56: Gorrie CEO Talks Retail Trends in a Post-COVID World

Written by Rob Stott

February 9, 2021

Ashley Gorrie, CEO of Nationwide Marketing Group vendor partner Gorrie, shares what retail trends she believes will have the longest impact in a post-COVID world.

Rob Stott: All right. We are back on the Independent Thinking Podcast and really excited right now. It’s been a long time coming. I’ve been trying to get in touch with Miss Ashley Gorrie of Gorrie up there. I know you’re north of the border. I don’t know if, you know, just the connections are different when you try to get a Canadian and an American to talk, but finally we’re here and I’m happy to have you on. So, Ashley, I appreciate you taking the time and calling in for up there in the middle of a snow storm.

Ashley Gorrie: Thanks so much, Rob. Yep. Nope. Good, good neighbors we are. Not a bad connection.

Rob Stott: No, not one bit. Not one bit. Now I know you guys have the reputation of being very friendly up there north of the border, Canadians so I expect nothing but kindness.

Ashley Gorrie: Nothing but kindness. And I might say sorry a lot.

Rob Stott: Oh, gotcha. Oh. No, that’s awesome. Well, like I said, thank you for taking the time. And I know we have some really cool stuff we want to dive into and you know you’ve been making the podcast circuit. So I had a chance to kind of pre-listen to another episode with you. And not that I’m going to steal questions, but I love the direction of that. And so you’re a pro at this at this point. So I look forward to diving into some really cool topics with you. And, you know, I want to start, Gorrie, I think, did you guys, you guys made your PrimeTime debut in Houston in February. Is that right?

Ashley Gorrie: That’s right. Yeah. Right before the pandemic locked everything down, but it was a great experience. What an amazing group of membership and the team at Nationwide. I had just an excellent experience and just think the world of the association and the members.

Rob Stott: Yeah. Well, glad that you got to, at least that one face to face before we all got shut down, but you know, for the members that weren’t in Houston or that didn’t get a chance to kind of swing by and see what you guys were doing with the area there, just give kind of a brief overview on Gorrie and what it is the services that you provide.

Ashley Gorrie: Yeah, sure. So Gorrie is a retail activation company. We help brands and retailers bring their environments to life for the customer at the point of commerce. And I started in a conversation with Derek about the tiny homes and how do we tell this really integrated internet things or connected home story where we’re able to show, demonstrate how products can integrate in an environment that looks like something that you might live in and not a lot of stores necessarily have that feel. We had a booth set up to show that just what it took to bring all of those components and all of those products together.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. And I know the cool thing about Gorrie is that you guys have a very sort of similar history and feel to you as a company, as a lot of our independent retailers. I mean, you’re family owned, I think 130 years, is that right? The history of Gorrie?

Ashley Gorrie: 135, I think.

Rob Stott: Wow. That’s crazy. So it’s been around for a bit. The 21st century being the third century you’re active in, which is crazy to think about, but you know it’s cool to see that there’s in the vendor community someone that can relate a lot, I think to independent retailers and kind of what our members have to sort of exist and how they exist and what they go through on a daily basis.

Ashley Gorrie: Oh, absolutely. I love the independent category. Actually I’ve spent much of my career working with the independent category and other areas and there’s a real heart there and the multi-generational piece, it’s not easy. I mean, family and businesses are not for the faint of heart. Entrepreneurialism is not for the faint of heart. And you combine those two and it’s a wicked combination. But no, I think, learning about the industry from family brings a whole new layer of depth and understanding of what it takes to get there, not only as an entrepreneur, but to see the passion and the understanding of product. And so I really relate actually to a number of your members certainly transitioning from generation to generation also to put your own stamp on it and to put your own perspective as to what the industry or customers want to see from you while layering in that history is really, it’s a challenge, but it’s also, it’s a beautiful thing when you see it come to reality.

Rob Stott: Yeah. And I mean, you kind of touched on it there, but do you think having that sort of the family owned vibe to your own business, does that help you relate to, what specific, I mean, we’re talking specifically Nationwide, but other independent businesses that you get to engage with?

Ashley Gorrie: Yeah. History repeats itself like I hope the pandemic doesn’t repeat itself, but history does repeat itself. And there’s a lot of learning that we can take from the past and what communities, what governments, what businesses have gone through. And I think if we take those learnings and we apply them to how we run and lead our organizations or our teams, or what products we decide to align with, I think that that really can define the organization or define the company. I don’t know if I answered the question.

