After Nationwide Marketing Group wrapped up PrimeTime in Phoenix, we took a short trip to Tempe, Arizona, where we sat down with Bear Hendley, co-owner and retail sales and installation manager, of Walts. We dive into their evolving in-store experience, the growth of the company and much more.
Rob Stott: All right. We are back on the Independent Thinking Podcast. I feel like I say it all the time, but this truly is going to be an exciting and awesome episode. One I’ve been looking forward to. One of my favorites, probably will end up being one of my favorites that we ever record. You’ve set the bar so high that no one will ever top it Mr. Bear Hendley. Appreciate you. Well, as you can see, if you’re watching on the video version of this, welcoming us into your store here in Phoenix. Just off of PrimeTime here in Phoenix, Nationwide Marketing Group’s PrimeTime event. Thanks for having us.
Bear Hendley: Yeah. Rob. No. Thanks for coming in. We love to have you here today. We’re really excited after the Nationwide show, and we’re really happy you’re here.
Rob Stott: Yeah, absolutely. I’m going to get… We’ll get into all the fun stuff. I’m going to start with the hard hitting questions right up front, and I need to know, Bear, is that what’s on the birth certificate?
Bear Hendley: It is not on the birth certificate, but it should be for sure. Well, I’ve had that nickname my whole life. It’s a family nickname given to me when I was learning how to walk, so it’s pretty much my name.
Rob Stott: Got you.
Bear Hendley: Everyone in school called me that, and the industry, same thing. Always, whole life name, how it should be.
Rob Stott: Awesome. Maybe some legal change. There’s been the Ochocinco of the world, which Bear sounds pretty normal compared to some of the things out there, Metta World Peace, things like that. Bear, I support it. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role here at Walts.
Bear Hendley: Okay. Well, I originally came to this company in 1996. I started part-time. I was working another full-time job, but started doing deliveries, just setting up TVs, some appliances, stuff like that. Shortly after that, I was given the opportunity to enter the sales so I left my place I was working before and came here and went full time into sales. Believe it or not, that led into service. I learned how to prepare VCRs TVs, we were big service company at that time and over the years, I’ve worn many hats. Today, I’m part owner, I’m running the retail operations, but I’ve been all throughout. I’ve worn pretty much every hat here, but that’s where I am today.
Rob Stott: And anyone that knows the Walts crew knows the Hendley name, obviously, there’s quite a few of you. What’s it like working with family and having you all be a part of this operation here at Walts?
Bear Hendley: Well, I think because… Well, first of all, it is sometimes difficult working with family, but because we’re family, a lot of times that transfers into the employees and we all work together as a family. I mean that in the aspect of, even when times are hard, everyone, employees outside that do not have the same last name, have always stepped up for us, so it’s always worked out really well. But there’s me, myself, two older brothers, and another business partner, we’re all owners. I don’t know. We’ve just, through the good times and not so good times, we just always stuck through just like anyone in a family do, you always have each other’s back?
Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. Tell, for those watching and those not from the Tempe Phoenix Scottsdale area that might not know what Walts is, but I’m looking out at your store out here in front of us. But explain for those who can’t see what we got out in front of us, what’s the Walts in-store experience like?
Bear Hendley: Well, the goal and usually the experience is, you come into the store, you’re greeted by someone friendly of course, but we sell a good wide variety of affordable luxury products, starting with televisions, audio equipment, appliances. We do in-home consultation. We’re a control floor dealer, which means we do home automation. We’ll go out to the home and give somebody ideas, design a system, whatever it may be from A to Z. While there, we reach out through the US 48 states, through the online platform as well. But for the most part, when people are coming here, they’re looking for an experience, we try to deliver that. We have home theater room, two channel audio room to listen to, and actually touch and feel these products.
Rob Stott: I know that’s awesome. I kind of want to unpack that, because you mentioned a lot about the different ways you guys sell product. But this in-store experience, that obviously was a big part of the discussions at PrimeTime that just wrapped. When you think about just the way the in-store experience and the shopper decision journey, how that has evolved over these past two years. What have these past two years… How have these past two years impacted the way the in-store experience is for Walts?
Bear Hendley: Well, before COVID we were working on this buy online, pickup in store. We’ve been really leveraging the online experience and trying to use that the best way we can to get people back into the retail stores. A lot of us have seen the foot traffic lower over the years. It’s always been a challenge to try to reinvent ourselves and stuff. So in a of ways we didn’t have to make too many tweaks and it just so happened that curbside pickup became a thing, no contact, that kind of stuff. We were able to deliver that right away. We embraced that and then we’ve really seen a big increase in store traffic and add on sales because of it. Also, additionally setting up these consultations and et cetera. We’ve really just tried to embrace the change and use our experience and leverage our online reputation to help drive the in-store sales.
