I understand the idea that “if it’s what you want, it’s worth paying for” but I come from a background (social and work) where "if you have to ask, you probably can't afford it" is more established as a concept.
So when one website after another for display cabinets give no indication of what even their off the peg range comes in at cost wise - I have no idea if I'm wasting my time and theirs by making inquiries. And as folks working in museums know, our time is an ever diminishing resource as roles are consolidated, and suddenly you have more on your plate!
I have looked over a lot of display cabinet websites recently. We’re looking for something pretty basic, not conservation grade etc, so a lot of cabinets fit what we need. Great! From all of that choice, I have to narrow down a list for a proposal, and here’s where it gets sticky.
Proposals need Prices
Often it’s clear that a cabinet comes in the right dimensions, is black, has locks, has lights, has shelves etc. The photo can tell me as much. So what is my next filter for inclusion in the proposal? The budget of course. I have a rough guide, but ultimately, we will pay a bit more if it’s really worth it - although that extension is capped as well. No matter how great the quality, how adaptable the design, how lasting the build - if it is out of our budget, I just can't shift on that - and nor can most museums folk in the current climate.
Because so many websites have no prices at all listed, and there are so many to choose from for this type of very standard cabinet design, I have to make snap decisions on who to contact – otherwise I could spend all day firing emails out to discover that they’re too expensive, or that the cabinet price is fine but delivery is astronomical… That wastes my time, wastes their time, and can often end up with my email suspiciously suddenly attached to sales mailing lists (naughty) or salespeople emailing or phoning me two or three further times to desperately chase the sale.
Posh websites, confusingly, do not posh prices make...
Probable price points can be sort of gauged, a bit, by the website design and quality of product photographs. Apart from when one suddenly finds a website that looks like screenshots of it should be in the Tate Modern, but whose prices start off at only £60 for a metal framed counter-top style cabinet… Or when one finds a family firm, with a website seemingly from the 90’s, whose prices seem to indicate that parts of the True Cross are included in the cabinet manufacturing process.
It appears that only a handful of shop fitting websites (yes, we sometimes use cabinets from retail resources rather than museum specific) have prices front and centre, as they often stock pre-built designs from other manufacturers, and are not the only retailer to stock that cabinet.
A little help may get a lot more business
If a cabinet company has off the peg designs, with a variety of extras and options, even a guide price would be helpful. If cabinets are bespoke and prices are negotiable, then give a starting price, sample, or ranges and state that it may differ depending on quantity ordered etc.
Browsers otherwise put off may then be surprised at how reasonable you are, and get in touch. Browsers uncertain about the costs, who would otherwise contact you, may realise that it's way out of their league, and not waste everyone's time with the cat and mouse game of sales rep and over taxed museum worker.
I appreciate that the aim is to attract a certain type of customer; the type who see a cabinet design and like it enough to be pulled in, have the chat, and pay what it’s worth: The exhibitions designer or procurement team who have the time, money and negotiating power to engage in discussion and debate. But it does make me wonder how many cabinet manufacturers with adaptable off the peg designs readily available are losing sales, because busy museum folk on highly restrictive budgets only have so much time for chasing basic guide prices.
Last month, a museum that has lost all of its council funding posted a recruitment advert seeking a museum assistant. The responsibilities of the job included helping visitors, conducting guided tours and demonstrating exhibits, assisting with the use of equipment, and security patrols of the museum.
The advert continued: “This varied role will also include working with reception, ticketing, shop/cafe sales, cashing-up, stock control, answering the telephone and relaying messages.”
The salary offered – for a role spanning almost every public-facing aspect of the museum’s work – was £15,917-£15,941 a year (or £7.65-£7.66 an hour). The museum is by no means the only offender, but the advert is an indication that some cash-strapped institutions may be asking more of their employees for less than ever before.
This snippet is taken from some very interesting reading on the matter, see the Museums Association's full article about the impact of wages and roles on museums staff here.
The Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle is a fantastic place, both in terms of content and interpretation - owing much of it's humour to it's founder, Cecil Williamson.
While researching images for signage at my current workplace, this image turned up from the Museum of Witchcraft blog here.
(It is no longer in public use, rather displayed in a corridor of their private library)
Although displaying an attitude you're unlikely to find advised in interpretation and exhibit labeling textbooks or courses, it sums up in a splendid way the conflict many of us may encounter in museums, and especially galleries staging controversial exhibitions - "If you thought it may be unsuitable for your children - WHY DID YOU BRING THEM IN HERE WITHOUT SCOPING IT OUT OR ASKING QUESTIONS FIRST?!!?"
Webcomic and occasional blog about the heritage sector.
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