184: Class Is In Session with NMG’s Director of Education and Training Shawn Ashby

Written by Rob Stott

September 12, 2023

Coming off of his first full PrimeTime season, we sit down with Nationwide Marketing Group’s Director of Education and Training Shawn Ashby. We dive into his passion for educating audiences, his plans for the Nationwide Learning Academy, early preparations for the program in Las Vegas and much more.


Rob Stott: All right, we are back on the Independent Thinking podcast, and I still feel like recovering from PrimeTime, you know, Mr. Ashby?

Shawn Ashby: Absolutely.

Rob Stott: Oh, it is something, man. PrimeTime, for some reason this summer, one, because it’s backed right up against Labor Day all the time, so there’s always that week where you’re recovering from PrimeTime, and then the holiday weekend hits and it’s just a continuous recovery process. And then before we know it’ll be March, right?

Shawn Ashby: Absolutely. It seems like it’s not summertime, it’s just PrimeTime season. It’s like the buildup to it and then it’s there and then summer’s over.

Rob Stott: All the time, yeah. Incredible, I know. Well, Mr. Shawn Ashby, our director of education and training here at Nationwide Marketing Group, appreciate you, man, taking the time to jump on this podcast and dive into a topic that, it’s a lot of what we do, right? Your title says it all, education and training, and a lot of it focuses … Well, we’ll obviously talk a lot about PrimeTime and the Nationwide Learning Academy, but there’s what, 357 other days of the year to talk about.

Shawn Ashby: That’s right.

Rob Stott: Awesome. Well, before we dive into it though, give, for those that might not know you, a little background on yourself and your role here and your path in Nationwide.

Shawn Ashby: Yeah, for sure. My name is Shawn Ashby. I’ve been with Nationwide since the beginning of the year. Started mid-January.

Rob Stott: Oh, that’s all?

Shawn Ashby: So yeah, before I know it’ll be a year anniversary, and before I know that, it’ll be five-year anniversary or something like that. I’m originally from out West. I grew up in Utah and Idaho, and I currently live in Southwest Michigan, so a little town called Stevensville, right along the coast of Lake Michigan. Pretty much directly across the lake from Chicago.

Rob Stott: Okay.

Shawn Ashby: Been here with my family, wife, four kids, three dogs, all of that fun stuff, we’ve been here for almost nine years.

Rob Stott: Wow.

Shawn Ashby: It’s been great. We love it here. We love being outside, and most of the times of the year in Michigan, it’s nice to be outside. There’s definitely a time where it’s not that fun to be outside, but we definitely keep ourselves busy.

Rob Stott: Enjoy these last few weeks.

Shawn Ashby: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, it’ll be here before you know it. We’re already prepping. How I got to Nationwide, I moved out to Michigan. I was with Whirlpool previously, so I started with Whirlpool as a rep out in the field out West, calling on retailers in Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and Alaska.

Rob Stott: Wow.

Shawn Ashby: And then I became one of the national trainers for Whirlpool based out of Colorado, and covered five states there, so I was Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Arizona. And then from there I became the sales training manager for the laundry category, so I spent a lot of time in the appliance industry specifically, and if we want to dive even deeper into that, into the laundry category specifically. But I love the learning and development of it.

Rob Stott: If I got issues with my washer or dryer, I know who I can come to.

Shawn Ashby: Just give me a call, you bet. You wouldn’t be the first and you won’t be the last. Yeah, so worked at Whirlpool for a good number of years. I think it was about 13 years in all, and then my path at Whirlpool kind of went away from training and education, and it’s kind of funny. Once you go away from something that you love, you realize how much you love it, so I was looking for an opportunity to get back in that training and education space and saw this opportunity come up at Nationwide. Nationwide was not new to me. I trained at many PrimeTimes before on the vendor side, so thought it was a great opportunity, and haven’t looked back. It’s been great.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. How’d you get the training … How’d that bug bite you, the training bug, from going from the field to diving into training? Not too dissimilar, right? Because when you’re in the field, I’m sure you’re educating those customers, those retailers on the things that Whirlpool’s doing. But to dive into it as a career, it’s pretty cool.

