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164: How Retailers Can Leverage the ENERGY STAR Message in Their Marketing

Written by Rob Stott

April 18, 2023

On the heels of Nationwide Marketing Group’s recognition as a 2023 ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year – Sustained Excellence, Kaleb Behm, marketing and project manager at Nationwide, joins the podcast to discuss ways retailers can leverage the ENERGY STAR message in their own marketing. Specifically, ENERGY STAR has a unique program that helps visualize the real-world impact that selling ENERGY STAR Certified product has on the environment. We dive into the Scope 3 Analysis and much more.


 

Rob Stott: All right, we are back on the Independent Thinking podcast and we’re coming off of Primetime. Well, the timing of this is awesome. We’re in between Primetime and for you Kaleb Behm, the marketing and project manager here at Nationwide Marketing Group, which there are a lot of projects.

Well, one in particular that we’re going to talk about today that’s most important. But I know you got a busy plate. But the timing of this. We’re in between Primetime where we just came out of Dallas and this week happens to be, as we’re dropping this, Earth Day week. So this weekend, April 22nd. So perfect time to talk about that project that is taking up a lot of your plate, I know. And that’s the Energy Star program. So before we get into all that though, appreciate you jumping on and how are things going.

Kaleb Behm: Yeah, happy to be here, man. Things are great. Busy as always. I think everybody at Nationwide can attest to that. Everybody is busy, but we’re working hard and it has been great.

Rob Stott: No, it’s awesome. And yeah, well, talk about yourself a little bit, your background, your role. Because the marketing and project manager stuff a little bit new, right? So you kind of switched things up a little bit here recently.

Kaleb Behm: Yeah, so I’ve been with Nationwide for a little over three and a half years now and I’ve worn many hats I like to say. I was brought on and worked a lot with inventory finance and retail credit. Worked a lot with credit card processing and lease to own. And about a year to a year and a half ago or so, I started taking on a lot more responsibility within the Energy Star program. Just working with these projects that we have within Energy Star. And trust me, there are a lot of them. Trying to keep them all straight is a project itself.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. Well, so talk about that a little bit. The ability to put those different hats on. Has it been fun for you to go around and see different parts of the… I mean it’s really the business and financial services side, but to see all the different ways that department kind of works?

Kaleb Behm: Oh yeah. I mean, within business services I’ve worked on a whole bunch of different programs and I think a lot of people at Nationwide wear a lot of different hats and that’s the best way to learn about this type of industry because there are so many nooks and crannies within the independent retail channel that you can’t put on one hat and expect to learn everything about the business. And so it has been enlightening for sure. But to say that I’ve been drinking from a fire hose for the last three and a half years is a bit of an understatement.

Rob Stott: I got you, man. Well, the funny thing too is you haven’t even touched really the… I mean, in a way you really haven’t touched the merchandising side. It’s more than just the product transaction clearly because you’ve been working for three and a half years in this business. I mean, you haven’t really talked about a product program from a vendor partner necessarily. So I mean it just goes to show how this is not a simple industry, to say the least.

Kaleb Behm: No, by no means. No.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. Well, talk about Energy Star and everything you’re learning from there. I know not too long ago we had… As he was getting ready to sunset his career, Rick Weinberg. So I imagine you kind of talk about that… Well, first of all, enormous shoes to… I know him and I were roughly the same height, so I don’t know shoe size specifically, but I feel like they are massive shoes that you’re filling there for what-

Kaleb Behm: Massive shoes.

Rob Stott: Yeah, right.

Kaleb Behm: They’re enormous, yes. So about a year to a year and a half ago, I started taking over or shadowing with Rick Weinberg, who, if you don’t know Rick Weinberg, that’s a guy to know in the independent retail channel. He has been in every role at Nationwide just about and he has crushed all of them. Man, I learned so much from him. I got to learn a lot about not just Energy Star, but how the independent channel works because he spent a lifetime, just about, as a retailer. A lifetime, just about, with Nationwide.

And man, when you put those two things together, there was nothing that he didn’t know about the business, just about. And Energy Star in particular within Nationwide, we wouldn’t probably even have an Energy Star program if it weren’t for him. He kind of pioneered it within Nationwide and got us where we are now, which is a great channel that spans dozens of states and brings in millions of dollars in revenue for members and we pay that money back to the members and it’s just a great… He was a great person to learn from and taught me a whole lot.

