63: Mike Whitaker Pt. 2, Turning the Mic on Rob Stott to Talk NMG Communications

Written by Rob Stott

March 30, 2021

nationwide marketing group independent thinking podcast

In part two of our conversation with Nationwide’s Mike Whitaker, he turns the tables and takes over interviewing duties, putting the spotlight on Nationwide’s communications efforts, the rebranded media center, and more.

Mike Whitaker: Now, Rob, I want to talk about you for a second.

Rob Stott: Oh, oh.

Mike Whitaker: I believe, in 61 episodes, this may be the first time it happens, but I really want to turn the tables for a second, because so much of what you do for the membership really ties into where my heart’s at, and that’s education. So ladies and gentlemen, for the first time ever, we’d like to welcome to the Independent Thinking Podcast, our honored guest, Mr. Rob Stott.

Rob Stott: This is the point where the episode goes off the rails, but I’ll allow it. The fact that I got you this far into the episode without doing this, I’ll take it. So no.

Mike Whitaker: I will say-

Rob Stott: Happy to be here.

Mike Whitaker: For everybody listening, this is where the podcasts got fun. This is where this episode really is going to pick up steam.

Rob, most of our members certainly know you. I’m going to go out and say it. They know you from your time as the face and voice of Dealerscope. Lot of really cool things that you did there. We were very fortunate here at Nationwide to bring you into the family. It’s been a year, hasn’t it?

Rob Stott: Yeah, little over year and a half almost, by the time we’re talking at PrimeTime. Crazy, isn’t it?

Mike Whitaker: I will tell you, we got Rob here with lots of promises about being able to interact with the brightest minds of the industry, to get to be face to face with the best retailers in the independent channel …

Rob Stott: Yup.

Mike Whitaker: And then we’ve left him in that room with that microphone [crosstalk 00:01:16]

Rob Stott: I know. I needed the microphone to feel like I had someone here with me.

Mike Whitaker: Yes. You’re not alone.

Rob, here’s the thing. Obviously, you are the driving force and phenomenal host of the Independent Thinking Podcast. That would also imply that you probably have something to do with the Independent Thinking Magazine. Can you tell us a little bit about the latest with the magazine? Of course, a great new edition coming for PrimeTime.

Rob Stott: Absolutely. Yeah. The Independent Thinking Magazine, if you’ve noticed over the last couple of editions of it at PrimeTime, whether it was Virtual PrimeTime or in person, it’s got a little bit of a facelift. That had to do, prior to my joining the team, Miss Amy Croom, our director of PR and communications, driving the magazine there and the look and feel of the magazine.

Yeah. We got another edition out. You can head to our website, our new website, by the way, nationwidegroup.org/independent-thinking. It’s a completely refreshed media center, where you’ll find all of the same magazine content that you’d expect to find in Independent Thinking, all the thought leadership from the business leaders and business groups across Nationwide, from the merchants to business services, digital, marketing, all of our great teams. Mike, I think we even got you in there a couple of times.

It’s all that content, but as well, you’ll also find our press releases, and news articles, and blogs, and of course, the podcast, and all the other great content from not only Nationwide, but our vendor partners, trade partners, all being worked into our brand new Independent Thinking website.

Mike Whitaker: Rob, I’ve got to say, as a retailer, you have checked one of those boxes of my wishlist. Of course, there’s a lot of credible news sources in our industry. There’s a couple that may not be … We won’t get too deep into that. But the breadth of news that applies to retail in durable goods, and appliances, electronics, furniture, bedding, outdoor, is very, very wide.

It can create that challenge of where do I go, where can I grab the best headlines. So everybody, and I’ve talked to a lot of retailers who’ve said this as well, we need that one single place we can go to learn everything we need to. Can you tell us a little bit about how that new media hub can serve as that one single spot?

Rob Stott: Yeah, absolutely. I think having that trade background, you can get a sense when you’re part of trade media, it’s tough to tow the line of writing for a consumer as opposed to writing for the retailer. That’s what you’ll find in a lot, no matter how reputable the publication, there’s a lot of fluff, if you will, for a publication, or some of those brands that are out there, because there’s a lot to write about in those industries.