Shawn Ashby: Yeah, absolutely. What’s funny is, man, if you go back to pre-2008, I was terrified of speaking in public. I was terrified of getting in front of a group, and the concept of having to talk and entertain and educate a group terrified me. But I started doing it on smaller scales, like one or two sales associates here and there, and it quickly got larger and larger. And what I found is I became addicted to seeing that light bulb go off, to being able to figure out how to explain something to somebody in the easiest way to where they could go and apply it and make a difference right off the bat. That’s really the bug that bit me, and since then, it’s been like, “All right, how can we craft this pitch, how can we craft this training, to make it the most impactful for the most people so they can go out there and apply it in their job later this afternoon or tomorrow, and see results right away?”

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome.

Shawn Ashby: That’s the exciting part to me.

Rob Stott: And the cool thing too, and I kind of see this sitting in this seat, you talk to people, it’s easy to talk to people no matter what industry you’re in. I feel like training, kind of similar. Obviously you get to learn, when you’re training on a product, you get to know a lot about that product. You’re now my laundry guy is what I’m learning. You can train on a specific product, but the fact of how you go about doing it, as you’ve proven, right, it’s applicable across industries and different areas of focus, right?

Shawn Ashby: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, training itself is … All humans are learners. Every day, we wake up and we’re learning stuff as we go. And so a big part of training is discovering what type of learner you’re dealing with, and it kind of really falls down into four categories. You have visual learners, people who they need to see something in their face, they need to be right there. You have kinesthetic learners where, “I need to see it and I need to touch it.” You have the readers and writers. They have to take notes, they have to read it. And then you have your podcast, the audio.

Rob Stott: Yeah.

Shawn Ashby: People who just can sit and listen and they get it. So, every training’s different and every audience is different, because you’re really trying to make sure that you fit all of those different learning styles, so you don’t have all the readers and writers who are sitting there bored out of their mind, while all the kinesthetic and visual people are loving it. So it is, it’s a constant game of adapting your message to different ways of delivering content.

Rob Stott: I’m sure. Do you have a lot of teacher friends? I feel like you guys could share a lot of trade secrets and notes about how you go about business.

Shawn Ashby: Yup. You bet. You bet, yeah.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. It’s kind of interesting too, I think, and I didn’t intend on relating this to the PrimeTime keynote, but Lieutenant Colonel Scott Mann and his whole pitch on storytelling, I feel like it’s got to be that too, right, in training? Because I think he even mentioned it, you could sit through slideshows and presentations and you hear about it all the time, and 3% of that sticks. But if you have a good story you can tell, and I feel like the same with training. If you kind of present what you’re doing in a certain way that captivates your audience, you’re great storytellers too. There’s just education tied to it.

Shawn Ashby: Absolutely. Best story wins, right? I mean, there’s a lot of terminology, storyselling instead of storytelling. And that’s the keynote speaker … He was amazing, the use of emotion, the way he walked around on the stage, command of the room. And then I don’t know if a lot of people noticed this, but I want to say he only had three or four, and I’ll put “slides” in quotation marks, because they weren’t slides like we know, right? Very visual, but they made an impact, and you could remember them.

Rob Stott: Yeah, the iceberg, right?

Shawn Ashby: So, when he see somebody he knows … What’s that?

Rob Stott: It was the iceberg?

Shawn Ashby: Yeah.

Rob Stott: He had the slide with all the pictures of him and the guy, and then, well, the iceberg kind of changed to the … I forget his acronym, see, what percent of it sticks, right? But his acronym for the way he went about explaining how you tell a story or how you develop leaders, right?

Shawn Ashby: Yeah.

Rob Stott: No, that’s crazy. And do you do that? I have to imagine being a training professional, you kind of notice those things.

Shawn Ashby: Oh, yeah.

Rob Stott: For me, it’s as I’m reading an article by someone else or how someone wrote something, it’s like, “Oh, I see what they did,” like writing technique that you pick up on. Is it hard for you to sit through presentations without judging?

Shawn Ashby: It is hard. It’s funny, my wife will get mad at me because we’ll be at church listening to somebody, and I’ll be like, “They’ve said ‘um’ 14 times.” And she’s like, “Shut up. Just listen.” So you do catch some of those things.

Rob Stott: That’s great.

Shawn Ashby: But I’ll tell you what, you have empathy for the person first of all, because any great trainer has been there before, and it is a process, but you definitely catch out those ones. I mean, I’m sure a lot of the listeners know Kris Kuester very well. Him and I watched Lieutenant Colonel Scott Mann, that main stage presentation, and Kris was like, “He’s good.” Yeah, he’s good. And if Kris Kuester says “You’re good”?

Rob Stott: You’re good.

Shawn Ashby: You’re good, right?

