As the director of retail operations at Magnolia, Mishelle Kost oversees the day-to-day operations for the market, the grounds and the outlet shop. But that’s just on the surface. For Kost, her job is really about the opportunity to develop and encourage the team of 150-plus associates that she manages.
“I get to work with all different kinds of personalities, all different kinds of people. I see endless potential in everyone I meet,” she said.
At one point, Kost couldn’t see her own potential, but thanks to companies with strong, people-focused cultures, she’s been able to recognize her talent and passion for growing others. Energized by finally having found her purpose, Kost has more to give beyond an eight-hour workday. She recently launched her website, mishellekost.com, which is home to her leadership coaching business.
In her office above the market, surrounded by walls covered in positive affirmations and Lululemon’s core values, Kost shared with Wacoan writer Kathleen Seaman her story of growth, how she learned to be a leader and how she’s helping others discover their gifts.
WACOAN: Where are you from?
Kost: I originally grew up in Northern Virginia, right outside D.C., so I’m kind of a city girl. Living right outside D.C., it’s just hustle-bustle. I went to college in a rural Southwest town in Virginia, and that’s when I fell in love with that slower-paced lifestyle. I fell in love with the mountains, nature, snowboarding.
Then after I graduated I moved to Colorado, and I snowboarded for two years, just kind of figuring out life. Worked at a ski resort. It was a really fun thing. I worked really hard at three different jobs and then moved to the Carolinas. I moved to New York City for a little bit and then back to North Carolina, then I moved to Charleston, South Carolina, and then I moved here to Texas. Yeah, it’s kind of crazy. Just all the moves.
WACOAN: What did you study in school?
Kost: Media relations. It’s one of those majors that you pick when you’re just not sure what you want to do. It felt good to me at the time, and I’m glad I did it. I think I’ve learned more of my education through experience. Working with people has been where my experiences landed and where I feel like my passion and my growth has been. School, yes, but really it wasn’t until I entered into the workforce and started working with people that I found my footing.
WACOAN: How did you end up in retail management?
Kost: Well first I opened up my own restaurants. Colorado is where I started to figure out like, ‘Oh, I really love working out.’ I love health and fitness. Then when I was in the Carolinas, I got into fitness and being a personal trainer and just enjoying healthy living. [In Charlotte], I had just been laid off at my job that I was working at. I was working at a company that did the pre- and post-race shows for NASCAR, and I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do next.
At that point, I was married to another person, and he was wanting to invest in a business. My parents were wanting to invest in a business. And I was like, ‘What do I want to do? I’m passionate about health and fitness. I also love food, and I really want to start teaching people how to eat healthier, so I’ll open up a restaurant.’ I opened up two [locations]. I opened up one in 2007 and then the next one a year later. It was called Energy Cafe, and it was probably the hardest, most stressful thing I ever did. I was 27, I had no idea what I was doing.
So I opened up that restaurant, and then after my divorce and after stepping away from the restaurant world, I was like, ‘OK, what do I need to do with my life? Where am I supposed to work now?’ I was in love with Lululemon as a clothing brand because that would be what I would wear head to toe. It was so comfortable. So I’m like, ‘I’ll just go see if they are hiring.’ I ended up working there for five years. I loved it, and I definitely would not have left unless this [job opportunity] had shown up.
That’s how I got into retail and how I got into people management. It was just such a great experience. I learned how to manage a business by owning my own two businesses. But then Lululemon is so people driven. It really taught me how to develop people, how to care for your people, how to manage others. And then the piece of it that really changed my life is that they taught me how to lead myself.
You can hear it in my story — just so much of that young person who is so lost. It was literally decision after decision where I have no clue what I want or what I’m doing. I’m just following what feels good.
Once I got started working at Lululemon, that’s when I really started to understand who I was as a person, especially after the divorce. It was like this wake-up call, ‘Hey, you need to figure this out. You need to figure out who you are. What do you want? What do you stand for and what is the rest of your life going to look like? Because up until now, it’s been a hot mess.’
Every decision [at that time felt like a] mistake. Just so much failure, so many bad choices, so many wrong decisions. But now I can see it come full circle that, ‘Oh, actually I needed all of that to grow into this person that I am today.’ [Lululemon] gave me that time to investigate and learn and discover and uncover and figure out all the things that I wanted for myself.
WACOAN: How did you hear about the job at Magnolia?
