Angelia Stewart, President and Co-owner of Jones Light Furniture & Appliances in Stevenson, Alabama, joins the Independent Thinking podcast to talk about the decision to bring AT&T into her small-town Independent retail business and the benefits of being able to offer connected services to her community.
Rob Stott: All right. We are back on the Independent Thinking Podcast. And I’ve been trying to get away from Mr. Sindelar, but he just keeps wanting to pop back up. But it’s all right. I appreciate your persistence and interest in getting back on the podcast, Eric. But we’re actually, this is a really awesome episode because we are joined by Angelia Stewart, president of Jones-Light Furniture in Stevenson, Alabama, for a really cool conversation today. So, Eric, I’ll talk to you in a second. Angelia, appreciate you taking the time and calling in from your store. If you’re watching the video version of this, you’ve got quite the background there behind you.
Angelia Stewart: Well, it was an awesome idea. My husband came up with the idea. And we talked with Spencer, our AT&T guy, and he gave us some pointers and things to do. We contacted a local sign company, and it just all came together. And it works out perfectly as our customers come in the door, it’s right as you come in the front door. So, the first thing they notice is this big, nice blue wall with all the little AT&T logos.
Rob Stott: Well, if you didn’t know what we were talking about today, that’s enough to get you started right there and know what this is all about. Before we dive into that though, Angelia, I do want to take a little bit of time just to get to know you and Jones-Light Furniture and learn a little bit about your background. So, if you could start there, just tell us about yourself and what got you into retail.
Angelia Stewart: Well, my family has had the business here for over 40 years. I started working here in 1992, just came in part-time to help my dad when my son was a baby, and I have been here ever since. I never got to leave. My dad had a partner, so in 2010, I purchased the partner’s half. He was ready to retire and go do everything that was on his bucket list, so I purchased my dad’s partner’s share the business and we’ve just been rocking and rolling since.
Rob Stott: Oh, that’s awesome. So, what will a customer see when they walk into your Stevenson, Alabama location down there? What kind of store is, is Jones-Light Furniture?
Angelia Stewart: Sure. Well, we’re nestled between two large cities. We have Huntsville, Alabama on one side and Chattanooga, Tennessee on the other, so we’re about 50 miles between each, nestled in the foothill of the mountains. So, we’re the traditional mom and pop store. We carry everything from furniture, bedding, appliances. We have our on-site appliance repairman that does all of our service calls. We also have AT&T and DirectTV. We also have a jewelry store. We do jewelry repair. So, we just have a little bit of everything here. So, I guess we’re just your all purpose general store.
Rob Stott: No, that’s… Now, has it always been that way in terms of the store, or how have you guys evolved over time?
Angelia Stewart: It’s just all evolved. Different things have happened and came in. We’ve always done appliances, furniture, repair, and then just as opportunities presented themselves, we’ve just added different things.
Rob Stott: That is quite the segue. I didn’t even ask you to set me up with that, but that’s quite the segue because I know one of the things that you’ve recently added is AT&T. I know you guys offer, just digging around your website, you offer home entertainment and furniture and a little bit of stuff in that space. What is it about AT&T that attracted you to the opportunity to bring them in? And not even just bring them in, I mean, fully lean in and put them on your wall the way you have.
Angelia Stewart: Well, most people around here only have AT&T. There’s not much coverage area. And we try to bring in things that will benefit our customers and benefit the people that are in our community. And like I said, we’re nestled between two large cities, so for them to drive to purchase a cell phone, purchase DirecTV, anything like that, they either have to call and just talk to someone on the phone, or they had to drive 30 to 50 miles to be able to do that. So, we thought it was just the perfect opportunity to be able to add that and say, “Hey, you don’t have to drive that 30 miles anymore. Come in, we’ll take care of you and get everything set up.” So, it’s just worked out perfectly for us.
Rob Stott: Now, Eric, our director of connected services here at Nationwide, that kind of story, that opportunity with Jones-Light, is that the staple, I want to say, for you as you think of the way this program can step in and fill some gaps in where our members offerings are?
Eric Sindelar: Yeah. I think it’s a really good example. And Angelia, I really appreciate you sharing that. We really want to help our members thrive on their terms and really support the communities. I mean, you said that so well, Angelia. And now, with what’s taken place in 2020, the need for the right services is more important than ever. Having the right internet, having cell coverage, as well as entertainment. People are staying home more often and staycations and having the right entertainment. And people working from home, having the right internet. All those things were so important. Angelia, I think you said it really well, is how you support the community and allowing them a close location and a different location to be able to get it. And then not only that, through our partnership with AT&T we have exclusive offers that Angelia and her team are able to offer her community that really nobody else can offer, and that’s the unique opportunity that our members and organizations like Jones-Light Furniture have to offer their communities.
