Steve DeMoss is a co-founder and co-owner of Big Peach Running Company. As a small business owner, Steve and his team have created one of the most customized and customer-centered experiences in the footwear business. Their promise to customers is to ‘fit their feet first’. That means ahead of sales, spiffs (incentives to sales people from the manufacturers), or price, the staff learn about their customers and get to know their running wear needs before suggesting specific products. An experience ahead of its time!
Watch the video below, then, read a live coaching interview with Michael Valverde (partner at content creation firm Valverde & Stiles), Mary Kathryn Dean (customer experience leader at Alternative Apparel), Matt Selbie (Oberon3), Steve, and me to see how he can take his experience even further. This interview was one of a series for Focus.com (no longer in operation as of 2018).
Mike Wittenstein: Welcome, Steve!
Steve DeMoss: Thank you! Glad to be here.
Mike Wittenstein: Great. Steve, can you tell us a little bit about your business and the situation that you’re in, and then we’ll introduce the other experts who are gonna be helping you out?
Steve DeMoss: Certainly. Big Peach Running Company is a retail store. We have five locations. We’re based in the Atlanta market, and our – unlike maybe the traditional role of retail, whose focus is purely on – or traditionally on the products they carry. Our focus is on reaching the running and walking community in the Atlanta market and inspiring them to make running or walking a bigger part of their lifestyle, whether it’s somebody who wants to run farther than they’re currently running, or somebody who simply wants to get off the couch, or as we like to say, someone who wants to want to walk or run, our job is to reach those folks and provide solutions to them whether it’s through products or other areas of expertise in order to help them reach their objectives.
Mike Wittenstein: Cool. And as our subject client today, everyone’s gonna be helping you and your business out. What is it that you’re hoping to learn about today, or how would you like to see your business improve?
Steve DeMoss: Well, one of the things we’re very good at is reaching what we would call our core audience, which we would define as folks who are avid walkers or avid runners. We have a lot of grassroots opportunities to speak to those people on a weekly basis and do a very good job of reaching that audience. Where we have struggled a bit is reaching the broader audience of people who might be more casual walkers, runners or perhaps recreational walkers and runners who just are not at the grassroots activities where we tend to be and, therefore, may not know about us. So it’s really reaching that broader audience.
Mike Wittenstein: Great. One of the people that’ll have some thoughts for you today is Mary Kathryn Dean. She’s in charge of the customer experience and actually helped develop it at a company called Alternative Apparel based here in Atlanta. Hey, Mary Kathryn. How are you doing?
Mary Kathryn Dean: Doing well.
Mike Wittenstein: Good. Can you tell us a little bit about what you do for Alternative?
Mary Kathryn Dean: Sure. I’m Director of Customer Experience at Alternative Apparel. We are a casual lifestyle brand, and you can actually check us out at AlternativeApparel.com. I’ve worked for Alternative for over six years, and prior to my role in customer experience, I was the HR Manager, which is where I first met Mike. He helped us launch our internal brand campaign about six years ago, and we really kind of moved our focus from – we were working as a wholesaler, and we really realigned our business and realized that the person ______ we were really trying to reach and who we wanted to have that connection with was the end wearer.
It was the person who had on our shirt or was wearing our pants. And so in the last two years, we’ve seen 40 percent growth, and we really do attribute a lot of the growth we’ve had over the years to the things that we did six years ago with our internal brand campaign, and we really started to focus on viewing the business through the eyes of our customer and empowering our employees, really fostering kind of an atmosphere and a culture of innovation and creativity, and then also just kind of giving our customer a really authentic kind of connection and really kind of deeply understanding who they were.
Mike Wittenstein: Terrific! It’s nice to know – have somebody on the team here that understands the people side of things when it comes to implementing a better experience. Michael Valverde is with us also, a serial CEO and entrepreneur. Michael, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Michael Valverde: Okay, Michael – yes, and thanks. I’m glad to be here. Right now, I am working on several projects, but my main project is my own strategic group called ARC Strategic, which stands for Authentic, Relevant, Congruent – very focused around brand strategy and helping organizations galvanize the excitement of their founding purpose, and then coach them in communicating it succinctly in a pretty socially media dominated world. So I’m working to extend brand promise, you know, as far as the customer experience, but doing it from a pure strategy standpoint.
So how do you take customer experience and turn it into your brand strategy, since essentially your brand is your customer experience?