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. Oh, that’s cool. Well, I dove into the training aspect. I probably anticipated doing that, but cool to get your kind of insights on that. And obviously what you’re doing right now, Nationwide Learning Academy, NLA as it’s affectionately referred to around these parts, explain it to the listening audience. I’m sure they’re all familiar with it, but from your seat, having your hands on it every day, what’s your elevator pitch on NLA to the membership, and also general audience listening that might not know what NLA is?

Shawn Ashby: Yeah. If general audience, you don’t know what NLA is, I was not that far away from you very long ago. When I came in I heard the term NLA a lot, and what’s kind of funny is, NLA obviously stands for Nationwide Learning Academy, but we use that acronym or that phrase, Nationwide Learning Academy, for a number of different things.

The first thing we talk about with NLAs is around PrimeTime. So Rob, you mentioned earlier those eight days of the year, four in the spring, four in the fall, or end of summer, I guess, technically, where we come together and we offer education courses. We offer them from website management to digital marketing to human resources to all of our major vendors are there. And it’s an opportunity for our members to come and get to cherry-pick what courses they want to go learn about, and then they can go to that class and learn from a subject matter expert around … One of the real popular ones from this past PrimeTime was around AI and ChatGPT. They could go in and learn from two great teachers who knew a lot about it, and understand how they could use that in their business, apply it to their daily work schedules to make their life a little bit easier. At PrimeTime is one aspect of the NLA, and that’s all in-person instruction.

The other side of NLA is the online Nationwide Learning Academy. So through MemberNet, if you haven’t been there, MemberNet, go to Quick Links across the top, and then find Nationwide Learning Academy, and that’s really where you’re going to see a lot of product training. There’s some other business competencies trainings on there as well, but the bulk of it is product training from our manufacturers. Right now, just to kind of give you an idea, we have between 6,000 and 7,000 courses taken each month by Nationwide members.

Rob Stott: Wow.

Shawn Ashby: So, kudos to you if you’re out there taking that. It’s a great way to go on and get really quick training on specific categories or specific products, even. That’s the other part of the NLA, so we have the in-person at PrimeTime and then we have the online through Nationwide Learning Academy, but really, it’s all about learning. Any place where we can provide learning opportunities, we’ll group that all into the Nationwide Learning Academy.

Rob Stott: Yeah. No, that’s awesome. And to the online portion, there’s probably members listening, I hope there’s members listening, that are familiar with that MemberNet platform. I know they log in, they have access to that, but that training, is that something they can provide to other employees in their business as well? Or is it intended for those that can log in? How would you explain that?

Shawn Ashby: Absolutely. You do need to log into MemberNet, but MemberNet is set up to where you can limit what they see.

Rob Stott: Yup.

Shawn Ashby: If you have sales associates out there who you want … “Look, I don’t need them getting on MemberNet and seeing pricing sheets or promotions coming up at this holiday,” you can limit all of that so you just work with your MSM, and you can set them up so they can log on, and then they can sign in and take a Tempur Sealy training or a Whirlpool refrigerator training or a GE laundry training. It’s all out there for them, so a great opportunity. Especially on a slow Tuesday afternoon, there might not be a lot of customers, it’s a great opportunity for them to get on and get some learning that they can use when that customer does come in the door.

Rob Stott: No. That’s awesome, a great tool. Education, it’s that cliche of the high tide raises all … So, your employees, make sure they are following that tide right up.

Shawn Ashby: Absolutely, absolutely.

Rob Stott: Getting trained as they can. But we’ve mentioned it a couple times that this platform really does manifest itself those eight days that we’re together twice a year. Second show coming, so you started in January?

Shawn Ashby: Yup.

Rob Stott: Like everyone does at Nationwide, drinking from a fire hose, your first PrimeTime, right?

Shawn Ashby: Absolutely.

Rob Stott: So coming into August and the show in Nashville, first opportunity to get real hands-on, what was that experience like for you, the lead up to the show and then coming through it?

Shawn Ashby: It was a lot of fun and it was a lot of work. We offered about 74 unique courses at PrimeTime.

Rob Stott: Wow.

Shawn Ashby: And then some of those delivered a second training, same training but a duplicate. All in all, I want to say we had 86 classes, and so coordinating rooms, and a lot of manufacturers want to bring product into the room, so you’re constantly juggling, and making sure that AV is set up. So a lot of the stuff that you don’t really think about when you’re just a trainer, right?

Rob Stott: Yeah.

