Retail Podcast 704: Steve Cook Over-Communicating To Keep Customer Trust
Bob Phibbs interviewed Steve Cook, co-owner of Cook Feed & Outdoor and host of Better Business Podcast, on accountability in family-owned retail and the value of communicating with your customer - and more - on this episode of Tell Me Something Good About Retail.
Tell me something good about retail
Steve Cook Over-Communicating to Keep Customer Trust
Bob: Today, I get the opportunity to talk with Steve Cook, business owner and fellow podcast host of the “Better Business Podcast.” Welcome, Steve.
Steve: Thank you so much, Bob.
Bob: Great to have you here. So, a recent post I put on my Facebook page asked simply when did you start in retail? And that post has over 4,000 comments. People start early. So, how about you?
Steve: Man, I started in, I believe it was fourth or fifth grade. My parents owned a chain of Quiznos franchises, the sandwich place.
Bob: Quiznos subs.
Steve: Quiznos subs with the little rat commercial, and those were the infamous questions that customers asked about the rat commercials and stuff. So, yes. So, I started washing dishes. I had a little jean shirt that I used to wear with the Quiznos on it, and they would stick me in the back as a fourth or fifth grader and make me work on the weekends. I think they were basically just babysitting, but that kind of gave us something to do, me and my siblings.
Bob: Did they pay you?
Steve: They did a little bit every now and then. I don’t remember too much at that age, but, I mean, when I got into 12, 13, 14, that type of age, I actually began to get an actual check and my dad set me up an IRA, things like that. And then I became a shift leader when I was in high school for the night crew.
Bob: That brand, early on, was hitting on all fours. I loved their stuff. Don’t look at the calorie content, but they were amazing. So, you go from that to equine. How does that come about?
Steve: So, both grandpas on both sides were in the feed business. My grandpa on my dad’s side was a racehorse breeder. So, he bred and sold racehorse babies and things like that. And then my mom’s side, he worked for the Purina brand for many years. He retired from there, actually, running their mills and things like that. So, that grandpa on my mom’s side, helped a friend start a feed company that had some feed stores along with it, and when that friend ended up getting an illness and wanted to sell his portion of the business, and so he sold out to my parents who had kind of sold all their Quiznos and were in kind of a lull at the time. I wouldn’t say retired, but I guess, technically, they kind of were retired. They weren’t doing anything at the time and so they bought one location in Oklahoma City.
Bob: See, that’s what I love about entrepreneurs. It’s kind of like, “Okay, we conquered that, now what?” I just watched a little movie with Toni Collette called, Perfect Horse. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it’s about this woman in the Welsh area of England and she decides to get a group of 12 investors together and breed a racehorse and make her own little syndicate. And she says, “Why not?” And she had been a champion pigeon racer and all these things. And I think that’s what it kind of is it’s the thrill of competition, right, and of getting it right?
Steve: Yes. Yes. I think that’s what a lot of entrepreneurs... Typically, they’re very challenged-focused, you know, they like to overcome a certain challenge or a hurdle. I think that’s why you see a lot of entrepreneurs that take a company from very tiny to maybe publicly traded or something like that. They usually leave the company and then try to do it again and again. I think a lot of entrepreneurs like the challenge more than they do the actual success sometimes.
Bob: Well, success is nice.
Steve: I mean, success is great too.
Bob: I just want to make sure, you know. Since 2009, you helped build your family’s performance equine business to over $10 million in sales. So, what’s the secret to opening up new locations?
Steve: Opening up new locations. Man, I would say getting one location down first would be the secret, you know. I think having a plan to actually have your one location be profitable and profitable enough that you can actually pay someone to manage it. A lot of times I think people try to think that they can run both companies half-and-half or both locations half-and-half. I’ve got a good friend that has tried to do that where he tried to run both half-and-half and then they both drop in sales and he’s like, “I can’t figure it out how I can be at both,” you know. I think that the catch is to build one location up enough where you can actually hire someone to manage that, and then save up enough money where you can actually have someone manage the other location as well. And then, obviously, you’re not going to check out at that point. You still have to be very involved. But I think that that would be where a lot of entrepreneurs fail is they think they can run both locations halfheartedly.
