The changing face of retail at The Wallace Collection

Learn from the Wallace Collection how to take steps to improve your retail offering ensuring your products reflect your core audience. Anita Richardson, Head of Retail and Visitor Services reveals all.

I arrived at the Wallace Collection in 2006, having previously worked at The Design Museum, Madame Tussauds and The Victoria and Albert Museum. I already knew The Wallace, I was introduced by a school friend who had studied History of Art, but remembered it as a slightly old- fashioned establishment with an amazing collection of old masters and of course, The Laughing Cavalier. The Museum had changed considerably, however, the shop had not really kept pace. The shop fixtures were very old wooden structures which, I believe, were donated by a Trustee. There were tablecloths on the centre aisles and a layout which was very difficult to shop. Books and postcards were hidden in a dark alcove and the shop counter was too large and taking up valuable display space. The merchandise was disjointed, did not have an obvious connection to the Collection and there were too many bought-in products.

I instigated a very quick fix; moved and reduced the counter space, painted the fixtures and got rid of the tablecloths! The product took a little bit longer as sales needed analysis and thought was required into product development. Not afraid to use outside help, we hired a Retail Consultant to help with our transformation ( We came up with some themes from our most popular products that would appeal to our core audience:- Armour, Boulle, Boudoir, Eighteenth Century Dining, Cavalier and Venice. All of these areas were popular and had proven sales.

The Wallace Collection Shop before
The Wallace Collection Shop before

I then focused on forthcoming temporary Exhibitions which might have merchandise opportunities. In 2008 we were lucky to have an exhibition of Osbert Lancaster, a cartoonist who worked for The Daily Express, this provided us with scope to create some great products e.g. a calendar and Christmas cards. It was a winter exhibition so perfect for marketing Christmas presents and small gifts. Humour always sells!

The Wallace Collection was by now becoming increasingly popular, with more visitors through the doors and many evening events. In 2007 we had 277,000 visitors and by 2009 were heading towards 350,000. Therefore our cloakroom requirements changed and we needed to rethink the Front entrance, cloakroom and shop areas. This led to my involvement in a total refit of the shop. I would recommend this to anyone with a Retail role in the Visitor attraction/ Heritage sector as it gives you the opportunity to put your stamp on the shop area.

The plan was to reopen the shop and new cloakroom for Autumn 2009 to coincide with an exhibition by Damien Hirst. This required many hours of analysis of the sales, calculating spreadsheets, measuring fixtures and fittings, reviewing linear meters of product and considering which merchandise had been successful for us in the past. Although you might think you have plenty of time to do this, when lead times, discussions with merchandise committees and the Curators are taken into account, before you know it you are stocking out the shop with your new products.

We focused on our core products. 55% of our sales are from books, in particular, The Wallace Collection publications. We decided to have a wall of books, postcards and greeting cards were also strong sellers so they would occupy the opposite wall. We built on the success of our themes and created ranges to complement popular paintings and works of art. Our core customers are mainly female, aged 35 to 65 and fairly affluent; they are our main shoppers.

I wanted to keep a good range of price-points to appeal to all our customers; we have pencils at 50p through to a pearl necklace at £65.00. However, people will usually buy a few items at £10 each rather than making the bigger purchase. Most of our product is unique to us or developed using our images. We do not buy in any greeting cards or stationery. There are many companies willing to work to smaller minimums and who will also help with the design process (we work with various companies including Customworks, Cornflower and Wentworth Puzzles). I have kept our successful items, so continue to stock fridge magnets, tin plates and bookmarks. We keep things fresh by using details from different parts of the Collection, i.e. Arms and Armour or Gold Boxes. We have also tried more expensive product but with limited success. Jewellery works for us, along with scarves, at the higher price points. We are not afraid to try out ideas and take calculated risks. For instance, we have an umbrella that required a bigger commitment but has been very successful for us.We dress the shop for Christmas and encourage the visitor to spend. We capitalise on the seasons and any exhibitions we have to change displays and increase the footfall. Since our refit the sales have increased year on year. I hope that with continued focus the shop will continue to be successful and it is a source of enormous satisfaction for my team and me that any profits we make are re-invested in The Wallace Collection.