223: A Lesson in Effectively Leveraging Data from King’s Great Buys Plus

Written by Rob Stott

July 2, 2024

When he was a part of the NMG team, Mike Manthey was a driving force behind the group’s data initiative. Now, as a part of the King’s Great Buys Plus team, he’s leveraging NMG’s data-powered tools like PriMetrix to help grow and evolve the business while also exploring new markets.


Rob Stott: All right. We are back on the Independent Thinking Podcast and it took you leaving Nationwide Marketing Group and going and joining King’s Great Buys Plus to get on the pod. I couldn’t get you while you were here. You know why? It’s ’cause you were so damn busy while you were here, Mr. Mike Manthey. I couldn’t… You just didn’t have the time for a podcast. I understand, but I finally got you on.

Mike Manthey: You got me on. I do remember PrimeTime, we were walking around doing FaceTime.

Rob Stott: Oh, Facebook Live.

Mike Manthey: Remember seeing Nick Norton run the other way.

Rob Stott: He did, he certainly did. Until that one time, we shouldn’t put him on blast on the podcast, but I did catch him one time and he won’t let me live it down because it was in the middle of Palooza and he had food in his mouth.

Mike Manthey: Oh, fun with food.

Rob Stott: What better time to talk than while you’re in the middle of eating? But, no, I appreciate you taking the time out there. King’s Great Buys Plus, you’re in Evans– I know there are a lot of locations You’re in Evansville, is that right? Indiana?

Mike Manthey: Headquartered out of Evansville.

Rob Stott: Awesome. So, well we’ll start before we dive into, we got a lot to dive into and I’m looking forward to doing it with you, but just how are you and how’s business today?

Mike Manthey: Business is obviously tough We all see the numbers, but I feel I’ve knocked all the dust off. I’m having a lot of fun. I generally don’t know what day it is, getting involved and working a few days too many a week. Wednesday’s my reset day, because we do our partner call, Great Buys Plus partner call every day, otherwise I’m just going to take a stab and say it ends in y.

Rob Stott: I love that. Well, it’s funny for me, obviously we got to know each other, your time at Nationwide and a little over five years. Is that right, part of the team?

Mike Manthey: Just shy of six.

Rob Stott: But honestly a blip in your career, the rest of which is dominated by time spent in retail. So you talk about someone that cut your teeth in retail, that pretty well defines you for sure.

Mike Manthey: Nationwide might be one of the best things I did, because doing what I’m doing now, I feel like it’s made me better. Whether it was the interaction with the members, having a Rolodex for when you stub your toe, but more importantly just when I first got to Nationwide, Rob, I guess I forgot how much is on the shelf when it comes to resources.

There’s always that new, shiny penny. I think PriMetrix is going to stay around for a while, but, man, whether it’s resident experts or product on the shelf or, “Hey, I need help here,” I feel that it’s really a… Well, Hickman said it each day I was out of retail, I get a day dumber, and I was from a product perspective, but from a services perspective, I couldn’t have prepped a better way to get back into retail than with my time with Nationwide.

Rob Stott: Oh, that’s awesome to hear. And I think, without getting too Nationwide-y on us here on our own podcast, but it speaks to the character at the company, whether it’s people coming from the manufacturer side to help within the group or obviously lots of retailers as well, it’s that you are what you are at your heart, at your core, and just the care for the businesses there, and that’s cool to see as someone at trade media. So I don’t know where I sit in that sphere of things that exist in the retail world covering the retail space, but as an outsider, I’ll call myself, compared to what you guys are and do for the industry, neat to see you guys work on behalf of the industry while you’re part of Nationwide.

Mike Manthey: Pretty wild. We just got to find somebody that can listen to us in that time of need, but that was almost the best six years I had to get back into retail and here I am now ringing everybody’s phone that I did for the five, six years that I was there.

Rob Stott: Well, now the opportunities that lie in front of you as a member of Nationwide, and you know who to call. Who better?

Mike Manthey: Because I just go right to the source.

Rob Stott: That’s incredible. Well talk about your role, now, back at Great Buys. What are you doing for the company? And talk about just your day-to-day, aside from bugging the people back at Nationwide to make business better.

