Not long ago, we had Chris Schriever, publisher of Sleep Retailer, on the Independent Thinking Podcast to talk about the trends their following in the sleep space. Because they were SO impressed with us, they decided to have us on their podcast! Here’s the crossover episode of the Sleep Retailer Podcast, which you can find on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Go subscribe!
Chris Schriever: Your organization represents a number of members and I’m really interested to hear how things are going for them and what you’re hearing during these COVID times.
Rob Stott: They are finding ways to adapt and thrive during this time. These guys were really, they pulled up the bootstraps and went to work, making sure they could survive this and hopefully starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel here.Talk to anyone in the audio video editing space and I guarantee you there’s two things that they will tell you are some of the most awkward things that you could experience as an audio slash video person. Number one, editing yourself. I do it on a weekly basis, recording podcasts, recording interviews and having to go back and listen to your own voice. There is nothing more cringy than sitting at a computer and trying to edit out your ums and oohs and yeahs and all that sort of stuff. But we do it. It’s part of the gig and how we get a podcast published every week and it’s fun at the end of the day, but that’s number one.
Number two is especially as an interviewer is having the mic flipped on you. We do a lot, as a host of a podcast to prep questions and think about how we want to craft an episode, how we want things to go, but it’s weird being put in that position of being on the other side of the mic and having the questions thrown at you. And it’s a different kind of challenge, a different way to approach an episode, but that’s what I was faced with I think the first time. I’ve done a lot of podcast episodes in my life. I can’t remember the last time I was actually interviewed for a podcast. This might’ve been my first podcast interview from the other side of the mic.
And got to do it with Chris Schriever, the publisher of Sleep Retailer, who we recently had on the Independent Thinking podcast. And I guess I did so well, you could say, that that Chris decided he wanted to turn the mic around and have me on their podcast. And we did that with a recent episode, talked about a lot of great stuff. What we’re seeing here at Nationwide with our members and what’s happening in the independent retail space and a lot of topics. Obviously COVID and the impact that’s had on businesses was a big topic that we discussed and a whole bunch more.
And honestly it was fun. It’s different. It’s very different as opposed to being able to ask questions. No, but it was a good time and happy enough that they shared the episode with us so you can go listen to the Sleep Retailer podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify and you can find it there. Episode 31 one of the Sleep Retailer podcast with me as their guest. But they were cool enough to share that audio and we’re happy to do a little crossover here with their podcast and put a little wrap on it and run it as you would hear it over there. Big thanks to Chris and his team and everyone at Sleep Retailer for their help getting this set up. Let’s go ahead and for an awkward transition, I guess, we’re used to just diving right into an episode, but we’re actually diving into someone else’s episode. Here we’ve got the Sleep Retailer podcast featuring yours truly on as a guest. Here you are.
Speaker 3: You’re listening to the Sleep Retailer podcast.
Chris Schriever: Good morning. I’m Chris Schriever. I’m your host of the Sleep Retailer podcast. Thrilled to have Rob Stott with us here today. Rob is the communications manager for Nationwide Marketing Group and we are thrilled to hear his perspective and really just to kind of dive in with what’s happening right now. It’s such a strange time. Rob, good morning.
Rob Stott: Morning, Chris. Appreciate you having me on. And it’s fun. We had the mic pointed towards you a couple weeks ago so I think I did well enough to have it turned around on me. Is that what we’re going with?
Chris Schriever: I like it. Well, let’s see how you do, Rob. Your organization represents a number of members and I’m really interested to hear how things are going for them and what you’re hearing during these COVID times.
Rob Stott: Yeah. Like you said, Nationwide, we represent over 5,000 independent retailers with some 14,000 storefronts that all, they go across multiple industries. Appliances, consumer electronics, furniture, bedding, outdoor and connected services. But yeah, this COVID time has been certainly quite the upheaval on normal day to day business for retailers. But the inspiring thing I think is that they are finding ways to adapt and thrive during this time. Given we’re kind of past, I think in most states at this point, the complete lockdown orders and starting to see businesses get back to some sense of normalcy with different measures in place and social distancing and that sort of thing. But I think adaptability kind of is the way you could boil it down to just what our members have done, what this industry has done of independent retailers across the country and just inspiring to watch. Watch them fight for their business.
It’s not like corporate big box stores where they’ve got hundreds of locations all throughout the country and were able to stay open for the most part. These guys were really, they pulled up the bootstraps and went to work, making sure they could survive this and hopefully starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel here.
