Director of Product Marketing
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
MM: What is your retail background?
I started in retail as a young guy, working in and managing/buying for small and medium gift stores. I was general merchandise manager for one of the country’s largest college department stores for 13 years, and a small business consultant for five, helping people with marketing and merchandising and general business planning. I have been at the Wildflower Center for 26 years.
MM: What is the most fulfilling part of your job?
The people I work with — a wonderful team of dedicated professionals who are super smart, hardworking and creative and fun. In addition to paid staff, we have about 65 volunteers who rotate through shifts each week in our store. They are loyal and enthusiastic, and I look forward to seeing different ones each day. Merchandising-wise, the most fulfilling part of my work is preparing for each new season — finding the products and planning the marketing of them, along with our many special store events.
MM: What is the most unusual product in your store?
Right now, things made from renewable natural resources, such as cork purses and personal accessories, furniture made from the roots of river trees and lamps and drink dispensers made from granite.
MM: What are your top three retail tips?
Never try to have something for everyone.” Retailing is editing. It’s your job to choose things to match a target customer and present them in such a way that sets a tone and an image that relates to that market. You must determine who your main customers are and buy for them. When I was a consultant, I often asked my clients to try to write a description of their typical customer with as much detail as possible — age, sex and economic status, of course — but also how they dress, what they like to eat, what their hobbies and passions are, what makes them smile. It was amazing how many retailers think this exercise is too much trouble and end up not buying correctly for their market.
Watch your inventory. It’s money. It’s cash. Make sure you turn your merchandise. If you want three turns a year, then your average stock of an item should not be more than four months’ worth. Don’t overbuy to get a discount. And that includes custom items. If you have to buy two or three years’ worth of a product, that’s not good management. It’s like stocking your home pantry with so much food that you can’t afford to pay your other bills. Try small trial orders on new items to minimize your risk. Markdown poor performers — the earlier the better.
Surprise your customers. Try to have a “wow” factor with your goods and presentation. Be hospitable. We have signs all over our store that encourage people to touch the merchandise. And like all finer stores, we have a liberal returns policy, not a suspicious, hardnosed one.