Bennington Museum Draws Visitors from Around the World to a Small Town in Vermont

by John Garvey

Jasen Frederickson has been working at Bennington Museum for five of its 165 years, but you can tell by talking with him that he feels deeply connected to it. I hadn’t heard of the museum until a couple of weeks ago, but reviewing the exhibits online and talking with Jasen—whose voice rings with enthusiasm when he talks about it—left me itching to visit the place.

“Growing up in this area, Bennington Museum has always been part of my life,” he tells me. Jasen, a Bennington native notes that he visited the museum on field trips as a kid and you can tell he liked it. His passion and initiative as the Visitor Center Coordinator has helped nearly double the store’s gross income in the last three years.

Quintessential New England Art

“We have 14 galleries in total and it ranges from the first settler all the way through midcentury modern, all connected to Bennington College,” Jasen tells me.

The largest collecting institution in the region, Bennington Museum “connects you with real objects, challenges you with intriguing ideas, and excites your imagination,” states the website. The museum has the largest collection of Grandma Moses paintings in the world as well as galleries devoted to Gilded Age art, pottery, Modernism and special exhibitions to boot.

Museum interior“Our goal is to always tell a story through various forms.”

“Something that’s very distinct about our museum is that we put objects as well as art together,” Jasen explains. “So an object is actually a piece of art. It’s not like things are just two-dimensional, which is how a lot of museums are when they’re just focused on art. We have historical objects in the same space—like a car with a Tiffany lamp as well as furniture and portraits and so forth.”

Pairing art with historical items as part of a storytelling focus is part of the secret sauce that makes a visit to the Bennington Museum so memorable. The Early Vermont Gallery, for instance, transports you into another era using trunks with furnishings and household items that early settlers would have arrived with.

Visitors from near and far

Asked what lights him up about his work at Bennington Museum, Jasen tells me that every day is different and exciting. A lot of things account for that, but none more than the visitors.

“It’s being able to meet people from across the country as well as globally,” Jasen says. “And everybody in the museum is excited and happy to see us, you know, they’re always happy.”

Summer is especially exciting here. Bennington Museum hosts author talks, two summer camps and other events including a gallery opening just the other day. Here’s something especially impressive Jasen told me:

“Two years ago I got heavy into analyzing our zip code data. We had 15 countries (not including Canada because I consider them our neighbor) and every single state represented in our visitor numbers. In little Bennington, Vermont.”
Vermont trees and hills“I have never worked a single day of retail outside of this job.”

Jasen spent 14 years in hotel management before joining Bennington Museum and eventually taking over most of its retail management.

“RCS has been instrumental in assisting me in understanding how retail management works,” he tells me. “Given that I have an unlimited support contract, I use it a lot for just silly questions and also desperate needs. Having that is a great help.

“Everybody within the RCS team is just so happy to be able to help and guide, you know, in the learning side of it and not just pressing issues.”
Jasen has brought the store online as well since taking over the gift shop three years ago. RCS helped him navigate that challenge.

“I did not want to manage two separate sets of inventory because that’s just craziness. … I have about 1600 SKUs and right now we have about 400 SKUs online. So we’re a good way there.

“Having an option that was 100 percent integrated was a key factor. And so RCS helped me create that using Modern Retail as an integrator and Shopify as a platform. And so basically that’s what our web store runs on.”

Counterpoint also helps Bennington Museum manage its entire operating budget. Every dollar of income, including grant funding, memberships, donations, and other revenue, goes through the system. Jasen describes Counterpoint as “a one-stop-shop for a museum,” with the minor qualification that it doesn’t include CRM specific to membership and member services. However, RCS does partner with some great companies that can provide these types of services, check out all the awesome partners.

You can’t argue with numbers–especially when they scream Success!

In the last three years, Bennington Museum has seen 45 percent year-over-year growth in visitor numbers. In the same time period, the store’s gross income has increased from $68 thousand to $124 thousand. Not bad for someone with no retail experience, right?

“You don’t see those increases in a typical retail environment,” Jasen acknowledges. “So I’ve made all my decisions based upon historical things that worked and didn’t work. If I didn’t have RCS to walk me through that and help me with it, those numbers wouldn’t have been able to increase to what we have now.”

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