Old Sturbridge Village
Strategy: Balance Your Budget, Emphasize Value, Enhance Your Product, Know Your Customer/Product
Type of attraction: Museum/Historic Site
Summary: Old Sturbridge Village, a living history village in Massachusetts that depicts early New England life from 1790 to 1840, ended 2009 in the black for the first time in a decade.
Old Sturbridge Village, a living history village in Massachusetts that depicts early New England life from 1790 to 1840, ended 2009 in the black for the first time in a decade. Last year’s strong performance was particularly remarkable because it came during the worst economy in 70 years. For the museum’s fiscal year ending in January 2010, donations grew by 25 percent and attendance increased by two percent. In addition, Old Sturbridge Village field trip visits increased by 5 percent from the prior year. Revenue for 2009 was up, driven largely by the fundraising increase. Expenses were down as a result of a cost-reduction plan implemented in 2009.
To keep 2009’s global economic downturn from derailing Old Sturbridge Village’s turnaround, President and CEO James E. Donahue and the museum’s board of trustees took bold steps early in 2009. They trimmed expenses, but protected the museum’s front line staff and costumed historians, critical to the visitor experience at the museum.Several management positions were eliminated, and Donahue and other directors volunteered to take salary cuts as high, in some cases, as 20 percent.
Donahue made the radical decision to totally change OSV’s December holiday offerings, putting all of the museum’s resources behind its popular “Christmas by Candlelight” evening celebrations and closing during the daytime prior to Christmas. The gamble paid off, and nearly 7,000 people attended the 2009 holiday evening programs, double the prior year’s attendance. “Recreating such a richly nostalgic holiday experience, complete with sleigh rides and caroling, is a tremendous undertaking. Our staff and volunteers really stepped up to make this year such a success, and we are grateful for their passion and dedication to the museum,” Donahue says.
Reflecting on the reason for the Old Sturbridge Village’s resurgence, Donahue said the museum’s hands-on experiences resonate with visitors, as does the ability to tour an entire village of 40 buildings and a working farm set on 200 acres. “Plus, the OSV experience is a terrific value for today’s budget-conscious consumers.”
Old Sturbridge Village Chairman of the Board Mike Brockelman traces the museum’s turnaround to the arrival of Donahue, who was hired in 2007 after a nationwide search. “After years of double-digit decreases in attendance, Jim has turned around every declining indicator. He has reversed years of stagnation, slumping attendance and inadequate fundraising. It’s a phenomenal achievement in such a short time, and it marks the first time in 35 years OSV has increased its attendance two years in a row.”