Mike Wittenstein: Excellent. And last, we have Matt Selbie with a company called Oberon 3. Matt’s company has developed some real cutting-edge, leading-edge technology that lets you measure your customers’ attitudes, opinions and experience while they’re still in your store so that you have a chance to correct anything that’s wrong or provide them the kind of service that they’re expecting. How you doing, Matt?
Matt Selbie: I’m great, Mike. Thank you very much, indeed, for inviting me on.
Mike Wittenstein: Wonderful! Anything you’d like to add to that introduction. I think I stole some of your thunder there. Sorry!
Matt Selbie: No, that’s very good. You speak much more eloquently than I do. So I’m founder of Oberon 3, and we have this technology called Opiniator, and Opiniator is essentially an on-the-spot, point-of-experience customer comment card where real customers, not mystery shoppers or third parties, use their own mobile phone to give feedback, whether it’s strategic feedback or operational feedback, about a business whilst they’re actually experiencing the service or consuming the product. And they do this through either SMS or mobile URL if they have a smart phone, or now we actually have it in voice as well.
So the end goal here is to increase customer retention and, therefore, increase cash flow because retaining customers is always much more profitable than spending to acquire them. And the advantage of having in-store, in this particular case, customer feedback is you always get much greater quantity of feedback. It’s much more accurate because the person is there. And of course, if the feedback shows that there’s a gap in performance, it allows you to fix that. So that’s what we do. And looking forward to hearing about the retail business – the retail running business.
Mike Wittenstein: Wonderful! My name is Mike Wittenstein. I’m the host of today’s conference. I’m an Experience Designer, and my job is to make sure that the brand’s promises are kept by the business’ operational side. I use customer experience design as my primary tool to align the strategy and the operations to make sure that what customers want most is what the business does best, and you can find out more about me at MikeWittenstein.com. Alright, well Steve, you’ve heard about some really interesting folks here that are all here to serve you for the next hour to help you grow your business. So if you would, tell us a little bit specifically about where you need to be growing that market and a little bit about the experience you have – a visual walkthrough, for a minute, would be really helpful for the audience that hasn’t had the opportunity to be in one of your stores yet.
Steve DeMoss: Certainly! It’s my pleasure and honor to be around so many great minds. Let’s start with the experience. You know, the philosophy of the folks who work with our organization is that it is our job to provide solution to our guests. So we always emphasize that we are not sales associates. It is not our job to sell. We are not selling; we are providing solutions. Within our retail stores, we have some tools that help us get there.
Most folks who come by to or seek out Big Peach Running Company are walkers or runners and usually in the market for some type of product, oftentimes footwear, that will help them enjoy their experience a little bit better, whether they’re walking our running. What we do with everyone who comes in is we will actually go through a fitting process. We have a lot of knowledge about the footwear we carry. We’re very selective about the footwear we carry.
We even consult with a lot of the manufacturers from Asics, Mizuno, Brooks, Nike, New Balance, Adidas – on and on. We actually consult with a lot of their design teams to help provide feedback and have a better understanding of some of the trends in design of footwear and needs of the consumers. But all that knowledge is somewhat useless if we don’t take time to understand each individual that comes into our stores. The products we carry all have – all target specific end users that are designed to accommodate specific needs.
So what we do with each guest is we will actually go through what we call a three-part process. We will start off by understanding biomechanics, or maybe more simply put, how the foot functions. We do this by filming on a treadmill while someone is walking or running, depending on their intended usage. And using that information to determine the function of each person’s foot – the biomechanics – whether they’re in a stable or an unstable position. We’ll then go from there to understanding foot characteristics – things like shape of foot, width of foot, arch type.
We have a scanning device that allows us to gain a little more information about each individual. And then we’ll marry up the knowledge that we’ve gained from these two parts of the process to make recommendations to each individual. We will bring out recommendations, have them try them on, provide insight as to why we may have brought out a certain product, but not really provide any sort of – well, maybe guidance, but not any bias in terms of which product we think might be best. We really like each guest to understand the different attributes.
We’ll call out things they might expect to feel while they have the shoes on their feet. We oftentimes will have them have one shoe on one foot and a different shoe on the other to kind of call out some of the subtle differences, and the goal being to really help them select the product that is going to be most appropriate for them – again, providing solutions. And in a lot of cases, these people may have injuries, objectives, different running backgrounds – all kinds of different things that need to be taken into account.
