Our Story

We met working in a children's museum whose story is typical and illustrative.

Once upon a time, a young mother visited a big-city children’s museum and became passionate about having one in her hometown.

After years of knocking on influential doors and hauling pop-up exhibits to area festivals, she finally garnered enough support to start a small museum in the cafeteria of a closed school building.

Two decades and a $15M fundraising campaign later...

Consultants, designers, contractors, and exhibit fabricators from across North America were hired to convert a former state-owned warehouse into an impressive children’s museum.

But just four years later, the exhibits were showing wear, visitation was dropping, and operating deficits were growing.

“We had worked so hard and so long to get the museum open, we honestly didn’t think about what it would take to keep it going. We thought that if we built it, families would just come, and everything would be fine."

-Campaign Chair for new $15M Children’s Museum

This is where we enter the story...

While both of us were mid-career professionals, neither had museum experience.  But we had both worked in the entertainment industry early in our careers and we currently had young children. We could see this children’s museum wasn’t offering enough of what our target audience wanted.

So, when we became the children’s museum’s CEO and COO, we drew on our business and entertainment backgrounds and addressed the shortcomings, significantly growing revenue and stabilizing the museum’s financials.

We started to realize we had an advantage over most of the typical exhibit consultants, designers, and fabricators because we watched thousands of annual visitors interact with museum spaces and exhibits every day.  From this better-informed vantage point, we began designing, prototyping, testing, redesigning and delivering our own exhibits and galleries, finding we could do it faster and for far less money.  And our exhibits lasted longer.

A new children’s museum business model starts to form...

Karen Coltrane
Karen Coltrane
Lisa Hailey
Lisa Hailey

With our museum’s galleries updated and a full calendar of events drawing strong attendance, the time was right to figure out how we could be of more service.  So, we did what data geeks do, we commissioned a regional marketing study.

The study confirmed that families with young children knew about us and loved the changes we had made to the museum. But it also confirmed that families who lived more than a half hour’s drive away only visited occasionally for very special events.

It was a proximity issue.  And investing more in our current location wouldn’t change it.  We had reached the point of diminishing returns – yes, one of us is an economics major.

If we were going to expand audience and impact, we needed to creatively overcome our location challenge.

Fast forward four years...

We now had three additional satellite locations in a hub and spoke model.

How did we do it that quickly?  Because we learned it didn’t take five million dollars to open a new location.  Drawing on our proficiency at designing, building, and opening children’s museums, this initial network of four museums allowed us to spread fixed costs over twice as many visitors.

And as revenue increased, we invested in our:

  • Team
  • Systems
  • Reduced and free admission programs for financially fragile families

We did it!

Quality museum experiences and significantly increased access.  Other museums started calling.

So, we repeated the experiment just to make sure...

We tested the model again as leaders of another museum in another state – taking it from one amazing, award-winning facility to three in just over three years. This time we merged with an existing, struggling children’s museum on the other side of the state and then opened the third location in between.

And again, the network resulted in advantages that strengthened each facility. They were simply stronger together.

By the way,

While we were busy with all this museum growth, our own families grew up too.  Lisa’s daughter became a talented artist living on a beach and Karen’s son a savvy software sales executive in the big city.

We are grateful they both grew up visiting a wonderful children’s museum that fostered their budding creativity and let them experience the joy of learning.  That safe, inclusive community space revealed keen insights into our children’s developing strengths and interests.  And with the clarity of parental hindsight, the memories made during that precious time in our children’s lives mean everything to us now that they are grown and gone.

Back to the business model...

We know the current structure of capital-intensive, philanthropically funded, volunteer-driven children’s museums are keeping millions of families from experiencing a vibrant early childhood learning center in their community. So, we created Museum Crafters to offer an alternative model - one that removes barriers and leverages scale to bring children’s museums to more communities and children.

Let us know if we can help your community be a part of this story...

Our Values

Life-long Learning

Our Purpose

Museum Crafters exists to increase the number of children who can regularly visit thriving, vibrant, sustainable children’s museums. 

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