168: Diving Into Nationwide’s New Region Realignment with Patrick Maloney

Written by Rob Stott

May 16, 2023

Earlier this month, Nationwide Marketing Group unveiled a new streamlined structure for its field team, which resulted in the creation of several new regions. We dive into the new structure — and how it ties into the ongoing Customer Obsessed conversation — with Nationwide’s EVP of Membership Patrick Maloney.


Rob Stott: All right, we are back on the Independent Thinking podcast. And anytime we can get Mr. Patrick Maloney on the podcast, you know we’re in for a good one. I’ve seen you now digitally, what, a couple times here, virtually, I should say. We were just on a webinar together. I saw you on a stage somewhere in Dallas doing some things. So you’ve been a busy man. What’s going on? How you doing?

Patrick Maloney: I try to get the space out in public as much as I can.

Rob Stott: No, we love it. And I know it’s been a busy time, but how are things going in your world? I know we got a lot to dive into, but just how are you? How are things going?

Patrick Maloney: Yeah. Overall great. I mean, couldn’t be better. To your point, we’ve got a lot of things going on here. And it’s a culmination of a bunch of years and bunch of months of effort and it just feels like, “Okay, we’re starting to get there.” So although business continues to be challenging every day, I just feel like we’re putting the right pieces in place for long-term success for our members and the organization.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. Well, we appreciate even just a few minutes of your time for a podcast, our EVP of membership. So lots to dive into. Like we said. I want to start taking us back a month, because I think that’s a great way to tee up the conversation.

And when we were in Dallas, there was a theme for anyone that was there. We talked about this customer obsessed theme that the show was really based around, and a lot of the conversations. I know it was played out if you were at the keynote in the main stage, conversations there down to the different rooms. Our East and West teams had their own discussions and all that sort of stuff.

But talk about the theme itself. Set it up. For those that weren’t there, explain what this whole customer obsessed theme was and how it was portrayed throughout the show.

Patrick Maloney: Yeah, it was the perfect setup. So I think a couple things. One is our independent retailers have been obsessed with their customers forever. And I think as we were going into this coming show or this last show, was over the last couple years through the pandemic… I think we’ve said this from the stage. You could still miss a beat, not be a hundred percent perfect, and still run a wildly successful business. And some of the customer focus that our independent retailers always prided themselves on got a little pushed to the back, because all we were trying to do was figure out, how do we get more inventory? How many trips do I need to make to this house to complete this kitchen order?

And so we kind of wanted to recenter it and say the consumer that’s coming in today is more discerning than they have been in the last five years. And P-maps are back in play. We need to differentiate ourselves, go back to basics essentially, and differentiate ourselves from everybody else in the marketplace.

So this customer obsession idea was, “Hey, let’s start having those conversations and let’s share those conversations.” And the idea is everybody does their special thing in their market. And a lot of times our members, “Hey, this is my secret sauce.” But as we start looking at the total, and considering our competition is not our other members, really it’s big box. And how can we differentiate ourselves against the big box?

So we took that as the theme for the show and we built around some different sessions, some different panels. So to your point, East, West. We did it from the main stage and just got so much great information.

And the cool thing is there are certain things that could take years to develop, but there’s things that you could just turn tomorrow and make a difference in your marketplace. And I think that was clear through these learnings that we had, and just listening to really smart folks that have been doing it for years that. And actually may take what they do for granted, but when you sound it out and kind of put it into words, to see the people in the audience, their faces light up like, “Oh my gosh.” Either can do that tomorrow, or I forgot I used to do that, and I need to start doing it again. So it was a really cool concept, and I think played out live really well.

Rob Stott: And I mean there’s a line. I’m not saying this because I work on the magazine and I like reading the magazine. But there’s a great line in Tom… He has that letter that opens up the magazine and he was like, there’s so much other noise happening too in the industry, and as you alluded to at the top. But the customer obsession is the ability to focus on those things that you can control as a retailer. So there’s always going to be the other factors, but what can you do in your business?

And you mentioned it, 5,000. But we have 5,000 different stories of how retailers are being customer obsessed and showing those tactics in their store, and stories that we can tell really, which was awesome.

Because I think you mentioned the different ways it was on display at the show. For all of the different members I heard talk about the things they do, I don’t think I heard one member say the same thing that another member said. It was all different ideas. And I mean that’s at the core of what we do when we get together at a PrimeTime, that’s what it’s all about. So it was to your point, really cool to see it play out like that, and how many different ideas there are

Patrick Maloney: And the passion that everybody had and showed. You talk about being infectious, listening to someone. Some of it’s simple stuff. So just to see them sharing that and see other people absorbing it.