Rob Stott: No, I think it does pretty well. And you know, it’s just having the idea that you can kind of, you do face, I know you assist retail and sort of the way they activate in their stores and things like that, so there is a lot of alignment there. But even just from the standpoint of how you run your business and how you, like you said, you handed off from generation to generation and try to put your own stamp. You know, that’s something I know a lot of these guys face on a daily basis. So I think there’s a lot of similarities that are kind of cool to see as relationships with Gorrie and our members build out. And I mean, I can tell you, I actually did get the chance recently to talk to another member of ours.

Greer’s Home Furnishings who had the exact location. We had him on the podcast a couple of months ago. They’re down in Tennessee and they’re 130 years. I mean, similar location. They’re located on the same street. So maybe we should hook you guys up and talk about what it’s like to be that old of a company, but be pretty cool. But you know, for you now, as head of Gorrie, what are some of the biggest challenges that you face running a company that’s 130 plus years old?

Ashley Gorrie: I think constantly telling your story, creating a story that is going to be relevant to your customers, and so that they not only feel the alignment or feel the passion for what it is that you do. And I think this applies to any company, but to be able to tell a future story, to really understand, I mean, start with data, understand what your customers want, but then make sure you’re really crafting a story that is, it has a future folded into it. I think that we really need inspiration today. But we need inspiration with purpose. And so that’s for me where we’re going. I think COVID has taught us an incredible amount of lessons about our world, about the climate, about the sustainable business practices, social, political. So I think that there’s quite a lot right now where leaders can be leading with purpose, but that we have to keep the positive and we have to lead with inspiration. So those are the two things, two words that I’ve been using for leading in the future.

Rob Stott: Yeah, no, they make a lot of sense. And I know another one you can kind of tie in there too sort of way to transition and segue is evolution and adapting. And I know you’ve talked a lot about that recently, and I mentioned the other podcast circuit you’ve been. That’s something that’s come up a lot. And I mean, this pandemic has pushed a lot of leaders. I say a lot. You could probably say every leader and it wouldn’t be wrong to some unbelievable limits and you know, as you’ve kind of evaluated what the retail space has gone through. I mean, what are some of the more important impacts that you think this pandemic has had on the industry and things that will sort of live beyond it as retail has evolved? What are some of the things that you see have had an impact that will sort of outlast this pandemic?

Ashley Gorrie: Yeah, a great question. And one that we at Gorrie had been doing a lot of thought around, you know thought leadership around the future. Nobody has a crystal ball, but as I said you got to start with data. You got to start with the facts. You got to listen to what customers are going through and where their comfort levels are, and then start to craft what that’s going to look like going forward. The biggest challenge I see for retailers is that their physical spaces need to be a combination of virtual, digital and storefront and that they have to come off of the shop…. We really need to double down on web platforms, app platforms, virtual showroom. It doesn’t mean that the store itself is going to go away. And if anything, especially in the appliance and furniture category, people do want to see it.

They do want to feel it. It is a big purchase they’ll be making. And so there’s the sort of language that’s coming out today called connected commerce and that you really have the ability to have the same experience omni channel as also…, but it’s using digital for convenience. And then using the physical for experience. If anything I would say the independent category has some of the best customer service because they are living and breathing it every day. They’re not hiring minimum wage to come in and work shifts.

These are people who love what they do, and they really get to understand the products. I suppose, those are the things that I would say. I obviously have to figure out how to bring this forward into the office, living room, the bedroom of the customer, and through their screens, through it via mobile or through their PCs. And that’s not an easy thing to do because you don’t want it to feel, you don’t want it to feel purely digital. It has to have an element of that customer on the other side. So those are some of the trends that we’re seeing coming into this is a virtual showroom and using digital… not using it just to have touch screens in your location.

Rob Stott: This is something, this kind of calls back to my history of being very in tune with consumer tech and something that I’ve always been intrigued by virtual reality is is this an opportunity where VR could kind of step in and fill a big gap giving those customers a chance to experience? I know, you know, virtual, VR adoption isn’t necessarily super great, but I mean, an opportunity for them to kind of experience that showroom or even their home sort of adapted with products and furniture and appliances and things like that?

