Profile of Success: Mission Accomplished
HOW DID YOU BREAK INTO THE CATALOG BUSINESS: With a thorough knowledge of computers. A former middle-school science teacher, Ann Killeen was introduced by a friend to Jerry Machado, who was then founding the Storybook Heirlooms catalog (now closed). In discussing working together, the two came to an understanding: “I said to Jerry, ‘I like computers,’ and he said, ‘OK, you’ll be the director of IT.’”
Eight years later, after helping Storybook Heirlooms grow from a start-up company to a $30-million operation, Killeen had become fully immersed in the catalog business. She moved on to other catalogers, including Tzabaco, Boudin Bakery, Real Goods and Bullock & Jones, and then to her current position as general manager for the Montessori Services catalog.
BIGGEST INITIAL CHALLENGE: Balancing change and the history of Montessori Services. After joining Montessori last June, Killeen was challenged to reinvigorate the 31-year-old company while at the same time trying not to offend the people who had worked there for so long to build it up.
“Making changes while respecting the brand’s history and the knowledge of the people here,” Killeen says, was a big challenge. She sought to find a balance between “not losing the integrity of what had already been built while changing things to make them more efficient.”
HOW SHE DEALT WITH IT: “Wherever I can, I try to do things collaboratively,” she says. “I try to include as many people as possible in the process so they feel their input can be given. It showed that I was willing to do things hands-on — willing to pick in the warehouse, to enter orders in the call center. People know you understand their job if you do their job.”
WHAT ABOUT THE CATALOG INDUSTRY APPEALS MOST TO HER: Tackling challenges and using technology. “I try to do things a little better than the year before,” Killeen says. “I try to work a little smarter and a little more efficiently. A lot of times that involves technology.”
WHAT WAS HER BIGGEST MISTAKE AND HOW SHE SOLVED THE PROBLEM: Undervalu-ing the importance of multibuyers. “At Storybook Heirlooms, we started out selling high-end bedroom furniture and we had a gorgeous catalog,” she says. “We learned pretty quickly, fortunately, that furniture is complicated to deliver and that a significant part of mail order is having people rebuy from you. We were selling complete furniture sets, so they’d buy once, but not again. In either our first or second catalog, we put in a small insert of apparel and, within a year, we were an apparel catalog. We learned really fast that apparel was a much better niche for us.”
KEYS TO SUCCESS: Montessori Services Owner Jane Campbell “has very high values,” Killeen says. “The Montessori community is small. Being true to your values is well-respected in this community. Everything is done in the most ethical way possible — from product selection to customer service.”