Bob: Well, and it’s really hard if you are an “I need to be in on every decision,” because you have tied yourself to that first one so tightly that they’re afraid you’re going to bite their head off or something goes wrong and then you’re off at the other store and then you’re getting calls and you’re just exhausted. It reminds me of when I was learning how to water ski and, you know, at some point when you’re under the water, you realize, “Oh, I could let go of the rope.” It’s that same idea like, “Oh, I could fix this if I just didn’t have to be so afraid.” And I said, “Well, what would you do if you couldn’t have reached me? What would your two choices have been?” And they say, “Oh, I would have done this or this.” Like, “Which did you choose?” “I chose B.” “Excellent. Next time, I might do it differently.” But we don’t teach that, right? That’s I think the challenge that we don’t teach that leadership. So, how did you get taught that? I mean, you know, what bad story do you have to tell me about a time that you didn’t maybe delegate as well as you might have?
Steve: Well, I think you learn to delegate when you basically find out if you want to go past a certain point in your entrepreneurial journey that you can’t do it alone. And I think my biggest lesson in delegation would be that when you try to do something with somebody else as far as maybe have somebody manage a location or have somebody be in charge of a certain area of your operation, the biggest thing that I found is it’s okay to be embarrassed. It’s okay to have something drop and break. It’s okay to have something messed up because it can always be repaired.
You know, I’ve had some of our biggest customers, somebody put something in the wrong place or somebody, you know, said something that wasn’t that great to one of our biggest customers. And I had to call and apologize, but, you know, at the end of the day, I was like, “Hey, at least, you know, look at all the things that went well when I wasn’t being directly involved.” Where, yes, things do drop and break, but you can apologize or you can give the money back or you can, you know, fix it later. I think a lot of entrepreneurs are so scared of that embarrassment. And I’ve had that before where I’ve had an uncle or an aunt or a friend go to one of our locations and they didn’t receive the best customer service or we were out of something or, you know, something like that. I think that’s embarrassing for entrepreneurs.
And my name is literally on the building, you know, that type of...that attitude that, man, that’s so embarrassing because they’ll text you, you know, “Hey, I went by your location. The guy didn’t really seem like he knew what he was doing,” or whatever. It’s embarrassing. But I think if you’re okay with a bit of embarrassment that... It’s okay to mess things up because the greater purpose is, hey, I can build a larger business if I’m okay with a little bit of that.
Bob: I think that’s great. I think that is such an unsung story of you’re the entrepreneur and everyone is a mystery shopper. You know, “I went by, three lights were out. I can’t believe you would let three lights be out on a busy night. Thanks.” Or, you know, “I want you to know I was in your store, and the drink wasn’t made the way I wanted it. Oh, yes. Some new girl. She doesn’t know it.” That’s why they’re new. I get that, you know, but there seems to be this pleasure. I’m just trying to help and you’re like, “Are you, though?” You know, in your head because you know your big customers know what it goes through, especially now, right? Where training and motivation and there’s an awful lot of things on the table that we aren’t...you know. You should just be glad we’re open, kids. So, there’s a certain amount of that. What’s the biggest mistake you learned early on from working with the public? Well, that might have been in Quiznos or... That one mistake like, “That’s a big one.” That becomes one that’s really high up in your playbook. It’s not a, oh, three lights are out. This is a major deal for us. What would an example of that be?
Steve: I think it’s when you lose trust in someone. I think that I have made the wrong choice with people before that I was too scared to have communication with a customer. A specific example. We changed the way that we did a delivery thing. And so, what we ended up doing was we had this, like, certain discount that we gave, like a certain size customer, and then we kind of did away with that discount, but then we started charging for delivery, things like that. So, we just kind of like pivoted, and it was a long process. It took months or something like that. And I’ve tried to be better at this since that time. But I used to be so terrible at communication. I would be anxious about communicating bad news, especially with customers and things. And I had this one customer that infamously complained all the time no matter what type of deal, but was a great customer as far as the amount that they spent with us. And so I didn’t call and communicate that we were changing the way that we did things, well, the way that we actually...
Bob: I’m sure that made everything better. I’m sure that helped.
