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From a keynote featuring an astronaut to the extraordinary deals available to members across the show floor, PrimeTime was action-packed in Houston. We recap the show with Nationwide’s Chief Member Advocate Tom Hickman.

Rob Stott: We’re back on the Independent Thinking Podcast. Rob Stott coming to you live from PrimeTime. And of course right now a guy, you call me the muse, I think we last time we got … you’re my muse, last time we got in front of a couple of microphones.

Tom Hickman: It’s not weird, man.

Rob Stott: No it’s not.

Tom Hickman: It’s only weird if you make it weird.

Rob Stott: I know. I mean just embrace it. Love it, roll with it. So Mr. Tom Hickman, Chief Member Advocate of Nationwide Marketing Group, appreciate you stepping in and chatting with us here. I know schedules are always crazy this week.

Tom Hickman: They are. A lot of commerce going on here.

Rob Stott: Yeah. A lot. Just to start, how’s Houston been treating you? I know it’s the first time or a first time in a long time for Nationwide being in Houston.

Tom Hickman: You know, Wayne would certainly have to correct me, but I think it’s the first time for us.

Tom Hickman: I know certainly for me and the years I’ve been around the group, certainly the first time. It’s been great. We had great food, good hospitality, hotels are beautiful. And economical I might add, which is always helpful. We’ve had a great time. We came and scouted it out. I think you and I did a podcast back then and we knew we were hopeful that it was going to be a strong show. We’ve had great feedback.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome.

Tom Hickman: Safe. That’s important.

Rob Stott: Yeah, right. Right. Great town. You know, a lot going on and the tie in, I think it is awesome. For those that were at the keynote here in Houston, the opportunity to bring in an astronaut to talk to the membership and Mike Massimino, a guy that is a retired astronaut.

What were your takeaways from his talk here in Houston?

Tom Hickman: Well, I massively underestimated the space nerd, kind of population inside our company.

Rob Stott: Heck, I wore a NASA t-shirt.

Tom Hickman: I saw that. Yeah. You’re one of them. And I am too, right. I think it’s okay to be a space nerd. He was great. I was telling Mike Whitaker if every company could operate like NASA from a culture perspective, and actually from a results perspective too, and a legacy perspective, but not that they’re done by any means, but if everybody could operate in that same kind of mindset that they did. I mean it was powerful for me because I always … you just assume that that’s a ridiculously competitive environment because all you hear about how hard it is to be, and it is, to become an astronaut.

But he actually just broke that down the other way in terms of the way they engage each other and treat each other, and it’s really not, it is competitive, but it’s competitive as a team and as a family. I just didn’t think of it that way. We have the same kind of similar culture. We’re ridiculously competitive obviously, but I think we’re all family, you know? And so, for him to talk about that. He said something that I wrote down and I thought was really interesting is that if you didn’t like somebody, you just didn’t know him well enough.

I feel like I’ve really tried to get to know some people and I still don’t like them, but maybe I’ll go back and try a little harder because that’s a unique perspective I had never heard.

Rob Stott: Yeah.

Tom Hickman: All the accomplishments. They got to fix the Hubble telescope. I mean, let’s be honest. Right. You know, but, but the core principles that he brought, I thought were really, really cool.

Rob Stott: Yeah. You talk about the teamwork aspect and …

Tom Hickman: And he’s tall. I thought astronauts were short.

Rob Stott: We’re two short guys sitting here on this stage to be next to him. Well, for one thing, I wonder about that is how they fit something of that size in the space capsules. It’s a good thing they had the shuttle when he decided to be an astronaut …

Tom Hickman: He’s a tall dude man.

Rob Stott: He wouldn’t have been on the moon landing missions by any stretch. One of the questions that he got that sort of stuck with me and the way he answered it and to your point about teamwork is, typically when you think about the path to an astronaut and his was something special, but the fact that traditional minds might think I got to be super strong in engineering, but he broke it down and, and talked about how there are some veterinarians that ended up … just because they were interested in being a vet, the way you can apply that to space. In a similar regard, you look at the makeup of Nationwide and all the different talents that, as we talked about back in November, our first podcast, and bringing that team together, the experts in those fields and what that does to an organization.

Tom Hickman: You know my belief, our members deserve the best and they deserve expertise in areas where sometimes they have it, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes we’re a primary resource, sometimes we’re a secondary resource to those folks, but either way, we better be a resource, right?