What we’re trying to do with the Independent Thinking media center is make it all about the retailer, take the bits and pieces from across all of those great trade partners that we have, and provide the content that is most relevant to our retailers, to our members, and cut out the extra stuff, get to the heart of what’s important to them, whether it’s on the product side, hearing directly from our manufacturer partners, our vendor partners, or each other.

That’s really where the podcast was born out of, was getting those conversations with members, and directly from our Nationwide team and vendor partners as well. You can learn a lot about the business and learn a lot about how others are operating in the business. That’s just what we’ve taken to heart with Independent Thinking, and really blown it up from just the magazine to now what you see online.

Mike Whitaker: I love it the way … It’s carried that title for a long time, but that truly is the focus. It really is what’s relevant and what matters to the independent.

Rob Stott: Right, absolutely. We even … I think back to my first couple of weeks here. My first goal when I got here was … I had been doing a podcast for Dealerscope. I think people had seen me walking around PrimeTimes with my microphones and my little voice recorder, trying to record some episodes while I was covering the industry at PrimeTime. But I wanted, when I got here, I was like, “We’re continuing this. We’re doing this. I finally get my chance to talk to members. Here we go.”

I wanted to find a name for that podcast. We did a little call for it. I still haven’t been able to get him on, but I want to give a little shout out to Mr. Jordan (Ruda), who was very funny in his suggestion. He was like, “Call it Rose’s Recollections, or Wisdom from Whitaker.” He was like, “You idiots, just call it Independent Thinking. You’ve got the brand. Just lean into it.”

Hey, that’s what we’re doing. We’ve had a lot of success, I think, with it. It’s a name that everyone recognizes, members or otherwise in the space. So why not just stick with it?

Mike Whitaker: I’ll give you a little piece of trivia that you may or may not have known.

Rob Stott: Oh, oh.

Mike Whitaker: You brought him up, so I have to talk about … I’ll go ahead and throw this one out. Here’s useless knowledge for the Independent Thinking Podcast. Did you know Jordan Rhoda and I actually have matching tattoos?

Rob Stott: Oh, get out. Are they in the same spot?

Mike Whitaker: I can’t go too deep into that conversation. I’m just going to say we have a matching tattoo. It’s a special bond.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome.

Mike Whitaker: Jordan is absolutely one of my favorite human beings on the planet.

Rob Stott: We’ll get him on here eventually, because I promised him an episode for naming … That was the deal for naming the podcast. Even though it’s a name we had, he was the one that drove the name. So we’ll get him on here.

Mike Whitaker: He led us over to the water and said, “Here it is. You put the water in the truck, and have a drink,” and it worked out great.

Now, one of those other things, Rob, you are a man of many talents and many responsibilities here at Nationwide. We do take pride in being a hardworking … So not only are you a key part of our Independent Thinking media hub, not only are you the host of the Independent Thinking Podcast, one of your responsibilities involves social media, right?

Rob Stott: Absolutely, absolutely. We alluded to it early on, a little bit ago here, but having the NLA and being able to talk about it. Social media, it’s not a back burner job. Trust me. It’s a big part of what we do. If I’m being honest, most of my time is probably spent messing around with our social media here at Nationwide.

Mike Whitaker: Well, and here’s some accolades I’ll throw your way. I know that our engagement, our audience there on social media has grown immensely over the past year, year and a half. A very engaged audience.

Now, if I’m a member, and I’m not like Mike, I have social media channels. I’ve got a Facebook. I’ve got a Twitter. Maybe I have an Instagram and a Snapchat, maybe even a TikTok. If I connect with Nationwide on those platforms …

You heard it here first, folks. Just because it hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t mean that Rob isn’t going to start a Nationwide marketing group TikTok. Just saying. It’s a neat idea.

Rob Stott: You might see some PJ dancing, or Tom doing TikTok dances. We’ll see. We’ll see if we can get them to do it.

Mike Whitaker: We’ll start that off St Patty’s Day. St. Patty’s Day social hour, we’ll debut the TikTok. But if I’m a member, and I engage with Nationwide on social media, what can I expect to see there?

