museums&MORE Spring 2015
Manager’s Corner: Theresa Danneffel, John Ball Zoo By Zeke Jennings

Museums & More recently caught up with Theresa Danneffel, who heads the Gifts of the Wild shop at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

MM: What is your retail background?

Danneffel: I started working at John Ball Zoo in 2002 while I was in college. During that time I was promoted to a variety of positions here, and I loved working here so much I wanted to come back every summer to work again and to learn more. I was promoted to gift manager/buyer in 2006 and have been doing it ever since!

I love everything about my job and the fact that I get to meet people all of time. I owe a lot of my success to ZAG (Zoo and Aquarium Buyer’s Group) and for the networking possibilities that are put in front of me every day with this organization. I have had the pleasure of serving on the ZAG Board for the past three years, and I get to help people every day just like they started helping me when I took over the retail department here at John Ball Zoo.

MM: What is the best retail advice you’ve received?

Danneffel: The best advice I have received has not been from one single person. I think that by networking with other institutions around the same region, you get a lot of great ideas and learn what does well and what does not do so well around your area. Also, by talking to other buyers from farther away, you can start to see trends and what will move over to your area. I get advice and ideas from buyers all around the U.S. This helps me stay focused and fresh with ideas so my guests never get bored with the same merchandise being sold in our gift shop.

MM: What are your biggest frustrations? How do you handle them?

Danneffel: One of my biggest frustrations would be that we can’t please every guest that comes into the zoo. We have a very low customer complaint rate just because the nature of our business. People and families are coming here to have a fun day, so they don’t find very many things to be upset about while they are here. There are always a few though, and we always do our best to reconcile the situation by listening to them and finding out exactly what the problem is. We can then go from there and try to make the rest of their visit better and even get them excited about coming back again. Everyone has to remember that you can’t please every guest, but listening to them and taking into account changes that have to be made, you can fix the problem or situation for the next guest.

MM: How do you stay passionate about what you do?

Danneffel: I am very lucky to be able to attend trade shows every year. I go to three trade shows altogether throughout the fall. Being able to attend these shows and scope out the new and hot items and ideas for the upcoming year is what keeps me going. I love walking the aisles and figuring out what will sell and what won’t do so well. It is always a guessing game, and you have to try new things in order to find out what your guests like. I think that this excitement and thrill is what keeps me passionate and what keeps me going and excited from year to year.


MM: If you had $10,000 to do whatever you wanted to your store, what renovations would you make?

Danneffel: We just had a new store built in 2012, so we are still pretty new. There are a few lighting fixtures that I would love to hang up for more spotlighting in the store. That is a huge part of selling to the guests and highlighting a certain thing or display. I would also love to add on to our storage room in the back of the gift shop. It was built a little smaller than I would have hoped, and we all know storage is hard to come by. I would like to have a little more room to store more items for back stock in the gift shop.

MM: What are your goals for the upcoming year?

Danneffel: The goals I have for my department at John Ball Zoo for the 2015 year are all about conservation and educating our guests. Our mission statement is changing for the upcoming year, making it all about inspiring our guests to want to help with conservation and changing the world. I have worked really hard in my buying this fall to incorporate quite a few new conservation companies into the gift shop. My goal with all of these new items is to display them throughout the shop with signage to make the guests think about their purchase and leave the shop wanting to help these animals or change their at home” habits for the better.

MM: What’s one thing you wish someone had told you before you started in retail and what is one thing you would tell someone else?

Danneffel: I wish someone would have told me that I would actually be working retail. I went to college for criminal justice and I wanted to be a probation officer. I love my job, and retail is part of my life now. I have met great friends and people in this profession. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t get to work with guests and my employees in a fun atmosphere every day. I love the interaction I get to have with people and love meeting all of the people that come into the zoo every year.


Ronnie Shaw, The Sankofa Center in Los Angeles

— Do you know of a person in retail that Museums & More should feature? Email us at

Zeke Jennings

Social Connections

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