75: Nationwide Returns to the Road with Regional Member Meetings

Written by Rob Stott

June 22, 2021

Nationwide Marketing Group’s Content Director Doug Marsh was one of just four individuals who had the opportunity to attend each of the group’s four Regional Member Meetings in late-May and early-June. He recaps his experience for us on the latest episode of the Independent Thinking Podcast.

Rob Stott: All right. And we are back on the Independent Thinking podcast and ready to dive into, is this our third trip round a podcast, Doug? Mr. Doug Marsh.

Doug Marsh: Yes, we’re number three.

Rob Stott: Number three. We got the history down, then we dove into the history of Prime Time.

Doug Marsh: Correct.

Rob Stott: Which was a lot of fun to do. And now Mr. Content Director, we’re diving into something absolutely brand new that we never even got to talk about on any of those things. First of all, appreciate you taking the time and joining us and coming back on the podcast.

Doug Marsh: Absolutely. No. We’ve had a blast doing these and actually gotten good feedback when we’re out and about. People talk about the history and stuff.

Rob Stott: See, that’s awesome. That’s awesome. Well, what we’re here to talk about and anyone looking at the headlines or seeing the episode descriptions will know that we’re here today to talk about these brand new regional member meetings that you, as we sit here today talking and recording this you’re only maybe a week removed from returning home for these. Mr. Road Warrior, there were four regional events. We held them over 14 days essentially.

Doug Marsh: Roughly.

Rob Stott: Dallas and Orlando. Well, Dallas, Seattle and then Orlando and then wrapped up in St. Louis. And what was it like being back? Just start right there. This was the first attempt to get back to in person meetings for Nationwide Marketing Group. And we did so in these regional settings, what was it like to be back out on the road?

Doug Marsh: It was awesome. In simple terms, it was awesome. And we did, we got to go to Dallas and then we took a weekend for the holiday for Memorial Day and then we went back to back to back with Seattle, Orlando and St. Louis. And every place we went, it was just great to see so many familiar faces and so many new faces and Mike Whitaker, who was one of the four of us did all of them would open up every session with, “It’s been 479 days,” or, “It’s been 485 days since we were able to be together as a group.” And every time we did that, you got whoops and hollers and claps and stuff like that. And so it was awesome. It was just great to be in a room with members and everybody after a pretty crazy 16 months.

Rob Stott: Yeah, unbelievable.

Doug Marsh: As we walked out of Houston 2020, none of us could have ever dreamed that it would have been May of 2021 before we were able to do that.

Rob Stott: Unreal. Unreal, but cool that it happened. Cool that we now have that under our belts. And talk about, we did a little coverage for Nationwide ahead of those events going on about what they would be like, what they would entail, but for those who weren’t there or weren’t able to attend one of these regional events, what was it that went on? What was the content like? And what was the experience like at these four regional events?

Doug Marsh: It was really done based on member feedback that we’ve gotten from doing Prime Times and such. And so it was set up to, since we go down that journey shopper journey, we started every session with a short intro on the shopper journey. And then we moved into these mini NLAs, which we’ve done forever and ever and ever at Prime Time. And we highlighted different paths of the shopper journey and you were able to go to digital marketing with Jen Danko, who was also at all four of them. Or you could come see a social media session with myself. Then you could go in and hear Mike Whitaker talk about the in store experience or our friends at RWS talk about reputation management. It was these many NLAs that we do at Prime Time but doing them here in this sense. And then we went to a modified merchandising session.

We split everybody up between appliances, furniture and CE and we had the merchant teams there too so that we would then spend an hour talking about what’s going on. Really cool stuff. We would break up into small tables and get a question or a topic that was going on and we’d break it down in the table. And then we would be able to go to the whole room. We had the merchandising sessions and then we would break up into some round tables on digital marketing, some round tables on social media, some round tables on service. Had all sorts of really cool interactive sessions. And then we kind of had it set up to be able to network because every time we would go to one of these rooms, if you had to lead a class, you almost you saw the interaction in the room because everybody was so hungry to speak to somebody else.

And to be able to talk to your fellow members and stuff like that, that was one of the coolest takeaways as we would go to these sessions. It was the same everywhere you went. Everybody just wanted to check up, see how everybody was doing, what’s going on? Are you having this issue? I’m having this issue. Just that shared knowledge, that it’s great that we were able to do Zooms and Teams and all that but there’s just something special about being face to face with your fellow members and it was awesome.

Rob Stott: Crazy. It shows through, talking here on a Zoom or if you’re listening to this that you can kind of just sense and get a good feeling of how excited you are to have been there. And it kind of, it’s easy to feed off of that. And just the fact that everyone was craving this so much. You kind of answered what was going to be my next question already and the best way to describe these as being sort of mini NLAs. Kind of two ways we can go with this. First one I want to ask you is, how was the education received by the people that were there?