Rob Stott: A lot of content. There’s a lot going on. Obviously around PrimeTime, I think we’re probably a little more active than usual, sharing updates on the show. During the show, you’ll see live tweeting of sessions, and reminders about upcoming sessions, things like that. And of course, we’re going to have our most engagement around these PrimeTimes.

But we’re trying to spread that throughout the year. You’ll see at least a post a day across all of our channels. It’s all of our … It’s the content we’re creating here at Nationwide. It’s our podcasts, and our press releases, our blogs that were sharing out.

But also the news that you’ll see from our trade partners, when vendors are mentioned, when our members are covered. We’re making sure to highlight all of those things so that we’re amplifying not just the voice of Nationwide, but the voice of our members, the voice of our vendor partners, so that everyone knows all of the awesome things that our members and vendors are doing.

Mike Whitaker: Content that’s truly valuable to the independent dealer. I love the fact that you mentioned highlighting news. I’m going to get in trouble for this. Okay.

Rob Stott: Oh, oh.

Mike Whitaker: Rob isn’t going to be aware, I do tend to get in trouble occasionally with our director of communications and PR, Mrs. Amy Croom. Amy, I just want to say for the record, love you. But Rob, I know there’s a big project coming up that you’re playing a key role in as Nationwide is celebrating, we won’t say what it is, but we’re celebrating a milestone this year.

Rob Stott: Something.

Mike Whitaker: A milestone that’s not possible without members, a milestone built on members. Can we expect to see a lot of members being highlighted as we move into the second half of 2021?

Rob Stott: Absolutely. I’ll just say that we’ve got members, I think, across … What’s the number of states in the United States? 50? That’s right.

Mike Whitaker: Hold on. Let me…

Rob Stott: Pull up a map real quick.

Mike Whitaker: Google says, it says it stands at 50.

Rob Stott: Okay.

Mike Whitaker: That may have some implications that there’s 50 states.

Rob Stott: Might have something to do with it then, but you’ll see something where we highlight maybe one member for, we’re just going to pick an arbitrary number, one from every state, for no particular reason, one from all 50 states, so that we have 50 members covered, talking just about those 50 members, for whatever 50 reasons you want to think of.

Mike Whitaker: If you’re listening to this podcast, and it hit you just now, and you said, “I want to be that one member in my state,” I’ll go and throw this out there. Rob.Stott@NationwideGroup.org. Drop him a note and say, “Hey, Rob. I’m your guy. I’m your gal for the state of this.” You get there first, you win.

Rob Stott: Yeah. We’re going to have some fun with it. I love … I think that’s one of my favorite parts of this job is that … Kind of like you. You get to talk to so many members, and interact with them, and learn about what they’re doing about their stores and about their businesses, but about them, and just getting to know them.

That’s a project that, for whatever reason, we’re doing it. We’re certainly going to have a lot of fun doing it. I can’t wait to uncover all of those stories, and learn about them, and just continue to do what I’ve been doing.

Mike Whitaker: One thing that I’ll tell you, as we go through this process, and Rob, I’d love for you to speak to this for just a moment, those stories that we learn about independent retailers, they’re so endearing, they’re inspiring, and they’re oftentimes the American Dream. How important is it for a retailer today to make sure that they’re telling that story in their market?

Rob Stott: Content, you kind of said it, I think, already, but content is king in this … just in life, I feel like. That sounds so big and fluffy, and I don’t mean it to, but it really is. It’s not just because I produce content every day.

Content is what … Everyone needs to be producing some sort of content. You need to be … If you’re not out there talking about yourself, it’s possible that no one is. You have to be at the forefront of telling your story, doing what you can to get your name out there, your brand out there.

Work relationships. Work with your vendor partners to help them, get them to help amplify you as a brand. There’s so many ways and strategies. There’s NLAs on it, and a lot of content that you can find on our site on it. But you really cannot understate the value of talking about yourself.

Again, it drives back to the heart of what we do, and why we do what we do with the podcast with Independent Thinking. That’s just to amplify our members’ voices, and make sure that at least we’re talking about them.

Mike Whitaker: It’s a skill. It really is a skill. You’ve heard it said around Nationwide. I’ve said this once, I’ve said it at least a thousand times. Best story always wins, but only stories that are told get to compete.