And then these tools accomplish two things for us. One, they really help us do our job a lot better. And two, they provide an experience for each guest that is memorable and enjoyable. And it’s – Wal-Mart uses the term “resale payment.” This is perhaps on a much smaller scale our version of entertaining the guests and providing an experience that educates them but also takes the intimidation factor out of the process and helps them to enjoy themselves while they’re spending their time with us. As far as – that’s kind of the experience within the stores.
And some of the things we do – obviously, the mindset of providing solutions, we carry apparel and lots of gear and accessories in addition to footwear, so it can extend through a lot of the – a lot of different dimensions. You know, as we said before, the challenge that we have is taking this experience and exposing a broader audience to it. Atlanta has a population of 5.5 million people. It is actually one of the most underrated running and walking communities in the U.S.
The Peachtree Road Race is the largest 10K footrace in the country, with 55,000 participants on July 4th. The avid – the number of avid runners out of a race like that might constitute 15 or 20 percent of the participants, which means obviously if we’re doing a good job of reaching the avid participants, there’s an awful lot of opportunity out there for us to reach the more casual or recreational participants. And that’s something that we feel like our environment lends itself towards – towards doing a good job with and building loyal guests – loyal customers through.
But we have not necessarily done the best job of telling our story to that audience.
Mike Wittenstein: Alright – well, let’s take that as a starting point and get some first reactions from everybody. Mary Kathryn, what’s coming to your mind as you hear Steve talk about what he wants to do to grow and some of the challenges of extending that experience from an audience of avid runners to a much broader set of folks who could enjoy the experience, but for whom it might be a little different?
Mary Kathryn Dean: You know, as I mentioned with our business about six years ago, we really made the change from – we were selling – we were a wholesaler, and so we were selling to other companies. So we were thinking about the experience, and we were thinking of every – really every touch-point from the perspective of business when we really made the change to the person who was wearing our garment and opened up our business to direct-to-consumer, and it changed the way we did everything.
One of the big things that we did, and I talked about doing, you know, we launched an internal brand campaign. But one of the reasons we did that is we really – we wanted to make sure that we knew who we were and that our employees did, because what we realized is if our employees didn’t get it, there was no ______ that our customer was every gonna get it. So we really talked a lot about sort of kind of creating a brand champion as far as an employee. So that’s kind of someone that has not just that intellectual kind of connection.
So it’s not just about knowing the product; they needed to understand – they had to have that emotional connection. They had to know the brand. So there were a lot of things that we kind of put in place as far as the changing our culture from the inside and creating an experience for our employees that would really kind of help them understand the kind of experience we wanted to give our customer as well. You kind of had mentioned you’re reaching an audience of avid runners versus casual. I actually went to your Decatur store last night and got tennis shoes.
Steve DeMoss: Oh, excellent!
Mary Kathryn Dean: Yeah! It was great! I actually was in the need for some shoes, and it was fresh on my mind, so I went over to the Decatur store, and the nice lady who was helping me out last night had actually run her first race, and she was – because she was talking, and they ask ________ ____ __________ as far as, “What are you gonna be using your shoes for? What are you looking for?” and asking kind of a lot about who I was as a person. So you absolutely have that piece.
What was really interesting is I wasn’t an avid runner. I’m not. But her telling her story about running her first race – she did it on her birthday with her friends, and the story that she told – she was not an avid runner when she started working there. So I think that that’s – as far as having those brand champions – so having employees that sort of fit that broader audience base that you’re trying to reach, which she did – but it made me feel much more comfortable and less intimidated.
When I first walked in, I was a little bit – or actually before I walked in – you know, to have to tell someone, “Well, I’m not really a runner or a walker. I’m trying to get back into working out,” and sort of telling my story to her. But her response being it was her first – she had just finished her first race and kind of what it felt like and how she had – she was sort of your broader audience. I thought that was sort of interesting.
Steve DeMoss: That’s a great story. And it’s also – it’s so true on so many fronts. Specialty running and a store that calls itself a Running Company, it carries a stigma of intimidation, and potentially – or the potential to have a bunch of people in there who are elitists and snobs and all that. And I believe you experienced it’s not who we are.
Mary Kathryn Dean: Oh, absolutely!