Kost: My friend Brooke [Rosolino] was [previously] a store manager [at Lululemon] in Nashville, and so we had been acquaintances. She posted on social media that she was at Magnolia. I had been a really avid fan of ‘Fixer Upper’ and Joanna Gaines and the show. I messaged her, and I’m like, ‘Oh, what are you doing at Magnolia?’ And she’s like, ‘I’m consulting for Chip and Jo. I moved to Waco. I actually work at Magnolia.’ And I said, ‘What!?’ Then, jokingly, I was like, ‘Hey, let me know if they’re hiring! That’s so cool. Congratulations.’ Then she messaged me back and said, ‘Hey, actually we have a role opening up. It’s the general manager of the market. Would you be interested?’
I was shocked, and I was so intrigued. So I talked to my boyfriend, [Brian], at the time (he’s my husband now). He had owned a gym in Charleston for 10 years. It’s a CrossFit gym, and he’s lived in Charleston for about 15 years, so he’s really ingrained in the community. He owns a business. He’s also really risk-averse. I’m more adventurous. I want to change all the time.
I remember asking him, ‘Hey, this is what happened. Should I even reach back out to her? Would you ever consider moving, or should I just like forget this altogether?’ And he’s like, ‘Sure, go ahead. It’s just a phone call.’ I was literally shocked that he said yes, because in that moment, if he had said no, I would have [told Brooke], ‘No, I was just kidding. I don’t think we’ll ever leave Charleston.’ So I told her, ‘Hey, yeah, let’s talk.’
We started talking by phone. I got an interview, then I’m flying out here. It all happened really fast. From the time I reached out to her to the time I got the job offer, it was probably like a month and a half, maybe two months.
Anyway, I let Brian know that I got the offer. I said, ‘Hey, I got the job offer. Do you want to move to Texas? You’ve never been to Texas.’ He’s the most deliberate person on the face of the planet. He has to deliberate things for hours, days, weeks, months before he makes a decision. I remember I asked him that night and by like midnight that night, he walked into the bedroom and he said, ‘Let’s do it.’ I was floored and shocked, and still to this day, I cannot believe he said that.
So then I took the job, and within a month I’m moving to Texas, which is crazy because we had just bought a house that we were going to fix up. We had just gotten engaged, and I’m like literally leaving.
We fix up our house in two weeks. I sleep there for one night, and then I leave. That’s September. In October, we get married in Tennessee. We go on our honeymoon, I come back here in October, and then he doesn’t move to Texas until January.
He’s got a new gym here, Integrity Strength & Conditioning. It’s right on the edge of Bellmead and Waco. That just opened in February, so that’s been a huge celebration.
We have a really great community [at the gym]. Brian and I are passionate about community, providing a sense of belonging for people, making people feel welcome.
WACOAN: What is your role at Magnolia?
Kost: I’m the director of retail operations basically. That just means I oversee the market, the grounds and the Little Shop on Bosque, which is our outlet shop [and Magnolia’s original shop location]. That’s my day-to-day, but really how I like to view my job is I develop people all day long. I’m developing leaders. I’m passionate about people.
WACOAN: What does a typical day look like for you at the market?
Kost: It’s high-volume retail, so lots of things can come up throughout the day. Say it’s planning for the future, planning things for the store that need to get done. It’s executing projects, deadlines, all the things that go into just managing this place. Basically, it’s full of meetings, people development conversations, performance management, holding people accountable.
When you work with this many people, it’s conflict resolution, mediation. Any time you put this many people in the same building with this many different personalities, there [are] bound to be communication issues. That’s another thing I’m really passionate about, teaching people how to communicate. It is a skill that you have to learn.
I’m passionate about teaching people how to have hard conversations, how to ask for what you need, ask for what you want. It’s amazing to me how hard that is for so many people.
Nine times out of 10, when I pull people up to [my office to] have a conversation and say, ‘Hey, let’s talk about this.’ It always ends with tears and hugs because it is always a miscommunication. That’s all it ever ends up being. We’re just not aware.
I just recently launched my website — my passion project — but I just want to help more people discover leadership and leading themselves, because if you go back to [my] story, when I wasn’t leading myself, how powerful it was to figure out, ‘OK, what am I doing with myself?’ Now, with the launch of the website, I’m a leadership coach. What I’m really passionate about is helping people find freedom in their lives because for so long [in my life] there was just no freedom.
WACOAN: What’s the name of your website, and what’s its purpose?
Kost: I just launched mishellekost.com. That’s my leadership coaching business. I’m a self-development leadership coach and speaker, laugh enthusiast. I’m trying to just help people discover their inner leader and who they are and discover their purpose. It’s goal setting, it’s leadership development, it’s health and wellness — because I believe that in order to be a fully healthy individual you have to start with getting [your body] healthy.
WACOAN: When did the site launch?
Kost: Last Monday, [September 30]. I’m super excited about it. Obviously, Magnolia is my priority, and I love this place, so right now [my website] is more just like a side hustle in my spare time, on the weekends when I get home.