Now, I’ll say this, and Rob, you’re going to have a busy week with the inbox, but it’s another place where, if you haven’t ever told your story in your market, and you’re trying to find a creative way to do that, it’s how your company started, how you grew, what makes you different. I promise you, those stories are things that we love to feature on the podcast, that we love to talk about.

If you need some help doing that, Rob’s one of those guys who is wonderful at moderating and facilitating the telling of your story. You can raise your hand, drop him an email and say, “Hey, Rob, I’d really like to come on a future episode of the podcast and tell that story.”

Once you’re done telling the story, not only does it exist, but you’re able to have that voice a little bit larger, because you’re able to tell folks in your market, “Hey, we were recently featured on this national podcast.” This podcast is syndicated in all 50 states and internationally.

Rob Stott: And beyond. And beyond.

Mike Whitaker: And beyond. They actually can pick up this podcast from the International Space Station. So you never know who’s listening right now. I know, Rob, at some point, in all the highlights of the Independent Thinking Podcast, you’ve actually even had an astronaut on the show, right?

Rob Stott: Mr. Massimino, back in Houston, the last time we were all able to come together. I don’t know how many people can say they … I know Dos Marcos can. They got him as well, and also a friend of his, on the podcast, but not too many podcasts with astronauts out there. We certainly got one.

Mike Whitaker: Not too many. I take comfort in knowing that that must’ve been what Rob was referring to when he said, “Compared to my normal guests,” you were disappointed.

Rob Stott: No comment.

Mike Whitaker: The bar was really high. Now, Rob, I’m going to swerve a totally different direction, okay?

Rob Stott: Oh, oh. Here we go.

Mike Whitaker: Another project that you literally put your hands around, took ownership of, and you’ve been driving for quite some time, is our retail confidence index.

Rob Stott: Yeah.

Mike Whitaker: It’s different than any other piece of data that’s available in the market. We talk a lot about consumer confidence, but you’ve been really focused on retailer confidence. Can you tell us a little bit about what’s going on there?

Rob Stott: Yeah. This is another passion project that, if you know me, you that I’m a data nerd. But for those that don’t, I really like numbers. For as much as I operate in the world of words and talking and writing, my SAT scores will actually show that I was a better math scorer than an English scorer.

Mike Whitaker: Really?

Rob Stott: So there’s that. I actually scored better in math than I did, but I had no interest in diving into Pythagorean theorems and all that sort of stuff. But I get to do it in a way that is still fun for me, and gets to incorporate itself into what I do with the NMG index, as we call it. The Nationwide Marketing Group independent retail confidence index, if you say it all out, a long name.

Data is such a big driving force for what Nationwide does. That data is hard sell-through data, and sell-in, sell-through data. The way I like to describe the NMG index, our confidence index, is that it’s more on the side of feels data. It’s not really hard sales data, but it’s all about our retailers that we survey telling us how they feel, how confident they are in the upcoming month.

It’s a monthly index that we report out on. It’s got a little bit of an algorithm built into it. Based on responses, we feed it into this algorithm, and it spits out a number. From that number, we’re able to tell all sorts of different things.

We ask across categories from like their confidence in foot traffic, their confidence in driving online conversions, product confidence, the ability to sell across, I think, 18 or 19 categories of products.

It gets really granular. It spits out one number, but you can get really granular with the data across the different categories of store, whether you’re strictly an appliance retailer, maybe you sell appliance and bedding. The numbers slice up a million different ways.

We’re just eight months into it. I think March was our eighth month of doing the report. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s really just getting started, because the real power in this is going to be when we can start looking back at year over year data, and trends of how retailers scored their confidence level from March, 2020 to March … Well, we don’t have March, 2020, because we started in August. But March, 2021 to March, 2022, how it changes and things like that over time.

I enjoy it. Like I said, a data nerd, and this is right up my alley. I look forward to seeing how it evolves over time.

Mike Whitaker: Now obviously, as with any project like that, the more participation that’s there, the more valuable to the retailers that are taking a look at that data. How hard is it and how time consuming is it to participate?