Steve DeMoss: But yet, we have to overcome that stigma, which quite honestly this type of channel has taken many years to earn that reputation of being a bit elitist and being a bit intimidating. And we think that once we get people into the doors, we do a very good job of breaking down those preconceptions. It’s the challenge of getting them to the door. My question to you would be what was the reason that – how did you find us as a non-avid runner?
Mary Kathryn Dean: Actually, another non-avid runner coworker had mentioned that she had gotten her shoes from there. So it was – honestly, it was word-of-mouth that got me there. It was another person who that was not their – yeah – that was not a runner as well that had said, “Ooh, it’s so cool. You’ve got to go in. You have to” – so it was really – it was the story that had been told to me.
Steve DeMoss: That has over the years proven to be our most effective asset, and it’s something that we’re obviously very proud of and something we hope that never ceases to be one of our strongest assets. Nevertheless, word-of-mouth is a – sort of a slow, methodical way of growing the business base, and while we certainly always would like to count it as one of our tools, I think one of the challenges we have is how do we reach that broader audience in a more efficient manner beyond just word-of-mouth.
Mike Wittenstein: Well, let’s jump over to Matt Selbie for a minute. Matt, could you talk a little bit about how catching people in the moment using your technologies, which are in a sense tied to social media, might help accelerate the flow of those stories. And then Michael Valverde, let’s come back to you for a little bit of the strategy and communication side. Go ahead, Matt.
Matt Selbie: Sure, sure – I mean, first of all, it sounds like a very, very memorable experience for those people that want to go through that. Some kind of quick reactions is I’m wondering just how wide an audience is you’re gonna get who want to go through that rather than just, “Tell me what I need to have, and let me go and buy it.” But coming back to the original question, I think that if there was an opportunity to work through the sales process and ask questions of your customers in a private or a public way, you’ll be able to elicit very, very quickly what different segments of a potential audience may like or may not like.
So let me kind of back up a bit. The first thing it sounds to me – it sounds quite a complicated sale with – I was looking in the website and gait analysis and trying on two different sets of shoes and so on and so forth, and that’s fantastic for people who are into that. But one thing you may wanna think about is to ensure that you’re providing the right service to the right segment, you might want to ask everyone who comes in who will include a broader audience as well as a more targeted audience – what they like about going through your current process. And almost sure as night follows day, you’re gonna find different segments.
New customers will be different from existing customers, different styles of runners, different athleticisms, different other types of segments may well find that process to be beneficial. Some may not find it to be so beneficial. So one of the things that I encourage you to do is on a segmented basis, start asking questions about the current sales process to see what they like and what they don’t like. The other thing that I would definitely do is have those surveys done on a salesman-by-salesman basis. One of the things that we’ve found in almost every business that we’ve operated in is that there is a difference in the output – the perceived output of every salesman, even though you will have recruited them yourselves and trained them yourselves.
So I would do two things: ask about the process by different segments, and have that survey – that feedback done on a salesman-by-salesman basis. And then that way you’re gonna capture what different segments think about the total process, what they think about the individual components of the process, and what they think about the business and the individual way that the service was delivered. Does that make sense?
Steve DeMoss: It does. And, you know, you call out something that is very important, and this is something we do – again, we’ll probably do a reasonably good job once people get in the store, and that is getting a very initial understanding of what is it that you’re here for, because if you’re here because you wanna have a better experience while walking or running, then let’s take the five or ten minutes, and let’s go through this process, and let’s do it right. If you’re here because you just need a comfortable shoe, or if you’re here for some other reason, then let’s not overcomplicate it if you’re – if it’s unnecessary or perhaps even inappropriate to go through the fitting process, and let’s address that.
But I think – you know, and you’re absolutely right, too, when you call out – when you say we need to figure out what it was that was memorable by segment. Everybody – different people have different reasons for being there and different expectations as far as what would be a good experience. And certainly by a – depending on the member of our team, obviously everybody’s got a different personality, and a different way of approaching things, and that can have a big impact, and it’s something obviously that we concern ourselves with and put a great deal of thought into. But I’m not sure we have all the solutions on that front either. So I think it’s a great suggestion and certainly would provide good insight.
Mike Wittenstein: So Michael Valverde, you’ve got – let’s step into the future six months or so and say we’ve got some really good qualitative research with a little bit of data as well. You’re looking at making sure that this company can expand its base here in the Atlanta area to these new markets. We realize there might be some changes to the experience, or at least some options that right now are done casually that might be more solidified. Give us the strategy angle on what you’re seeing and feeling for Big Peach Running Company.