Steve: I thought that it would just kind of maybe just get slid by, and it did for months and months, but the way that we actually billed them was we just kind of ran their credit card through and things like that. So, they called and...
Bob: They didn’t see it until someone looked at it.
Steve: Several months later and called, and not only ripped my head off but continued to, you know, say that they didn’t trust me, things like that. Well, it came many, many more times in the future. It actually hurt our reputation because we rolled out another program or something similar to that, and I said, “Hey, we’re going to do this new program.” “Well, how do I know you’re going to actually do that?” Is what they said. And I remember thinking like, “Well, you can just trust me, you know. Like, I’m telling you that’s what we’re doing.” And I remember thinking like, “Wow, like, in their eyes I’m probably like a little bit deceiving and a liar.” And, you know, it was kind of a self-reflection moment that if you ever lose someone’s trust, it’s hard to earn it back.
And I would say that that’s the biggest thing that I think is not okay with customers is when you say you’re going to do something to actually do it, whether that’s have a delivery there, you know. And we make certain promises. We’re feeding caged animals, so if we don’t show up with a certain delivery or whatever, but I think when people have a deep trust with you, like, “Actually, I know Steve, he’s the owner. He’ll make sure it’s done,” or whatever. I think when you have that trust with somebody, not that you won’t make a mistake, but that when you say something, you can take that check to the bank.
Bob: I love that accountability, and that’s your North Star because if we lose trust, I remember the Social Network, the movie about Facebook when it started and his co-founder, you know, was going to stop payment on the check and he’s like, “Don’t you understand? If we go down, we lose trust. We can never go down.” And I thought that was really... It was like, “Oh, I hadn’t thought about that,” but yes, social media going down would have been a big deal in the early days. And nowadays you’d probably be like, “Great. It was down for an hour. I didn’t have my phone. Wonderful.” So, looking at many family businesses, you’d think it’s all marshmallows and unicorns and rainbows. So, what are some of the best ways for a family business to be run that you’ve seen?
Steve: Man, my dad has taught me this, you know. I haven’t had the opportunity to work with... I’ve got two kids but they’re not old enough to be actually working more than just picking up trash and washing windows. I got a 6-year-old that acts like she works a little bit. But my dad has taught me quite a bit about working well with family. We have been blessed to have an incredible working relationship. I think that the biggest thing that I see that me and my dad have that other failed family ventures and things like that, would be communication. My dad has definitely been incredibly over-communicative, I don’t know how to exactly say that, with everything involved in the business.
So, here’s the future that I see for you. Back in the day when I was just a paid manager, it was, “Here’s the salary that you’re getting,” and everything was written down in a contract form. And he was always upfront with it. “This is not a contract that I’m going to sue you if you break it or you’re going to sue me if we break it. This is a contract so that way we both remember what we said and we both remember what we agreed to.” And I think a lot of families don’t take that relationship as seriously because they’re like, “Well, we’re family. I can trust you.” But people forget. People have a change in mind. People have a change in their emotional state, they change what they need. You know, what I needed as a 21-year-old kid changed. Now I’m 31. That relationship changed. I have a wife now. You know, I can’t do the things that I used to do when I was 21. And so not only that communication but also, I mean, very written communication. I think a lot of families can really benefit from that.
Bob: I think any business can do that. The whole idea, you know, co-owners. You hear people like, “Oh, my co-owner doesn’t do anything,” it’s like, “What was your agreement?” “Well, we were friends,” is like, “That’s not an agreement” because...you know. And I think the best, particularly with family businesses, I think it’s great when, you know, let’s say the mom says, “All right, well, I’m all personnel. You can’t say anything about the personnel. You can’t just walk through the store and say something about somebody. You’re going to go through me.” And then the other person is like, “All right, well, I’m all the ordering and the accounting. So, like, you can’t say, ‘Why can’t we get this and this? You talk to me and we’ll do it.” But I think when you allow all those things to not be siloed, that it’s really confusing for employees because they don’t know what the hell, “Do I listen to him or to her?” And I think that makes it really tough. So, what do you like about working in retail, I mean, you know, besides the great tips you made at Quiznos?