Chris Schriever: Yeah. And I think that’s a very important distinction. We’re talking about a number of independent retailers who are relying mostly on one location to survive. That one physical location. Many of these companies also of course, had an online presence that helped sustain sales and grow their company but these are primarily individual retailers. Is that correct, Rob?
Rob Stott: Yeah, absolutely. A lot of one store location. We have of course members that have multiple locations, but yeah, you mentioned, glad you brought up the eCommerce side of things. There’s always been this push, I think from the Nationwide side to help members get online, get up and running and not even just have a website in general, but have a website that is eCommerce ready, where consumers can come and make purchases. That’s been an effort we’ve been trying to make to get members up on those kinds of websites and certainly saw the willingness for them to adapt and start supporting those systems for their businesses. And they became a critical lifeline during this time. You can’t really put it any other way because when customers can’t come into your store, the only way to make sales then is unless you’re doing it over the phone, is through a website.
Chris Schriever: It’s interesting, do you happen to have any research, soft perhaps, you could speak to on the number of retailers that you jumped in and helped advise them on how to get an eCommerce site started at perhaps the beginning of this?
Rob Stott: Yeah. Specific numbers hard to get into, but certainly, we saw an influx of members wanting to get up and running on websites and those that already had it, obviously making the investment as well to improve their websites. And whether that was either just starting a website in general or adding services like digital chat, video chat, text to chat services and things like that. We certainly saw exponential growth in those areas, for sure. Definitely excited to see members that were willing and able to make those kinds of investments to ensure that they were able to stay in business in some way.
Chris Schriever: I’m interested to hear what insights you might have on consumers. They’re obviously starting to return to stores. Any idea of what they’re looking for as they do make the return to stores?
Rob Stott: Yeah. Answer there is everything. They’re really looking for everything. And when you’re talking about the categories that we serve at Nationwide and our members they sell, so appliances, furniture, bedding, consumer electronics, they’ve been looking for it all. And just to circle back real quick to the website points, if you want to talk about where they’re going, so yeah, they’re returning to stores, but they’re also shopping more online. Traffic to our member stores has more than doubled during the course of the pandemic.
Chris Schriever: Wow.
Rob Stott: It was already on sort of that upward tick of traffic increasing year over year. But we kind of see this as just the whole pandemic, the way it’s kind of forced retailers forward. We’ve been kind of joking internally that we’re kind of living in this retail future right now, because the way things were going from a digital perspective, the fast forward button has been hit and we’re kind of seeing that play out in real time, which is it’s neat to watch that happen. But online traffic’s up, like you mentioned, in store traffic starting to climb and the products they’re looking for, it doesn’t necessarily pertain to the sleep side of things, but we know that appliances have been way up, it’s impossible for our members to keep those in stock right now, freezers in particular. Early on the demand for those was high because people looking to store food, but certainly that has continued.
More specifically to the furniture and bedding side, as people have been home sleeping on these mattresses, I think, they kind of sit on their couches more often. Maybe they’re doing some work from the bed or the couch. They’re starting to realize how old or outdated or lumpy that a couch or a bed has become. Demand in those categories has been up as well. And sell through as well. The numbers we’ve been tracking, they’re all up in almost every category across the board for Nationwide members. Sell through to consumers is up.
Chris Schriever: Interesting that we talk about how the retail environment has been pushed forward. I think consumers have also been pushed forward. In that they’re more comfortable now, not just doing the research online, but actually completing that purchase online and without even physically touching a product, be it a freezer or a bed. That trend has certainly started before all of this, but COVID has certainly pushed it forward, I think dramatically.
Rob Stott: Yeah. We actually not long ago caught a study that had come out. Adobe Analytics is known for tracking sales online, especially during the Black Friday season. They’ve got their regular reports that come out. They had a report, you want to talk about online traffic increasing. The months of March, April, May or April, May, June the height of the lockdowns surpassed Black Friday holiday shopping season in terms of average sales online per month. Think about that for a second.
Chris Schriever: Wow.
Rob Stott: Black Friday is always kind of when new records are set online in terms of online sales and things like that. And I think that if I remember right, the averages were $70 billion in online sales during Black Friday 2019 and in April, May and June, online sales surpassed 70 billion. They were up close to 80 billion a month during the lockdown. It’s not a holiday time, but people were still willing to spend online. And it’ll be interesting to see whether that continues and that’s kind of what we’re keeping an eye on now is whether that level of eCommerce sell through sustains or we kind of see sort of a normalization as we gear up here for looking at the calendar almost Q4 already.
Chris Schriever: That’s a very good point and it’s interesting because then with all of that in mind, how has COVID changed or evolved perhaps the purpose of your organization?