Rob Stott: No, that’s all… I mean, the opportunity. I feel like a year and a half might not even be enough time to shadow for everything he has done with this Energy Star because I mean he basically was Mr. Energy Star for Nationwide. Picking up that mantle, what has it been like in… I mean, you kind of have an idea, I think, as you watch what he did and the program itself, and there’s an understanding of what Energy Star is, but is there anything that has surprised you or piqued your interest about this program since you’ve taken charge of it?

Kaleb Behm: Yeah, the whole entire thing is kind of surprising. I mean, the basis of what we do is that a lot of utility providers are willing to pay incentives to decrease their strains on their utility grid. And that alone… That’s the whole concept of what I do. I had no idea. That just seems counterproductive.

But a lot of these utilities have requirements from the state or federal government where they either have to sustain their utility usage or even decrease it by one or 2%. And a great way that they do that is they work with the independent channel through us to actually pay these incentives to members. With these new products coming out like heat pump water heaters, some of them can be up to $700 a unit to the consumer, sometimes hundreds of dollars to the member just to sell these Energy Star units, which is the whole crux of the Energy Star program within Nationwide. That alone was surprising to me.

Rob Stott: No, that’s all… I mean, I’m sure you’re learning a lot every day too because well now you get to be that liaison between Nationwide and the government. So I’m sure there are trade secrets you can’t really tell us or they’re letting you in or you have to off me and then we wouldn’t have a podcast anymore.

Kaleb Behm: Yeah. Exactly. We don’t want that.

Rob Stott: No, it’s cool to see that because I know they’ve got some awesome people over there. So to be able to have someone like Dan Kronen who we just had on this podcast not too long ago. I mean, I’m sure you’re learning a lot from them every day too. Not even just about those programs and the opportunities, but just how they operate this Energy Star program.

Kaleb Behm: Yeah. That whole team that we work with over there is awesome. Dan Kronen has been a great resource, especially for me. Because like I said this, up until a year and a half ago, was something I hadn’t even heard of and he has been a great resource along with Rick Weinberg and Frank Santner who have been great resources for me to learn a lot about the Energy Star program and how it kind of works not just within the independent channel but as a whole.

Rob Stott: No, and I mean, talk about an opportunity to come together too. Dallas; we mentioned it at the top and big announcement there. That’s where we say big. It’s kind of… You don’t want to say it’s expected at this point because I know all of the work that goes into it. When we say we’ve won our ninth Energy Star Partner of the Year Sustained Excellence Award, yeah, that’s another year and another feather in our cap for that. But there is a massive amount as I’m sure you know more about it than I do, but the amount of work that goes into that application and that process to be able to announce it. What was that like to be able to announce that at Primetime?

And I know we walked around and delivered as well. We had some other vendor partners that were with us that we found out that morning literally shoving the papers into the frames as we found out who won to be able to deliver those to them.

Kaleb Behm: Yeah, it was a really interesting experience because, for those that don’t know, when they give the Partner of the Year Award, there is a communications embargo, so you can’t talk about it until everybody is able to talk about it, which for us happened to be at 9:00 AM on the second day of the show. What a coincidence, right?

So we got to get the list of winners and we actually got to honor some of our vendor partners as well and that was Beco, Bosch, Electrolux, LG, and Samsung. Because Nationwide does a lot with Energy Star, but Rob, you and I don’t sell Energy Star appliances. We work on behalf of the independent retailers and we work in between the retailers and the manufacturers. So we do a lot of work within Energy Star, but we couldn’t do it without the members and without the vendor partners.

And so we wanted to make sure that we didn’t take all the credit for this because like I said, you and I don’t own a retail store. We work through the vendors and through their retailers. And so we wanted to make sure that they knew that we are appreciative that they build and sell these Energy Star products because without them doing that, the members couldn’t sell them, without the members selling them, we couldn’t have won this award for the ninth time.

Rob Stott: Yeah, the ninth time in a row, 16th time overall? 15th? 15th or 16th; it’s getting up there.

Kaleb Behm: Yeah.

Rob Stott: It’s in the mid-teens.

Kaleb Behm: Losing track.

Rob Stott: Right. But the first time too, I believe that we were able to announce it during… I mean, a couple of things happened, right? Primetime was a little bit later this time around. Usually, we are in mid-February or so and we’re late March. And then the Energy Star announcement isn’t usually until May after Earth Day. And that being so early this year, the stars aligned and it was really cool to be able to run around the show floor literally for 20 minutes trying to find the right people.

