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EPISODE 089 : 11/23/2022

Josh Hagquist

Josh Hagquist has been in the retail and hospitality industries for many years. He has worked in many retail establishments from a small bookstore to Starbucks and then transitioned to managing multiple stores for Stone Brewing Company. Now in his current position as Manager of Retail with prAna, he’s learned two main things that he holds onto: To build a space that gives the customer an amazing in-store experience and to build high-performing retail teams that are supported and respected. In this Thanksgiving week episode, Josh tells us about his high-performing retail team at prAna and how he creates an amazing in-store retail experience. 

Host: Ned Hayes and Kira Cleveland
Guest: Josh Hagquist

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Topics discussed in this episode

  • Detailed small business insights from Olympia, Washington
  • Small business resiliency and adaptation during COVID
  • Doubling community outreach during the pandemic
  • Opportunities for small business loyalty programs

Watch Spark Loyalty’s Small Business Success Channel

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Audio Transcript

Ned Hayes [00:00:00] Welcome to Spark Plug, where we talk to smart people working at the intersection of business and technology brought to you by Snowshoe. Your smarter loyalty leader spark plug is happy to welcome. Josh Hagquist to the podcast today. He’s the manager of retail at Pronto Living, Sustainable and Stylish Fashion Company. For those with active lifestyles, with multiple locations and some really interesting products, Josh is a great person to talk to us about retail and customer service. He really understands deeply how to retain customers and how to build customer loyalty over time. So welcome, Josh.

Josh Hagquist [00:00:37] Thanks for having me on. Excited to be here. 

Kira Cleveland [00:00:41] Yeah, we’re thrilled to have you. So to kick us back a little bit, tell us about your career history. It looks like you started in the food and beverage industry and now you’re in clothing and retail. What took you there? 

Josh Hagquist [00:00:51] Yeah. So my first job was at a bookstore slash music store when I was 16. And, you know, I was brought up in a household that said, if you want something, work for it, get a job. I wanted guitar gear. So my mom said, get a job, part time job. So I worked at this little bookstore after school. I started as a stock person just, you know, taking books out of boxes and restocking shelves. But something clicked very early on at that first job, and it was making that connection with the customer. And I love music, so I was finding that people were coming in and asking me what I thought about music or about these books. And so I was able to share my personal experience with them, and I noticed that they were more interested, more receptive, and bought more when I was giving my personal thoughts on something. So it clicked very early on that I enjoyed that interaction. I enjoyed that. You know, I jokingly call your 32nd friend that you have in retail that you have to make that connection quickly. You have to and be sincere with it, right? Like you want to you want to be sincere. You don’t want to be disingenuous with how you’re pitching something. But, you know, I found that connection early on and I really liked it. It resonated with me because it wasn’t commission based, my livelihood wasn’t based on I’ve got to sell ten R.E.M. CDs today or I’m going to lose my job. So that started me off back in. I think I’m going to date myself right now, but that was 1993. And so throughout college I worked in hospitality, you know, I worked in bars and restaurants, I did some retail in college. And then after I toured, I started at Starbucks and I was a manager with Starbucks for quite a few years. And then I went over to Stone Brewing. But even as ten brewing was hospitality, I worked in the retail portion of the brewery, so we had stores at our brewery and other locations and tasting rooms that sold t shirts and sold growlers and sold mugs. And so that was definitely more of a retail based world in a hospitality environment. So I was there for about ten years and really got my legs under me when it came to customer service and the customer experience. Same with Starbucks as well. And that’s what brought me to Prana in 2021. 

Ned Hayes [00:03:22] You said something really interesting there that I wasn’t planning on asking you about, but now that you mention it, you said you went on tour. 

Josh Hagquist [00:03:29] Yeah. So I used to be a full time musician back in the day. I got to tour the US and the world and released records with my friends and play shows. I mean, we averaged about 200 shows a year. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into that. But music’s always been a passion for me, so that was my actual job for quite a few years. And then now it’s my fun side hobby that I still get to do well. Having a somewhat normal job. 