Rob Stott: You say, “Embrace that change,” but like you mentioned at the top, “Involved in the business a while,” how has it evolved and how have you guys been able to evolve the business? As you say, “Embrace that change.” What kind of things do you do to A, stay on top of the changes as they’re happening, and then to your point, evolve and ensure that your business can be successful, depending on what that current retail shopping environment is like?
Bear Hendley: Well, I’d say the thing we do probably the most, or one of the most important things we do, would be engaging with our customers current and past. Finding out what they like about what we’re doing, what they may not like about what we’re doing. More importantly, we ask every customer that comes into the retail store, “How’d you heard about us? Where they find out about us, and why are you here today?” Whether they buy or not, that’s another factor. But we take that.
Bear Hendley: We also like to take information gathered from our employees, their families, et cetera, and just tweak what we’re doing. It’s a lot of tweaking. It’s a lot of trying things. We’re not afraid to try something. We generally reach out to any manufacturer, anyone, any partner and say, “Hey, you want to beta test thing, let’s try it with us.” I think it’s just being open-minded to change, and it happens whether you like it or not. If you’re resistant, you don’t participate. If you embrace it, you will. There’s a lot of benefit in my opinion.
Rob Stott: It’s interesting, you talk about beta testing and almost like a startup mentality, the way you guys are as a retailer. I don’t know if anything comes top of mind to you, but you think of some of the innovations you’ve tried to adopt, has anything come to mind? A success that you’re maybe most proud of, and even maybe an example of something that you tried that didn’t work? Just to show that you tried something. It might have failed, but just the fact that you were able to at least attempt to make a change.
Bear Hendley: Yeah. Well, one of the things recently comes to mind that we’ve tried that hasn’t really taken off really, is the execution of letting people know about new products, like appliances is a category for us. We’ve really not done… We’ve tried different things, but we haven’t put our full force behind it. Partly due to the fact that it’s a very localized, targeted campaign. It’s something we’re trying to get better at. I wouldn’t say we’ve failed, but we’re not where we want to be, right?
Bear Hendley: One of the concepts, and it works well with appliances, is this buy online, pickup in store. We feel we’ve hit it out of the park with that. We were doing it early, before anyone else in our industry that we’re aware of, I’m sure some others, just were not aware of them. That beta testing we’re talking about, we’re approached with Amazon one of our large partners. We leveraged that relationship with them, but we worked with them to beta test, buy online pickup in store… I should say, I’m sorry, buy on, Amazon pickup in store. It’s a local selling program. That’s really helping to get to reach customers that are using Amazon, not just to buy an Amazon, but to search products. They do this on Amazon. Then they find out that we’re here too.
Rob Stott: Now, some people listening, they hear that A word, it might sound scary to them, or almost like a curse word to some small businesses out there.
Bear Hendley: Sure.
Rob Stott: Talk about that relationship, and if you can, the early years of it, the inception of it, how you guys were able to get in, and then the benefits of it. How has it helped you as a business?
Bear Hendley: Well, the thing that I think is most beneficial about them for a small business, going back to the beginning, even till now, is because they are large and innovative themselves. They’re constantly pressuring people to do better. When I say pressuring, it may not be the best word, but when you’re a partner with them, they keep you accountable, and you need that sometimes as a business. I can get very jaded about what we’re doing, I may not want to know the truth, but it shows, they’ll they’ll show it to you.
Bear Hendley: Getting on board with them early, we got on board with them in the early two thousands and we were doing okay. Then we started their FBA program as a seller, I think in 2004 if I’m not mistaken, that helped bring us to the next level with them as far as online. But we always had this retail presence. Until recently, they didn’t really have a retail type of program, so as soon as they came out with that, we jumped on that, because this is new, this is different. Even though it’s the big, bad Amazon, they’re dealing with us, it’s us. It’s our brand working with their brand. We just utilize their big budgets and their big advertising dollars to help reach our customers really.
Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. Are there any benefits going, or that you’ve seen? Maybe not necessarily from early on that you got in, because obviously it’s been since 2004, talking about 15, 16 years, longer than that, 17, 18 years. Are there any unintended benefits that you’ve noticed having worked with them and had the partnership and done some of these beta testing programs with them?