Doug Marsh: I think it was received really well. The way it was set up was that when we would finish A session, we would typically have 15 minutes between to move around. It allowed for us to interact afterwards and to get to speak to some folks who have been doing these NLAs for Nationwide I think since 2013, we’re going on eight years. A lot of people have had to listen to me, to get to hear, oh my goodness, we come to your classes or something to that effect and get to see you here. It was great. It was great interaction. I met some new members. That was awesome. Some of these, this was their first, after joining Nationwide, this was their first experience.

And to be able to sit in a room with Jen Danko and hear her talk about digital marketing. She’s so amazing to hear her talk. It was incredible, blown away. The reaction was really, really good. The round tables, when we got to break out afterwards, you throw a question here, throw a question here and then the next thing you know, an hour was gone. They did really well. It was really good interaction.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And it kind of, I know we talked about this a little beforehand, but the second way you can kind of look at this, is that the fact that they were mini NLAs almost makes it seem, we’re sitting here again, a month and a half, well two months say from the start of the first in person Prime Time, back in Nashville that we’ll be looking ahead to and that’s kind of where attention is turning next. Did this essentially feel like a dry run for Nashville?

Doug Marsh: I think so. I really do because let’s be fair, that there were new things that we were dealing with that we had never dealt with before. And when we plan these, we planned these before some of the restrictions had been lifted. We had all planned, hey, we know we’re going to have masks on and we’re going to break out and we’re going to get the rooms cleaned and all that stuff. And so as it’s happening, the CDC is transitioning and so we were able to do certain things, but it was still, you were still learning how to do these and in this new world that we live in. And I thought it was a great chance for us to come together and see how people feel being in a group again. Some were okay with no mask, some were okay with mask. If somebody wanted a mask, you put your mask on, you spoke to them, that’s just the way it was. And so I think dry run is a great way to put it because we had never experienced anything like this. We’ll never get traveling.

Rob Stott: Yeah, and have to experience reentering society, essentially.

Doug Marsh: Exactly, exactly. And to do it in that time where everything is transitioning. We’ve come a long way over the past three weeks since we started all this. I think it really showed us to prepare for what’s coming next, with the stations to hand wash, all that good stuff and watching how the staffs were. I thought the staffs at these places did very well also. I felt very safe and I think as we move forward and we start to learn more about this, I think this was a great chance for us to prepare for what we will see in Nashville.

Rob Stott: Yeah, you kind of touched on some of this already, but the fact that you get to experience that first back to in person event, it was really maybe for some, not for others, but for majority, I’m sure it was their first back on the road experience, getting back to these face to face meetings. Did you notice any sort of apprehension from attendees or COVID related awkwardness about hey, maybe we should bump elbows? Or was it big open hugs that sort of thing? What was it like?

Doug Marsh: It was a little bit of both. If somebody was open to a hug, hadn’t seen somebody in a while, yes, you saw tons of hugs, some tears, just, oh my gosh, it’s so great to see you. But the fist bumping and elbows, you saw a lot of that too. It was whatever you felt comfortable with. And I think as it went along, you might’ve gotten more used to being able to okay, this person likes to to do this. Or you just kind of, you start thinking like that, as opposed to every person come up and handshake. You kind of decide, okay are we good here? And you work along. But I did see some folks that I had not seen in a long time and there were definitely hugs.

But I did want to say that I thought we were very respectful of that as well, because absolutely we are all different. We’ve all lived through this and if you did not feel comfortable hugging or whatever, we absolutely understood and would put masks on to speak. I think that was really good too. You know what I mean? It’s being able to understand and respect, everybody’s got a little bit different view of what’s going on and what they’re comfortable with. And so I thought we did a really good job of handling that.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And you said it, it’s crazy, the timing for these couldn’t have been more absurd isn’t the right word, but just crazy how the fact that at the start of these regional events, there were still a lot of restrictions in place.

Doug Marsh: A lot.

Rob Stott: Depending on the city you were in, the number of people and mask requirements and things like that. And then, by now again, we’re sitting here mid-June talking about this, they’re almost completely, it feels like a lot of places are completely lifted. It was really crazy how fast it transitioned and to be going from city to city while these things are being lifted. Events changing on a dime essentially.

Doug Marsh: Absolutely. And you could actually see some of the adjustments when you were out there to where the first trip I noticed something here and by the last one, it was not being done that way. And it was just the comfort level just continues to increase. And so, but it’s still there if you are comfortable in a mask and everybody was still absolutely aware of that. But you have to live it as it was changing was pretty wild.