Rob Stott: Yeah.

Tom Hickman: And so when we look around the business, I have things I’m good at. I have maybe one or two things that I’m really good at and I have a bunch of things that I need to get better on. When you look at the organization, we don’t try to be experts in areas that we’re not. But if there’s an area we need to be an expert and we go get it. You look at our expertise in digital and we don’t … not a lot of people have MIT educated digital leaders or who spent their life in digital or no one has a Jen Danko or Jim Kane in their business that I know of other than us, at least in our space

And then that goes all the way down to our people in the back office support, right? We hire for culture first, ability second, and we might throw you in the company in someplace you have no business being and no intention of being. But if your heart and your head are in the right place and you understand our purpose and you understand up in retail you’re going to do fine here. And if you don’t, you’re probably not, but we wear that on our sleeves. So that’s not a big deal.

Rob Stott: Yeah. All that comes around to, you talk about the passion and working for that common goal of the members and making sure they’re successful, they’ve got the resources and the opportunities in front of them. Obviously at PrimeTime, a perfect example of that. The opportunity, that word, you mentioned that during your portion of the keynote prior to having to turn the stage over to an astronaut, but …

Tom Hickman: Keynotes are easy because there’s a commander of the US military or the guy that ran Southwest Airlines or an astronaut behind me. So I don’t get real nervous because I’m like, hopefully, they take a nugget out of it. I did talk about, I think what the challenges are, we talked about this yesterday, I think challenges are simply people that are looking at opportunities the wrong way. Do you know what I mean? I’m a very much a glass that’s half full kind of guy, but there are challenges for independent retailers and I don’t think anybody’s built an organization quite like ours where we’re literally rooting out retail challenges and kind of going to bring all comers of what, what you got, you know, where are you struggling, you know, and we’ll go, we’ll solve it, try to solve it.

There are going to be some we aren’t going to be able to solve, but we’re going to be relentless in trying to get it figured out. We love opportunities, but man, we love challenges too. It’s just the way we’re wired.

Rob Stott: As you look ahead in 2020, what are some of those big opportunities that you’re focusing on and that you think Nationwide and the membership focus on?

Tom Hickman: Yeah. We have to excel in our core competency, right? There is no doubt we’re going to have a fantastic year in appliances and electronics and furniture and bedding and we’re now starting to get core competency around AT&T and some other categories. We’re just encouraging our members to get better and be a little more open to more products and more diverse products because the retail landscape is shifting and it’s constantly shifting.

It was shifting 50 years ago. It’s shifting today. We have to at a minimum, meet that customer where they’re looking for products. Because if we’re not there at the first snap or the kickoff, we’re not going to be there for the rest of the game. So obviously we’re focusing on digital and presence and all kinds of marketing and where they need to be. I think more importantly, in order to be there first, you got to be what they’re looking for, in categories that are relevant and categories that are growing. There’s no doubt connected home is growing. There’s no doubt that outdoor is … I mean, I’ve just watched my own outdoor presence expand just because of the way we entertain now and how much time we spend at home.

I’m not making any of these numbers up. They’re heavily vetted. I’m a data guy. We don’t share information that’s not been vetted. There’s businesses going on and, and our guy, we’re not telling him they have to participate, but man, take a look.

Rob Stott: I believe it’s $490 billion. Billion with a “b”.

Tom Hickman: That’s all it is. I had to say that twice cause I kept thinking like million. And even if it were a million, it’d be worth it. Right?

Rob Stott: Absolutely.

Tom Hickman: But billion man. I think that’s ours to take. I mean I look at it as that’s ours, right?

Rob Stott: Yeah.

Tom Hickman: Because it needs to be sold, the connected home specifically, it needs to be sold inside the independent channel to do the justice to the end consumer that they need. They need someone to direct the sales force, someone to walk them through it, someone to service it, someone to give them the right path and then someone to help them after it’s in there. There’s really only a couple of places that can be done. I don’t look at it as go get, I look at it as ours. We just have to execute and we’ll get as much as we want.

