The Museum of Ice Cream is an exercise in Instagram furor. It is also something that struggling retailers can learn from. The brainchild of Maryellis Bunn, the 26-year old Parsons graduate and former design consultant for Facebook, the Museum is a pop-up exhibit, of sorts, complete with a room with walls fully covered with pink saltwater taffy, a mint-themed “grow room” (complete with real mint plants, a key ingredient for mint-chocolate-chip ice cream, of course), a Neapolitan ice-cream sandwich-inspired swing set, etc. Selfies are encouraged and ice cream is offered all around.
The venture got its start in New York’s Meatpacking District in the summer of 2016. In under a week, the “unnervingly millennial” Bunn, as New York Magazine put it – and her business partner, Manish Vora, a former Citibank investment banker (both of whom have since signed with talent mega-agency WME to expand their brand) – sold 30,000 tickets. Meanwhile, the waiting list topped 200,000 people.
A year later, the first batch of tickets for its San Francisco edition sold out in 18 minutes. In just six months, that outpost – which is located in an old bank vault – has attracted 600,000 visitors and recently announced a 3-month extension to its already-extended stay. San Francisco marks the latest stop in the #MuseumOfIceCream’s national tour, which has already included New York, Miami and Los Angeles, and has seen well over 1 million visitors eager to shell out $38 for a ticket to the overly-Instagrammable immersive experience.
As for the Museum of Ice Cream hashtag, that has been used upwards of 150,000 times.
This is the kind of hype – and free publicity – that brands dream of, and of course, there is more to the Museum’s eye-popping aesthetics and interactive options, such as the endless cream samples and the Insta-famous “Sprinkle Pool.” There is a thriving retail component to this experience-centric “museum.” Take note brands that are suffering from lagging foot traffic.
As recently noted by Retail Dive, the Museum’s merch, “from ice cream cone earrings to pale pink sweatshirts, is exclusive and one of the many draws for visitors.” Under the watch of Trina Chan, the Museum’s Head of Retail, the “it” exhibition is doing more than selling tickets, it is bringing in revenue thanks to its in-demand merch – from t-shirts and sunglasses to pins and earrings. And depending on which outpost you visit, there are collabs. For instance, Miami-based jewelry brand Miansai teamed up with the Museum for an exclusive offering of classic Miansai pieces but with creamy pink accents.
In addition to the experience of the individual set ups, themselves, which are different in each location (and in the case of San Francisco has been modified in light of the recent 3-mont extension to include 3 more rooms), Chan told Retail Dive that her “personal take on what experiential retail is 80 percent customer service, it's 15 percent product and then 5 percent add ons." That means creating a meaningful engagement between staff and attendees.
“The staff is encouraged to have meaningful conversations with customers, rather than just a quick sell,” Retail Dive reveals of the Museum. “We want to hear about each person's experience — what their favorite rooms were, which treats tasted the best, and of course gather any points that we need to improve on,” Chan says.
(This is not terribly unlike Zara’s in-store strategy of eliciting and documenting consumers’ feedback and preferences in terms of individual garments and accessories in each of its brick-and-mortar stores and reporting those findings up the chain so that stores may be stocked most appropriately).
So, what is to come for the Museum of Ice Cream, you ask? A quick search of the trademark applications that are currently pending with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office provides quite a bit of insight into what is to come. In addition to 7 pending applications for Museum of Ice Cream for use on “Amusement centers”, liquor, and hair accessories, Bunn and Vora’s 1 AND 8, Inc. currently has 13 pending trademark application for the term “Sprinkle Pool” for use on everything from ice cream, itself, and candy, to cosmetics and apparel.
Other pending trademark applications include one for the term “Piñata” for use in connection with ice cream, “Melted” (that application covers “Beverages made from milk”), and last but not least: One that claims rights in “the color light pink as applied to a building in connection with entertainment services, namely, provision of physical environments in which users can interact for recreational, leisure or entertainment purposes.”
Did I not mention that the exterior of at least a couple of the museum’s locations have been washed in #BrightPinkPaint?