Kaleb Behm: Yeah, it was awesome.

Rob Stott: It was a great time.

Kaleb Behm: It was awesome. I mean, it was the perfect storm we got to go… And like I said, we got to thank them in person, not just sending an email or phone call or anything. We got to go and talk to the merchants within those vendors and actually thank them for their work. You could tell that they were really excited and really happy. You can tell also that a lot of these manufacturers, it’s a real thing that they try to do. It’s not just checking a box with them. They actually really do want to build these products. They do want to have an impact on the environment in a positive way.

Rob Stott: Yeah, absolutely. And beyond the award, because obviously, that was a big mark and a nice way to cap off the show. It was that second day in the morning. But you mentioned the heat pump water heater. I know we had one at Primetime. So talk about the experience beyond the award presentation. What was it like to be there for the program and in that booth and what kind of questions were you getting?

Kaleb Behm: Yeah, I mean, that heat pump water heater is really, really cool as far as an appliance can be cool, right? But it’s really interesting because Frank, who was actually in the booth with me, has the same water heater but it’s just a regular electric and his electric bill per year, if he had the same size and the heat pump water heater, would’ve been a quarter or a third or something like that. The energy savings are astronomical. And that’s why these utilities and local federal, or state governments are offering these massive incentives because we’re in a world where we’re trying to decrease the strain on utilities.

That’s the way to do it is to get these in and out and get them into the homes. This product is really cool. It’s got a lot of features where we’ve nationwide just partnered with Reliance and that’s the brand that we had in the booth and it caught a lot of eyes because people see the water and they were like, “What the heck is that big cylinder on top of it?” It was really cool and a lot of people asked a lot of good questions and we drew a lot of eyes to the booth.

Rob Stott: Yeah, that’s awesome. And not typically a booth that has product in it. So to be able to… Again, you talk about stars aligning and the whole Inflation Reduction Act that I know Frank… It was like the launch of his, at least decade-long campaign, around this Inflation Reduction Act and everything that is going to go along with it. But then to be able to have a product in the booth with you to talk about was pretty neat. All that timing coming up together as well. So really cool experience there in Dallas.

Kaleb Behm: Yeah. It was just the perfect storm because we had just signed, and it couldn’t have been two weeks since we had signed the agreement with Reliance and they agreed to send us a product to have in the booth and it really was that perfect storm like you said.

Rob Stott: So obviously this work extends beyond the application period and getting this award. There is so much that goes into it and I know part of it just to sort of transition to the things we find out and that we’re able to talk about. I know specifically on the surface when you say scope three, that might not mean a lot to a retailer, one of our members, or a listener here, but talk about that a little bit because that’s something that I know you’re diving into right now as it relates to the Energy Star program and what that means.

Kaleb Behm: Yeah, so one of the big things that we utilize when we apply for Partner of the Year, which like you said is not just… We don’t just go check a box, yes, I’d like to apply. It’s a 10-page application where we have to prove what we’ve done over the past 12 months and how we’ve been a partner of the year for sustained excellence.

One of the things that we started using maybe two years ago is this scope three analysis. And basically what this does is it measures your scope three emissions and how they impact the environment and how the sale of Energy Star products has decreased that company’s strain on the environment. And scope three emissions are basically carbon dioxide emissions that are the result of business activities not done by the business itself, but as a result of the business.

So in this case the sale of appliances and how those appliances would be used by the end consumer. And basically what it does is it compares similar products within the Energy Star category to ones outside the Energy Star category and quantifies and visualizes the carbon dioxide savings created by selling these Energy Star products. The savings are massive within Nationwide. We are a huge champion of Energy Star; we have been for quite some time. And this tool really helps us to, like I said, quantify it and visualize it. I mean-

Rob Stott: Well, the cool… Sorry to cut you off, but the cool… Because we had a similar conversation, Dan and I, on that previous episode where it’s hard to visualize the impact you’re having, but it came up. The ozone layer came up and how it’s healing and that obviously relates back to the energy efficiency and things like that, but this tool, what it sounds like the way you’re describing it, is the visualization of the impact that retailers are having on the environment because they’re selling these products. So when you say, “Well, how can I really see what impact I’m having just by selling these products?” If a customer asks, this is the way you tell them. This tool gives them that real-world visualization of the impact that selling Energy Star products has.

