Bruce Walker has always been passionate about TV technology, going back to his time working in independent retail. Today, he gets to talk about display advancements as the Product Evangelist for TCL. Bruce dives into new and upcoming product, TV trends and more.
Rob Stott: All right. We are back on the Independent Thinking podcast and real excited today. I always say I’m excited at the top of these podcasts, but today’s a different one. And I truly mean it, because Mr. Bruce Walker, product evangelist for TCL North America hopping in to chat with us today. Bruce, we got a ton to cover today. I don’t know. Do you think we can do it in just a couple minutes?
Bruce Walker: As long as we keep it under four hours for the viewers and listeners, I should be able to cover everything I want.
Rob Stott: There you go.
Bruce Walker: Very happy to be here. Thanks for having me, Rob. I’m excited.
Rob Stott: Not a problem. Expectations set at the top. So we have a four hour limit, and we’ll just roll with it. But no, Bruce, appreciate it. And before we jump into it, I know you like to talk about yourself, so I want to start by letting you do that, to tell us a little about yourself and your background.
Bruce Walker: Excellent. I don’t like to talk too much. I do like to talk knowing who the members are, because the first 20 years of my career were spent in consumer electronics, retail sales for an independent retailer up here in the Northeast. So I understand the idea of working a bell-to-bell, working on Black Fridays, and things like that. And so, everything that I do comes from the optics of, how does it make our independent team members able to serve their customers better? How can I do a presentation that’ll allow one of the members to say something to a customer, and the customer go, “Oh, that’s what that means.”
Rob Stott: That’s awesome.
Bruce Walker: That was 20 years of long hours and nights and weekends. And then went to the manufacturer side for several years. And then, about four and a half years ago, started doing a little bit of work with TCL and haven’t looked back since.
Rob Stott: That’s awesome. What does that… That amount of time spent in independent retail, what does that bring to the table for you in what you’re doing now?
Bruce Walker: It’s just, particularly, if you look at the speed at which the landscape has changed. I mean, when I was leaving retail, there was this thing called the internet with some internet pricing and things like that, and how the independents have been able to adapt to this crazy marketplace, to a customer standing in your store can see every price for every product under the sun, good, bad or indifferent, and really understanding how important the product knowledge aspect is for the independent retailer, because that’s a key differentiator between these members and the big box and online stores, is being there for their customers.
And then the service end of things is also very huge. So taking all of those factors into account and knowing without speaking for your members, I know a lot of the relationships they have with their customers are a one-on-one day in, day out building of relationships. And I understand that intimately, having done it for 20 years in my market. So I know the good and bad that comes with it, and really enjoyed the time doing it, getting to know my community.
Rob Stott: No, that’s, I mean, cool to hear, because it kind of gives you that insider’s perspective, if you will, on what it takes to be an independent, and then you can apply that to what you’re doing today. Talk about that path to TCL. What brought you there, and what excited you about the opportunity to work with that brand?
Bruce Walker: Yeah, I mean, TCL, it’s a cutter ship in a world of aircraft carriers, just fast, and able to make decisions quickly, and able to implement change, able to satisfy customers, able to do things on a moment’s notice to make sure that our users are happy, whether it’s from a sales end of things, making sure that Nationwide is happy and that their members are happy, to a customer point of view, where I’ve had my director of customer advocacy in California reach out to me on a Saturday morning because I was having a problem with a customer that had one of our 32 inch TVs, and they had a problem with the remote.
And on a Saturday morning, he called me and said, “Get me the customer’s address. I’m going to overnight them a remote.” I mean, that’s what TCL does aside from, the other side of the coin is making world-class products that’ll go up amongst the best of the best, whether it’s a good entry-level TV that we can move in tonnage to some flagship TVs we’ve introduced and are coming to market very soon that can go toe to toe with some of the giants in the industry.
Rob Stott: And I know we’re going to get into those products. I’m excited to talk about them. But before we do, I have to ask, I introduced you at the top, and I know it’s been your title for a bit here, but product evangelist, what exactly does that mean?
Bruce Walker: It means I can do trainings and perform weddings. No, no. It’s basically a title that really tried to encompass my role at TCL, to work with everyone, both internal and external, to really bring them that awareness of, “Hey, we’re different. Hey, we’re unique. Hey, we have great product offerings.” And I think it’s become even more relevant now that we’re not just TCL the TV company. Our portfolio prod is expanding into soundbars, headphones, mobile products, home comfort appliances, air purifiers, just everything that’s out there, and making sure that everybody knows that when you walk into a store, if you see a TCL TV on the shelf, there’s something behind it.
Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And it kind of makes me think, prior to Nationwide, had spent some time, I got to go to IFA, which I don’t know. You get to see a different side of… Obviously, there’s a lot of brands that you see here in North America, but you get the global aspect. And I know TCL always has a huge presence there. And the flexible displays and everything that’s going on in there, to smart devices.
Bruce Walker: When we segue into the product, we can talk about some of the things that make TCL different, and that display component is certainly a huge factor.
Rob Stott: Yeah. And focusing a little more locally here, North America, anyone I think that’s paid attention to the TV space here in the US knows that there’s been this meteoric rise of TCL as a brand here. What do you attribute that to, the quick success? And how did it come to be?
Bruce Walker: It’s great. I mean, if you look at five years ago, we were number zero in the market, and now we’re number two market share. And that speaks volumes about the product that we offer. When we first introduced TVs that had Roku built into them, professional reviewer said we’re the first smart TV worth using, paraphrasing them. And now we’ve got some fantastic Android TV offerings out there that give customers a great user experience.
But again, our philosophy is really not introducing technology for technology’s sake. A little anecdote about that. We introduced the world’s first big screen TV with quantum dot, or QLED, back in 2015. But we didn’t bring it to market in US until just a couple of years ago. So why that big lag? In the US we were like, “There isn’t really content to support quantum dot yet.”
So again, we don’t want to do technology for technology’s sake. We want to bring joy and simplicity to our users through the thoughtful implementation of technology. That’s the tagline, if it sounds a little rehearsed. But there’s real heart behind that. Like I said, we want customers to be able to get a TV, whether it’s a 3-Series, a 5-Series, a 6-Series, some of our XL giant TVs, and say, “I’m getting my money’s worth with this product.”
Rob Stott: No, that’s cool to hear that take on it and the inner workings about… It’s true. Because you see a lot of product that gets launched out there. I don’t want to say shotgun theory of how it’s just sort of spread into the market, but I mean, a lot of cart in front of the horse type situations.
Bruce Walker: Back in my day on the sales floor, we used to call it why tech, not high tech.
Rob Stott: I like that.
Bruce Walker: Yeah. We definitely don’t want that. We want people… We want to hit the market with the right product at the right time.
Rob Stott: And you talk about right time. It seems like 2021 is kind of shaping up to be that perfect timing for new product. Because I know, despite virtual events and everything else, 2021 has been a very busy year for TCL with the launch of some new stuff. So let’s get into that. You mentioned the XL series. I know 8K is coming. So talk about some of what’s coming down the pipe here.
Bruce Walker: Yeah. So pretty much everything we talked about at CES, which seems both a week and five years ago, is coming to fruition, where we’ve launched part of our XL collection, which is just a series of 85 inch and plus TVs, as that lineup fills out. And that’s just for the customers that want to get a movie viewing experience at home. If they used to go to the movies and sit in the middle of the theater, not too far back, in the middle, in that sweet spot. And you do that with an 85 inch TV, you can get that. We’re going to be very excited about 8K TV, the next evolution in resolution. I’m seeing if I should trademark that or not.
But every few years, there’s a new benchmark in picture quality in terms of clarity, and at TCL, really what we’ve talked about that we’re excited about is that we’re bringing 8K resolution to our 6-Series TVs, which to a lot of people that are kind of in the know, understand that 6-Series isn’t this lofty, five figure, unachievable product. It’s that achievable performance that the 6-Series has been known for. So to have 8K in a 6-Series this year is really going to be exciting for our customers. And then, like I said, we see a lot of stuff PrimeTime coming up that’s going to be very exciting as well.
Rob Stott: Yeah, definitely. And when it comes to those TVs, taking it from a consumer perspective, because they hear all these numbers, from 4K, that still feels new, but it’s actually been around for a couple of years now, but then you’re getting into 8K. Obviously innovation in tech isn’t ever going to slow down, and especially with TVs too, but is there a point where it can’t get any better? 16, 32, are they going to be-
Bruce Walker: I was actually doing some analysis about 8K. Because just like everything else, when we went from standard definition to high definition, they said, “There’s no content. We don’t need it.” When we went from high-def to 1080P, they said, “There’s no content. We don’t need it.” Same thing with 4K, same thing now. But as far as the library of content, I was doing some research, and a high quality film cell can be upwards of 12K.
So if you look at 2001: A Space Odyssey, that’s got a perfectly preserved film master, it’s just waiting to be sent out in high resolution. So the content is going to be there, and really again, with that resolution, whether it’s native 8K content or upscaled content, it allows us to get those larger screen sizes and get customers in that viewing cone of that 40 to 60 degree field of view that’s going to be very exciting for them.