Rob Stott: At the end of the day, the heart of our mission is to serve our members, to give them the tools they need to survive and thrive and succeed in their business. And we’re always going to be a member driven organization so in that sense, we haven’t changed. We’re still here for them, producing the tools they need and giving them access to services and the vendor opportunities to be successful in their day to day. But watching what we’ve been able to do internally, talking about the Nationwide team and all the different departments and everything that we have going on internally, it’s, I think, nothing short of inspiring to kind of watch how we’ve all been able to come together, much like the retailers that we serve and develop different tools.
Whether it was a back to business hub. We’ve got a shop safe promise programs that have been developed and all under the purpose of supplying our members with whether it’s personal protective equipment, things like that or just some best practices to follow around this return to normal retailing with the coronavirus still out there. I think it’s just strengthened our commitment to wanting to serve our members and make sure that they can be successful no matter what it is that they’re facing, whether it’s competition from big box stores, the influx in online competition or a, I guess, a global pandemic.
Chris Schriever: Absolutely. I think that’s a very adequate summary. You’re there for retailers today and tomorrow, regardless of what might be thrown our way. And that’s pretty outstanding and a great resource for the retailer.
Rob Stott: Yeah. We certainly try, it’s certainly I think a two way street. It’s getting constant feedback from them about what are the tools that they need and making sure that we are providing the right level of resources to them or what it is that they need. It’s a constant back and forth and learning and growing together.
Chris Schriever: Absolutely. And that’s what we all are doing at the moment. Rob, as always, it’s great to connect with you. I think that one of the values I see with doing so is the number of retailers that you represent and you provide a perspective that is very well informed. And so to that end, I would imagine that there may be a retailer too that that has done something particularly interesting throughout this time that you might want to share a little bit about if you can.
Rob Stott: Yeah, of course. You nailed it. We have a ton of members who are doing a lot of things and I mentioned the work I’ve been inspired by the Nationwide team. I’ve been probably more so inspired by some of the stories we’ve seen come out of the membership and in this space in particular, I know you guys probably are aware of Mattress Mack and Gallery Furniture down there in Houston. Seeing things that they’re doing, providing free resources for getting back to work in their area. I know we also did free food distribution, offering I think even mental health services and stuff. Cool to see stuff like that. There’s other members, Shuee’s Great Buys, a member in the Indiana area, right around to Indianapolis. At the outset, there was some laundry issues at a local EMS center, I think they donated a couple sets of laundry appliances.
And then even another Texas member, a leather furniture company, there up in North Texas. Had a situation where they were closed as a store, but managed to take their resources. They produce furniture as well as sell furniture so they took some of their supplies and they started cranking out face masks and other gear like that. Those are just a couple examples, but lots of stories like that, of members finding ways to turn around what they do and serve their communities. And that’s what makes working in this space so awesome and something that I love getting up to do every day.
Chris Schriever: It has been interesting to us as well, to see how quickly a number of manufacturers have been able to pivot and to really help.
Rob Stott: Yeah. And I’d be interested in your thoughts too, turning the microphone on you in the middle of your podcast, but SSB, the mattress that they came out with. I don’t know if you guys had seen that. They’re working with a Swiss company where they have an antiviral mattress. You mentioned manufacturers doing stuff. Cool to see them developing an actual mattress that can cleanse itself of viral bacteria and perfect timing to promote something like that right in the middle of a pandemic.
Chris Schriever: Absolutely. Really great timing. And as well, it would be interesting to see how many products come out of this time that are healthier in nature or maybe they’re originally designed for the hospital setting and are being speced to be used at the consumer level. Rob, it is always great to connect with you. Thank you so much for taking some of your time, some time this morning to do so. We are grateful.
Rob Stott: Yeah. Appreciate the opportunity and look forward to having you back on our show.
Chris Schriever: We’re ready. You just let us know.
Speaker 3: You’ve been listening to the Sleep Retailer podcast. Join us again next time for another great conversation about the latest bedding industry news, innovations and trends.
Rob Stott: All right. And again, a huge thank you to Chris for first of all, for deciding he wanted to actually, thought I was intelligent enough to have on their podcast and talk about some of the things we’re seeing in independent retail and felt like he could pick my brain a little bit. I appreciate that. And more power to him for pulling the info he did out of me. Great interviewer and again, appreciate them also sharing the audio and allowing us to share their episode. Again, be sure to go check out the Sleep Retailer podcast on Apple and Spotify. And as always, we appreciate you listening to the Independent Thinking podcast and we will catch you next time.