Michael Valverde: Well, very interested – actually, now I really wanna go to your store because I need some new shoes.
Michael Valverde: And I haven’t had that specific experience, and I’m an avid casual walker. Let’s put it that way. But I think that – you know, the first thing that I would look to do when you’ve _____ your audience is I’d redefine “running” – what you mean by “running” just because it’s in your name and it automatically gets associated with certain things. We’re all running. We’re all trying to get from here to there as quickly as we can.
You know, it seems like in a society that lives at the pace that we do – so I think that you might from a brand idea – brand strategy – think about redefining “running.” How can you redefine it in new ways? And whatever you do from a – it seems a little bit pedantic to say this, but you have to be authentic. If your founding purpose was structured around a certain direction, making any changes to the experience can dilute your brand in ways that you don’t want to – this is the danger, right – by expanding and opening your arms to other people, you automatically take the risk of eliminating your current customer base or annoying them.
So the idea of having sort of multiple paths – if those paths are all congruent with your brand strategy and authentic to you as part of your founding purpose, then I think it would make good sense to look at those things and to allow people to self-select. However, the experience that is your company has to stay that experience. You know, ________ be that. You can’t be all things to all people. There are people who you just don’t fit with, so you have to be comfortable with that idea.
And that wasn’t a pun. I’m sure that you could fit everyone’s foot, but – so I think the key is just to maintain authenticity, and just some ideas just running through my head, you know, ______ ________. This is – I don’t know if this is an appropriate place. Maybe I’ll hold these ideas to a later discussion, but that’s my initial comment.
Steve DeMoss: I like the – Michael used the phrase “redefine running.” I think that’s absolutely spot-on. One of the initiatives that we have this year is with one of our manufacturer partners with Mizuno where we are launching an initiative who’s very sort of perhaps idealistic objective is, in fact, to redefine what running is. And traditionally, running has been, you know, go out and you kind of bang your head against the wall or bang your feet against the pavement, and you get tired and out of breath, but when you finish you feel good and you feel good about what you did.
And maybe for some people it means going out and competing in a race or participating in a race. And you have kind of all your traditional definitions of running. But for so many people, that is just not of any great interest to them. Running is a means to an end or a necessary evil, and part of – with our job – our stated mission being to grow the lifestyle, grow participation, whether it’s walking or running, we can’t just define – if we’re going to grow that larger audience, we can’t just continue to define running exactly the same way because it’s gonna have a limited potential.
There’s a lot of people out there that aren’t attracted to the more traditional ways of looking at running. So one of the things that we feel like _____ do is almost make running into a social event – an activity that is ancillary to other things going on, and you may come to one of the functions that we’re creating and leave saying, “I heard some great music. I met some great people. There was some great food, some great beverages, and it was at a location that was totally iconic and unique to Atlanta, and now that I think about it, I ran three or four miles while I was there.
And how about that?!” And it’s kind of taking that and redefining that and saying, “You know, running doesn’t have to be about how fast did you cover this distance in, or how hard were you breathing, or what was your heart rate?” or anything like that, or, “How far did you walk, or how many miles – how many days in a row have you walked?” It doesn’t have to be any of that. It can be something completely unexpected and different. And again, our job is to – if we’re going to be serious about reaching this broader audience and bringing more people into this lifestyle, then we’re gonna have to redefine it for a lot of people.
Otherwise, it’s gonna be the same thing to them, and they’re just not that interested in it. So I think that really – that’s really interesting that you struck on that. I think there’s a lot of truth to that. And certainly maintaining authenticity is absolutely crucial, no matter what you’re in. And I – you know, we don’t wanna become all things to all people, certainly. But I would say that we do feel like – the mindset internally is that if you use your feet go forward, or if you want to spend more time using your feet to go forward, or whatever your objective will be, we’ll take good care of you.
And it doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to sell you a product. It may be that we need to provide you a direction to go – a group to affiliate with – a place to go and enjoy what you may want to do. It can be a lot of different things, but again our job is to provide solutions to people who want to make these activities a bigger part or a part of their lifestyle. And it doesn’t – you know, some of the sexy tools that we have and some of the things that we do in the store may not be applicable to all folks. But maybe I’m getting off on a little bit of a tangent, but the authenticity is obviously crucial, and that’s something that we have to keep in mind.