Kaleb Behm: That’s right. And when we ran this report for Nationwide as a whole for calendar year 2022, we came up with hundreds of thousands of metric tons of CO2 saved because our members sold Energy Star products. I mean, when I ran it for January through December, almost 400,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide gas were reduced or not put into the environment because of the sale of Energy Star products within Nationwide.

And like I said, Rob, you and I don’t sell these products. This is from the members selling them and our manufacturer partners creating them. I mean, we couldn’t do it without them. And this tool really helps you to visualize what that means because I could say almost 400,000 metric tons of CO2 and you say, “Oh cool, awesome. What does that even mean?”

Rob Stott: Sounds like a lot.

Kaleb Behm: Yeah, sounds like a lot. But I mean, this tool allows us to translate that into, to put it easy, dollars and cents and what this would mean to the real world and what we’ve done, as Nationwide and our members have sold, is we’ve reduced with just in the calendar year 2022, the CO2 emissions we’ve reduced is the equivalent of… I got it right here on my other screen. 873 million miles driven by an average gas-powered passenger vehicle.

Rob Stott: Wow.

Kaleb Behm: I mean, that’s real-world application. That’s Nationwide being able to say, “This is what our members have done. This is how you can visualize what we’ve done.” And I mean, this tool can tell you everything about gallons of gasoline consumed equivalencies, tanker trucks worth of gasoline, all the way down to the number of smartphones charged, which is 43 billion smartphone charges from zero to a hundred percent. So that’s a little bit of an unwieldy comparison, but that’s one that a lot of people can relate to is that these miles driven by a passenger vehicle and these smartphones charged because of these CO2 emissions reduced.

Rob Stott: That’s insane. So I want to try to do this math real quick because the mileage is a lot, right? You said it was 873 million miles, is that right?

Kaleb Behm: 873 million miles driven by an average gas-powered vehicle.

Rob Stott: Okay, so 873. It’s roughly 24,901 miles around the earth. So 24,901, that is roughly 35,058.8 trips around Earth in one calendar year taken out. That’s a lot. That is a lot of trips.

Kaleb Behm: Exactly. And just like you just did, Rob, this metric shows you these visualizations and then there’s a lot of creativity that can be brought into it. In the past, we’ve only been able to talk about the sale and the number of units and things like that, but this tool really allows us to be more creative and to really get our hands around what this actually means.

Rob Stott: Pretty sure you touched on this, but just to ask again for kind of clarification, how are we calculating that information?

Kaleb Behm: Yeah, so we calculate this or I calculate this by taking the total number of units within the Energy Star category, whether they’re Energy Star or not, but using those, for example, clothes washers or clothes dryers or air conditioners or things like that, and taking the total number of units that could have been Energy Star compared to the total number of units that were Energy Star and taking that percentage of the total number of units and putting that through this tool and spitting out these numbers.

Rob Stott: Got you. So we have the total. I imagine on the retailer level, this is something they could find out what their individual impact was as well.

Kaleb Behm: Yeah. So one thing we really are interested in trying to do is using this information gained from this tool for members to be able to use in their marketing campaigns or within their local market because I know a lot of our members are in markets where energy conservation and environmental protection are really important to their consumers. And so it’s a really cool opportunity for a member to say, “We not only sell Energy Star, we care about selling Energy Star and this is how I can show you how much we care about selling these Energy Star units.”

We’re reducing emissions by… Some of these members that we’ve worked with have done thousands of metric tons themselves in carbon emission reductions. And that’s just a great story to be able to tell because this is not an easily accessed tool, so we have a little bit of early access to and a little bit of a tight grip around it so that we can give our members a little bit of an edge if they’re interested in pursuing this as a marketing campaign.

Rob Stott: Heck yeah. Well, so I ask… It’s something that they can and it turns out there are members that have.

Kaleb Behm: Yeah. So we’ve worked with a couple of our larger members and found that one of them actually, for calendar year 2022, based on their sales, reduced carbon emissions themselves by almost 6,400 metric tons, which is… That number alone is great. That’s a significant portion of our total as a company.

And another great thing about this tool is that it allows members that maybe aren’t doing 6,400 metric tons a year, but maybe doing 500 metric tons a year, a thousand. It allows them to kind of see that maybe I’m not doing as many units as these bigger guys, but I’m still having a dramatic impact on this initiative and this goal.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And I mean, it’s kind of neat because you talk about the things that matter to consumers. I hate to get in the weeds on generational conversations, but you know and you see a lot of the discussion around what younger consumers and people like me and you are still in that young consumer phase. We could still talk like that. We’re millennials, maybe not Gen Z or whatever, but they care about… Near the top, or at the top of their list of what they care about in a brand is some of that social and environmental impact. So being able to actually visualize for them or message to them that you care about it, that you’re making concerted efforts to have an impact on the environment as a retailer, and share that message with them. That maybe gives them a reason like, “Hey”, as opposed to going to that big box down the store where they don’t talk about this as much or they’re not promoting it this way. Gives you a leg up in that conversation with them.

