157: Independent Retail Through the Eyes of a Nationwide Member Support Manager

Written by Rob Stott

February 28, 2023

Brett Kelley joined the Nationwide Marketing Group team roughly one year ago as a Member Support Manager — the team that sits on the front lines of the independent retail channel, engaging with our Members and helping them thrive on their own terms. As such, he (and the full MSM team) has a very unique perspective into what life is like as an independent retailer. We tap into that experience and more.


Rob Stott: All right. We are back on the Independent Thinking Podcast and hitting the road in a sense. We’ve not done… We’ve had members, we’ve had vendor partners, we’ve had industry partners, but yet, we’ve had staff here at Nationwide. But so many different departments and ways to talk about Nationwide and what we do. Never had someone from our field team and that lucky person is you, Mr. Numero uno, Brett Kelley. Appreciate you jumping on the podcast and talking about life as an MSM with us today.

Brett Kelley: Yeah, absolutely, Rob. Thanks for having me, brother.

Rob Stott: Not a problem at all. Relatively new MSM with the… What I want to say, the last year or so since you’ve been-

Brett Kelley: Yes, sir. Yeah.

Rob Stott: … part of Nationwide team.

Brett Kelley: April. Yeah, April will be a year for me.

Rob Stott: Awesome. Well, So, we’re coming up on that. Well, have a drink at PrimeTime, celebrate that one year. Just short of it at the end of March, but we’re close enough, right?

Brett Kelley: Sir.

Rob Stott: No, I’m-

Brett Kelley: No. I’m close my year.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. Well, like I said, I appreciate you coming on and sharing some insights on what it’s like as a member of that member support manager team that we’ve got going on here at Nationwide, the front lines, if you will, of Nationwide Marketing Group. So, before we jump into the work you’re doing on a day-to-day, tell us a little bit about yourself, and who is Brett Kelley? What’s your background and what brought you to Nationwide?

Brett Kelley: Yeah, absolutely. So, again, my name is Brett Kelley. Born and raised in a small town in Kentucky called Mount Sterling. It’s where I currently live right now with my wife and three kids. It’s pretty wild around my house at the moment. Currently, in a rental, so it’s been pretty crazy. So, my background, came out of college. Actually, opened a fitness center with a business partner here in my hometown. Truthfully, we got the talking fitness center is doing well. Got the talking and he said, “What else can we do?” And I started doing a little research thinking about different things that our area could use and landed on a furniture store.

So, opened a furniture store in 2015 and operated and ran it full-time basically. Ended up selling the gym. So, focused completely on that in 18 and got in conversations with Ben Morris, who is still currently an MSM here in with us. And I told him, I was looking to get out, go a different direction, like all our members, our stores take up a lot of our time and had young kids at the house and just wanted to have a little bit more of a… Don’t want to say a set schedule because as an MSM, we don’t have a set schedule, but maybe a little bit more control over different aspects. So, I’d actually accepted another job. Ben had called me, and I told him… Ben and I had really developed a great relationship over the years, but think a lot of been and obviously, still do. And I told him, I said, “Ben, I think I’m getting it out, selling it to my business partner and going to take this other job.” And he said, “Keep in touch,” that kind of thing. And it may have not been an hour later and he called me and said, “Hey, by chance would you want to join on with Nationwide?”

And truthfully, at the time, I didn’t know exactly what that entailed and that kind of thing. So, I’ll listen to anything. So, ended up… That was a Friday, my last day in the furniture store. The next week I was going to take off and it was my kid’s spring break. It lined out perfect, let’s take the week off, spend time with them, and then, I was going to work Monday, the following Monday, regardless of who it was for. That’s what I told Ben. So, interviewed with Dean Hamby and Rig Bellows on Tuesday and got offered the job about an hour and a half later and thought about it, prayed about it for a little while and accepted a couple days later, so best decision I ever made.

Rob Stott: That’s really cool. Well, you bring a unique perspective then too. I know maybe not uncommon, someone knit from whether it’s vendor side, retail side, landed at Nationwide, it’s that hub. I’d be interested, didn’t know, how did you starting out a furniture store come across Nationwide Marketing Group?

Brett Kelley: So, Ben recruited me hard to join Nationwide. So, we actually, believe it or not, never officially joined Nationwide. It wasn’t because of me, but it all happened during the pandemic. We had actually filled out the paperwork extended in and our governor shut us down, couldn’t have been that kind of thing. So, we were kind of reeling, didn’t know what was going to bring, so we just held off for a little while. But constantly, I give them credit, talk to him often, and stayed in constant contact. So, that’s how I got to know what Nationwide could do.