Rob Stott: Now, I know I asked it to you before, Angelia, but the products are kind of different from what your typical furniture, appliances and things like that. How did you see that fitting into the portfolio that you guys already have there? I mean, speaking as a general store, it’s interesting because it, hey, if anything goes. Right?
Angelia Stewart: That’s exactly right.
Rob Stott: Right? What is it specifically that you thought this could be a good type of product to add to the store?
Angelia Stewart: Well, number one, from a retail perspective, we thought it would bring lots of foot traffic in. So, even if someone wasn’t coming in to look for furniture or look for bedding, they may be coming in just for a cell phone. And since we have picked up AT&T when we… Nationwide’s very good about giving you this big grand opening type thing and doing those promotions and stuff for you when you open, so we advertise all of those. We had several customers that did come in that day that we had never saw, that live just in different communities around that we had never saw. Now, they’re buying furniture from us, they’re buying jewelry from us. We’ve sold them engagement rings, we’ve sold them furniture for their houses. So, we can just about cover everything you need.
Rob Stott: Why not roll in those smartphones and the internet service?
Angelia Stewart: That’s right. That’s right. So, the… it brings people in, plus our customers that come in may not realize that we have AT&T. Someone asks every day, but the signage I think is very important. Even if you don’t have a chance to bring it up, if they see the signage on the wall, that’s created a lot of conversation.
Rob Stott: Yeah. I mean, that’s a talking point in and of itself. Did you see or envision initially when you brought in AT&T that you would be plastering it on your walls? Is that something that you thought would happen?
Angelia Stewart: Well, it was all my husband’s idea. He is the visionary here. He said, “Make it visual, and let them see it, and then they’re going to talk about it.” And he was correct.
Rob Stott: So, talk about that. I mean, how has it changed the conversations with customers as they come into it? Is it truly a talking piece when they come in and see that wall? And how have those conversations evolved?
Angelia Stewart: Well, you can’t really see the wall. I mean, you see everything. But to the right Nationwide furnished us with a little kiosk with some of the sample cell phones and things like that on it. So, they see all the AT&T logos, and then they see the phones. So, as you’re walking through the store with them, they can touch it, they can see it. Do you want him to turn it where you can see it?
Rob Stott: Yeah, sure. Why not? For those who are watching on video, or maybe if you’re not, now you got a reason to come look. You could see the kiosk right there, a couple logos. The painting kind of flows… It’s neat how the wall flows to the kiosk.
Angelia Stewart: It’s all about starting the conversation. That’s really all it is. And a lot of them will say, they’ll ask about the pricing, the discounts that we can give, the military discounts, the teacher discounts, the medical professional discounts. Some customers may have AT&T and they don’t know about the discount, so we can help them with those discounts. And then some may not have AT&T at all, so that leads into that conversation.
Rob Stott: That’s awesome. So, talk about the setup process. And Eric, I’ll ask you about this too a little bit, but I’ll start with you, Angelia. When the idea came to potentially bring AT&T into the store and bring in their offerings into what you guys do, what was that set up process like for you as a business in terms of getting from the kiosk to just getting it up and running?
Angelia Stewart: Very easy. Nationwide really took care of everything, honestly. We did the training, they sent us to training. We met our DSI representative, and they walked us all along the way. And if it wasn’t for Spencer Hogan, I know he gets tired of seeing our name pop up on his phone all the time, but he is one of the best. But he has held our hand and walked us through. The younger generation probably would have no problem doing all these cell phones, transferring everything over, but us old people, sometimes we have a little bit of problem with that.
But Spencer has been very gracious, and it’s really… You make it more difficult than it really is. After we walked through two or three transfers where people… Our customers are not going to get their phone and activate them themselves. They get the phone and they bring it in, and we do all the activation, transferring things for them. So, the first couple of times, that was a little difficult, but as far as getting everything set up in your store, on your computer, the training for the systems and the programs, it was all very simple.
Rob Stott: Eric, for the listeners who may not be familiar, walk through what is that process like for someone who’s a new signup for the AT&T program as a retailer.