Mike Manthey: First things first, I couldn’t get anything done until everybody got to know me and got to build that culture. Kris Keuster’s smiling by me saying that, but really getting involved personally, reviewing process, procedure, you can’t do process without having something to believe in.

Operationally, that was a big change. I’ve worked for some much larger companies, and here you wear all hats. I had to go let the driver in to deliver us furniture. You do what you got to do, but I do feel it’s the fabric of our community, and the heartbeat that we bring to the community where we’re all doing business.

So, while I’m working hard to do whatever I can to make King’s better, and I say King’s/Great Buys Plus, because whatever I’m doing for the King’s business is also for the Great Buys business partners should they have a need or help. Well, we stop, drop, and that’s the awesomeness of having our group within a group. And I’m the babe. Terry’s been doing this almost 50 years, but these businesses have been doing business for almost as long as I’ve had my feet on this ground. So it’s just a phenomenal network of having a group within a group, where we can just talk as one. If we have a problem there’s many others that have probably done it, or in a similar situation, that can improve the King’s business or the Great Buys Plus business, all the ships rise.

Rob Stott: Talk about the company. Let’s just set the stage for those who may or may not be familiar. I know it started at the incredibly humble beginning, just one location, and there’s 44 in the portfolio now, I think is the number. Just paint that picture for those not familiar with King’s and Great Buys Plus.

Mike Manthey: Well, again, it’s something Terry created many, many years ago. We celebrated our 41st anniversary this year in March for King’s. I don’t know the exact year that Great Buys Plus was created, but it was shortly after getting this business. But you’re only as big as your business.

Having the opportunity to band together, much like Nationwide, aggregate it, scale it to better your business. But having… I belong to the NATM Buying Group for a short period in my time and, while they’re the whales of the independent business, I like to say that we stand on one another’s shoulder to tell a bigger story. It gets us a better seat at the table. We’ve got Nationwide that has a seat at the table, but feel we can control our business as well.

And that’s the awesomeness of NATM that I see the similarity in Great Buys Plus, while we all can make our decision that’s best for our business, nine times out of 10 we’re walking in the same direction. So that’s when it really starts getting fun and it’s just an awesome opportunity inside the independent channel of having what we have.

Rob Stott: Oh, that’s awesome. Now I know you, too, in just your own career, you mentioned the time spent in retail, and then obviously while with Nationwide you’ve seen a lot of different independent businesses of different shapes and sizes, and get exposed to a lot of different ways of doing business. What differentiates King’s and Great Buys Plus in your mind, and just how they’re going about business?

Mike Manthey: I think, forget about my time here, because my time clock just started, but I think in everywhere I’ve gone, what Terry’s done, it comes down to your say/do ratio.

If you have a track record of doing what you say, things are going to continue to come across very open and honest. Call it a safe room, whether it’s amongst us, the partners, or with vendors. There’s no stepping on throats. It’s just being transparent and honest and talking about data and all the PriMetrix that I’ve done for other members, it’s how to apply that in your business, and that sometimes is the hardest part.

Rob Stott: For sure. And good segue, too, because I know the reason I love picking your brain particularly whether no matter where you sit and where you are in your day-to-day is because of that role the data played while you were here at Nationwide, and seeing you use it today. We know not too long ago, as we’re sitting here a couple of weeks ago really, you were on a stage talking about data and how you leverage it in your role now, and you have that unique perspective of seeing it from the inside as well.

So PriMetrix is a platform that’s been developed over the last couple of years here at Nationwide. We’ll dive into it, but just at a high level, talk about the importance of that platform to what you’re doing there at King’s and Great Buys Plus.

Mike Manthey: It’s really simple. Where else are we going to get the data? I don’t want the vendor data, because they got the national data and all the benefits of what an independent retailer does, higher ASB, better mix. I don’t want the vendor data.

And there is no other source. AHAM is a windsock, if you will, but really what Derek Mattila came and put together in a dark room is amazing. Whether it’s PriMetrix market, that taught a Chicago guy all about South Dakota that I would, a thousand percent, guessed wrong when I went and worked for Carl Stevie. Same thing here at King’s. I have a vendor that wants to go see a Great Buys partner and wants to understand their community, well, I can do that. We don’t have to call somebody. I can help our vendor help a Great Buys partner.