Rob Stott: No, that’s really cool. And I think without that touchpoint, who knows what could have happened and that sort of thing. But interesting that’s the work of the MSM is to find those retailers and you’re just a new business. We’ll have to get Ben in here at some point and ask him how he came across your business, that’d be interesting to find out, but a good thing he did but you mentioned it. You wanted to get a little more control over your day-to-day and what your schedule’s like but lo and behold, the life of an MSM is a little crazy as it can be. So, I want to ask what a normal day for you is like but I know obviously, there’s days on the road and days at home, so maybe split it out like that. What’s a day at home for you as an MSM?

Brett Kelley: Well, I’ll tell you this, Rob, there’s no normal day as MSM, but Mondays, most of the time, we’re in the offices because we do have our weekly meetings with Dean and the West. So, most of the time we’re in the office on Monday, we do that. After meetings, we try to get a hold of our vendor counterparts with the manufacturers just to bounce ideas off each other. I’ll tell you what, being in contact with those guys that are in the field like us that are partners with us is, they are such an advocate for Nationwide. I can’t say enough about that.

So, typically on Monday we’re in the office doing that type of stuff. And then, on the road, basically, what I’m looking at is strategically picking area, looking at my members in the area, and then, we’re blessed enough to have some access to maps and different things to see targets for prospects and stuff like that. So, I try to put together a day-to-day itinerary and try to at least get to in the 10 to 15 stores a day if possible, if not more. Depending on how the meetings run.

Rob Stott: Got you. No. So, you talk about that area a little bit because I know every MSM has a different geographic area that they cover. So, for you, what does that look like? Is it set by a radius or how do you guys figure out the region that you you’ll cover?

Brett Kelley: Yeah, absolutely. So, state lines divide us. So, currently I cover Kentucky and Indiana for Nationwide. Enjoy it thoroughly. Of course, I live here in Kentucky and lucky to be centrally located so I can go different directions and still be home to see my family and I most of the time. But Indiana is… They have so many great members and a lot of great prospects up there. It’s a fantastic state as well.

Rob Stott: Yeah. So, when you’re on the road now, obviously, you’re mapping out how you go, what your day is going to look like or what each trip is like. When you land at a member store is it… I assume you’re talking to them ahead of time, let them know you’re coming or is it dependent on schedule, that sort of stuff?

Brett Kelley: It depends on schedule, Rob. Really, truthfully, sometimes I don’t call, but most of the time I try to set up meetings because I want to get an idea if there’s any hot points that they want to talk about, that kind of thing. I’ll come in with an agenda, and our motto is helping independence drive on their own terms, and we look at everything we can to help their bottom line and bottom dollar.

Rob Stott: Yes, so what? I mean, when you go into a store, whether it’s announced or unannounced, obviously, if you’re setting up that meeting, you might have some things that they want to talk about. But what’s it like going into a store that you hadn’t called ahead of time? What things are you looking at as you walk in, and how do those visits typically go?

Brett Kelley: So, I’ll just break down how I do a prospect visit just… So, what I do is I don’t walk in with anything other than my business card in my pocket. I feel like if you walk in with a backpack or something cross, the red flag is put up immediately. So, most of the time I’ll walk in, I’m usually greeted by somebody, and I’ll say, “I’m just checking you out. I was in the area.” So, I’ll walk around and truthfully, with a prospect, my goal is to look at matches. I’m looking for matches whether it be on the financing side, whether that be manufacturers for volume, rebate opportunities, that kind of thing. So, I’m getting a game plan in my head for my next plan of action with them. So, most of the time, at some point they’ll either come back to me or I’ll walk by their desk, and they’ll ask how I’m doing that kind of thing.

And I’ll usually say, “I actually had an alternative motive for coming in here today. Introduce myself, I, Brett Kelley with Nationwide Marketing Group”. And I just start the conversation and my goal is to get them talking. I want to know, I still have the retailer mentality, so I know they have a thousand things going on all the time. So, I try to get them talking and really what’s keeping you up at night? What’s going on that is keeping you from getting where you want to be. And I think we do a great job as Nationwide as again, with a thousand things going through members’ heads, the little things that we do like the credit card processing, stuff like that, that can help tremendously and help the bottom line. That’s what we’re there for to push because that’s something as a former retailer that I didn’t even really think about that much just because of everything else. Trucks coming in, people coming in to buy, deliveries, all this thing, just little things like that that can help you over time you just don’t think about.