So neat to see a tool like… And then too, you mentioned the opportunity to look at the impact they are having. So yeah, there is the external message to your customers and then internally you can see, “All right, well here’s the impact we’re having.” Maybe how can we improve if we want to have more of an impact and make this a real mission of the business, they can use this tool and the information that gets spit out at them and say, “All right, well let’s see if we can’t use this as a goal for next year,” as their own business and try to drive greater impact on the environment and in turn, the Energy Star program.

Kaleb Behm: Exactly, and you kind of hit the nail right on the head there. We would love… A great result of this project would be to be able to have the same members for the next two or three years come to us and say, “What did we do last year? What does it look like this year? What did we do this year? What’s it going to look like next year?” And things like that. While yes, this can be a good short-term visualization, the end goal that we would like to see at least is that members really take this to heart and actually use this year over year and make comparisons and make even goals for next year.

Because we can always look at units, we can always look at the number of sales of Energy Star products, but this here… Especially as products get more and more efficient and create less and less carbon emissions, it’s a great goal to be able to… It’s a great way to be able to set a goal to say next year I reduced 6,400 metric tons, next year let’s hit 6,500, next year let’s hit 6,600. Something like that. And that’s the whole point of this is not to look just in the short-term, but to use this for long-term goals as well.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. Well, simply and logistically, if a member wanted to go about getting the… I mean, is it as simple as contacting you guys or what is needed to get the ball rolling for them to find this information out?

Kaleb Behm: Yeah. So we’re going to try and make this a little bit more accessible within our membership, but right now the best way to do it would be to just reach out to me. I mean, we work on so many different projects, but this one is really near and dear to us because like I said, this is the way that a member can see the direct impact of their energy star sales.

So if you reach out to me, we’ll set up a time. We could set up a short meeting to discuss your goals, to discuss what you think about this tool, and what you’re looking to get out of it. And then I can actually run the numbers for you and usually have a pretty quick turnaround and that way you can get this information within your company and then out to the consumers as well.

Rob Stott: Oh, that’s awesome. And we love it. I know we’ll be using some of this info in-house as well to promote the impact that we could say that Nationwide has had. But really it’s that our members have had. Because the one number I used to love that Rick would always share, and I know it always floats around that 50% of all appliance sales that could be Energy Star are Energy Star, I think is the right way to phrase that.

So I mean that is a great number, but what I love about it is that means there’s still 50% more that could be sold as an Energy Star. So there is always room for improvement. So we can challenge our ourselves to challenge our members to then have that greater impact on the environment. Lots of good stuff.

Kaleb Behm: Exactly. And one thing I’ve learned a lot about these independent retailers is that they’re competitive. They want to be better than not just everybody else but better than themselves and they want to get better every year. And this is just a great opportunity for them to do that to say, “Yeah, Nationwide did about 50% Energy Star units that could have been Energy Star were. Maybe next year, let’s go for 50.5. Next year, let’s go for 51.” Just like I said, I mean people want to be better than they were last year and this is a great way to visualize that and the impact that that goal is having.

Rob Stott: No, that’s fantastic and a cool message too, and I look forward to seeing it continue and your foot size continue to grow into those shoes that Rick left for you to try to fill. I got a high hopes and seeing what happened in Dallas and looking ahead to Nashville and everything in between. We got faith, man. You’re doing a great job.

Kaleb Behm: Thanks.

Rob Stott: We appreciate everything you’re doing and look forward to continuing to help you pump that message as well.

Kaleb Behm: Awesome. Team effort for sure.

Rob Stott: Heck yeah. So Nashville, we are like four months out already somehow. I know we’re-

Kaleb Behm: It’s already sneaking up on us.

Rob Stott: Momentum-

Kaleb Behm: We just left Dallas.

Rob Stott: Momentum is building very quickly, so can’t wait to see what you guys bring to the table there. And until then look forward to, like I said, helping you push this message out for our members as well. So it’s a really cool thing you guys are doing.

Kaleb Behm: Yeah, definitely.

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