Ned Hayes [00:03:59] Right in the band was the beautiful mistake. 

Josh Hagquist [00:04:01] Yeah, that’s who I toured with. And we’re still around. We still put out records and play shows and. 

Ned Hayes [00:04:07] Fantastic. Well, I’ll just ask you, do you find that your musical history or knowledge of how to use rhythm or melody has any pertinence to retail? 

Josh Hagquist [00:04:16] I’m not sure if it does directly. I think it maybe does when it comes to music in the stores and how we create that environment for our customer. And then also I’m generally introverted in normal life. I’m an introverted person. I’m usually pretty quiet. I’m not the person. We all know those people at parties that they go over and pick up the guitar and start strumming and everyone kind of loves that. Never. I would never do that in a million years. So I would be the one in the back having an inner monologue of judging that person negatively. But now I think that extroverted part of me loves that connection, and music was always a connection point, a touch point for me with other people. And so, you know, retail kind of does the same. Customer service does the same thing for me. And so I use a lot of the skills that I learned when I was doing music. Now, when it comes to connecting with people. 

Kira Cleveland [00:05:10] I love that there’s definitely a lot of people connection theme running throughout that and kind of along those lines. You know, how how is customer service one of the most important aspects of your job at places like Starbucks and Stone Brewing? You know what really made that valuable? 

Josh Hagquist [00:05:26] So I had really good mentors at Starbucks and at Stone that were customer focused. And when they talked about building out the business, they talked about it in kind of a twofold manner. It was have great teams that are knowledgeable and know the product and believe in the product as well and love the product that’s going to translate to making that connection with their customer. And that’s going to give the customer a better experience because they’re dealing with people who actually likes the product and actually want to talk about the product. Then there’s enthusiasm there that isn’t manufactured, that’s natural, it’s organic. And so those mentors really instilled that in me, that you’re driving this customer experience, you want return customers, you want to build your business. The best way to do that is to provide them an experience that’s personal, that is warm, that is not overbearing, that meets their needs. You know, and and I think it was a good thing for me to learn early on is that idea of what kind of environment to give the customer. 

Ned Hayes [00:06:30] So giving a customer a positive environment is kind of step one of creating a good retail experience. How do you get that customer to come back over and over? How do you use that positive experience to build customer loyalty over time? 

Josh Hagquist [00:06:44] So I think when you look at wanting return customers, you know, I think initial impression goes a long way. Like our first impression with people, you know, I think they say that, you know, in the first 30 seconds, you kind of know whether or not you’re cool with this person or you like this person and they made a connection with you. And so I think that initial impression being available to the customer, you know, greeting them when they come in, there’s kind of just core basic things, you know, you build from that. So if we’re knowledgeable and we’re not trying to sell a certain product to someone, we’re trying to find what they would love. If that’s our mindset that’s going to resonate with them, they’re going to know that we don’t work on commission. We’re not here to sell this jacket to you because we have to meet a quota. We want to find you the right things. So having that mindset with your team, hey, we want you to leave here with the pants we love. Not the pants that we want you to return in a week because you hate them, because we were so heavy handed with it. So I think that having that lighter touch for me and for the way that I work with my jeans, light touch, warm environment, knowledgeable and available people are going to come back and then the responsibility is on us to remember that customer have those regulars in the beer industry and Starbucks especially like regulars for our lifeblood. So when people would come in at Starbucks at five in the morning, we have the same people coming in Monday through Friday. It was our responsibility to learn their drinks, you know, what they did or, you know, in casual conversation. But you’re building a like a Rolodex in your head of this person is an architect. They work across the street. They just went to Italy for a big you know, you learn all these things and then you’re cataloging them and then you’re utilize them again to build more connection and make it personal. Have that personal touch. 

Ned Hayes [00:08:34] Yeah, well, I know you said it. Starbucks regulars were your lifeblood. Can you tell us who your lifeblood is at product? Who’s your kind of target repeat customer? 