Rob Stott: And you said the magic word there, and we’re going to get a little nerdy here, I think, potentially. But you said upscaling. And obviously, when there isn’t a lot of content right now, natively, to support it, that upscaling becomes super critical. So to the sales associate that’s going to be talking about these TVs and even the customer that’s looking at them, what does that mean to TCL? And at the end of the day, what does that mean to the consumer?
Bruce Walker: Yeah. I remember when we first went to high definition, upscaling… This is however many years ago when we first switched to HD. People would come into stores and see this incredible nature documentary in HD, and then they go home and hook up their cable box co-ax, and come back and go, “How come my picture stinks?” Up conversion was kind of an afterthought. But if you look at how the advances have come in processing, how more powerful it is, really if you look at today with 4K TVs, you look at a TCL review at a respected website, and you’ll see them say that 1080P content looks nearly indistinguishable from 4K content with our AIPQ upconverting engine.
So we do a fantastic job there. And then with our 8K sets, we’re going to have our newest AIPQ engine, which uses some sort of artificial intelligence, machine learning algorithms, because we know that not only is 8K going to need to look breathtaking, but all that other content is going to need to look breathtaking as well. But fortunately, the March progress that has made TVs bigger and better are also making processors bigger and better. So we think there’s going to be a story for how everything’s going to look on these TVs.
Rob Stott: Thinking back to your independent days, did you ever imagine a day where you’d be talking about TVs and artificial intelligence?
Bruce Walker: I still remember to this day, the time it took me about a day and a half to rip an end cap apart because we were getting a 32 inch picture tube TV to put there. And I couldn’t imagine that TV being there that big. And I’ve got a 32 inch TV up on my shelf up here I can carry around with one hand. I can’t remember my anniversary, but I remember the NEC projector TV, the DT-5271 weighed 480 pounds.
And now, one of the other benefits of our XL collection is our 85 inch flagship TVs weigh about a hundred pounds. So two, maybe three guys can just mount it on a wall, which is fantastic. Because I know a huge component of a lot of the members is that full service installation. So getting an 85 inch TV to a customer’s house means that two guys can do an installation, not five or six. Getting rid of their old console TV might be different, but our new TVs-
Rob Stott: Yeah. You need the extra help to take out what they’re replacing. But for today’s tech, it’s not so cumbersome.
Bruce Walker: Exactly.
Rob Stott: Well, following up on that independent aspect, what’s it about the independent retailer that makes them important to TCL, to be engaged with this channel? And the flip of that, too. For the independent retailer, what’s the opportunity there that’s available for them in working with TCL?
Bruce Walker: Yeah. Having worked with Nationwide for years, knowing that we go to a show like PrimeTime, where our sales division works with your teams, we’re able to talk to one group of people and really touch about 10,500 storefronts. What a huge opportunity for us to be able to get out there. And it might be easy, if you’re a big aircraft carrier, to neglect this channel. But being a cutter ship amongst those, we know how important it is.
And a lot of the people on our team have a not dissimilar background to me, understand the importance of the independent retailer and how the numbers can add up for us, and the quality that your members can bring, and talk to a customer about the benefits of mini-LED, the benefits of quantum dots. And it’s not just a box and a price. In a lot of cases, the ability to talk about these advanced technologies and hopefully with a little help from TCL, explain it to them in cut language that they understand. So it’s a huge opportunity for us to get our name out there.
Why should we matter to the members? Important to understand that we’re not just a TV company anymore. While we’re still the number two TV company out there, and if more or less one in five TVs purchased are a TCL and we’re not part of a member’s assortment, that might be an opportunity missed, but also understand that the TCL umbrella is, as I mentioned before, going to encompass a whole house of products, from TVs, to soundbars, to mobile, to home comfort appliances, which are very important. And you live not too far from me, and we know a lot of home comfort appliances mean nothing 11 months out of the year, but for those three weeks, it means everything.
Rob Stott: You need them. You need them. They become life dependent.
Bruce Walker: Exactly. And then to have all of this product backed by our award-winning customer service, whether it’s our call centers, or our customer advocacy team based right here in the United States, out in California, the little anecdote I shared with you, how passionate we are about making sure that at the end of the day, our mutual customers, us, Nationwide, and your members, are all satisfied, is why we think we can be important. And delivering incredible product.
Rob Stott: Yeah, for sure. And I know there’s, even beyond all of what you mentioned, which obviously is incredibly important, there’s synergies too. I know you guys talk about your passion for service, and community service, and things like that. So I know, obviously with Nationwide, anytime we’re at a PrimeTime or in a city, we know that we like to have that little give back. So talk about that a little bit. I know you guys got some stuff coming up.