I think one of the things where that really plays out is understanding what types of products we carry. We don’t carry toning products. We don’t carry a lot of what might be called lifestyle products. We’re focused on the types of products that will help people have a better experience while out there running and walking, and that’s really it. So we’ll have to stay true to that.
Mike Wittenstein: So Steve, talk to me about the things that scare you the most. You’ve got all this opportunity. You’ve got this fabulous experience, which however it’s coming across in this recording is ten times better when you’re in person in the store. You really do feel super taken care of. And the people are so courteous. The technology does not get in the way, and you really feel like you’re being maître d’ed. You’re being super well taken care of, and so are your feet.
So given that you have that great experience, people are telling good stories about you, you’ve got your niche, you’re a market leader in this market of Atlanta – 5.5 million people – a bunch of them are serious, and they go there – what scares you the most about expanding that base either to different styles of runners or different occasions of use or possibly to different markets? And then we’ll have the team give you some ideas about that.
Steve DeMoss: There’s a – we are very diligent in doing our annual SWOT analysis, with our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. So I guess in the threat category of the analysis, you know, I think I’m gonna go back to something Michael said a minute ago: I think maintaining the authenticity – and maybe I need to expand on that a little bit – not just maintaining the authenticity as we grow, but maintaining the experience.
We have got to – when it was my partner and I, and we were working 60 hours a week in the stores, it wasn’t that difficult to make sure that everybody in the organization had the same vision, the same enthusiasm, the same simplified objective of simply providing solutions. As we grow, we’re gonna have to rely on other people in our organization to carry the torch. And whether we grow in the Atlanta market with five stores, we still – we like to think of ourselves as a small business.
But if it certainly expands beyond that, we’re going to have to make sure that there are other brand champions, to use a term from earlier, in our organization who are able to absolutely make sure that the vision is simple and unified and that there is a lot of enthusiasm internally ____________. But that’s certainly one thing that we would need to be concerned with. Another thing, and it’s fortunate right now that this is absolutely not the case in the Atlanta market, but it’s the – making sure that the lifestyle is strong.
The best sign for us is not how the economy is doing; it’s how is the – what does that Atlanta race calendar look like, because if the Atlanta race calendar continues to grow with more races and more participants in races, and the economy is not doing well, we’ll be alright. If the economy is booming, but the Atlanta race calendar is shrinking, that’s where we’re gonna get concerned. So it’s really kind of keeping a pulse on the lifestyle, and we like to think that we not only need to watch it, but can contribute to the strength of that lifestyle.
And with Atlanta’s running and walking community booming right now, we’d like to think that we’ve had a small role in helping create that.
Mike Wittenstein: Wonderful!
Steve DeMoss: The last thing I would say, and, of course, we could probably have a three-hour conversation on just these things that keep us up all night long, but changing – I guess changing consumer mindsets and the way people shop. Certainly, technology, Matt, with some of your mobile technology you’ve got out there would be a great example of how technology changes the ways the consumer behaves. We can’t just assume that people are always going to take the time to come into our stores.
Even if they’re having a great experience, the reality is we all live lives where there’s not enough hours in the day to accommodate what it is that we’ve got on the to-do list. And we’ve got to stay on top of changing technologies that impact how consumers shop and the consumer experience.
Mike Wittenstein: Okay. Well, MK, let’s go back to you for a second. Can you share anymore detail or any – allay any fears that Steve and his partner might have when it comes to building a culture on the inside and a real strong following on the outside?
Mary Kathryn Dean: Yeah – that was – Steve, it was the exact same fear we had, was, well, you know, we’ve – okay, so now we’ve set up – we’ve got this great culture. Our employees get it. They’re connected. They’re engaged. They’re – every time they interact with a customer, they’re creating these raving fans. But what about as we grow? How are we gonna protect that model? One of the things that actually kind of came out of that was a group – an internal group that we actually called Brand Mafia.
It is a board of employees that are elected – they are elected by our executive and management team. They submit applications, sometimes videos – very creative ways that they submit an application – and we have about three or four kind of major sort of like strategic initiatives, loosely, that they stay focused on. And one of ‘em – one of the big pieces is that they’re really kind of – they’re the pulse of – they can kind of keep their finger on the pulse of the – of our employees.
