Retail manager and buyer
Saint Louis Zoo
Tommy Brown has worked for theme parks, department stores and, for the past 13 years, at a major zoo in the Midwest. There’s nothing in retail he hasn’t done. Brown also is the current vice president of the Zoo & Aquarium Buyers Group.
MM: What’s the biggest difference between working for a nonprofit organization, like you do now, and a for-profit business?
TB: You’re actually making a difference in the world. For example, I’m not just selling a tchotchke that someone takes home and it means nothing else. What I’m doing is buying from indigenous people from Africa, Indonesia, parts of Asia, South America, so from all over the world. By doing that it helps them feed their families and protect the animals and environments around them. It’s a win-win situation that we’re doing. And once we sell the product, it goes right back into the zoo to do the conservation efforts we’re doing here and around the world. It’s rewarding — it’s different from a theme park or department store.
MM: What is your biggest on-the-job frustration?
TB: Trying to find the right quality staff person that fits the mix with your staff. Staff personalities, cultural background and diversity can be a large factor and sometimes personalities don’t fit in the real world. You have to be sure you’re educating people about diversity, about getting along. It’s so important that we get to know people from other cultures.
MM: What do you know now that you wish had known before you got into retail?
TB: I wish someone in high school would have told me this is a career field; especially in the designing, buying and merchandising side. No counselors come in and say, Hey, what about going into retail?” But there’s so much more and so many different layers to retail that no one talks about.