One of the things that we also wanted to make sure we didn’t miss was people are busy. And there’s so many other things going on in their world, in their lives. And we also wanted to make this something that lived beyond just the live event. Because if you weren’t in that room and, you didn’t hear it, and you didn’t write it down, where does it go? So I think we did a good job documenting what happened from the main stage.

But then we put a contest and a challenge out for others. “Come to the show floor and tell us your story. These are a few stories, a few great stories. Tell us your story.” And being on the floor and having members come up and say, “I loved what I heard, but here’s something we do.” It was awesome, and some really, really cool ideas. So we’re going to continue to propagate that message with a webinar series, and we’ve done some different things post show that I think we just need to make sure… It’s almost like advertising. You want to advertise where the customer is. We want to make sure we’re presenting this information to however our members need to absorb it. Whenever, wherever, and however.

Rob Stott: Yeah. And I’m glad you brought up the webinar, because I had a question teed up, but how do you ask a question about something where I have to play like I don’t know what you’re talking about, where I hosted the thing? So the fact that you brought it up just makes it easy for me to talk about the fact that yeah, we did continue those conversations.

You were on that panel, part of the webinar as well. I mean, obviously a different setting. But to your point about being able to have it in different environments, and I know scheduling, if a member can’t necessarily be at PrimeTime with us, it’s another way for them to experience this conversation. What was your takeaway from that experience of the webinar and the discussions that we had there? And I’m not asking you to grade how I did or anything. But if you want to throw in there that I was a great feel free.

Patrick Maloney: No, you were awesome. You were awesome. Hey, can you tell me about the wonderful job I did?

Rob Stott: Right.

Patrick Maloney: No, you were awesome as always. And I think to me, it’s the opportunity for people to speak in smaller groups. And I know we want to talk a little bit today about what we’ve done for the regions. And it’s about getting that peer-to-peer interaction at a size and scale that is not overwhelming and that can generate true open conversation and dialogue.

And I think we accomplished that with the webinar. So this will be posted in MemberNet, and our members that weren’t able to attend can pull it down. And we’re going to continue that, and again, propagate that kind of message and delivery mechanism. So just the interaction is great.

I would tell you from the main stage sitting with these dynamic members, it’s humbling. These folks are passionate about what they’re doing. But even the most modest dealer coming on the show floor like, “Hey, here’s something I do. I don’t know if it’s great or not, and I’m going to throw it out there.” And you know what? It’s awesome.

I think customer obsession is a little like culture. Culture, if you don’t dictate or at least put a message out on, “Hey, here’s what our culture’s going to be, it’s going to form itself.” And customer obsession is the same way. If you don’t really actively go out and show your sales organization, your delivery organization, your entire team where the customer falls on your list of importance, it’s going to fall on its own.

So I think those folks that shared and will share, it’s clear, the customer is first. And this is how we’re going to manage to that customer’s expectation, and this is how we’re going to win in the marketplace.

Rob Stott: You think of the scale of the ideas, and you talked about it a little bit ago, but it doesn’t have to be a massive thing either. It’s just paying attention to little details. I mean Paul Sherman did it, but you don’t have to build a house for people to train in. However, that’s one idea.

But it scales down to other things we heard of. Just being sure to pay extra attention to the details of the delivery process, and putting the booties on. It could be as simple as that and just going a little bit above and beyond to make that customer know who they got that delivery from or who they bought that new couch from.

Patrick Maloney: And one the ideas… How much more simple can you get them communicating? Communicate. Just post-sale, pre-sale, follow up, “Everything going great?” And even think about your life, stuff that you’ve had delivered. Whether it’s a car dealership or wherever, just how disappointing that, “All I need is an email or a text.”

And actually, that was one of the points. You don’t need to talk to them. Just take their cell number. Everybody has a cell phone. More and more people would rather communicate via text and just touch them. See how they’re doing referrals, and the return customer. And then by the way, they tell two friends because, “Wow, this was a great experience, and they’re still talking to me.”

I think the younger generation is more adept at just quick communication. And I think for the longest time, we thought it had to be this long email, and we had to have this long phone conversation. Just these little touchpoints are reassuring, comforting. And hey, we know the product’s going on in the truck tomorrow. It’s coming back out. I don’t know how many times we’ve talked to folks that had bought something regrettably at a big box, and they didn’t hear anything, it was supposed to deliver on Monday. It’s Wednesday, they haven’t even heard from the organization. And so those things go so far. And again, not difficult. But you have to-

Rob Stott: Just from the text. You see that alert coming and that little smile in your head goes off. That’s all it takes. It’s crazy.