Rob Stott: Yeah, well, that’s a great point in that. Necessary, you have that background as a retailer where the services that make a difference or the insight of what it’s like to run a retail business and the things that you know maybe weren’t top of mind that do have that bigger impact. So, you mentioned the credit card processing and things like that. Are there other go-to, whether it’s programs or services, products are what they are there, same here or there, but different things that you have in mind that you want to talk about when you get in front of one of those prospects?

Brett Kelley: Yeah, absolutely. So, one of the first things I do before I go into a prospect is I’ll go check out their website. See how the website looks, see how it operates, see who it’s with, that kind of thing. See where they’re ranked on the Google side of it. Are they on the second page? Are they 10 down? Just trying to get an idea because we have such a great service with RWS insight on time, that is something that we are head above with. And so, that’s the first thing I do. And I’ll gauge a lot on my next moves with that, whether looking at what they have manufacturer wise or if they’re doing Synchrony or Wells Fargo, that kind of thing. So, just trying to find a good end to relate to them. So, that’s usually my first thing is to check out their website because everybody needs that digital footprint. So, if they don’t have one, that’s usually a lead in for me, “Hey, listen,” type of thing with RSW insight on time.

Rob Stott: No, that’s all. It makes a lot of sense too because honestly, the way you’re approaching, looking at those dealers, it’s how a customer would go about it, right? That’s the first window into their store is that website. So, if it’s something that’s either up to snuff or you notice some things that they might be able to change about their digital strategy that’s coming from someone that isn’t that you’re not looking to buy from them necessarily, but you’re looking to help them improve. So, their business, I mean, makes a lot of sense to take that approach.

Brett Kelley: And the key is… You’re right. I’m not searching them to buy, but majority of the population is searching them to buy. So, as well as me, Rob, if your refrigerator goes out tonight, your wife is going to be like, “Rob-

Rob Stott: We need-

Brett Kelley: … this a refrigerator.

Rob Stott: Yeah, we need this.

Brett Kelley: So, you’re not going to turn on the TV and look for an ad. You’re not going to go on the radio and listen and wait for hopefully something comes up. First thing you’re going to do is you’re going to put it in your phone, you’re going to Google it. And that’s why that digital presence is so important because that first impression that you give someone goes a long way and they can be sold before they walk in the door.

Rob Stott: No, makes a lot of sense. Now, not to switch gears completely, but talk about… I think it’s interesting to see how you approach the non-affiliated retailer out there, but I imagine a member, is it a similar approach? Obviously, you’re not selling them necessarily to join Nationwide Marketing Group, they’re already members, but what is that visit like for you when you go into their store and talk to them? What are the things you’re seeing? Obviously, if you have things that you know that you’re going into there to talk about that those are bullet points that you’re going to hit on. But what’s a typical visit with a Nationwide member?

Brett Kelley: So, truthfully, when I go in to see my members, I’m trying to figure out what their headache is, and how I can help. I’ll also do my due diligence on looking on our NetSuite and our stuff like that to see what they’re involved in and to make sure… Since the last time we spoke, had you had any manufacturers, have you done anything different? So, we can account for that, but my overall goal is to walk in there and figure out how I can make your life easier. Whether that be help your bottom line, if you’re having trouble getting hold of a rep for a different manufacturer, let me take on that burden for you is just trying to be a consultant to be honest with you, Robin and I, to me that’s our overall goal is to be somebody that they feel comfortable reaching out to.

And if they just need to vent, there’s some that I talk to weekly that just call to let me know what’s going on, just to have somebody to talk to], and that itself can go a long way in building that trust with your members. And I’ll be honest with you Rob, I have a ton of great members that are fully engaged with Nationwide and that’s our overall goal is to get our members fully engaged with Nationwide. Whether that be, like we mentioned, the credit card processing financing, RWS side ad rocket, all the different things. Extended warranties, that’s always a big topic in stores, extended warranties. So, that’s my overall goal is to just intertwine us in that dealer as much as we can.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And you mentioned a lot of the things that we do at Nationwide and the services that are available. The thing I love about whether it’s first time doing it on a podcast, but even just seeing you guys at shows or on calls and picking your brain, you are on the front. Exactly what you explained. You’re there talking to them, you’re putting yourselves in their shoes, and seeing what those headaches are and the challenges they face. And even that, on the other side it’s the successes, what’s working well for them. So, I mean, to that end what are they… We’ll tackle the challenges first. What are the challenges that are you’re hearing right now or things that are keeping them retailers up at night right now that you’re trying to address? And I imagine it’s all over the board with a bunch of different members, but is there anything that stands out as far as what those challenges might be that you’re helping them through?