Shawn Ashby: Trainer gets to show up and turn the mic on and their PowerPoint’s loaded and they’re off and running. So yeah, the behind-the-scenes of what goes into it, it’s pretty substantial. It’s pretty crazy. But it was great to get in there. I got to work with a lot of the trainers. I got to sit in the back of the room and see a lot of different presentations. There’s a lot of cool information out there.

I was thinking, even from a member, we send out that catalog, and so the member’s sitting there reading through 74 different … That has to be overwhelming as well. So, one of the things we tried to do at this past PrimeTime in Nashville is we identified the four pillars of what we want training to be at Nationwide. Our four pillars are growth, a training that can help our members grow their business. Second pillar is around people, so developing yourself or developing your teams. The third is around creating traffic, how do we drive traffic to your store? And then the fourth is all around product.

All of the courses, all of those 74 courses that we offered in Nashville, fell under one of those buckets. So, we are trying to make it a little bit easier for the members to be like, “Hey, we need just to get people in the door. Let’s go over to this Drive Traffic section and let’s see what classes we can attend there.” That’s one way we’re trying to make it a little bit easier, a little bit more organized, so it’s not just, “Here’s 74 classes. Thumb through them and see which ones you like,” and hopefully you’re open that hour.

Rob Stott: Gee, I mean, it is kind of choose your own adventure, but in a structured way, right?

Shawn Ashby: Yes.

Rob Stott: So it gives the members opportunity to kind of see where they have needs and pick things that apply to their business or where they’re trying to focus on improving.

Shawn Ashby: Yeah, exactly.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome.

Shawn Ashby: Exactly. Yeah.

Rob Stott: As you’re building out a course, or a whole series of courses, coming into a PrimeTime, obviously we’ve got some … Well, we even saw at this show. There’s the best that you had, a couple that were on repeat from previous shows that were well-attended, things like that. But as you’re trying to build out those courses, obviously a lot of pitches come in, or what’s your process like for identifying some of those … The pillars help, of course, but still a lot of courses that have to fill those pillars, so what’s that like to identify those and develop them?

Shawn Ashby: I’m so glad you asked, because this first go at it was just like, “Hey, what classes do we want to teach?” Right? I really didn’t know. So I’ve been talking a lot with … We want to talk to our MSMs, because our MSMs are the direct link to our members. And so, for the members out there who are listening, if there is specific content you want, if there are things that we are missing that we are probably not aware of, right? It’s not like we’re like, “Ah, they need that, but let’s not give them that.” We want to give you what you want. Talk to your MSM. Shoot me an email. We crave those topics to come in, because we do want to deliver those topics that are going to help you thrive.

And so to answer your question, Rob, as we were developing the courses, we talked to our sales team, we talked to our website team, we talked to our digital marketing team, and say, “Hey, help us understand. What’s the current state? What are we seeing in the industry? What are other people doing? What are some best practices that maybe our members haven’t heard about? And let’s get some of that content in there so our members will know what’s going on, and what are some potential opportunities for them to apply some of it.”

Rob Stott: Well, another call back to the keynote, right, but Tom’s portion this time, Mr. Hickman talking about how we are out there, we’re doing it. But on behalf of the members, it needs to be collaborative and we need to hear from them about the things that, like, let us know. We’re here for you, we’re here to support you, so awesome to see that it even goes down to the Nationwide Learning Academy level.

Shawn Ashby: Absolutely.

Rob Stott: We can train, we got the resources to do it, so let us work with you to develop those topics and provide the best platform for you to learn.

Shawn Ashby: Absolutely. Yeah. The feedback that we get from members is, bar none, the best feedback that we can get, because that will point us in the direction of where we need to go in order to help them. That’s what we want, so share away. Pour it on. Give it to us.

Rob Stott: There is no oversharing in Nationwide Marketing Group. Give us it all. No, that’s great. So again too, obviously coming out of your first time, having your hands fully on this program at a PrimeTime, so what are you looking to next time? We get together in, what, another six months in Las Vegas?

Shawn Ashby: It’ll be here before you know it, yeah.

Rob Stott: I know. It creeps up. It’s six months. We know when it’s … We have the next five PrimeTimes planned and scheduled. We know when they are, but they still creep up.

Shawn Ashby: Right. They do.

Rob Stott: What are you looking to as you get ready for March 10th through 13th at the Venetian Sands Expo?

Shawn Ashby: Absolutely. What’s great about the current NLA is our members love it. In Nashville, we had just under 3,000 attendees come to the NLAs.