Patrick Maloney: But you have to be intentional. You have to be intentional about it. You can’t just hope it happens. It has to be a process.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And we could talk about customer obsession in this way all day I think. And like we said, we’ll continue to have those conversations. But what I love is that we’re kind of practicing what we preach and I want to let you tee it up and talk about… You hinted at it a little bit ago, but really nicely kind of this theme parlays into what we’ve done recently at Nationwide around the regions. And I mentioned East, West at the beginning. A little bit different today than it was even just a few weeks ago, I think 11 days ago officially as we’re recording this. But as of May 1, talk about the changes that we introduced, and we’ll start from there.

Patrick Maloney: Yeah. So we as an organization, from the very outset, it’s about our members. We’re member obsessed, and we are focused on the needs of those members. And as far back as even our merger with Mega, when we merged, we had two different field organizations. Both of us had folks in the field and the immediate reaction was, we’re going to merge the field and have to lay people off, because we’re going to duplicate efforts. And our goal was not to do that at all, right?

So the minute we decided to merge the field, we said, “Hey, you know what? We want more folks in the field, less windshield time, more opportunity to interact with our members.” And so we did a real dynamic analysis of the market and just threw a line down to Mississippi and said, “Okay, we’re going to have East and West.” And that was about the extent of it. But the important part was we kept that headcount. We kept those folks in the field because we wanted to make sure we were covering our members’ needs.

What became clear and all of these little things that we do in this customer obsession panels, and something we’ve done at PrimeTimes for the last four or five PrimeTimes, was more of this peer-to-peer interaction. It’s one thing for us to get up and say, “Hey, this is what we think you should do.” And it’s completely different when two members go, “Hey, you know what? I’m doing this. You try it.”

And so with the success of all this peer-to-peer stuff, we’ve said, “How do we get better connected?” Okay yep, we’ve got a ton of people in the field. How do we get them more focused? How do we become more customer obsessed?

And so over the last several months, we’ve been trying to reshape and just look at what the best path forward is for that field organization. And as such, we will break our two regions into six smaller regions, and we’ll have a region director in each one of those regions. We’ll have a couple of MSMs that are reporting to them. We’ll have some MSS as we call them. They’ll have a larger group of dealers, probably less travel, but more this type of interaction.

Because the scale of Nationwide is very important. What we do at scale, negotiating programs, financing programs, all of that is important. But when we get to the member level, it’s important to be nimble enough to react, and react by region, and to create these smaller groups that can have true peer-to-peer interaction.

And so the focus on that was, how do we make the region a little bit smaller, have someone responsible for it? So we know exactly what’s going on in that marketplace. From a merchandising standpoint, it could be helpful. If I look at specific categories like furniture. Furniture doesn’t necessarily… Outside of Ashley, doesn’t have a player that is across the board. And so how could we focus on a certain market that has these specific needs, and how can we work backwards with our merchandising team?

And so the spirit of it is let’s let it all generate at the local level, and let’s make sure we’re listening, taking care of our members locally. And then if that builds out into two regions or across the entire organization, then we’ll do that. And so when we think about those six regions, just our six regions, we’ll have 45 or 50 people in those regions calling on our membership.

And then you add our affiliates in United Stores, and Nationwide Southwest, Nationwide Florida, even DMI and ADC of NECO. We’ll have 60 people in the field calling on our members.

And the important piece of it is let’s not just create things to create things and sit in a windowless conference room and think this is the greatest thing in the world. Let’s have people in member stores taking care of their problems on a daily basis. And then if this problem is something that is across the board, let’s figure out a solution. Let’s put a solution together on a global scale for members.

Rob Stott: It kind of starts it at… So I think back to the last couple years. I don’t know if it was necessarily born out of this, but we saw the region meetings that took place over… I think we did them up the north I-10 sort of corridor, and then down a little bit lower, the next go around. But was that the genesis for how we got to where we are?

Patrick Maloney: Yeah. And like I said, it’s just we did do a couple of region meetings. And that was something that as I came into this position, I wanted to make sure we were acting locally. So those region meetings, again, we saw that peer-to-peer interaction, and came out with so many great ideas like, “Oh wow.” And it’s very similar to that, “Hey, just communicate.” Yeah, we hear it. Now let’s go act on it. And so that kind of built into, “Hey, let’s do this more.” PrimeTime’s a huge event. We’ve got thousands of people there. How do we make it small? How do we make it personable? And I think we may have been able to do that through these peer-to-peer. Now we want to roll that out into the regions.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. So for the member listening, and they’re seeing this in real life, what’s going to be the biggest change for them necessarily as far as the… Obviously you hear the region breakdown, there’ll be a smaller region that they’re a part of. But beyond that, is there anything that’ll really change for them?