Brett Kelley: Yeah, you’re exactly right Robbie. It’s all over the board. I can go to a town 30 minutes up the road like Lexington, and it’s completely different than what my dealers in my town are dealing with, but it is all over the place. But the one thing that has been a constant over the past little bit is just getting inventory in. Now, that’s usually one of my first questions I ask my dealers when I go in, is it getting better? And the good thing for our members is it is getting better, but that is a big headache. Help finding people to work has been a big struggle and we are adding programs and trainings to help them negate that a little bit. So, that’s the one thing I love about Nationwide is if we see a problem, we try to find an avenue to fix it or at least alleviate it. But to me, just the common trend has just been getting inventory and finding good help.

Rob Stott: No, things we’ve heard a lot about over the past, not even just year, those extend back pre-pandemic and I mean, going through it and now coming out of it, those things are continuing. But quickly, just to flip to the other side, what are some of the things that are going well right now that you’re hearing on the road from members?

Brett Kelley: Financing side of it, with the way the economy is with rates hiking up, our gap between a non-member to a member when it comes to a dealer cost on giving somebody a zero interest is just widening. So, we are really going to be able to take advantage of that, especially our members can. And it’s been a big bullet point in prospecting as well because if I walk into a store and they have Wells Fargo or Synchrony Financing and they’re not a part of Nationwide, they’re leaving a lot of dollars on the table. So, that’s been a big avenue there.

We continue to make phenomenal strides in our extended warranties. I can’t say enough about what Chad Burrs and his team are doing with that. That has been a big push for me with my members that if they’re not using the extended warranty programs that we have, they’re missing out because we have four or five of the best out there, and it’s just a way to help your bottom line. And to me, everybody wants the comfort of an extended warranty. You just have to offer it. And we offer trainings on those as well with our NLAs, our National Learning Academy, so we give them every avenue to succeed in that realm.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And I want to ask back to the challenges a little bit, and you don’t have to call out the retailer by name, but is there a story in this first year of being on the road as an MSM where one that stands out that you like when you think of, “Man, that was awesome to be able to help that retailer in that way.” Whether it’s get over a challenge or even maybe just realize a program that they didn’t know was available that’s really changed their business.

Brett Kelley: I’ve been blessed with a lot of those stories just because I have a lot of great retailers, but probably, the one that is most fresh to me is what the Sears stores are dealing with right now that we’ve been able to transition over and turn into independence. It’s so awesome. I have three or four in my territory, and they are in the infancy of independent life, but you’re seeing them thrive and they are fully engaged in everything we’re doing and it just makes you feel good as the MSM. And I want to give our leadership credit because they jumped on that as soon as the word was out and got us to go get in front of these guys to try to save their stores because the independence is what makes the world go round. And to see those go out of business was just been awful. So, I’d give our leadership team a lot of credit in that and getting us on top of those and working with the manufacturers and dealers to give them some avenues to succeed because it’s definitely working.

Rob Stott: That’s actually what… I mean, the I Sears thing is awesome. And we could spend a whole another podcast talking about what that’s been like. And maybe we will, I’ll write that down. But the one thing you mentioned at the top too was about the conversations you have with the vendor partners is what your counterparts in the field. So, talk about that a little bit because that’s something that I honestly, personally, hadn’t thought about from the MSM side. Obviously, knowing that you guys are in there with members regularly, but talk about what that relationship is like, and why it’s important on the road to be talking to the… I’m assuming manufacturers reps that are in your area.

Brett Kelley: To me, Rob, it just gives you validity, gives you validation because especially, we’re walking into prospects, they consider us salesman, and let’s forward, and we’re trying to get them on board with Nationwide. But when you can have a rep that has had a relationship with them, whether that be TSI, Catnapper, Ashley, any of them, and I’ve left out a lot gee. We have a ton of partners, but when they can walk into the store and validate you, it just goes a long way.

I know that my counterparts in my area have given me a ton of leads and have pushed Nationwide. And in the same sense, we do the same with our manufacturers. We push them to our dealers because there’s reasons why we’re partnered with them. There’s different ways to get discounts and VR opportunities and different things like that, and all it does is help our members. So, yeah, I usually try to at least once a week, have a lunch or something with whoever it be counterpart and just brainstorm together, “Hey is there somebody in particular that’s Nationwide that you’re looking to add or vice versa, you have any good candidates for us.” So, to me those relationships mean the world.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And neat little peeling back the layers of the onion there too, to see how that makes the MSM team tick too, so that’s cool. Appreciate that. One thing to bring it home. We’re in PrimeTime season right now. We’re talking here just a little over a month away. It’ll be a little bit closer by the time we publish this, but it’s obviously a big deal twice a year for the Nationwide family, and I’m assuming you guys too on the road and getting your members to join us at different the stops around the country Dallas coming up this march. So, what’s that pitch like to get dealers to join? Is there in Nash at PrimeTime and what are you telling them and what stands out to them about that experience when they do go?