Steve: Man, retail, I would say is it is the tried-and-true way to make money in my mind. I think that there’s a lot of... I’ve tried my hand at different e-commerce little ventures and media things and, you know, different things like that. And I feel like retail is something that is way more consistent and can actually build, for lack of better terms, a fortune for someone that... Retail is more of a tried-and-true business, I feel, than a lot of these eCommerce ventures and things like that that people try to get into. And really when you look at the statistics of how much of commerce in the United States or really even worldwide is done in retail versus eCommerce, it’s not even... I guess it’s getting closer, but it’s still a far, far majority of business is done in retail and people don’t...it’s like they don’t either know that or talk about it anymore. Or maybe just because it’s not the new girl in school anymore or what, but, you know, I think that retail is how you can actually build a foundation in your business. Now whether you go off and do something different later or something like that, but I think if you ever have aspirations of building a business, it’s fundamental for you to learn the fundamentals of retail.
Bob: I agree with that. That’s where you learned that it’s about somebody else, not you. If you master that, life is easy. If you don’t master that I think you got a tough time.
Now you have your own YouTube channel, Steve’s Horse Show. And one of the more riveting episodes I viewed was “Which Dewormer Should I Use?” So, how did you come up with the idea, and what makes for a compelling video?
Steve: Well, how did I come up with the idea? I think, you know, I listen to customers in the store. That’s a very common question. I just think of what are the top 10 most common questions we get? Frequently asked questions. But yes, that’s how I come up with the content of anything is any videos that we make is what most commonly we get asked either on video platforms or in the stores.
Steve: And I would be lying if I didn’t say that I knew that some of the social algorithms would preference a dewormer video right now, and so that’s why I kind of rebooted that one. But listen, that’s a secondary motivation, but yes, compelling video. I get so tired of small business owners that start a video, and it’s what we were just talking about just before this that it’s about them. So, we have this dewormer. We have this product. We have a lot of this, so it’s on sale, or we just brought this product in, or we just brought...you know, whatever it might be. I think that when I make a video, especially our TikTok, I think we had... It was just under 1 million views on our TikTok in the last 60 days.
Bob: That was not on dewormer. What was that on?
Steve: There was some on dewormer, but it was spread over all the videos that we’ve done in the last 60 days. So, what I have in mind when I make a video is, A, if someone has never seen me or my business or anything, what would they want to see? And not assume that, you know, either, A, they know me. It’s not a bunch of inside jokes. It’s not a bunch of, you know, things like that. And it’s also what would they want to see? What would help someone? So often people make videos with their... They think of their end goal and then they start making the video to go towards that. So, I want to sell this crap, so what would my video...? What is going to make a good video to reach that purpose? And people don’t want to watch that.
And the craziest part about it is when you make videos that people would want to see, questions that people would have, it sells stuff so much more of the time than when you try to sell your stuff. It’s so crazy. The more I try not to sell things, the more I sell things. It’s so insane. We recently changed our email campaign stuff a little bit from, basically, the guy that sends out the email stuff. He said, “Hey, you know, I think it’s good to mix in products and mix in a little bit of our services on email,” blah, blah, blah. So, we started doing that and our email open rates got down to where they were like 11% or 12% sometimes on average. And I was like, “Man, I just don’t feel like...you know. Why is that?” And he’s like, “Well, that’s, you know, industry,” blah, blah, blah. I said, “What if we just didn’t sell anything? Like, to a horse owner, what would they want to see? They’d want to see YouTube videos. They’d want to see, you know, instructional things, whatever. Let’s only put that stuff in. If they click the links,” blah, blah, blah. Our link clicks went up. Our open rates went to like 35% on average, you know. Everything goes up and people are clicking on our website and shopping our products more, and I’m not selling a single thing in an email. And so I...
Bob: But you’re adding value. That’s the difference, right? Like you said, the customer comes first.
Steve: That’s the biggest part of making any video is how can I add value to this person’s life in this particular question or this, you know, thing? And so, then you just have to figure out what people are actually asking. I think a lot of people, you know, if you’re a plumber, you might have a lot more complex questions in your mind. You have to actually know what people are asking. In the horse community, you can get so into the weeds of, well, this horse has EPM, and a lot of times when they have EPM their starch and sugar levels are off and they’re...you know. You can get so into the weeds that people are like, “Wow, I don’t know anything about any of this, you know.”