Patrick Maloney: Well, first of all, we’re going to challenge them to engage. Just to engage. And there’s a lot of members that… Listen, every single member is busy. There’s so many things coming through that door every single day that they need to deal with. But we want to make it easier to engage with Nationwide, and to align those regions so that there is a group of support all around them.

We don’t just give an M MSM, “Here’s the car keys and a sandwich. Go make us proud.” They have a support team around them, and they are the tip of the spear in this organization. And to let our members and independent retailers know that, yep, you’re talking to this one person, but there is this team. Including Tom Hickman, our CEO that is supporting this team first. Whatever this team needs, we’re going to continue to invest in and put our time into.

So I hope the members see better communication, quicker communication, results. And I want to make sure that we’re listening first. We’re not saying, “Hey, this is the greatest thing in the world.”

We have amazing business services. We know that every single one of our members should be using our digital platform, and should be doing marketing, and should be using our websites. But if they’re not at that point in their journey, if they’re not ready to make that, we need to make whatever they have today, whatever their go-to-market strategy is, the easiest to work with, the most efficient. And then once we have that, let’s figure out the next step. Let’s figure out what’s next for you. But let’s solve your problems first.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. I know communications, by the time this is published, they’ll have emails with a nice sheet made up of who’s in their… To me, when a member sees that, that’ll be probably the biggest thing that hits them initially is they probably knew who their MSM was that they called on for support. But now, seeing that physical team within that smaller region that is all there for them at the ready to support them, I think that’s going to be pretty cool and impactful to see. I think when you’re talking to a field rep, that there’s more than just that one person. But to see it in a physical form, who’s there to support you and how they support you, that’s awesome to me.

And then just knowing too, we talk about the events. But the ability probably, I imagine, to have more frequent local regional type events is something that’ll be pretty cool for them to experience, I guess as these things play out over the next couple of months and years.

Patrick Maloney: Yeah, exactly. And like I said, we have great PrimeTimes, but business happens every day. And we can’t hold our breath for twice a year to get together to solve problems. We need to be solving them at retail speed in the local market. And I think these smaller regions will allow us the opportunity to get smaller peer groups together, smaller councils together. And whether it’s focusing on a problem within that market or a global problem, we’re going to hopefully be able to react quicker and solve the issue faster.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And I know something too we talked about previously, training’s a big part of this too. So tell us a little bit about that and what’s going on there from a training aspect.

Patrick Maloney: So that’s great question. As we built this out, we said, “This is great. We’ve got these six regions. We’ve got United here, we’ve got Southwest here.” But training in our organization, always kind of lived somewhere… Lived at PrimeMedia and it was a separate piece of our business. A great piece of our business, really successful. Our Nationwide Learning Academy is second to none.

But we weren’t solving the problems at ground level first locally. So as we put this together, one of the most important pieces of this move was we move training into the field organization. So where the problem arises, or where the rub is, or where this challenge is, we’re kind of curating the solution at ground level locally and then building it into a training portal.

We brought two amazing people in, and they both have specific roles. So Karen Huneycutt came in, and she’s training in the field organization, and will work with our MSMs, our field team to help them learn about our products and develop our products.

It can be overwhelming and complicated for, again, a member that is doing all of these things, the chief cook and bottle washer, and they’ve got to make sure there’s fuel in the truck, and the insurance is paid, and the lights come on. And by the way, they have to be on the cutting edge of digital and the cutting edge of this.

And so our MSMs have the same type of challenge. Well, I say it’s the hardest job in this organization, because you have to be a little expert in everything that we do. And you think about bit consumer finance, inventory finance, digital, website. It’s overwhelming.

And so it was important for us to bring Karen in to help quiet the noise in what we do and make sure that we’re not trying to just learn big words, that we truly understand what each piece of what we’re putting together for our members really represents.

And like I said earlier, our members may not be on that spot of their journey yet. And that’s okay. Let’s make sure that you’re maximizing this much of the journey. And we know there’s more out there, but we just don’t want to throw stuff at you and wow you with how intelligent we are. We want to really find these real world solutions that are easy to understand.

So Karen’s working on that piece, working with all of our business services to make sure we’re putting this in a really easy digestible, “Hey, here’s what it means.” And ultimately, what’s the bottom line? This is perfect. It uses this technology, and that and this. Give me the bottom line.

Rob Stott: “What’s the equal? I get the equation, but what does it equal?”