Bear Hendley: Yeah. I think the thing that I’ve noticed the most, is the trust. Customers trust Amazon. We’re an oftentimes unknown for them. They don’t know us. They may not have a relationship with us, but when you put us together with them and then they learn about our history since 1957, we’ve been in the valley, we’re a long term business, they trust us. I wouldn’t have expected that. In fact, sometimes I would expect the opposite, but that’s one of unintended things that I found and unintended growth. A lot more growth.
Rob Stott: Well, you mentioned that growth. I know you guys recently, within the last year or two. I know you had a distribution center that had opened up out at Kentucky, Louisville, right?
Bear Hendley: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Rob Stott: And then you’ve recently added a second in Dallas.
Bear Hendley: Near Dallas. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Rob Stott: Yeah. Talk about that, that growth from being, correct me if I’m wrong, but one store. This is the location, right?
Bear Hendley: Yep.
Rob Stott: Talk about that growth to go from a store that has just one location to now. I don’t know, tell us the number. What percent of the country can you guys hit?
Bear Hendley: Yeah. Well, back up just a second.
Rob Stott: Yeah.
Bear Hendley: The store. We were one store.
Rob Stott: Yep.
Bear Hendley: Right. We started shipping out of the one store, and we had store needs and changes. This store you’re sitting in currently just as little as four years ago, was a warehouse.
Rob Stott: Wow.
Bear Hendley: The front of it had a small retail presence, but we shipped and received out of this, majorly across the whole US 48. We had added another warehouse in the Phoenix Metro area to help with the growing. Then, you said Louisville, and then now near Dallas. Those are the stepping stones, but with each one of those, we’ve increased our coverage of two day shipping coverage for smaller items within, I think it’s in the 98% of the US continental.
Rob Stott: That’s awesome. How does… I don’t know if you could speak to it, but it’d be insightful to hear the mindset of a business change from someone, a company, that was just local to here to now you can do that. What does that do to your business psyche, if you will?
Bear Hendley: Well, it’s kind of tricky because sometimes you don’t want it to go… You don’t want it to enhance your ego at all. No, but serious on a serious note. We are still very much a small company. We do now have over a hundred employees, which is good, but that’s good. We’ve always wanted to have local presence employees and we’re going to grow regardless and add employees, but we’re still very much a small company. A lot of people with the success and the growth, the amount of business we’re doing, they would mistake us to be much larger than we really are. It kind of messes with you a little bit, because sometimes you’re like, “Well am I the big boy or am I just the meek little business.” We’re still both in many ways.
Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. I know… We’re in Phoenix, right? We’re here because of PrimeTime, so kind of switching gears a little bit. You saw, we bumped into each other how many times, too many times to count our last couple of days.
Bear Hendley: For sure.
Rob Stott: No. What was it like to have a PrimeTime here in your hometown? First, I’d have to check with our historian who’s off camera, Mr. Doug Marsh. But I would have to say, first time in Arizona in a while or possibly ever, we’ll fact check that.
Bear Hendley: Yeah.
Rob Stott: What was it like having PrimeTime in your backyard and being able to not have to take a plane to get to a location to attend the expo?
Bear Hendley: It was good. It’s kind of one of those things that, it’s good, it’s bad, to have one foot in, one foot out. We did have a little bit more interest, because people want to visit the store or they want to know a little bit more about us, because it’s our town. I think for the networking, it was a huge, huge plus over being in another town. There’s a little bit more light on you, I think. I don’t know. I really enjoy every place we’ve ever been with PrimeTime, and I think it’s a good venue.
Rob Stott: So, you’re saying I’m not the first person to come and visit Walts since we’ve been in Phoenix.
Bear Hendley: No.
Rob Stott: Darn, see I thought I was so special.
Bear Hendley: Yeah.
Rob Stott: Talk about that. What kind of experiences did you have, having members here? Was it other members? Was it vendor partners?
Bear Hendley: Yeah. We’ve had a couple members that I know of, we’re having more vendor partners come. But some of the vendor partners we’ve done business in the past and never made it out here, or had the budget to get here so to speak. So, it’s brought them the opportunity. I was surprised at a few, that didn’t really realize we were here. We’re such a large eCommerce company, to everyone, they forget about the little old store.
Rob Stott: No. What kind of interactions, things, feedback, did you have from them?
Bear Hendley: Oh, well feedback wise, I definitely got a lot of positive feedback on the store itself. People were surprised to see the nicer quality products. They weren’t sure what to expect, again with the internet presence they’re they’re thinking it’s TVs, that’s it? Walts TV, TVs right? I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on that, and I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on our staff and our crew, which is great. I didn’t get any negative comments. They’ve been some surprise visits. People said they were helpful, knowledgeable stuff like that, so very positive things so far.