Bob: I feel stupid. Thank you.
Steve: And it gets old after you make 17 videos over how to get my horse to gain weight or how to get my horse to lose weight, but that’s what people are asking and that’s what keeps people coming back over and over.
Bob: How do you differentiate making a TikTok video from YouTube? Obviously, it’s, you know, it’s not side-by-side, but it’s also shorter. I mean, you know, and are you dancing with your shirt off and suddenly there’s a horse under your arm and, you know, sparkles or...? I admit I’m flummoxed by TikTok. I just haven’t mastered it yet, and I think I’m just too old and my clients are not typically on TikTok, but your clients totally are on TikTok. So, I totally get it.
Steve: I would say it’s just like in real life. When you go to a certain area or a certain party or a certain environment, you act a certain way where you would act differently in another area. So, TikTok is going to be a very...it’s almost like a speed dating environment where you have a lot of fast interactions with people, and it’s not very deep. It’s not very, you know, detailed and things like that because how detailed can you get? And some people have access to the 10-minute video thing, but how deep can you get in a 3-minute or less video is it’s pretty challenging. And you also have to remember if you went to a speed dating environment and you said, “All right, so let’s pump the brakes here and talk about starch and sugar levels with horse feed and horse nutrition,” people are going to be like, “Whoa, whoa, man. You know, I’m kind of interested in that, but I’m not, you know.” Where YouTube, they’re searching for a particular question, they can see the length of the video is 10 minutes. They have a different mindset.
So, I would say that’s what a lot of people forget when they go into these different social media platforms is they forget how you would act in a different setting in real life. Just like you wouldn’t be very serious in that is the same way you wouldn’t go into YouTube and do some sort of trending dance or sound or anything like that. You wouldn’t do that in YouTube. Just like you wouldn’t do that at a party, you wouldn’t act like a very serious therapist session that’s supposed to last an hour long. You wouldn’t go in there and be like, “All right. So, we got a few minutes here. So, just a little bit about me, you know. I’m from this town and I have a good relationship with my wife right now, but...” blah, blah, blah. You wouldn’t act that way, but you would in speed dating. So, I just think that people forget. Like on Facebook, you make a lot of family references and experiences and things like that. That’s how people act in that world because they just saw a picture of their grandkid. They just saw a picture of their cousin’s kids. They just got a birthday party invite, and then you bring up a post about where have you worked in retail? Or tell me about the first time you worked in retail. Oh, that’s sentimental. That’s an experience I had, you know. Oh, I’d love to talk about that. But you wouldn’t do that in TikTok. You would have a lot faster, you know, deal about, you know, here’s one tip on working in a retail store. Here’s one tip on how to get a retail job. Here’s one tip...you know. It would be a lot faster and it’d be to a little bit different audience as well.
Bob: So, before we go past that, what’s your TikTok handle?
Steve: TikTok handle is the one for the business is @cookfeed. So, that’s the feed store. And then I’ve got a bunch of podcast clips and stuff on @therealstevencook.
Bob: Of course, you do. So, well, we are coming to the close here, but I just have to ask, tell me about selling Rubik’s cubes in the mail and fly. First off, what the hell is a Rubik cube for some of our listeners? And yes, go. we’re on TikTok, not we’re on YouTube.
Steve: All right. TikTok explanation. Rubik’s cube is a small little square that you try to line up all the colors. Most people I think probably understand what that is if you’ve ever seen the little crazy kids that can solve them in like 20 seconds. So, that’s what a Rubik’s cube is. I read a book called, The Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes. And I was in my young 20s and got so fired up about direct selling. And a lot of our customers don’t come into the actual retail store. Some of the larger commercial farms, they have anywhere from 100 to 500 horses. One of our customers has almost 600 horses. It’s one of the largest farms in the United States. And they don’t walk into a retail store and buy a few bags. They order semi-loads of everything. And so you don’t wait on that customer to come into your store. You go get them, or you should go get them or try to go get them.