Eric Sindelar: Yeah. You bet. We’ve got tremendous support, as Angelia said, we’ve got from AT&T as well as our partners at DSI. We really walk the members through the onboarding process, which is so important. And oftentimes, Frank from AT&T and I often talk about, it would take six months to a year to get somebody up and running. And within 30 days, we can have somebody onboarded with their dealer code, trained on how to sell video, internet, and wireless services, and really how to use the SARA Plus platform. And we’ve simplified the process even easier now, where we’re allowing our members to thrive on their terms, whether it is if they want to have a landing page and online, and I know we’re working with Angelia on that one right now, in in-store opportunity, or through our call center, we’ve got a 1-800 number. So, however the members want to be involved and they want to execute with their customers, we can help them out with that. And even if they want to sell themselves, we can be up and running in as early as 30 days.
Rob Stott: So, talk about that, the landing page a little bit, Eric. What’s the opportunity there, and what sort of benefits… What really drove the desire to get that kind of a program up for members, as well?
Eric Sindelar: Really, 2020. COVID. We took a step back and said, “What’s going on? There’s more people shopping online, and that is not only for products, but for services as well.” And we figured we need to support our members in that way. So, we partnered with AT&T, and we got a pre-approved landing page that we’re able to provide to our members. And typically it could take months to go through AT&T to get that pre-approved, so we did that ahead of time. We really worked on that in 2020 to get that pre-approved and get all the products and resources loaded up on there so members like Angelia can have a presence on their website, so not only offering other products, the current products that they have, but then also AT&T’s services, as well.
Rob Stott: Gotcha. So, what does that look like? Maybe we can, for the video version of this role, an example page up here, but what will someone see, a customer see, when they visit that website for a retailer for one of our members?
Eric Sindelar: Yeah, really good question. So, it’s going to give them the opportunity to see a little bit about those products and services, probably primarily on video, internet services, exclusive offers that we have. But most importantly, it gives them the opportunity to be able to click to call, a phone number to call in to an AT&T authorized call center, where it makes it a very seamless process, and really allowing our members to focus on their core business. So, it presents the products, the services, and then gives a phone number for them to call to be able to sign up for the services that they want, or even ask questions that somebody that is an AT&T authorized seller.
Rob Stott: Gotcha. No, that’s awesome. Now, Angelia, it’s been weaved throughout the conversation, but what has the response been like from the customers in your area with having a service like AT&T available in your stores?
Angelia Stewart: Well, it’s been fantastic for people in our area because there is no AT&T store here. So, they love coming in, some of them just want to upgrade, see what’s available, ask questions. They might not purchase that day, or they may not upgrade that day, but eventually they do come back. So, it’s been wonderful for the community.
Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And I mean, Eric, when you hear about that kind of response and what Jones-Light’s seeing in their stores, what’s the Nationwide response? What kind of feedback are you getting from dealers as far as what they’re experiencing with AT&T and how things have gone?
Eric Sindelar: Yeah. You think about the core business, whether it’s furniture, appliances, consumer electronics, it’s really allowing, from the feedback that we’ve gotten and from the members, is it’s expanded their assortment and their capabilities and how they’re able to serve their current customers, as well as driving additional foot traffic, whether that is for our most recent members that have joined with the online landing pages, additional web traffic there. What I mean by that is, not only on the AT&T landing page, but they’re visiting two or three other pages when they’re on that member’s website. Which is exciting for us because that means that they like what they see on the AT&T page, and then they’re visiting other products. So, it’s really additional foot traffic beyond just unique and different ways to be able to serve their current customer base.
Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And I mean, Angelia, for what you’re hearing there, can you attest maybe anecdotally to the fact that to be able to show these things, has it led to other new business or better business for you guys in what you’ve seen since you’ve brought AT&T in?
Angelia Stewart: Yes. We’ve had several people come in to purchase a AT&T service and buy a sofa, buy a TV stand. They come back and buy a refrigerator. So, it does bring repeat business. At least when they’re in here, and especially they’re bringing their phone back for you to activate, transfer over, while that information is transferring over, it gives you a perfect opportunity to have conversation with that customer as to, “Do you need something new for your home? How’s your TV? How’s your…” Different opportunities to present themselves in the conversation, and then that just leads from there. So, to us, it’s been fantastic.