And our newest Great Buys partner, Stuckwisch Appliance, today took over a new business and he’s probably more familiar with the town than I am, but having those reports and sending them his way, it will spark a really awesome conversation for he and I. “How do I assort this floor?” Just because it’s close to your headquarters doesn’t mean it’s the same. So now we get a couple different samples where we can put them together, and I guarantee he’s going to find a new customer should he consider that.

Rob Stott: It’s crazy. I know when we’ve talked about it, the way we boil it down is it takes the guessing out of the work buyers and merchants at retail have traditionally done right. Is that fair to say?

Mike Manthey: Everybody, Kentucky Windage, you had to go with your gut, but I believe Hickman had a sign over his door that said, “Unless you come with data, it’s just an opinion.” Sometimes opinion or gut contributes, but ultimately I’m going to err on the side of data, and you’ll navigate, you’ll find a smaller chance for error when you want to use the gut, because you did the heavy lift with data.

Rob Stott: Now, when you got to King’s and Great Plus, were they in on data? Did they understand PriMetrix?

Mike Manthey: Definitely. It’s something that I’ve ran for Terry prior to me getting here. We got a new partner in Jasper, Indiana. They were taking over an AVB business, and not from any of our categories as far as their businesses that they were in, but I think very quickly got their feet on the ground and then diving into PriMetrix market was one thing, but so was taking a look at the categories.

It really helped the rubber hit the road for them. So it’s multifaceted, and the key is don’t get overwhelmed by it. It’s like people look at it like a Detroit phone book. Well, they quit before they stop, or before they start. Just get into it, and you can only take it so far and then you have to make an action. There’s enough there to help validate what you’re thinking or help you identify a winning path.

Rob Stott: I might be asking the same question twice over here with this one and what my follow-up would be, but to your point about not getting overwhelmed or not overwhelming yourself with the data, do you find yourself looking at one area in particular of PriMetrix or… I know you’re obviously pretty familiar with the tools and not everything that goes on behind them, so I have to imagine you’re a little more in there and your tentacles are spread all throughout the platform, but do you resonate with one area of the data or find it more, I don’t want to call it more useful, but something that you just…

Mike Manthey: I’ll look at the top performing models. How it’s something in that that’s not in my plan to sell right for opportunity, but really where our world is living right now, haves have-nots, it’s really put a lot of focus on the opening price point models. If you think of a pyramid, the tip, that’s the opening price point goods, it’s harder to make money with the big vendors, and then Nationwide comes together with the Element guys and they put together a product that, hey, it works. This is not a commercial for Element, but the product stays sold, it’s profitable. It’s a new opportunity.

And it was exciting when I was working with Nationwide, but now where the world is, it’s more important than ever. You have an opportunity to make a larger dollar, versus the big vendors that they want you to sell the higher-end brands in their line, which today’s probably more value getting your biggest bang for the buck and the person looking to buy Cafe or KitchenAid, they’re probably not as strapped as those at the other end of the spectrum. So it’s things like that. When the industry changes, what can I use to make sure that we’re doing the best that we can?

And for all the billions of dollars that’s in PriMetrix, the big enough sample for me to tell me… And that’s the one thing I learned when I was flying around, Rob, everybody wanted me to aggregate and do an analysis on their business based on where they do business. And I did do that when it was requested, and when you put the entire network and then a particular region, there isn’t much difference. But I have some unique things to my business that somebody may not in Chicago, but 98% of the time we’re selling the same stuff.

Rob Stott: Just finding those little areas where you can benefit. And the follow-up I was going to ask to that, and again, it may a different way of asking the same question. For a retailer new to this that you’re encouraging them to dive in and not get overwhelmed by the amount of data they see, would you point them to a specific tool or resource within PriMetrix that would be a nice way to dip the toe into what’s possible?

Mike Manthey: I would say C, all the above. Jump in, get to know it all. Joliet, Illinois, I was born and raised. From ’73, I didn’t leave until I think it went to Carlson 2013 or 2014, but in my home town, most people didn’t know my business. It had been there for 60 years, but nobody knew what it was or what they did. And I lived there, I worked there, I was proud, but nobody knows about it until they have a need. Same thing, you got to know the market and everybody says they know their market well, there’s stuff to learn as I did. I wish I had that when I was back in Chicago.

