Manager’s Corner: Melinda Greene, Kansas City Zoo
Melinda Greene is a big fan of to-do lists to help her stay organized. Judging from the list of things she’s involved with, there is plenty of organizing to do.
Greene is the retail manager and buyer at the Kansas City Zoo, a new member of the Zoo & Aquarium Buyers Group (ZAG) board of directors and a budding public speaker. And that’s just professionally. Away from business, she’s a wife and mother of two small children, and a “The Bachelor” junkie.
Greene, who has a teaching license, has been with the Kansas City Zoo since 2012. She oversees the Deja Zoo, Equator Gifts, two seasonal carts and the stroller barn.
Could you tell us a little about your background?
Greene: I worked retail off and on throughout my college years, and while I was attending K-State University, I chose to pursue a fashion merchandising and public relations degree. Once I graduated college and couldn’t figure out my next move, I decided to go back to school to get my teacher licensure. In a weird way this decision would help where I ended up now! While taking college classes in the evening, I had an opportunity to work a few jobs, one of them being at a local children’s boutique. When my family learned of the opportunity to buy this store and run it ourselves we jumped in feet first. Never having any formal experience in running a business, these where some of the most exciting, nerve-wracking years. We also took over the business at a time when the market saw a huge change and we were impressed to see that customers where still shopping for their kiddos. This position gave me a ton of experience, and I wouldn’t change the experience for anything. We did decide to sell the store after running it for about five years, and that’s when I found the position at the zoo. They had been looking for a candidate that had buying experience and I am so glad they took the chance on me!
What piques your interest when looking for new products?
MG: I attend trade shows and make showroom visits, and also seek out new product ideas through trade publications. I like to have a shop that looks different each season so new always piques my interest from vendors that I currently work with, and then I also seek out what themes or animals are trending.
How does the retail operation figure into conservation, which is one of the zoo’s biggest priorities?
MG: A couple years ago, we set up an area in the front section of our main gift shop, which focuses on conservation-friendly items. We sell a lot of products from Art Studio and Stoneage Arts, where in working with these two companies, they have had a direct impact with either small communities they are working with for the craftsmanship, the way they produce items by using the whole item and the support of communities through projects like funding toothbrushes or shoes or making a monetary donation to an organization. We are also currently looking into supporting a few of the villages that our conservation manager visits on a routine basis to see if we could make an impact there by buying goods from a local village.
What is the best advice you could offer?
MG: “SMILE!” Everyone comes with a story and something going on in their lives. We can always offer a smile to someone; that’s free. The smile can then turn into a customer or open up to a conversation to make someone’s day. I approach each day with a smile and hope to pass that on to others.
Selling to Millennials
Melinda Greene led a symposium geared toward nonprofit retailers on “Selling to Millennials” during the summer 2017 Las Vegas Market.
The panel included members of the Zoo & Aquarium Buyers Group (ZAG), Museum Store Association (MSA) and AHVRP (Association for Healthcare Volunteer Resource Professionals). Here’s what Greene said about the experience.
“I loved leading this symposium and working with the AHVRP and MSA — these are two other groups I would like to continue to network with to get information and work together on what we see changing and improvements we can make to hit these new buyers. Some of the key points that stood out to me are:
- Make sure that you have a store that is telling a story and update signage and information throughout the store so that customers know the value of what they are buying.
- Look into ways to incorporate social media, set up “Instaworthy” displays so that customers are taking pictures with items and then posting them on Instagram or Facebook; make a hashtag for items or events — this continues to market your items and gift shop or zoo and events.
- Keep it simple! Clean up those items that aren’t selling anymore and becoming dust collectors just because they once were good sellers and look into what the new group of customers is buying. Maybe its items of nostalgia or trendy scarves and accessories, T-shirts with funny saying. Keep up to date on what is out there and turn that into your success.
- We also talked about employing Millennials and what is important to understand is that this will be the most educated group of employees that we have seen entering the workforce. It will be important to look at what jobs will they have and where will they be working. This group has an opinion and don’t be afraid to let them share their ideas. It is good to review your procedures and policies and determine if an update needs to be made to accommodate this new group of employees. They are also very socially driven, updating devices and social media channels. It is important to stay on top of because if a negative encounter occurs it will be seconds until all of their peers know about it.”