Rob Stott: That’s kind of crazy. But back to the event themselves and kind of what that experience was like. I know we mentioned it at the top. This was a first, these regional events were a first for Nationwide and getting together in kind of these smaller groups of members and kind of a more intimate setting, which NLAs are intimate, I think in and of themselves. But when you’re talking about being able to get together in these smaller groups, what you kind of talked about it already, but from the actual experience side of being in those smaller groups, how different was it? Did you like anything better? Was there anything that you missed not having it be sort of a full blown Prime Time?

Doug Marsh: It was still very similar, just smaller but the one interesting aspect is typically when you go to a Prime Time, you’re not coming off of 16 months of crazy. That was a lot of the questions, everybody just wanted to be kind of shown that they had the same issues and so being in a regional setting, it was great because they are together. And it was like, I’ve seen this, have you seen this as well? And these are things that we could have never dreamed 16 months ago of even talking about. That was an interesting aspect of some of these communications. When you did talk about coming back and opening up and that sort of stuff. And so it was neat to see that. That aspect was a little bit different.

But then once you got past that, it got right back into how do we market our locations? And how do we take care of our customers and our staff? And how do we improve our staff? And all that stuff, all those great things that we’ve always been able to focus on at a Prime Time and in LA, we were able to highlight as well. And sometimes in a smaller group, it can actually open up a little bit more because as someone who’s spoke in front of a bunch of people, it can be very intimidating to speak in front of a bunch of people. And so in that smaller setting, sometimes you even get more open conversation. That was a good aspect of it as well.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And not without diving into specifics, did you see that play out where you had members that maybe shocked you how much they were kind of coming together and talking about the things that they faced or challenges that they were trying to overcome?

Doug Marsh: I think so. At the end of one of the meetings, we actually had the chance to sit down and just say, “Hey, we’re very curious. What did you take away?” Because Mike Whitaker is amazing at this. He’s like, “You’re going to sit here and you’re going to hear 10 things and they’re going to be 10 things you want to do and you’re going to go back and you’re going to do these 10.” And he goes, “And it’s impossible.” He goes, “If you focus on this one great thing and then focus on the next, don’t try to take all of them at once.” And so, he very much so, he’s big on highlighting of that.

When at the end of this, when we got to talk and you hear some of the one things that some of these members were taking back, were some really powerful things about enhancing the experience at their locations, which is something we talked about or telling their story better or they’re already being very active in their community but not really highlighting that. Highlighting that to both share their story but also the community story that they’re helping you in. And when you hear that, that was great stuff to be able to hear some of these things.

Side note, the keynote, Mark Quinn, Dos Marcos podcast, he and Mike did an amazing keynote. Every session is like, and the title of, I Think I’m Okay. And it was all about some of the tragedies that we’d experienced in life and then all of us in this combined pandemic and how we’ve been able to come out and how we’ve been able to thrive at times, you know what I mean? And so how do we continue to improve. And they were highlighting some of those messages. And then to hear that come back to say, that’s the one I want to focus on. I want to focus on improving the experience. I want to focus on improving our messaging because we do have a great story. I say it in all my session is your story’s just better. No one can compete with your story. And so, but if you don’t tell it, nobody knows it.

Rob Stott: No. Right.

Doug Marsh: Absolutely.

Rob Stott: Kind of flipping the script a little bit. I know a lot of what these, well almost entirely what these regional events were about, was educating the member, as you mentioned on that customer journey. Did you ever, in any of them feel like the script has been flipped and you learned something about whether it was how these events were conducted or about the membership and kind of getting back out in touch with them?

Doug Marsh: Any time we open up the floor, I learn something. Anytime you and I, we do this stuff all the time, but we’re not frontline. And so a lot of what we do in LA is from learned experience from the members. And we do that at Prime Times and we do that when we get together and for 16 months, we’ve done it over Zoom or over Teams. And so to be able to be back in that room and hear what some of the things, some of the success stories that we’d heard, I was absolutely blown away as well. And one of the places that we did it, we went around the room, like I was saying, what did you take away? And we got to do it as well. And it was very cool to go, I got to take away your stories and how you guys have really persevered during all of this and how amazing it is to be involved with the group, with these members, with these independent retailers. It’s just awesome. Just being able to hear some of those in those open formats, that’s what I took away.