Patrick Maloney: Right. So she’s going to be awesome, and has already proven to be just an incredible asset to the organization. And secondly, part of our training is helping our manufacturing partners and our business service partners get their message out to frontline sales folks. So the members sales organization. And they want to train on product and they want to train on this.

Well, like I said, we have the most robust learning academy, and the ability to put everything on 4K, and do a training, and all of that stuff. But someone needs to manage that. Someone needs to manage the, “Hey, here’s all of the stuff that’s coming in from manufacturers. How do we get that message out?”

And then also, training our manufacturers on what we do. They need to know what we’re doing and what we’re delivering to our membership, and how they can utilize it to explode their brand. So we brought Shawn Ashby in to run training on that side of the business. So we’ve got training for our internal team and training for our members, internal teams as well. And both of those live in the field organization.

Rob Stott: No, it’s also because they do play, if you think about it, hand in hand. It’s an important part of the member journey, and our field team’s out talking to members, making sure that they’re well-educated and able to point the members in the right direction too, to the services that they need. And then obviously on the other side too, so that our members can get the education their sales teams need so that they can talk to their customers. So-

Patrick Maloney: And it’s about talking to everybody in just layman’s terms. In the real world, what does it mean? What’s the point? What’s after the equal? So there’s two types of members. Some are experts. Some are experts in what they do, and we learn from them. And then there’s others that don’t even want to know. They want to know that this is the right thing to do and just, “Hey, you guys do that. I’m going to take care of my operations.” And we can manage both of those. And I think by putting this training and breaking these regions up, I just hope we can be that much quicker, that much more efficient.

Rob Stott: Well, it’s a lot of work that has been… I know going on behind the scenes, that we’re now just barely a week starting to see the fruits of that labor. So anything, to kind of wrap it up, exciting to you as we get close to Nashville and seeing this manifest for the first time? Is there anything you’re looking forward to about this?

Patrick Maloney: Yeah, I love the idea, like I said, of this rapid communication and things that can happen a lot quicker than we said it earlier, that speed of retail. We can’t sit in these windowless conference rooms and come up with what we think is the next great play. The game is going on right now, and we need to be involved in the game.

So we can get more preliminary information coming in to the show so the merchants can better negotiate programs, cashbacks, over and above programs on the buy side. And then also, our marketing teams can really, “Hey, this is what we know is going on in the marketplace in the next two, three, four, six, months,” from a promotional aspect.

So it’s not just the buy, right? It’s hey, that’s important, but how do we sell this through? What’s the latest and greatest technology? Is it chat? Is it this? Is it that? So I think getting that information as soon as and quick as we can, and building that, it just helps us build a longer-

Rob Stott: I’ll be interested too. Obviously the speed of it’s one thing. And then you also talked about this too, the customizing based on the region. Because what’s going on, a great example, right? I think of a couple months ago, earlier this year, what early spring is like in the Northeast. And there’s still snow on the ground potentially, to what’s going on out West. The things you’re able to talk about from a product standpoint, a little bit different. So to see how those play out… maybe a better example is stay on the East, you got the Northeast and down in the Southeast. So what differences could you find there as far as some of those things? So that’ll be cool to watch play out as well too.

Patrick Maloney: Yeah, and it’s both products, and it’s what trips the customers’ buttons. Can be the program, could be long-term financing here, and it could be just a cash rebate there. Those are opportunities that are open to us. And we don’t want to make it more confusing, but we also want to make efficiency, and it just keeps ringing in my head, “How do we become more efficient, faster to market?” So I’m excited about that.

I know this isn’t about that, but what we’re doing with data and PriMetrix, that’s going to build up from the region level. And our point of sale information coming in is going to help us make smart decisions. Not just because they feel good or not just because this is a good guy. Here are the facts behind it. And so that’s always feeding some of the decisions and some of the processes that we put in play. So I just think being able to regionalize it as it expands is going to make us that much more powerful.

Rob Stott: Yeah, it’s awesome. Lot of exciting potential and things that are already kicking off. So it’s awesome to see. And I know you guys, like I said, have been hard at work and the work continues for sure. But nice to take an opportunity to breathe for a minute and look at what you’ve done in the form of a podcast, if anything. Right?

Patrick Maloney: I need to breathe for 30 seconds. Yeah.

Rob Stott: Oh no, that’s great. Well, we appreciate the time, and I probably took up more than I needed to here for you. You got people I’m sure calling on you to get back to it, but thank you for taking that time and diving into this with us, so we look forward to watching it continue.

Patrick Maloney: Happy to join. Thanks bud.

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