Bruce Walker: Yeah. It warms my heart in the sincerest way every time I’m at the shows and see you guys packing lunches and things like that. It’s amazing what to do. And hearing that just a few months ago, you passed a million meals is absolutely incredible. And we are very proud of that as well. One of the other things that’s important to us is TCL cares, whether it’s our employees, our customers, our community. One of the events that we do every year that’s coming up very soon is the Emilio Nares ENF Hole for Charity event. And Emilio Nares, we sponsor. I got to make sure I get this right. It’s the second annual Golf4Hope.
And really what we focus on is called the Ride With Emilio. And what that is, it focuses on members of the community that are underserved, who have children who are diagnosed with cancer, and we provide them with free transportation for whatever they need. Because they have so much to think about, we want to be able to do what little bit that we can to take some of the trouble off their plates. So we’re very proud to be a part of that organization, just like you guys are with No Child Hungry. It makes us proud to be able to do it.
Rob Stott: Yeah, no. I mean, nothing beats that feeling of physically doing something to know that you’re helping someone. And the meal packing is obviously one example. But as you guys show through what you’re doing, many ways to contribute and give back and just awesome to see that.
Bruce Walker: It’s great. Great to have leadership in both our company and Nationwide that just… Wholeheartedly support it doesn’t even begin to say how important it is to us.
Rob Stott: Yeah. And I mean, to have them support it, but then their commitment to it, it permeates throughout the rest of the organization, just creates a whole different kind of environment and experience, so that’s awesome. I want to close, one question. You talked about it a little bit and we jokingly talked about the evolution of this space from your indie retail days to today. But looking ahead, what kind of things, and without giving away TCL secrets or anything like that, but what excites you about the potential of this space, specifically related to TCL and what you guys are doing across all those channels? Or you can tackle both and say specifically about the TV space.
Bruce Walker: I know you’re going to yell it because I forget the name of it, but I want to call it the small home that we-
Rob Stott: The tiny home.
Bruce Walker: The tiny home. And I mean, when you look at a lot of the product TCL is introducing now, it’s that integration into a smart home, whether it be a TCL Roku TV, or a TCL TV with Android, Google Assistant built into TVs, being compatible with Google Assistant. And that’s just, in the back of your mind, you’re like, “Hey, that’s how an independent retailer can also make a difference.” Because it’s not a matter of handing them a bunch of boxes and say, “Go home and hook it up.” It’s a matter of saying, “Here’s what you can do with it.” And what I see with TCL is, as far as an advantage to be able to be an important part of that, boils down to our vertical integration.
If you look at a TCL TV, if you get one of the members or customers that’s done the slightest bit of research, they might point at the TV screen and say, “Well, who makes the screen for that TV?” And our answer is we do. We make the screen, we make the bezel, we make the feet, we make the processor, we make the backlight. Everything inside of the TCL TV is TCL. First of all, it’s cool. Only two other TV manufacturers in the world can say that.
Secondly, it allows us, talking about what’s coming up in the future, allows us to bring product to market faster, at a better value for our customers, and allows us to do some of these smart home integrations, you’ll see some of it at PrimeTime coming up in a little while, but really to be part of that ecosystem with home appliances that are Google Assistant compatible. We have a wireless mesh network system. And you look at a lot of those members that are trying to find a good niche with that type of technology to be able to have it be almost a one-stop shop is going to be fantastic for everybody.
Rob Stott: Yeah. And that kind of goes back to that story. You talk about being able to touch not just the TV anymore, but so many other aspects of the home. And that’s kind of the way technology has been trending. But see it play out in products and with brands, especially like TCL and what you guys are doing, is cool. And I mean, you said it. It presents the opportunity for the retailer to tell that story and tell it for you. And at the end of the day, it just makes living easier.
Bruce Walker: Exactly. It just makes everybody more comfortable, literally and figuratively.
Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. Well, Bruce, I truly appreciate the time and getting to chat with you today, and I’m looking forward to what we’ve got coming up, seeing you guys at PrimeTime in Nashville. And then, I know right on the heels of that, too, we’ll be seeing you again not too far from Nashville, I don’t think. I don’t know what the trip from Nashville to Indy is like.
Bruce Walker: Closer to our neck of the woods, right? But yeah, it’s going to be an exciting couple of events for us. We’re going to be very, very excited.
Rob Stott: That’s awesome. Well, I look forward to seeing you there. And again, thanks for stopping in and chatting.
Bruce Walker: Hey, thank you for your time. Congratulations on everything that’s been going on this year. It’s been a wild ride. Looking forward to bigger and better things.
Rob Stott: You got it.