January 2017 / Industry Profile

Brent Walter’s father was a zookeeper, and Brent followed in his dad’s footsteps from an early age. In addition to being an integral part of the Vilas Zoo in Madison, Brent also is a longstanding member of the Zoo & Aquarium Buyer’s Group (ZAG) and its treasurer.
Peer Perspective: Brent Walter, Vilas Zoo

Brent Walter

Director of Operations, Friends of Henry Vilas Zoo

Madison, Wisconsin

What is the biggest challenge zoos face today?

The biggest challenge facing our retail operation is perceived value of our product. Many parents will tell their children that they can buy the same thing at a “big-box” store cheaper. Which is why we don’t carry items that are mass marketed.

You’ve been part of ZAG (Zoo & Aquarium Buyer’s Group) since the beginning. How has the organization evolved over the years?

I joined ZAG in 2003. Shortly after that, we incorporated ZAG, Inc. When I first joined, the main focus was to help buyers connect with other buyers. Since then we have moved more to a place to come for industry information and resources.

What was the most important lesson you learned from your dad about being part of a zoo?

My dad (Richard Walter) actually worked as a zookeeper for 32 years. His advice was to treat everyone fairly.

Do you have any short-term goals for Vilas?

Our short-term plan is to expand our seasonal retail locations. This will provide visitors with more opportunities to purchase that cherished zoo gift.

What is the most fulfilling part of your job?

I truly enjoy the interactions I have with our vendors. It gives me a break from the day-to-day duties.

RELATED: “At the Zoo, a half century of Walters,” from the Wisconsin State Journal

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