WACOAN: As you’ve said, there was a period of time when you were really lost, so when did you realize and start to believe that you could help others see their potential as a leader?
Kost: Over time, I’ve just realized more and more that I love people, and what I’m good at is people. For a long time I was like, ‘I don’t have a skill. I don’t have a talent.’
I think during my time at Lululemon I started to realize how much I was learning about myself, and then I got passionate about teaching it to other people. Then in that process I learned that I’m good at this. I’m good at working with people; I’m good at helping others.’
Then I started working here, and I got to do more of that at more volume because there’s just more people here. Right now, I manage a team of like 150. Sometimes it gets up to 175, and I just love it. It’s so fun.
After I got divorced, I thought my life was over. It was like, ‘I’m done. I’m so old. I’m 27. I’m going to be 30 soon. Like, forget kids, forget family, forget getting married again.’ You know? I literally just thought there was nothing left for me. And what I’ve realized over time now is I was just getting started.
It’s been 10 years since then, and it’s like, ‘Whoa. Look at all the things that have transpired,’ and I thought my life was over 10 years ago. When I finally realized that there’s so much more possible, when that lightbulb went off, for me it was a game changer. And since that day, I have decided that my purpose in this world is to show people and tell people that anything is possible.
I think after working here, what I’ve realized is it energizes me so much. I work here eight hours a day, busy from the moment I get here to the moment I leave. I literally don’t have one free moment. Then I leave here, I go to the gym, I work out, then I go home, I walk my four dogs. Then I cook dinner, and by the time I sit down and eat dinner, it’s like 9:30 [p.m.], and I’m still not tired. I think I realized this is what fuels me, this is my energy, my passion. [I realized] that I had more energy, that I had more to give, that I wanted to get my story out. I’m developing people and working with people all day long, but I just want to share with it with more people. I’m like, ‘The World. Wide. Web. Hello, world. I want to help you.’
WACOAN: I understand you’re writing a book. What is it about?
Kost: It’s going to be a leadership book similar to what’s going on [at michellekost.com]. The website’s all about leading yourself and then leading others, but first to get healthy within so that you can then lead other people. I’m excited about writing that, and I’ll definitely be using parts of my story to share and teach.
WACOAN: Where are you in the process?
Kost: I’m just getting started. I would love to have it completed within the next two years. I feel like that feels realistic, but I’m going to have to work really hard to get it done. Not a super long book. I’m not thinking anything longer than like 150 pages. But yeah, I’m excited about that project.
WACOAN: You mentioned your dogs. What kind of dogs do you have?
Kost: I have four rescue dogs. I have Mazzy, Ruby and Cinnamon. And then I have a little Chiweenie, and her name is Peanut Butter. She’s so cute.
Mazzy is a rescue from Charlotte, North Carolina. Ruby is a rescue from Charleston, South Carolina. Cinnamon is a surprise rescue dog from Charleston, South Carolina, that Brian got while he was living in Charleston still. I had moved to Texas, and he dropped off Mazzy and Ruby, and I think he got lonely and decided to go get another, Cinnamon. It was like, ‘Surprise!’ over FaceTime.
Then a year ago, Brian and I — we never should have done this — but we got added to the Central Texas Lost & Found Pets [group] on Facebook. Best decision or worst decision because someone posted a picture of Peanut, and Brian texted me, ‘Hey, do you want to foster this dog?’ I’m like, ‘Sure we can foster this dog.’ Anyway, we get this dog, and it’s the cutest little thing. So we kept her.
Now we have four dogs. Life is crazy. It’s doggy daycare in my house all day, every day.
Then chickens, 13 chickens. They’re all happy and doing their thing. Lots of eggs. Right now, they lay sometimes five, sometimes all the way up to eight eggs a day.
WACOAN: What do you like about living in Waco?
Kost: I love the slow-paced, quiet living. My favorite thing about Waco is the people. The people here have just been amazing. Every single person I meet is awesome. I just remember going to the dog park one day, and some guy just struck up a conversation with me. I remember going home to Brian being like, ‘This place is just different.’ People don’t do that in other places and cities.
FIVE THINGS MISHELLE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT
1. Lululemon leggings. So comfortable.
2. Adventure hats. I have so many. I like to call them adventures hats because I like to go on adventures, so when I put on the hat it makes me feel like I’m going on an adventure. I like to wear them on regular days so that every day feels like an adventure.
3. Positive affirmation decor. I can’t live without positive affirmations. I need to stop buying things that say something on them.
4. Fake plants. I do love greenery and plants, but I kill them all so I can’t live without my faux plants.
5. My selfie stick. I take it everywhere. I’m always ready to take a selfie. Not only of myself, but I’m ready to take a picture with my people.