So they can kind of sense that things are going awry. And this is a group that, for us, has really helped protect our culture. It is – they’ve helped make sure that employees are empowered, and we are constantly – there is a voice for our employees – you know, created our – they just created our Speakeasy, which was our intranet. But this team led that project. It wasn’t an executive-led initiative. And that was an __________ __________
Mary Kathryn Dean: I’m sorry?
Mike Wittenstein: So Mary Kathryn, the employees it sounds like are working on the business, just not in it. So they’re elected/appointed – whatever – to their positions. There’s an agreement around the outcomes, but those outcomes aren’t necessarily bottom-line oriented. They’re culture bottom-line oriented.
Mary Kathryn Dean: Right – absolutely.
Mike Wittenstein: Cool – very cool. Michael, talk a little bit to help Steve feel better about this idea of if the races go away, so does the business. When brands mature, sometimes they just kind of stay in their own little niche and get bigger. But sometimes they can become bigger and more important to more people. So what starts as a seed becomes a seedling becomes a tree becomes a might oak. Can you talk strategically about some things that Steve and his partner might be thinking about so that they are on the optimistic side of everything? I think they are already, but just encourage that a little bit.
Michael Valverde: Sure. Boy, my mind is running, pardon the pun. But this is how it works. It’s exciting to stir it up. But a few things that stand out to me is when you think about – when you look out to your customer base, you know, you said – you like the idea of anyone who basically is ambulatory – you know, could use your shoes, and we know that’s the case. However, there’s going to be some connection between them, and I think one thing is at their emotional core they care about themselves. They care about something deeper than probably the average person.
You’re not gonna get someone who’s just gonna pop into the store and buy a pair of _______ for – you know, shoes for their _________ at any given time. It’s not the quick – that’s not the people you’re after – the bargain shopper – that kind of thing, you know, “I need a pair of shoes; let me go grab ‘em.” You’re after people who care about their feet and they care about experience, because you’re selling experience. So one thing you might look at is what other affinity groups fit that marketplace?
You know, for instance, just take a deep dive on the Yoga Group, which is a huge, huge group here in Atlanta. How could you reach yoga – the whole yoga community which is out there? That whole – and there’s so many sects of that, you know. You could go across different groups. But could you add into the experience some form of emotional connection based on the reflexology structure and those kinds of things. How could you do that? How could you create experiences around that where people buy emotion?
So they’ve got – shoes are categorized by emotion. “These shoes will make you happy. These shoes will make you feel more energetic. These shoes are perfect for this kind of thing and that kind of thing,” to create emotional things, because I think the most important thing you’re looking at here is that the thing that is gonna tie the people together – and again, you know, from 50,000-foot view, is, “I care about me.” This is the kind of people that will spend the 5, 10, 15 minutes – whatever it is – that’s required to go through the process. You’re looking for those people, so how do you get to those people?
And I think what’s really interesting with the group of people that you have, even at your disposal here, some of the things that Matt was talking about, being able to categorize folks so that they can self-select when they come into your store. You can start to create those kind of categories. And the social aspect of it could be huge. If you get that marketplace talking, they’re very, very active in the social media space. They’re typically that specific audience that I think you’re after. So I think that those are the kind of things that I’d be looking at.
And from an atmospheric standpoint, what other ways could you create – you know, you talk about the Peachtree Road Race scenario – Peachtree Road Race is an atmosphere. That’s the reason that most people run it. They _______ _______ experience the atmosphere that’s being created around it ______ _______. Can we keep that alive even when there’s not a race? And there’s ways to do that, I think, with some different kinds of contests and ____________ things that are outside-the-box thinking.
And you’re already thinking about events and whatnot, but tying those things back to your overall brand, I think you could come up with some really, really great ways to extend your brand and never lose that authenticity across that.
Mike Wittenstein: Cool. Hey, Matt, the third thing that Steve brought up was this idea of making sure he could get into the mindset of the customer. And I think that means research, as your tools point out. But I think it also means understanding how the customers see the experience – not just the store, but the experience of shopping and wearing and participating in the community through Big Peach. Can you talk a little bit about what you can do and what Steve needs to be thinking about, too?
Matt Selbie: Sure. So I think – the more I’m listening to this, I think it’s a very, very different way of buying shoes and thinking about running, and I think that’s fantastic. What is going through my head right now is just the level of complexity, because you’ve spoken about complexity in the service provision of how to buy shoes, and now we’re also talking about extending that service complexity to maybe different service models for different audiences. And so you’re sort of ramping up the level of complexity fairly seriously.
