“Always saddle your own horse,” says Pam Minick, taking me on a tour of the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Forth Worth, Tex. Minick, an inductee herself for her team roping and barrel racing championships, offers practical advice for the true cowgirl — and other women, a metaphor for “take control of your life.” Being a cowgirl can be a state of mind, she says, for an independent woman.
After the tour, Minick, Ms. Rodeo America 1973 (a slender blond who doesn't look nearly old enough to have won that honor back then) brings me to the gift shop, where we spend an hour perusing everything from earrings made from old western china to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's book, “Lazy B,” about her life as a cowgirl growing up on an Arizona ranch.
Minick, a national TV rodeo commentator, is married to Billy Minick, who runs the legendary honky-tonk Billy Bob's Texas nightclub, which, by the way, has a gift shop with the usual novelties. You can also buy an original Saco De Toro “Bullie,” an actual bull scrotum.
I resisted the latter keepsake, but at the Cowgirl Museum I bought a beautiful tooled leather purse and earrings I'll probably never wear with cut-outs of horse heads adorned with rhinestones. They seemed like a good souvenir at the time. Once home, I threw them in the box with the other jewelry I never wear.
Museum gift shops are becoming big business. Not just within the confines of those hallowed halls, but at malls and airport terminals around the world. The Museum Store Association says about 6 percent of its 1,800 member institutions operate stores off premises. And the trend is continuing.
Museums get increased exposure and a wider audience for their products. Landlords can gain interesting new tenants, though it's not clear how profitable the stores are since most museums are nonprofit organizations. The association said member stores' net sales range from less than $5,000 to more than $17 million with average net sales of $415,074 a year. The stores range in size from less than 350 square feet to 1,600 square feet or more. Off-site stores are a lot closer to the general retail model, with success depending on location, product mix, effective marketing and productivity.
The Cowgirl Hall of Fame, while not ready to open a mall store, is considering selling some products, including T-shirts and mugs, wholesale. Most museums recognize the importance of increased contributions from gift shops, which is why they're looking at mall and wholesale possibilities.
Fort Worth is awash with museum stores. The city has 14 museums, five of which are major institutions. They include the Sid Richardson Collection of Western Art, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and the Kimbell Art Museum. At their gift shops, you can buy everything from puzzles of famous western art to mugs and branded caps.
Fort Worth is a mixture of an old cowpoke town that every year hosts the livestock show and rodeo (at which one of the city's leading businessman Ed Bass presented me with an authentic cowboy hat) and a cultural eden. Drive two-and-a-half miles from the old stockyard and enter the Cultural District.
Perhaps soon, you'll only need to drive to the local mall to buy products from Fort Worth museums.