Truly made me better when I was in the Dakotas, and I feel we’re applying it again as to how we speak, who are we speaking to? And then when it comes to the last three feet on the floor, you always have to be challenging what you currently have. It’s impossible to know everything and what a great resource to see all those participating in the aggregated data really just to try to either validate what I’m trying, or look for a pivot. It’s there.

Rob Stott: The important word I’m pulling out of what you’ve been saying a couple of times throughout is aggregating. And I know for a lot of retailers out there that data, that point of sale data and it’s conversations I’m sure you had, well, it’s not, I’m sure I know you had, while you were here with retailers trying to convince them to participate in this tool. That data is that secret sauce. They feel protective of it and want to not share it. But aggregate, all that data comes together. So talk about that, the comfort of being a retailer with a lot of data that you’re plugging into this tool to be able to get the benefits out of.

Mike Manthey: I was in the Dakotas with Karl’s TV when Nationwide asked if I would contribute to sharing point of sale. I had two questions, “Why do you want it and what are you going to do with it?” And their answers, “Why wouldn’t I? You’re trying to better each one of our business.” And I think when they asked me, they never knew. What PriMetrix is today probably wasn’t on the whiteboard then came to life, but it’s to better. Our business Nationwide wanted to better our business by knowing what’s going on today, not two weeks ago, but today, and right now is, I won’t say turbulent, but as… Maybe turbulent as the times that we’re in right now, you just got to see where the ball moves. And to see if it is true, the haves and have-nots, well, you got a big void in the middle, so is there something that we can grab in the middle? But obviously paying attention to where the world is now and every day you got to try to better your business.

Rob Stott: The other interesting thing I’m hearing you talk about, is obviously you’ve been with different size retailers working for, so it almost doesn’t seem to matter what stop or the size of retailer that you would’ve been at, you still would’ve loved to have this data available to you. It’s not something that just because you’re a larger retailer, you get more benefit out of, per se. These numbers, when you chop them up, at the end of the day, you’re looking at numbers that impact everyone.

Mike Manthey: Like my mom used to say, “You put your pants on just like I do.” We’re putting our key in the door, we’re turning on the lights, we’re greeting, we’re qualifying, and we’re trying to earn business.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. What was your close? It might be similar to what you’re saying there about how when Nationwide came to you and the two questions you had, but when you were talking to members that might’ve been on the fence, what was the pitch that you made to them to convince them to sign up or push them over to get comfortable with it, even?

Mike Manthey: Same thing. I talk about how Nationwide asked me, and it’s just that simple. Here you guys are, how do you know which ball to swing at? But it is just that easy. Why did you want it and what are you going to do with it?

What I tried to do was take it one step further, show them how they could apply it to their business, to their sales floor, to their sales staff.

Rob Stott: What’s the most impactful way you’ve seen it applied at King’s and Great Buys Plus?

Mike Manthey: Oh, wow. Me? Jumping back into retail I was like, “Holy crap, I got to download all the 21 categories, just smush this in my head and let’s go.”

But it is really just getting acclimated to not what works in Nationwide, but it helped me identify what was really working well here at King’s. Go to the hole in the boat. You got to clog that hole, stay afloat, then you can go make good better. And it’s impact your business by finding that opportunity that maybe you’re not playing in. I used to always try to identify a price bucket, or area in each category of where a member potentially had opportunity, or was not getting their fair share of business. They have to decide if that’s good for their business, but we all have them, even at King’s. Nobody’s perfect, but keep swinging at it.

Rob Stott: And I think if there’s a closing point, even, the fact that this data exists and it’s out there, and obviously you’re diving into it and learning a lot from it, as an individual, that’s cool to hear that it was a great way to get yourself onboarded to the way they were doing business and see what’s going on in the market as well and just use it as a…

Mike Manthey: They’ve been here for 40 years. They’re winning.

Rob Stott: They’re doing something right.

Mike Manthey: For sure.

Rob Stott: So that’s awesome to see from the educational perspective, but also, too, the decision-making. The numbers are there and you have to look at, and there’s some analysis done for you where you can find those pockets and voids in the market that you might be able to fill, but at the end of the day, you still have to make that decision as the retailer. So you can never arm yourself with enough information and tools to inform those decisions. But still, at the end of the day, you got to make that decision.