Ashley Gorrie: Yes. Actually, that’s a great question. And one where I do believe that there’s a place for it. I think we have to be careful not to use our stores as warehouses anymore. That’s what the customer no longer wants to see. They, if they’re going to go to the store and there’s a infamous that sort of retail researcher named Doug Stevens who talks about the store being media. And I think when you think about that you think about a giant billboard. You don’t necessarily have to have it cluttered like you’d find a warehouse. You want to create it so that you’re really walking them through an experience and that experience might be, when we come out of this cooking lessons and an open bar and one area where you can do seminars and more people can educate on interior design.

I mean, all of these are elements of craving when you look at hobbies, people took away. And I mean, it doesn’t take that long to create a hobby. We’ve all been lockdown at home and been creating some pretty serious hobbies over the last year. And so I think that that’s where you can really start to use your store as the community. To answer your question about, you know, AR VR, Macy’s has done an life environment, which is, allowing you to use AR VR to super impose furniture within your space, and then to see the product in different colors. So that really does help with the warehouse to digital. Right? Because you don’t have to have all manner of different products on your store floor. You can create a virtual space that customers can come in and experience, and then with swatches or with video, and a AR VR experience the same thing.

Rob Stott: No, that makes a lot of sense and those examples I know have kind of been around and then you see some retailers sort of innovating and playing with them, but definitely feels like a time where it could sort of create this mass adoption or familiarity, at least, with the customer that they’d be more comfortable, as you’re sitting at home, flipping through, instead of scrolling through an app looking at products, you actually can put it in your home and see what it looks like and experience it digitally in a sense. So, no, that’s awesome.

And you mentioned some of the in-store things. Yeah. Kind of feels like that experiential retail shopping environment was always, it’s kind of been talked about, but now coming through COVID and seeing what it’s done to the shopping experience, it’s an opportunity, like so many other services to kind of hit, put the gas pedal to the floor in that regard, and really look to increase adoption around that. So those experiential shopping environments, is that, we’ve seen that trend sort of pick up over time. Is it something where now with retailers having gone through this pandemic, you see sort of adoption picking up? Or is there a lot of work still to be done as far as convincing retailers that that’s the way to go?

Ashley Gorrie: So I think there’s a, I think the language around experiential, I don’t know that customers, and I think this is part of the studies that we’re going to have to do. I don’t know that customers are going to be a hundred percent ready to get back into stores due to their comfort levels around COVID and distribution of the vaccine. I will say that, yes, I do believe that the element of wanting to be part of things and whether or not, when we say experiential and it’s cooking classes, or as I alluded to before, it’s seminars of one thing or another, I think that a lot of environments are going to be used as community centers. And I think that there’s an opportunity there for a lot. And also for a lot of the community leaders as an independent business owner, you do have a great community extension.

And so this allows for that to go to the next level, to use your physical real estate as a space, to bring more to the community. Whereas, you know, and I think that the challenge is to wrap your head around the risks associated with making that massive change. So it can happen in baby steps. It can happen with your vendor partnerships. A lot of the vendors are also going in this direction where they want to tell an integrated story. So I think that there’s a good way for the independent with Nationwide support and vendors to really start telling that more experiential story.

Rob Stott: You kind of started to talk about it there too. I mean, the investment in, and sort of what needs to logistically happen in a store to make that sort of more of a viable option for retailers, is it, you know, does it have to be big steps? Is it like a massive store remake that has to be done? You know, how can a retailer make their store, are there smaller things that a retailer can do to sort of make their store more experiential for a customer coming in?

Ashley Gorrie: Absolutely. I think that there, it doesn’t have to be a holistic overnight change. I think that you can do it in baby steps by creating environments, similar to how Monogram had their shop in shop environments. But, yeah, I think that over time though, it does need to feel like holistic to the brand. So it can’t just be out, can’t feel piecemeal, but there are steps that can be taken to a call it paint and paper sort of has a little bit more of an uplifted feel to it. And I think some of the integrated technology that we spoke about is where you can play a little bit more with that, so that your ( ) did the world into your store or using that space as consultation, be it how is our Pinterest, and allowing for the customer to come in and walk them through it from that perspective.

Rob Stott: Gotcha. Something you’ve talked about a little earlier that certainly rings a bell and is relevant right now is, it’s customers becoming comfortable again with the idea of going out and shopping. And obviously it’s going to take the distribution of vaccine and things like that before we see sort of a return to whatever normal looks like, but from the retail perspective, are there things that you’re seeing, or is there interest on the retail side, or even just in sort of what you guys are doing to stay up on store layout trends? I mean, is there things that can be done to make a customer feel safer from a shopping perspective when they begin to return to stores?