Rob Stott: On your staff, obviously being here nationwide, being here for PrimeTime gave them the opportunity. Typically might see a retailer bring owner, some family member and an employer too, you guys got a lot of your staff to actually experience PrimeTime. A, what was that like? And then B, what did you hear from them about them having the opportunity to get to the show?
Bear Hendley: Yeah. Even actually, one of them we just recently brought on board. We brought him to the show for the first time, he’s coming from a different industry. He’s just really excited at how large this venue was for this industry, he had no idea. He’s been from another industry, which is a large industry and he wasn’t expecting that. So hearing an outsider, someone that hasn’t been in yet, someone brand new to our company, it’s been really… He had a good time. He said it was really great.
Bear Hendley: As far as having the impact of our own employees here, we’re able to send more than we would normally for the education in LA, that was really great. And just get the professional experience and knowledge from some of the other members and the stuff. Getting that to is great and the feedback has been really good. They’re really excited about that.
Rob Stott: Yeah. No, that’s awesome. I know, obviously being here, you mentioned you got a foot in the door at the store, foot in the door at PrimeTime, but was the actual experience? Did it feel different when you were at the show, or did you for a second forget the fact that you’re in Phoenix and you were attending a PrimeTime?
Bear Hendley: It does really feel different. I relate it to when you’re having a party, a big party at your own house, you’re not afraid to go in any room of the house. It’s just like that. Exactly like that, for sure.
Rob Stott: That’s awesome. Well, I want to bring it back to the store here. You mentioned some changes, this used to be a warehouse. We’re sitting in a studio in your store. I know a lot of effort has been put into kind of upgrading the in-store experience here and what’s around, and how things are laid out. When you guys are doing that, how do you go about plan… What did the planning look like? What was the concept that you had in mind? What was it like bringing this to life?
Bear Hendley: Well, probably the first foremost concept was experience, we wanted to bring experience back to the customers of touch and the feel, hearing it, especially with sound. This studio, part of the reason it was created during its process, was to make videos, obviously to educate, but to show products. It really worked well and married well with when people didn’t want to come into the store. We have another way to reach them in their home, which helps the online sales, but also made them a little bit more familiar with the brand, more comfortable with us, maybe more comfortable to come in and make the purchase as well. It’s just another way to reach out to the customer, and this is a great way to do that with the studio.
Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. Obviously, walking around, you see some sound rooms and other mini experience centers throughout the store. I can’t… I imagine something when you the store was smaller, you did not have the ability to do that. So what have those done for you?
Bear Hendley: Well, it’s increased sales. It definitely done that. But it’s also allowed us to reach maybe some partners that we weren’t able to reach before because of the limitation of the show space, or even the ability to demonstrate it. Sometimes these partners, again, with the online presence, there’s other partners that we have that we focus with the store, because this is a store, this isn’t about online. This is about people coming in, buying and experiencing. There’s other products that’s opened us up to have that we didn’t have with just the online presence. It really helps make it legitimate. It allows us to have more options for our customers to experience.
Rob Stott: Oh, that’s awesome. What’s next? I kind of want to… I don’t want to take up too much more of your time, because I know you got things to sell and we’re in here sitting in your studio, but I know you want to get back out there. What’s next for Walts? What’s the vision moving forward? Hopefully sometime soon, we’re on the other side of a pandemic, maybe retail life gets back to a little bit of normalcy. But what are you guys focusing your efforts on as you move forward into ’22 and beyond?
Bear Hendley: Well, in the local market, which is really where I can speak, is appliance, where we’re going gung ho with appliances. As well as buy online, pickup in store, we’re very heavily interested in that. It’s shown a lot of return. There’s so many positives, we haven’t found negatives, customers love it. One of the greatest things about it is lack of damage.
Rob Stott: Yeah, absolutely.
Bear Hendley: We’re just leveraging some relationships to help grow that. That’s where we’re going. That’s the next level for us. We want to reach and start to really tell our story to the… Especially in our area there’s a lot of people that don’t know about us, so we’re doing some more advertising. We’re going to get back on radio, we haven’t done that in a while. We’re going to get back on that. That kind of stuff.
Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. Well, Bear, I appreciate. This has been a lot of fun. Not even just getting to sit down and talk with you in this awesome studio you guys have, but being here, being in PrimeTime, being at Phoenix, and just getting to walk around and see it all. We appreciate it. Thanks for the hospitality in your store. Hopefully we get to come back soon.
Bear Hendley: Yes, please do. Anytime. We can’t wait till another PrimeTimes’s here, of course. We love PrimeTime.
Rob Stott: Absolutely. Thank you.
Bear Hendley: All right. Thank you.