museums&MORE Winter 2016
Eco-friendly & Economical By Zeke Jennings

Cincinnati's Krohn Conservatory is not just beautiful, but efficient

The Cincinnati Parks’ motto could be “doing a lot with a little.”

Like most Midwestern metropolises that were booming in the mid-20th century, Cincinnati’s population, which once topped a half-million people, has fallen in recent decades. It dipped below 300,000 in the most recent census.

Despite losing taxpayers, the parks system is one of the highest-rated in the country. In a recent Trust for Public Land analysis of parks systems in the 75 largest U.S. cities, Cincinnati had the seventh-best score, which included receiving the highest mark possible in spending per resident.

The Queen City’s crown jewel is the 82-year-old Krohn Conservatory, which is home to some 3,500 plants from around the world. Inside the conservatory, plants are separated into three areas based on climate they come from — tropical, palm and desert. There also is a visitor center, craft room and, of course, a gift shop.

Krohn Conservatory draws approximately 300,000 visitors each year. General Manager Andrea Schepmann recently took some time to tell us about the conservatory and its gift shop.

MM: Could you talk a little about the conservatory’s history and what items it offers?

AS: Krohn Conservatory was built in 1933 with an Art Deco style of architecture. We incorporate some of this Art Deco influence into the branded items that we sell. We have very diverse plant collections ranging from palms, succulents and cacti, citrus, orchids, bonsai and many more tropical plants.

MM: How big is the gift shop in terms of square footage?

AS: The Krohn Conservatory Gift Shop is about 21-by-15-feet (315 square feet). During the holiday season, the merchandising spills over a bit into the lobby space with holiday trees and other merchandising racks.

MM: Are proceeds from the store used to fund anything specific?

AS: The proceeds from sales directly benefit the conservatory and the parks system. Funds are used for educational programs and the seasonal floral shows as well as upkeep of the conservatory.

MM: How big is the staff? Do you have volunteers that help out?

AS: The gift shop has one part-time buyer, a part-time merchandiser and a daily cashier. We utilize volunteers to help price merchandise and handle stock.

MM: How many products does the store offer?

The items that we sell are continually changing so it is difficult to answer this question. We can have hundreds of products at any one time. We highlight mostly garden-related items and specialty plants. We turn over our inventory about twice a year for our two biggest shows, Butterfly (spring/summer) and Holiday (winter).

MM: What are the top sellers?

AS: Generally, plants or plant related items are our top sellers. Toys and Krohn Conservatory- or Cincinnati Parks-branded merchandise would be our next bestsellers.

MM: How does the buyer typically find new products and vendors?

AS: Our limited budget does not allow for us to (attend) trade shows. We shop from catalogs and have reps come to share some actual products.

MM: When are the conservatory’s busiest times of the year? Are there annual events or shows that draw particularly well?

AS: The Krohn Conservatory has two blockbuster level shows each year, and these are the times of our heaviest attendance. Average attendance during spring Butterfly Show can reach as high as 90,000 visitors, and our Holiday Show can draw as many as 40,000.

MM: Does the gift shop stock any special merchandise or items for those events?

AS: We have become known in this area for the Butterfly Show and we carry a huge assortment of butterfly themed merchandise year-round. We are in process of designing a book of postcards with photos of the Holiday Show that features miniature buildings made with botanicals and a train display.

MM: Does the gift shop carry any unusual merchandise that typically draws a reaction?

AS: We work hard at not carrying any products that might possibly offend visitors. As a city agency, we also are not allowed to carry items that may be religious in nature.

MM: Can you talk a little about the philosophies and practices that have helped the Cincinnati Parks system develop its stellar reputation?

AS: The Cincinnati Parks system has developed a strong culture of excellence and we are fortunate to have an amazing team of employees who work here not because it’s a job but because they have a heartfelt love of parks, nature and our historical conservatory. In addition, the volunteer staff that works with Parks is the best in the country. Volunteerism can be a hard concept for some countries to understand. We have had park staffs from other countries, like Germany and Japan, that have come to try and understand how we get people to volunteer to work for free.

Zeke Jennings

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