Rob Stott: It is a three-to-five-minute survey. I think total number is 13 questions of the survey, but half of those are, “What kind of retailer are you? What products do you sell?” and, “How big are you?” and, “Where are you located?” are a good chunk of the questions. Then it’s just, on a scale of one to 10. It’s a lot of those kinds of questions and very … You can provide some open-ended feedback, but a three-to-five-minute survey.

We send it out through MemberNet. We have a list of retailers who signed up specifically to receive it as well. But we’re always looking to grow that and add to that list, so that you know …

I know MemberNet emails can get a little long, and you get a lot of alerts mixed in there. So to make sure that you get it emailed directly to you every month, you can sign up for it on MemberNet. We’ve got a form to fill out where you can go ahead and make sure that you get our survey every month. Or reach out to me.

Mike Whitaker: Absolutely. You can designate just a couple of minutes a month to participate there, have your voice heard. That index that comes out monthly, that’s not just great for retailers. That’s great for manufacturer partners that are looking at that. There’s a lot of weight that goes into how you feel. There’s one thing about what the numbers say. There’s something else for how we feel.

Then of course, with all that, you are obviously the host of the Independent Thinking Podcast. First of all, congratulations on 61 episodes.

Rob Stott: Yeah. We’ll see if we make it past it.

Mike Whitaker: We’re already targeting for the 100th, the 150th. We’ll celebrate those milestones. We’ll have some fun.

Rob Stott: We will.

Mike Whitaker: One thing I would ask you, Rob. I know that, as a podcast host, you have a wide amount of exposure to the wonderful world of podcasting that is growing like wildfire.

Rob Stott: Every day. Every day. You think back to when the App Store launched on iPhone. It was like a couple hundred apps. Now, it’s millions. I feel like that’s where we are with podcasts, where several thousand launch every day. It’s just unbelievable the amount of audio content out there.

Mike Whitaker: Yeah. A lot of those launch. A lot of those don’t make it 61 episodes. I will say that. Our good friends Mark Kinsley and Mark Quinn, they have literally laid claim to being the galaxy’s number one mattress podcast. I believe that it’s time maybe this became the galaxy’s number one independent retailing podcast. Just throwing that out.

But as members look for ways to creatively consume this concept, because a lot of times in retail, speaking from experience, finding 45 minutes to sit down and really focus, let alone watch us on YouTube … Rob looks great on this. I have a face for radio. It works out. There’s so many ways you can get it.

Now, before we dive into how to consume it, what are all the places that I can go to subscribe to the Podcast?

Rob Stott: There are lots. You can listen to it right on our Nationwide Marketing Group website under the Independent Thinking Podcast section. You can stream them all right there. If you’re watching the video version of this, you know that we have the playlist on YouTube. There’s also Apple, Google, Spotify, iHeartRadio, any major podcasting platform not named there is typically streaming these as well.

Mike Whitaker: Rob, what are we seeing trending today with podcasts listeners? What are all the ways that they’re finding time to consume a podcast, to learn all the things that come from hearing an episode? What are some creative ways that they’re working that into their daily lives?

Rob Stott: There’s a bunch of ways. Maybe not during the pandemic as much, if you weren’t commuting, but hey, if you’re you’re sitting at home … I don’t want to think about the possibility of someone listening to me while they shower, but you see those shower speakers nowadays. That’s an option. You throw that little suction cup on the wall, and listen to Rob while you’re lathering up.

The commute is typically where you will find someone listening to a podcast. That’s always a popular option. I know we had mentioned menial house tasks. If you’re cleaning the house, throw a podcast on in the background. If you’re doing yard work outside, throw some headphones on. It helps the time go by.

Mike Whitaker: I’m going to go ahead and say that. That’s actually where I get my weekly dose of the Independent Thinking Podcast, is sitting on the zero-turn, rolling it around and learning about what’s going on. So lots of ways.

Now, here’s one of those things too, though. I’ve got one of those yards that only takes about a half an hour to cut. The podcast typically lasts about 45 minutes. Is there any way I can get 45 minutes of podcast in a 30 minutes lawn mowing experience?

Rob Stott: Sounds impossible. Well, it’s 45 minutes. How you going to find 30? That is doable. There’s actually a setting when you’re listening to these podcasts, if you’re on Apple, where if you’re able to keep up with someone who talks fast, just hit that little play at 1.5 speed time. You will be able to finish a 45 minute episode in 23 minutes.

