Throughout 2010, we spent some time looking at how our guests move through Prairietown
– which buildings they visit and in what order, and how long they spend there. While there were many interesting results from our analysis, one of the most intriguing findings involved Mr. Whitaker’s Store.
It turned out that the store was one of the most frequently visited places, but guests spent, on average, a much shorter amount of time at the store than at the other frequently visited locations. This implies that the store experience as it is currently designed does not fully meet guest expectations – somehow, guests are influenced to move more quickly through that space and, we assume, engage less deeply than they do at other locations in Prairietown.
Of course, this could be caused by many factors. For one thing, the Prairietown store is laid out as one long, dark, narrow corridor. This design means that if more than one group is in the store at once, it begins to feel crowded and can make people feel like they need to move through more quickly.
However, as we analyzed the situation, we began to realize that there is one big difference between the store and every other post in Prairietown: the store is the only place where you can’t really do what you would have done in that place in 1836.
By that I mean, at the school, you can pretend to be a student, or someone interested in sending their children to the school. At each of the homes, you can easily take on the role of someone just out visiting or passing through town. At each of the trades’ shops, you can pretend to be a potential customer or someone seeking advice. But at the store, we haven’t traditionally encouraged you to pretend to be a customer – when you enter the store, you know you don’t have the right kind of money and that you probably won’t be allowed to actually buy anything there.
So, what if we changed that? What if we designed things so that you could have some authentic money and could buy something in the Prairietown store?
We experimented with this idea on a couple of days during 2010 and plan to test it in more detail in 2011. And while there are many factors that we need to think through, we would LOVE to hear your thoughts on one of our biggest questions:
What would you want to be able to buy in Mr. Whitaker’s Store in Prairietown if you had the chance?
Ellen M. Rosenthal - President and CEO
When my boys – now 24, 21 and 17 – were growing up, visiting museums and libraries was our default activity in between soccer practice, violin lessons, skiing, trips to the pool and playgrounds. Much like Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, where we lived for 16 years, offered a wide range of museums – from the Andy Warhol Museum with a room of floating silver balloons to the Carnegie Science Center with floors of hands-on activities. No doubt about it, I had a great time sharing experiences with them, but there was little time at the end of each trip for one of my favorite activities – shopping.
As I sat down to write this blog, I imagined that there must be mothers out there like me who love watching their kids discover and explore both indoors and outdoors – and, I would argue, there is no better place to do that in Central Indiana than Conner Prairie, but who can’t wait for the time at the end of the visit to browse. I dedicate this blog to them: My Favorite Things in the Conner Prairie Store
My top pick in our store is Conner Prairie’s own line of kid’s pioneer clothes. Responding to calls from frantic parents around the country trying to outfit their kids for school Pioneer or Colonial Days, Store Manager Elaine Molin, came up with the idea of designing and producing a line of simple, inexpensive authentic children’s clothing. Accomplishing her dream was not an easy matter. In these days inexpensive clothing usually means production in the Far East, but that also requires producing enormous quantities. Finally, Elaine considered asking Pen Products if they could help. Pen Products is a division of the Indiana Department of Correction. Indiana's prison industries and farms manufacture goods and provide services using offender labor. Its motto is “made with conviction”. Women prisoners sew our clothing line in small batches using materials we provide. We offer girls dresses in a glorious array of printed calicos with pinafore and bonnets. And, boys shirts and vests. If I only had a granddaughter to outfit!
My book choice of the year is "H is for Hoosier". Ostensibly a children’s alphabet book, it also provides a lovely overview of Indiana with pictures of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indiana Dunes, covered bridges and an Amish horse and buggy – among others. I sent the book with my youngest son Paul as a gift to the French family he will be living with this summer as part of Indiana University’s summer language program.
If my shopping insights are of interest or use to anyone, I’m happy to pick up this thread again in future blogs. Upon first consideration the topic may not seem lofty enough for a president, but I continually think through how the Conner Prairie experience engages every person at every age. I’d like to pretend that when I visit museums I am only interested in the art, the history or the learning opportunities for my children, but I know that isn’t true. I also can’t wait for my time in the shop to see if there is something unique that I haven’t seen anywhere else. Do some of you feel the same way? I’d love to hear about it.