Rob Stott: No, that’s incredibly powerful. Especially, it’s kind of, I guess we can without necessarily trying to toot our own horns, being in the seat of communications, we kind of get to see all those messages come in and come out. And whether it’s from our vendor partners’ side, internally here at Nationwide or especially from our members, kind of seeing those stories, we get to be pretty close with them and see them as they are told and help tell those stories. I know we get to feel kind of that special, a little bit more of a special connection, I think when we get to do that, but it’s always impressive to see just what these members are doing or how they’re persevering, how they’re overcoming these challenges. To hear them in person, not to say that we’re surprised because we see it often, but it still doesn’t mean it’s any less awe inspiring I think when you do hear them.

Doug Marsh: Absolutely not. And I’m going to throw you a curve ball here as well.

Rob Stott: Uh-oh.

Doug Marsh: And so one of the really cool things that Nationwide has been a part of for many years now is the Give Back Program, is when we get together, we’re going to give back. And being able to incorporate that into the regional meetings was amazing as well because I loved the meal packing. The No Child Hungry we’ve done for years and to kind of not be able to do that for a little while, we were able to sponsor them and you could donate and they would do it but there’s something about having your hands in the rice, as I like to say. And so, the team from No Child was there and we were able to pack meals.

Rob Stott: Awesome.

Doug Marsh: And I can’t give you a definitive number because it kept going up. But the goal was 10,000 for each location. And it would be packed. You’d almost have to tap in to be able to get a spot because everybody was just wanting to get back and pack meals and shout when the box was done. It was awesome. And we would finish most days, most of the first day, you had NLAs, you had round tables, you had merchant sessions, it was great. And then you would do this and that’s how we would kind of end that day. And it just put it back, wow, this is awesome. Because these are some of the great things that we do at Prime Time and the givebacks are, gosh it’s amazing. And so that was really cool as well, to be able to pack meals again.

Rob Stott: It’s funny, we’re sitting here talking about how these are so different from Prime Time because it is these smaller settings, but you think about it, there’s the education, there’s the give back portion of this. There’s the networking between members and between members and Nationwide. Obviously a big piece missing in a show floor in regional events. But it just goes to show how, even in these smaller settings, we can get just as jazzed about what’s going on at these regional events. And do you think kind of turning this into a question, we talked about how the delivering the NLAs, these mini NLAs in essence were a tune up for Prime Time. As we start to look forward and think about Nashville and what’s to come here down the road, did these feel like nice tune-ups for what’s to come and getting members back in the sense of back in the mode of getting ready for a Prime Time?

Doug Marsh: Absolutely. I think everything that we’ve talked about from the simple aspect of the hugs, the fist bumps, the handshakes, whatever, they’re going to go on. It will be amazing to be able to see everybody come back together as one. I think these were tremendous as a prep because as what I got to experience, like I say, myself, Mike, Jen and Quinn got to experience, the four of us got to go to all of them, every place was the same. It was all, we just, we were excited to see each other and excited to be back in a room and these were smaller. When we come back together as the full power of our organization of independent retailers, look out, it’s going to be incredible.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And I know, we’ll wait on member feedback, of course, like with everything else we do here at Nationwide for these.

Doug Marsh: Absolutely.

Rob Stott: Have to see what future iterations look like, but for now, obviously great to have it happen. Have this under our belt and know what it’s like to what it takes to get back in person in this day and age. And we know as you experienced while on the road, things are just going to continue to get closer and closer back to a somewhat normal, so a new normal here.

Doug Marsh: Sure, sure. But absolutely looking forward to feedback in what the members got. Because the one on one feedback we got was great, but it’s great to hear from the whole group and we’ll see what they say and move forward from there.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. Well, Doug, I appreciate you kind of peeling back the layers. Like you said, one to four people, so you’re a pretty select few that was able to make it to all four cities. You did the math on the miles. You did some heavy traveling.

Doug Marsh: Yes, we did. It was 8,750 miles of travel over the course of two weeks.

Rob Stott: Hopefully you stayed on one airline and were able to capture all those miles.

Doug Marsh: It would be awesome if we were, but it did not even happen. I didn’t even get the benefit of that. But no, it was great to be able to see the country and see our different region of members and hear the stories and everybody was a little different and a little similar if you know what I mean. It’s we’re all fighting that same challenge. And some of these messages in these classes were so cool to be able to emphasize that, yes, our story is better. We’ve just got to tell it and we got to go forward. And from what I’ve seen, I think we will. It was a lot of powerful powerful messages coming from out of there.

Rob Stott: Definitely. And look forward to obviously hearing and seeing and telling more of those when we get all back together in Nashville and I’ll get to feel a little bit less jealous at that point that you were on the road for so long.

Doug Marsh: I was. The jealousy would have ended in the 8,750 miles, though, right?

Rob Stott: Somewhere in there, I think. That’s awesome, man. Well, I appreciate you taking the time and look forward to catching up in Nashville.

Doug Marsh: Absolutely. Thank you, Rob.

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