So, I read this book and he talked about how to get attention from people, which is kind of what we were just talking about on social media. Another way to get attention is to be different. It’s to be different from someone. So, a lot of people send direct mail pieces. With a lot of these farms, you can see where they’re at and you can see their address, but you don’t know how to call them. You don’t know how to reach them on social media. If you show up, they’ll say they’re not there or whatever. So, you’re trying to just get their attention somehow, and a lot of times you can get their address.
So, I read this book and it talked about how to do a different direct mail piece. And one of those was you put something in a direct mail piece that is weird enough that they would have to stop and say, “What the heck is this?” And so you send something to them and then you follow up. So, what I would do is I would get on Oriental Trading Company and order 20 of something. And I had a list of some of the biggest farms in Oklahoma. And I found out that some of the biggest farms in Oklahoma don’t have anyone calling on them because everyone is like, “Oh, they’re one of the biggest farms. I’m sure they’re serviced by somebody.” And so I was like, “Forget it. I’m just going to try to call on everybody and we’ll see what happens.”
And I found out that no one was calling on them so they weren’t annoyed by it at all. It was kind of crazy. But what I’d do is I’d send a direct mail piece and then I follow up about a week later and say, “Hey, this is Steve. I was just making sure you got the letter that I sent to you.” “What letter?” “Well, I sent you a letter. It’s talking about how to save money or if you’re puzzled about how to save money on feed, you know, I was the guy for you,” blah, blah, blah. And they’re, “No, I didn’t get it.” “It had a Rubik’s cube in it.” “Oh, what the heck was that?” And it was like a weird icebreaker, and they actually remember getting it. Every one of them remembered getting it.
And so anyway, it got me probably the top three biggest customers we have right now. That campaign actually got me all of those customers. Two of them, I sent, and sent, and sent, and finally, they said, “Yes, come on down here.” “You know, I just want to come by and get to know you a little bit better,” you know, blah, blah, blah. I sent a train whistle and said, “Choo choo, are you ready for saving money on hay and feed or something like that?” I sent a...I’m trying to remember. I sent one of those little rattler things. I sent a whoopee cushion in one of them and said, “Are you farting out on your business?” I mean, it was all kinds of different things like that. So, I sent it to several and got a bunch of new customers on it. But I sent one and the guy would literally hang up on me like I was a telemarketer. And so anyways, he hangs up on me, hangs up on me.
Finally, I got a hold of his assistant one day in the office and said, “Hey, I’m looking to talk to...” He’s a really good customer now so I hate to blast him. I’m sure he won’t listen to this. I said, “Can I talk to Danny?” And they said, “Yes, let me see if he’s here.” So, they forgot to put me on hold. And they were actually just like kind of holding the phone here and they forgot to put me on hold. “Who is it?” And she said, “I don’t know. He sounds like he knows you,” because I would call and ask for them and say, “Hey, this is Steve. Can I talk to Danny?” I would try to keep control so they wouldn’t say, you know, “Who are you with?” Or whatever.
And they said, you know, “Okay, can you talk to Danny?” I said, “Yes.” And they said, “Who are you with?” I said, “This is Steve. I just need to talk to him.” “Oh, okay.” And so they said, “It sounds like he knows you.” And he’s like, “Okay.” And so anyways, he gets on the phone and, “Well, yes, I got your deal. You sent me a bunch of those things, buddy. I’ve been buying from the same guy for 30 years, blah, blah, blah, sent me all this,” you know. Gave me a whole line of, “I’ll never buy from you, basically.” And so anyways, I was like, “Man.” And I’ll be honest. I kind of quit after that. I didn’t send very much. I think I might have sent one six months later or something.
And long story short, he called me probably two years later after that and said, “Hey, listen,” it was actually a really sad story but, “I just got a bad load of feed.” They had like a mold in it and it killed a big chunk of his horses, and said, “I just got a load of feed and it killed a bunch of my horses. And you’ve been bugging me for years. Why don’t you come out here and see what we can do?” And now they’re one of my top three customers. And they’ve been buying from me ever since. But I think that that’s probably just being different. A lot of people, A, are scared to call on big customers or potentially big customers and, B, just being different, no matter what it is, whether you’re, you know, dancing in a skirt or wearing a wig or, you know, whatever gets attention. I think that’s probably the takeaway.