Rob Stott: We’ll have opportunities at the show if you’re here or after the fact to learn more of … you talk about the service side of things, the after the sale, what happens and being able to offer members a program that they can help their customers that … they don’t have to necessarily buy the product from their store. They might have, you think about what the average is like 10, it’s going to be 10 products or more in a home that are connected and all that sort of stuff. But when one of those things goes wrong, what happens? And now you have an opportunity as a retailer …

Tom Hickman: I’m going to buy it because it’s inevitable. Some point I’m somewhere on the road and I get the dreaded the wifi is down right? Or I told the lights to go off and there’s still one on and it happens. It’s not because they’re not great products, it’s just that’s just inherently what’s in the business. Then I got to do the, excuse me one second, things are offline at Hacienda Hickman, I’ll be right back and I have to go fix that. So I’m excited about that. because of that piece of taking … that’s a big, that’s not a rock, that’s a boulder to take off the wagon of an independent retailer. And so we’re excited about the tech support opportunity here. Really excited about it.

Rob Stott: Shifting gears a little bit and I don’t want to take up too much more of your time, but the one thing, talk about this, I had a couple of conversations with people that this is like my seventh or eighth PrimeTime, but they’re like, no, listen, you’ve got to reset the clock. First of all, this is number one for me being a part of the family. So with being a part of the family, getting to see that NLA the earlier side of the show. And I know education is a major component of what makes up PrimeTime to the fact that it’s almost longer I believe than the actual show itself. So just to get your take on the importance of education and the opportunities on that side of this week of PrimeTime for the members.

Tom Hickman: So here’s my disclaimer. I was a product trainer. So that’s where it comes to me.

Rob Stott: Maybe I’m asking the wrong person.

Tom Hickman: No. I’ll give you the disclaimer and then I was a sales guy, but I’ll tell you, this company started as a buying group 49 years ago, but very quickly after that, we became a learning group. And education, it’s great that there are two great days, of buying here and it’s awesome. Everyone’s like, what’d you buy at the show? When’s your buy fair? When’s the buying opportunity? The really smart retailers that we deal with, they go, “Hey, what’s the NLA category look like? What are the new ones that I need to check off my box?” Because it’s deliberate that the learning portion is longer than the selling portion because you don’t get to sell the right stuff if you don’t know how to sell it.

Our secret weapon at retail is an educated, informed professional sales force. And that’s all we have. That’s all I know. That’s all we do is have the world’s best sales force across 14,000 stores. It’s been a passion of this organization for a very long time. Longer than most things here. Before digital marketing, before marketing at all. We were a learning organization and I mean there’s a hundred and some odd opportunities to find something else about your business, member-led, vendor-led, staff-led, you call it, you can get whatever you want. And I think the guys that get it will come up to me and say, hey, the cashbacks are great, don’t get me wrong. There’s going to be a ton of cashbacks here. But the opportunity to come here and learn and network is really what that’s what I’m like, all right, we’re getting it. We’re starting to understand.

Rob Stott: That second word you mentioned that there’s so many, there’s a hundred plus sessions of learning, but then also the in-between time and even in those sessions, the member to member-led sessions where it is networking and those off the cuff conversations that you get to have where you get those opportunities to learn from your peers in this space. And kind of the challenges they face.

Tom Hickman: Yeah, I mean, look, we got some world-class retailers out there, you know what I mean? And it’s amazing when you put them in a room and you start to watch the sparks fly and ideas. And we had a panel-led session yesterday, six retailers, that were talking to a much larger group and it was an open mic and I saw pencils, paper flying and pictures be taken. And I applaud those retailers for stepping out to help other retailers because sometimes that’s not the inclination. Right. And they were sharing failures just as much as they were sharing successes,

Rob Stott: Absolutely. Almost more important.

Tom Hickman: Yeah. Which speaks to the community, right? I know that what we’re doing here is important. What we’re doing to help dealers is important and when we’ll be relentless in serving them.

And so we will constantly be … it’s hard to lead if you can’t, if you don’t learn first what to lead. And so leading and learning is kind of the way we go about it. And so we’ll keep doing that.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. I know there’s a whole show floor behind us that we got to get to and more meetings of course.

Tom Hickman: Sure. Yeah, of course.

Rob Stott: But I appreciate you spending a few minutes with us.

Tom Hickman: Anytime.

Rob Stott: I look forward to …

Tom Hickman: Once again, welcome to the family.

Rob Stott: Thank you. I can end every episode with you by saying thank you for that.

Tom Hickman: Thank you.

Rob Stott: It’s an incredible opportunity and I love being here.

Tom Hickman: So you’ve been pretty a great advocate, not just here, but before for the independent channel, and so we’re thrilled to have you.

Rob Stott: It’s awesome. Thank you.

Tom Hickman: Thanks, man.