So one of the things that I would definitely encourage you to think about with these different segments of the population would be to ask really two questions about many of the things you’re providing. I would ask, “How well are we doing on X?” X might be pricing. It might be knowledge transfer. It might be in-store experience – you know, whatever it happens to be. Then what I would also ask is, “How important is this to you?” So you’re really asking two questions about the same attributes. So let me give you an example.
One of the things on your website is this great thing of going through a fit and all that sort of stuff, and as you extend our your audience to people who are – I think we started the conversation with more of a mass market, I think it’s going to be really important for you to understand how important they see some of your service components relative to your current audience. I may not be that interested in going through a fit, but I’m going to be really interested in the five-minute conversation or the range.
So I would – as you extend the audience, I would definitely temperature check these new segments and ask them not only how we did on a particular element of service, but how important is that element of service to them when they’re considering places to buy shoes. And that’s relatively easy to do, but you’ve got to do it in-store, and you’ve gotta kind of work your way through the results. But you’re gonna find very different segmented populations have very different attitudes and scores to the various components of the service that you currently have.
And then what I would also do is use the same type of feedback to really leverage the testimonial side. If you can generate enough people saying great things about your business, and they can do it in a very regular way so almost everyone who comes in has something good, you can almost set up a continual pipeline of feedback to feed into some of the channels that some of the other speakers have spoken about, or to the mainstream social media. So I think it has – you kind of get two for the price of one.
Mike Wittenstein: Excellent! It sounds like, Steve, from the last comment from Matt that as you develop your experience, you’re gonna need to add one element to it regardless of which way you go, and those are some electronic stethoscopes, if you will – some sensors that are constantly picking up new and interesting kinds of information so that you can use it to perfect the experience that you’ve got going on at the time as well as to plot and plan for the future. I’d like to close out with a couple of ideas for you, and this is really just reflecting the ideas that I’ve heard from everyone else.
Steve, one of the things that is becoming really apparent to me after hearing all these wonderful opinions from Mary Kathryn, from Michael, from Matt and from you is that the more people can come into the store, the better. But as Mary Kathryn said and Michael said, too, it’s really difficult to fit a store visit into your day if you’re not sure what you’re gonna get. We’re just all so busy. Every time that you’re at a race, I’d like to see you increase the number of products and handouts, paper, emails, etcetera, that have QR codes on them – those two-dimensional barcodes.
Try to increase that every single event going through the rest of this year, and make sure that you’re using video content from the events themselves and customer testimonials, visits inside the store as the content on the backend. Always have people register and the like, but turn everything you’ve got into an online campaign. Secondly, I think that video is your primary storytelling medium. From what the readers – the listeners have been able to hear today, you can probably imagine that it would be so much more valuable if they were in the store, or if this were a real-live face-to-face conversation.
So change that up. Take some iPads with you to the meet with some great content on them and stick them on poles in the ground – there are devices that do that – and let people get an experience of what it’s like in the store. Let them hear about the great shoe giveaway that you’re doing or the shoe exchange that you’re using to keep underprivileged kids running and healthy – those kinds of things – so you can get that story seeded now, even though you’re not as big as you’d like to be. Steve, any last comments from you? And then we’ll do some wrap-ups.
Steve DeMoss: Well, I wanna thank everybody. The diversity of knowledge here is absolutely fantastic. I’m sure we could go on for hours talking about ideas. I do certainly appreciate some of the initial thoughts and insights, and I think you guys are remarkably adept at learning a business very quickly and being able to make some constructive comments to it. Mike, I certainly agree that telling our story with video – there’s a phrase, “Say it, or show it.”
We’re better at showing it than we are at saying it, probably, as I think was evidenced by one of your comments early in this call about the in-store experience is far better than the way it’s coming across right here as we’re talking about it. So I think that is certainly something that we’ll wanna focus more on in the future.
Mike Wittenstein: Alright – well, Steve, that’s wonderful. Steve DeMoss, one of the partners at Big Peach Running Company. Also thanks to Mary Kathryn Dean, Director of Customer Experience at Alternative Apparel, Michael Valverde at ARC and Matt Selbie of Oberon 3. All of the contact information for the participants will be online along with a complete transcript of today’s conversation. I wanna thank everyone again, especially our Focus Experts and the people listening today and those who will be listening to the stored files later for a really lively and engaging conversation. Alright – have a great experience for the rest of the day, guys.