitions, programming, and impeccable service to please its visitors and keep them coming back. If stores are channeling a museum model, don’t you think that museums can start to channeling models set by businesses all over the country? This starts with market research – know your audience and know what they want to get out of visitation to your site. Make your museum unforgettable, whether that’s with exhibits, workshops, friendly staff, or impeccable bathrooms. What can you do to make your institution a destination worth visiting again and again?