Rob Stott: Wow. Yeah.

Shawn Ashby: So, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? So we obviously want to keep some of the standard operating procedure that we have in place. It will remain the same, but we are looking at some opportunities to bring learning onto the floor, the showroom floor. I don’t know if many of you are aware … I mean, I’m sure a lot of those, if you were in Nashville and you walked over to one of the NLAs, from the middle of the showroom floor over to the NLA rooms and back was 0.87 miles.

Rob Stott: Wow. That’s what, about 20,000 steps?

Shawn Ashby: Yeah, I did a little inside walk on my watch. I’m like, “I’m going to see how far this is.”

So number one, if you were one of those people who trekked that far, thank you, thank you, thank you for coming over and getting some education. We hope it was worth it. But we know that time on the showroom floor is at a premium, and so we’re thinking, like, “How can we take training to the showroom floor?” So we’re throwing around some different ideas of, maybe we do a showroom tour in LA where there might be an appliance session and we go around to the appliance manufacturers at a set time. We all meet together, 2:00, and we go over and hit each booth, and each booth tells us one big thing we want to know. So, we’re trying to think about, how can we keep you on the floor but still get you education, get you content that’s going to be beneficial.

Rob Stott: No, I love that kind of thinking, right? I didn’t realize it was that far away. I mean, I knew it was a massive convention center.

Shawn Ashby: It was a ways. I walked it a number of times.

Rob Stott: That convention center was big, but man, that is something. No, but I love that too, because then the action’s there. So you want to stay on that floor and you get your learning, but then you’re not making that trek to have to go back to doing the business that you’re also there to do, from meeting your manufacturer partners and that sort of thing as well. No, that’s awesome.

Shawn Ashby: Absolutely. Yeah.

Rob Stott: And then too, any other ideas? I’d just throw the open question out to you. Throughout the rest of the year, as you see this platform continue to develop and grow, and thoughts on what it might be or what your fingerprint on it might be in the coming months and years?

Shawn Ashby: Yeah, yeah, for sure. When I look at it, we have a lot of people who come to PrimeTime, but we know when we look at that Nationwide family, it’s really a small group, because you think of all of the staff that stay at the stores in order to keep the stores open and running, and they never get that opportunity to come to PrimeTime. They don’t get the opportunity to listen to those NLA courses.

So as we look in the future, that’s something I’m really passionate about is, how can we take this great education, this great learning that we deliver twice a year, and take it to the masses? Whether it’s recording those classes at PrimeTime, whether it’s an opportunity to have some live webinars with a lot of the popular courses, where sales associates from all over the country can log on and get that same content, get that same training? So really, Rob, the next step is, how do we take what we’re doing today and just get it into as many hands as possible? So that’s the exciting part of what we’re looking forward to doing. And there’s a lot of different avenues we can go down in order to get it out there and we’re open to all of them, but knowledge is power, so the more we get out there, the better it is.

Rob Stott: No, that’s great. And again, the high tide, it’s going to raise all the ships.

Shawn Ashby: Yes, yes, exactly.

Rob Stott: See, the more ships we can get in that tide, it’s going to raise them all.

Shawn Ashby: That’s it. That’s it.

Rob Stott: No, that’s fantastic, man. It’s cool to see, too. I mean, it’s crazy to think that you’ve only been here since January, because I feel like a lot of Work’s been done on NLA and this platform, and it’s awesome to see, and how it manifests itself at PrimeTime, but also what you’re doing in between. So for those that don’t know, this man is constantly on the move and working and pulling strings to make this happen, so it’s awesome to be a part of and to witness it when it comes together in person. We appreciate it. I should ask aside, we know Kuester’s the top of the list, but I should ask, who’s your highest-rated speaker? And is it me? That’s all I want to know.

Shawn Ashby: Hey, for the sake of my audience today, you are, Rob. You’re the man.

Rob Stott: See, that’s all I wanted to know.

Shawn Ashby: Off the charts.

Rob Stott: Now we’ve had a good podcast. This will definitely get published, then. Awesome. Shawn, I appreciate the time, man. This was a lot of fun. Cool to, like I said, peel back the layers of NLA and let people see sort of what goes on and all the work that goes into it, because it is a lot. I am preaching to the choir there, but we appreciate it and I know our members do too. So thank you, and look forward to seeing how it comes together in six months in Vegas.

Shawn Ashby: Absolutely. I appreciate it.

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