Brett Kelley: So, I’ll tell you this. My pitch from pre-PrimeTime last year before my first PrimeTime completely changed after the PrimeTime because you can talk about it. All the other MSMs and Dean and those guys were telling me what it’s like and you get an idea until you get there, you don’t understand what it is. And it’s such a great show. Every dealer should be there because there’s something for everybody.

Rob Stott: It just dawned on me this’ll be your second, right? So, if you joined April-

Brett Kelley: It should be my second.

Rob Stott: … so, this past August in Orlando was your first PrimeTime. So, really that should be my question. How was your first PrimeTime ?

Brett Kelley: It was phenomenal. I had a ton of my dealers come down. We’ve got a lot of stuff accomplished and that’s how I push it. When I’m talking about PrimeTime is, I walk in and we usually have a laundry list of things we want to talk about and that kind of thing, and that requires calling this, emailing that, doing this, doing that. Well, you come down to PrimeTime, it’s all there in a convention center. If you can walk around and get a lot accomplished in a day or two days we’re there. So, that’s my big push that just gives them an opportunity to fully get engaged with what Nationwide does and what we have to offer them. Whether it be new manufacturers, business services, RWS, because we’re second to none when it comes to business services, second to none. If you need something, we have something for it, and it just gives people an opportunity to see everything under one roof.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. Going in blind, what’s the pitch like to join us at PrimeTime when you have never been there?

Brett Kelley: Well, most of the ones I got to know real well, I said, “You need to come join me for my first one because we’ll learn together.” But the good thing about my territory is I have a ton of awesome dealers that already understand the value of PrimeTime and a lot of them go twice a year every year, so they know the value. But pushing it to a newer member, it’s so extremely important to get them there because I can talk about it till I’m blue in the face about everything we do. But until you see it, you fully don’t comprehend it. And I was blessed enough to add a ton of new dealers last year, so I have most of them coming to this one. So, it should be a great show. Everybody needs to come to PrimeTime. There’s something for you. I can promise you that. And if there’s not, talk to your MSM, they will tell you what’s there for you. I promise.

Rob Stott: No, that’s right. That’s awesome and appreciate that. That’s insight too. I think it’s something to just be there. It is one of the… You have to experience, and I think we’re bringing a full circle too, that whole, you have that. You know what it’s like to be a retailer. So, you know what it means to step away from a store for two or three days and take that on the right, leave the business behind you and go focus on something else. But it really, they’re still there focusing on their business just from a different perspective. And I think that’s a cool way for you to be able to talk about that too to them as well.

Brett Kelley: Yeah, absolutely. It gets them out of the store where they’re worried about thousand things and gets them focused on goals that they want to accomplish, and that’s something else I do. As we grow, the list of our members that are going I contact and all the MSMs do. We contact them, we gauge what are you wanting to accomplish, what NLAs do you want to go to, what meetings do you want to go to, all that stuff. So, we don’t want anybody coming down there flying blind. We want them to have a game plan because it’s a great show, it’s a big show, but there’s not enough time to see and do everything. So, you have to be strategic about what you do. If I can give any advice to our members that have not been, have a game plan, talk to your MSM, get a laundry list of eight to 10 things that you want to accomplish down there and if you go past that, phenomenal. But because you’re going to go down there, you’re going to start walking around and go, “Oh, well there’s pure care, there’s dream fit. I was thinking about adding some sheets,” or that kind of thing. So, there’s going to be some stuff that distracts you, but you had that itinerary for you to always look back on and keep you focused.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And again, I think a unique perspective to hear on MSM talk, we talk about it so much internally, but to hear you guys talk about it and how you’re pitching it to our dealers and our members, I think that’s cool to hear, so I appreciate that, man.

This was fun. So, I mentioned it, we’re going to have to do another one-

Brett Kelley: Yeah, Rob.

Rob Stott: … This was a lot of fun. Appreciate you taking the time and sharing some insights and look forward to connecting with you and your members down there in Dallas in March. So, look forward to seeing you, man.

Brett Kelley: Absolutely. Thanks, Rob. Look forward to seeing you too, sir.

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