Mike Whitaker: Now, I did learn that at the 3X rate …

Rob Stott: Oh. That’s insane.

Mike Whitaker: You are risking copyright infringement, because we sound a lot like Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Rob Stott: Yeah. It’s not good. Those aren’t good. 1.5 is about …

Mike Whitaker: Yes.

It really has been a ton of fun getting on here to chat with you. Rob, here’s my question for you. So many things happening in PR and communications, and you guys carried a lot of the load. We went through 2020 together. I know there were a lot of weekends, as you got tasked with things like, “We need a COVID response hub. We need a back to business hub. We need all this thing.” One of the things that I want to say, thank you on behalf of our members. So many great comments came in about the fact that those resources were flowing in real time. I know you put in a lot of extra time, extra effort, overtime, weekends. So I want to say thank you for that. It was a phenomenal effort that you and the team made.

Rob Stott: Appreciate it.

Mike Whitaker: It’s in the name of retail, I know. I don’t know if you’ve talked about this yet on the podcast, but if you guys think that it’s just great to see Rob’s charming face, you welcomed a new member of the family recently, right?

Rob Stott: We did. We did. Our second son, back in September, during this pandemic.

Mike Whitaker: Yeah. I know the last time we talked about that, before he was born, the jury was out. Did you actually end up going ahead and naming him Mike?

Rob Stott: No. No. We did not do that. It was under consideration potentially for a middle name, but scratched out.

Mike Whitaker: I tried.

Rob Stott: I apologize.

Mike Whitaker: Maybe the next one. Maybe the next one. Maybe the next edition.

Rob Stott: I think you’re going to have to make that donation a little higher.

Mike Whitaker: Okay. We’ll up the incentive.

As this podcast is dropping, PrimeTime’s happening. There’s so much stuff going on in the show. If somebody came to PrimeTime and they wanted to find you, we have that brand new feature at this show where you can find any attendee. You can kind of @ somebody and start a great conversation. I know you’re excited about that. How excited are you about Virtual PrimeTime in general?

Rob Stott: I’m pumped. This platform that we are on with this Virtual PrimeTime, it’s got a lot more engagement opportunities that I think are awesome, ways to connect with both the other members that are there with you, the vendors that are there as you’re in their booths. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

The fact that we had one under our belt, we learned. I thought it was an awesome success, and the numbers showed that back in October. But being able to learn, like Nationwide does so well, and improve on what we do over time, it speaks volumes to what we do as a group, to what we do on behalf of the members. We’ll, I think, see that come to fruition this week and with PrimeTimes moving forward. There’s a lot to look forward to and a lot that I’m excited about.

Mike Whitaker: And education, of course. There’s over a hundred sessions at this show. I should point this out too. You mentioned the fact that those are available on demand. As soon as the session wraps live, you can get it on demand.

I believe, if I understood Mel right … She is the czar of all things primetime. Did I understand her correct that that show platform will remain open for 30 days, so members can go back and still poke around the show, still take education 30 full days after the show ends, right?

Rob Stott:

Absolutely. So if you don’t catch it during these three days, you will be able to, over the next month, almost a month, be able to go in and capture that content, and make sure that you get everything out of PrimeTime that you had hoped to.

Mike Whitaker: Yes. Suck the marrow out of PrimeTime, just like you do life in every way.

Rob, I want to say thank you so much for the chance to come on the podcast. I’d also like to thank you for being a guest on your own podcast. That was quite an experience. I can’t wait to see all the great things that keep happening here on the Independent Thinking Podcast.

If you haven’t subscribed yet, Rob is not a guy who’ll plug this very often, but I do encourage you, go ahead and hit that like and subscribe button. There’s always something great ahead. As we tease a little bit, you’re likely to hear from a lot of your fellow members, a lot of those great stories in independent retail today will be featured. It’s going to be an exciting back half of the year. Again, there’s 50 states. Something with 50 is coming.

Rob Stott: We’ll see. We’ll see what it is, but whatever it is, I can’t wait to toast it in Nashville. It should be a fun time.

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