Ashley Gorrie: Yeah. You know, funny enough cleanliness is one of the largest reasons for a customer feeling comfortable. And so that means having the appropriate signage, cleaning mechanism, hand sanitation, those steps, although it might seem like a question about like, do I really need to do this? It actually has been proven to sit very high in customer’s comfort levels with going into store. Now that’s like a preliminary check the box in terms of the customers. I think terms of environments for the retail, we don’t yet have enough information of how customers are going to come back. And actually they’re starting to show that they might show comfort in one area, but not in another. So we’re doing, and by that, I mean, they may be more comfortable with going to a tailgate party for the Super Bowl, but they don’t want to go into a grocery store anymore.

So, again, I know that that doesn’t specifically answer the question, but for the retail environments, I think cleanliness is going to be a big one for the first days that we end up going back, and really, I think it’s a matter of making sure that your app platforms and your in store experience that that customer experience is phenomenal because it, there’s nothing more frustrating than having one experience on one platform, and then it not being consistent on the other platforms. So and I think that was one thing that really saw an acceleration over this last year was that a lot of companies had not pushed the gas pedal on e-commerce…and with lock downs and curbside pickup and everything like that really it showed where those made the investments and those hadn’t saw a bit of a gap in the marketplace.

Rob Stott: And I know we could definitely corroborate some of that with our own data. Nationwide is just, you know, the number of retailers that had those services in place, sort of, you know, as shutdowns, businesses were forced to close. They were able to stay open online and have that success, and then just the amount of increased interest and requests for adding those types of capabilities to a website. And preparedness is something that it sounds silly because you never know when you’re going need these things, but at this point online, isn’t something that you don’t know when you’re going to need it.

It’s clear this pandemic proved it, if anything, to those that were sort of still iffy on the idea of a website or e-commerce capabilities as an independent business, like, why need it? Now we know. Now we know why, and, you know, it’s just, it’s at least encouraging to see that there was that, you know, the ability to adapt and add those services quickly. And for independent retailers that maybe were iffy on it, they quickly realized that it was something that they should get involved with, and were very willing to adapt.

Ashley Gorrie: And that’s one thing I love about independent retailers is that they can, and this is their real kryptonite is that they can move so quickly. They’re agile, and they’re agile and they’ve got the passion, and they’re faders. And so it’s very different. It’s sort of the David and Goliath where you’re able to move so quickly when it takes other larger national brands more time to move the system over. And I think that’s just the best factor for most independents and most entrepreneurs.

Rob Stott: No. Absolutely. And one thing I know we talked about at the top, but you guys, Gorrie, got involved with Nationwide because of the smart home and the tiny home. And I know that was a big push early on in Houston when you were there at prime time. And cool to see that that’s a specific area that gained a lot of interest this year because of smart home technology and people living at home and kind of streamlining that process. As we look ahead to sort of the rest of this year and whenever we can get back in person, what sort of excites you about the opportunities and kind of what you guys are doing there for Nationwide members?

Ashley Gorrie: Yeah. We want to make it as easy and accessible as possible. And one of the things you mentioned before was like, it doesn’t have to be wholesale. And so one of the things that we were doing for the Nationwide membership was to create a kit of parts that allowed for a story to be told in a vignette, but that vignette was branded for the independent. And then you were able to interchange the partnerships that you have with the vendors to be able to demonstrate to your customer you might have a Google platform. You might have an Amazon platform, but how do we show how all of these products be it whichever vendor you want to partner with can integrate. And so that’s a platform that we’ve been working on in order to also decrease the cost, making it really affordable, making it really easy and functional to integrate into your existing environment. So that’s what we’ve been working on over the last little bit, and I’m looking forward to sharing it further with the membership.

Rob Stott: Awesome. Well, we got virtual PrimeTime up around the corner, but hopefully after that, as vaccine gets out there more and hopefully in August, we’ll, we’ll be able to get together in person and finally see another Gorrie presentation at Nationwide. So I, Ashley, I appreciate you taking the time and hunkering down with us and chatting a little bit about all the things we’ve seen this past year. And like I said look forward to catching up with you guys again soon.

Ashley Gorrie: Rob, it’s been awesome talking to you and congratulations to all your members for the hard work over the last year. And again, it was not for the faint of heart and it’s impressive to see the positive spirit coming up.

Rob Stott: Here’s to a much better 2021.

Ashley Gorrie: Exactly.

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