Mike Manthey: And it’s clicks away. I don’t have a printout on my nightstand, but it’s crack the laptop, and a couple of clicks, and you’re there. You guys did the heavy lift.

Rob Stott: So talk about from… Get back into the Wayback machine. Pre PriMetrix, what was that process like for you? What did you do to do that research?

Mike Manthey: Buyer’s luck. Just kidding. No, but that was something cool. Before data became data, when I was at NATM, we had a monthly report of what everybody did, by category. So that was an opportunity for me very young in my career that I could call a Randy Johnson at Brand Smart. I could call a Marty at ABC warehouse. And these have guys that they’ve… I’m just walking into the wall. They figured out how to either go through it or over it. But having that look, and again, not the vendor’s data, people like us, independent business owners. And I don’t care if it’s a small company or a big company, we’re doing the same things, just one’s bigger or smaller than the other. We face the same challenges. We have the same problems. We’re fighting the same nationals, so are we really that different? We’re not.

Rob Stott: When you boil it down to some numbers and you plug it into, again, an aggregated bucket and you’re able to pick and choose and search for the things, for the answers to the questions you’re trying to ask, it all looks the same.

Mike Manthey: It does. And if you try to do it all at once, you’re going to get overwhelmed. You can only retain so much. Just take little bites, just little bites.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. Well, hey, we appreciate it. And if I was going to ask for that takeaway message, I think that might’ve been it, is to take those baby steps in this. If it’s something that you’re participating in and just not sure where the benefits lie, it’s just practicing and getting familiar with it, or if you’re not participating with it, understanding the possibilities of what’s there. And I know there’s plenty of opportunities to get those market reports if you’re not actively participating, and just see what’s possible. But then to get in there and play around, you have to spend some time with it.

Mike Manthey: You do. And I did hundreds of them, and I’m sure the team can still do it now that I’m not there. But just that high-level analysis that we did, it basically told you what category was suffering, or “put another log on this fire, get over there.” It was just such a nice one pager to put in front of a member, really to help them see where their business is calling. And nine times out of 10, they could figure it out from there.

But having that resource to talk to somebody or to get a little deeper dive into the data, I made a lot of interactions of one member to another member. Get out of the way, because I was out of retail. I had to get somebody that was knowledgeable that I was paused at the time, that does it every day. And magic starts to happen.

Rob Stott: Now that being back in retail, using it. Have you found yourself using this data in ways that you didn’t think you would, or some unintended benefits out of having access to it?

Mike Manthey: I got a lot of ideas that it’s got to come to life, yet, but really this is meat and potatoes. Nothing really changes other than our communities and right now it’s different. So I think with the breadth of data that’s offered to us, should that rainy day come probably going to find another way to use it from assorting a new store or doing your current floor. It’s all there. I think it’s an endless list of opportunities that it can help us as retailers and Nationwide

Rob Stott: For sure. And we barely even touched that part of it. And we don’t want to because the focus is on the retailers, but plenty, you mentioned, seats at the table. Having this opens the doors. I know for Nationwide and more ways than one to be able to have those conversations, and go back to those manufacturers, and talk to them, and we could have a whole nother episode on that, maybe.

Mike Manthey: While you guys live in the today like we do, Nationwide all lives in tomorrow as well. You guys are a couple steps ahead for when we get there and all the awesome things that you guys bring to us, but same time, all the merchants need to know what’s going on today, because it ain’t over.

Rob Stott: No, it never is. Oh, that’s awesome. Mr. Manthey, this was a lot of fun as I anticipated, so sad we didn’t get to do it while you were here. I know we did. I think I snagged you on a Facebook Live now that you mentioned that. We did do it during the show, but now it’s official. You could say you’ve been on the Independent Thinking podcast, so I appreciate you taking the time and look forward to seeing you again in Vegas. You going to be there? Coming back?

Mike Manthey: I have a face only a mother can love. I thank you for having me and I’ll be back in Vegas.

Rob Stott: Awesome. Well we will see you there and look forward to it, and again, just appreciate your time.

Mike Manthey: Appreciate you, too. Thanks, Rob.

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