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May 2004

Streamlining the NCAR Science Store

To remain open, the store must become self-sustaining by next fiscal year

RAP’s Inger Gallo has long relied on the NCAR Science Store as a place to buy the perfect item, ranging from rolled-up blankets for RAP visitors to a weather book for her father. “Since its beginning, the science store has been a real asset, both professionally and personally,” she says.

science store

Heidi Lewis (right) assists Unidata’s Joanne Graham at the FL2 satellite Science Store.

Unidata’s Jeff Weber agrees. “I find the store a great place to acquire weather- and science-related gifts for friends and family,” he says. “I enjoy sharing weather and science information, and the store makes this an easy and enjoyable experience.”

Such praise has come often from both staffers and Mesa Lab visitors ever since the NCAR Science Store first opened its doors in June 2000. But the store, whose start-up costs were supported by UCAR’s general fund, now faces an uncertain future with the organization facing tight budgets. The President’s Council has decided that the store needs to become self-sustaining by next fiscal year or it will be closed.

Accordingly, store supervisor Heidi Lewis (EO) is looking at both cutting costs and increasing sales. Her plan is to sharply reduce losses this year and make the store profitable in as short a time as possible. “We’re determined to keep the store open, since it provides such great opportunities to get NCAR’s message to students and the public,” Heidi explains.


Heidi’s key strategies to bolster the bottom line include:

• Setting store hours to correspond with the greatest number of visitors, which was tracked through sales data. The store is now open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, and will be open on weekends during the summer and the December holiday season. (Previously the store was open until 5 p.m., and on weekends year round.) Some staffers have had to be laid off.

• Strengthening the visibility of the store’s Web site (see On the Web). The goal is to generate more sales through the Internet, which has less overhead.

• Recruiting volunteers from staff and the public who would like to help with the science store and related educational activities.

• Working closely with administrators and program managers to develop special products for scientific projects and meetings. UCAR, NCAR, and UOP conference organizers have ordered items that were designed through the science store such as NSDL pens, COMET hats, and even GLOBE highlighters and yo-yos.

• Putting a greater emphasis on setting up satellite stores for conferences held at the Center Green auditorium or the Foothills Lab. Attendees at such conferences are eligible for the 10% discount that is always provided to UCAR and NCAR staffers. The store also manages a booth at major community events, such as the Boulder Creek Festival.

• Reminding staff about the many items sold by the science store, ranging from clothing and books to educational toys, videos, and even jewelry. Approximately one-third of the store’s sales are to employees, so their support is important. Heidi points out that items can be black bagged to other campuses and gift-wrapped at no charge.

Store graph

This graphic shows NCAR Science Store sales trends, such as slower business on weekends. Using this type of data, EO has determined how to save costs and cut back store hours without significantly sacrificing sales.

“A significant asset”

EO assistant director Susan Foster says it’s important for the store to remain open because of the many benefits it provides to the organization.

“We consider the science store to be a vital component of our education and outreach mission,” she says. “As with gift stores in museums, the educational products carried by our store offer an added value by enabling visitors to extend what they have learned while viewing exhibits and taking a tour.”

Store staffers play an important role by greeting visitors to the ML, answering questions about the exhibits and the institution, and managing the audio tour equipment.

“I’ve observed them on multiple occasions being ambassadors of UCAR to the public and doing it wonderfully,” says COMET’s Wendy Abshire. “They do a lot of intangible good for the organization. Just providing a warm personal face in the lobby when people walk through the doors is so important. I think it would be a terrible shame if the store went away.”

UCAR President Rick Anthes agrees. “Obviously, these
are difficult budget times,” he says. “But we’re all hoping the store can weather this period and continue to enhance our exhibit area.”

The science store also promotes and sells NCAR scientists’ books. ESIG’s Mickey Glantz says he’s received calls from people who’ve purchased his books through the store and learned that NCAR has a social science component.

For more information about the store or if you or someone you know would like to volunteer, contact Heidi Lewis (ext. 1181), or Annette Lampert (ext. 2592). Or you can call the store directly at 720-304-8670. •David Hosansky

On the Web:

The store’s Web site

Also in this issue...

Shielding the Pentagon

Wilmot “Bill” Hess

Cooling us off

Short Takes

Spring Fling

Mentoring Latina students

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