Rob Stott: And that, too, you mentioned it, the repeat business, someone coming back in, I mean, typically when you’re talking sofas and appliances, the upgrade cycle or the refresh cycle there is years on it. I mean, seven to 10 years, I think, is the average for an appliance. Smartphone is not the case. Obviously a much faster upgrade cycle, so you’re talking about the opportunity to get people back into the store more frequently. I mean, that in and of itself has to be a little bit exciting.
Angelia Stewart: Yes, it is. So, we’re seeing more people come in through the door, and a lot of times, they’ll come in to buy a sofa or purchase a mattress or an appliance, and they see all the AT&T logo on the wall, and then they decide they’re… Maybe they see the DirectTV logo, because we’re limited as to what television services that you can get in our area, so maybe they see the DirectTV logo and we have the DirectTV channel [inaudible 00:18:14] things. Nationwide furnishes all those things that we can print off. So, we have those plastered all over the store. So, they’re going to see those logos in lots of different places and see things. So, maybe they don’t need a cell phone, maybe they need TV. Maybe they need internet.
Rob Stott: If it’s not the back wall hitting them in the face, it’s probably some of those other flyers posted around to store.
Angelia Stewart: That’s right. We have a lot of retired military here, so we have printed off a lot of the military discount things. And believe it or not, that’s brought a lot of business. A lot of retired military didn’t know that they got a discount.
Rob Stott: I was going to ask, and that might be the answer to it, but any surprises out of this, benefits that you weren’t expecting to see because of bringing in AT&T. Have there been any of those unintended pluses or wins for you guys?
Angelia Stewart: Well, the big thing for us was the switcher rebate, the $250 rebate per line. So, a family of four that’s coming from another carrier, they do the unlimited, they purchase all new phones, that’s a lot of money to put in their pocketbook. And we have sold, we had a young couple that came in the day that we did our kickoff, brought two phones over, they got their $250 per line, got their $500 rebate, and they wound up buying a washer/dryer set.
Rob Stott: Wow.
Angelia Stewart: Because they were getting the rebate.
Rob Stott: That’s incredible.
Angelia Stewart: So, that leads to a lot of conversation, as we’re doing all their things, “Well, you’re going to be getting all this money. You’re getting $1,000 back for these four phones, now’s a perfect time to upgrade that furniture, or upgrade those appliances.”
Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome.
Angelia Stewart: That leads to a lot of conversation, but that was the biggest surprise for me.
Rob Stott: That’s awesome. And I know, Eric, there’s a lot of work still happening around AT&T and improvements. We’re sitting here talking a couple of days before virtual primetime. A chance to talk about those now if you want. Any thoughts of the direction of the program or things that you’re excited about moving forward as we look ahead to the rest of 2021?
Eric Sindelar: Yeah. Thanks, Rob. I appreciate that. We’re really looking at simplifying the programs for our members and really taking the feedback from the members like Angelia around what’s working for them, what’s not working, and really helping them drive their business, grow the traffic. I thought that was a great example that Angelia shared, of how not only was her organization able to sell AT&T services, but that helped generate more business for the core business. And I think that that’s so key that we’re able to do. Yeah, prime time, we’re looking forward to adding many more of the members in regards to the AT&T program. We’ve got the online presence that we’re offering. We’re going to have our AT&T authorized call center, so for those that want to stay focused on their core business, they can utilize that call center to be able to take advantage of this program and really simplify it. That’s what we’re looking at doing in 2021.
Rob Stott: That’s awesome. Well, I took up enough of both of your times today, but I really appreciate you guys diving into this. It’s an awesome topic, a program that even before I joined Nationwide, I was excited to see launch and just think about the opportunities it provides. There’s a lot of things that come to mind, but then to hear it from a member like you, Angelia and Jones-Light Furniture down there in Stevenson, Alabama, it’s just cool. I mean, it’s awesome to see it come to fruition and these things really pay off for Nationwide, but also, obviously, of course, for the members, as well, that are participating. And I’m also just glad I got a chance to see that wall, because I don’t think I would have believed it until I actually saw it.
Angelia Stewart: It’s amazing, that’s for sure.
Rob Stott: It’s really an eye catcher. I mean, just the design of it, it’s awesome. No, but both of you guys, I appreciate it, Angelia, Eric, for taking time, and we’ll look forward to catching up again soon, maybe in person before we know it.
Angelia Stewart: Yes! Yes, hopefully so. Bye. Thanks for having me.
Eric Sindelar: Rob, thank you so much. And Angelia, just let us know how we can support you. We appreciate it.
Angelia Stewart: All right. Thank you.