Bob: Well, I think that story brings us all the way back to trust, and that other vendor lost trust and there was no going back from that. That’s like this most sacred thing. I do have to get my own little story in. I used to be a conductor of a chorus out in Los Angeles. And, you know, people always try to get reviews. To me was like reviews are garbage because that’s after. I need to get people in the seat. So, I want to get a profile of this new work we’re doing. So, I’m sitting there kind of like the Grinch, you know, who stole Christmas. So, I got to find a way to get this press. How am I going to get this? So, I went down. I got this cake made and I put little signs on opening night. It was Friday night and it was here’s where it is, the Carpenter Center and all this.
And I bring it down to the “LA Times” to the features director. And I go, “I have this cake here for Suzanne,” and they’re like, “Oh, what’s your last name?” And I go, “Phibbs,” and he says, ‘Well, I don’t have you on the list.” I go, “Well, I just need to take it up to her.” I’m like, “No, I’ll take it up to her.” He was like, “Oh, okay.” So, I leave it. It’s a Friday afternoon. And I call her on Monday morning and I got through. And so Suzanne picked up and I go, “Hi, it’s Bob Phibbs,” and she goes, “You know, gifts are forbidden at the “Los Angeles Times.” And I go, “Oh.” She goes, “But the cake was delicious. You’ll get your press release.”
Steve: Being different.
Bob: And I’m always shocked when I tell people to send a frigging bottle of champagne and two glasses to your store opening to the five most influential people that you know. Send it to the bank, send it to him. He was like, “Well, then how will I know if that works?” Like, “You just got to trust me,” because we’re all bombarded with a bunch of crap and someone says... I remember when I was the CMO of a coffee franchise and I opened this box and it was a package of Starbucks. And I was, obviously, a competitor. And it just said, “Yours is better. Let us help you tell the story.” And I was like, “Yes.” Because that’s the whole... That’s what we’re talking about here is how do you cut through the masses? And I think it’s the same thing I run into as the Retail Doc, you know, everyone needs my services, but most say, “No, I don’t. We’ve already got someone who does training or whatever.” It’s like, “How are they doing?” Much like you. You’ve got existing customers who, oh, well, they’ve been with them for 30 years. Yes, but you don’t know unless you ask it unless you are constantly thinking marketing. And I think this has been a fun time chatting with you, Steve. Has the way you thought about retail changed in the past few years, do you think?
Steve: Yes. I kind of always wanted to get out of retail when I first started it, I guess, but I don’t know if I’ve grown comfortable to it or... I thought that maybe retail was the starting point and then as soon as I can get out of it, “I’d like to” type of deal. But I see a path for retail for years to come, and I’ve become a lot more comfortable talking about how I not only enjoy retail, but I think that it’s a great way to the future of actually making an income and making a living is that I don’t think that retail can ever die necessarily. I don’t think e-commerce is going to take over the world. Now, of course, you have to adapt and change just like...you know. I think if you think that, you know, transportation will be around forever then, yes, I agree with that. If you thought the horse and buggy would be around forever, that’s not necessarily true. So, that’s kind of how I think about retail. I think that people will always need a localized place to go and transact and do business now, whether that’s through different avenues and through, you know, computer, but then they come to, you know, different ways that that can take place depending on your business, of course. But I think that there’s always going to be a way that people need a place to have commerce locally. And that’s what I’m most excited about, especially in our business with the nature of our products being heavy and things like that. I don’t see where anybody can actually do that well in the long run. And so I’m excited about retail.
Bob: And I would normally have asked you to tell me something good about retail but you already did that. And it’s been a pleasure talking to you, my friend. So, we are going to have links. You can follow all of that. So, what’s the one best place they should follow you?
Steve: I would say if you...
Bob: You have so many channels.
Steve: If you’re a fan of this show, you’d probably be a fan of my show as well. I just had a very special guest called the Retail Doctor on my show, actually, but the “Better Business” podcast would be probably a place where you might find some good helpful advice. Unless you have a horse, then you can buy from Cook Feed & Outdoor.
Bob: There you go. As you can tell, Steve’s got a lot to offer, and I really appreciate our time together, my friend. So, best of luck to you in 2022.
Steve: Thank you so much.
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