Josh Hagquist [00:08:43] I think we have those regulars at Prana, not only with e-com, but with our brick and mortar stores in Portland and Boulder. I think that we’ve built an emotional connection with them, know it’s that consumer that’s being more mindful about the environment and about what they’re wearing and about where they’re spending their money. So I think we’ve made that connection with them, and then we’re continuing to make connections with new customers by telling that story. It’s all about the story for us. I think that we have a really strong story. We do a lot of great things and not a lot of people know about us. Most people are like Prada, isn’t it Prada? No different brands. Oh, yeah. Our store owned by Columbia. Oh, yeah, we are. We’re our own company, but we’re under the Columbia Sportswear and Bralettes. You know, I always joke that we’re, like, the biggest brand that no one’s ever heard of outside of yoga, outside of hiking. You know, we do lifestyle as well. So it’s tough to get the word out there. But I think that our consumer resonates our regular resonates with the message that we’ve been sending. And it’s all about the education piece to new customers and getting them to take this journey with us. That’s our job to do and our job to do without millions and millions of dollars of budget for marketing. And without 100 stores in 100 different cities, there’s a challenge there for us. But I think that’s how we do it. We just we have that personal connection and go a little bit old school with it, you know, learn people’s names, call people by their name and do the work of remembering what they bought and having suggestions for them. 

Kira Cleveland [00:10:18] I love your description of product kind of being the biggest brand nobody’s ever heard of because they are known to be sustainable fashion company and great for outdoor enthusiasts. So that space, you know what drew you to the brand? Like, how did it really stand out to you and bring you into that culture? 

Josh Hagquist [00:10:34] It kind of goes along with what I said before about really believing in who you’re working for or what you’re selling. I’m a hiker, avid hiker, backpacker. I knew the property prior to working here. I’d worn the pants. I thought the product was great. You know, I’m not an influencer. I’m not paid to wear all the clothes that I wear every day and post pictures in exotic places. So it was more of just, hey, these are good pieces that are functional. And then learning more about the brand. I’m one of those people that either I have a lot of free time or I am very focused on it. But I like history. I like to learn the story. I want to know the story about brands that I really like. And so just digging into the Prana story, I was really, really attracted to just the ideas of sustainability using recycled fabrics, being a good steward of the environment, whereas Patagonia I think, has been the torch bearer and the standard bearer of environmental action. On the political side, I think Prana has been the standard bearer with sustainability and with understanding, circularity and things like that. So it was really cool to learn all these things after being in love with the actual product and those things kind of meshing together for me. So that’s what drew me to the brand. And then when I was looking at other jobs, you know, I had been at Stone a long time and COVID was tough. I got to a point where I felt like, All right, it’s time for a change. And I think we all have encountered that at one point or another. It has, you know, maybe not a lot to do with the people you work with, but just the environment and the stresses that are surrounding you. So when I was looking at places I’d like to work, I said, Well, okay, my goal is to work in the outdoor industry because I’m a hiker and I love it. I’m going apply for two jobs. I found a job at Patagonia that I applied for. I went through the interview process and had a few interviews and then was not chosen for the position. And then I applied to Prana and because those are the two companies that I felt like my interest was most aligned with. 

Ned Hayes [00:12:42] So speaking of your ethos, you know, Prada has a philosophy of respect for people and planet, so that’s why you applied there. I’m curious if you think that branding also plays a part in customer loyalty. 

Josh Hagquist [00:12:54] Absolutely. I think that, like I said before, I think people are being very intentional about where they spend their money more and more. And as people learn more and become more educated or become more aware of environmental issues or sustainability items, I think that’s attractive to people. And I think it’s a great moment in our retail world and in consumer trends in general that people are thinking about where their clothes come from and are thinking about how they were made and and were the products ethically sourced because it goes along with their ethos as well of being mindful of environmental things or sustainability items. I think it’s a cool thing and I think it’s growing because more and more brands are talking about sustainability and they’re talking about recycling and they’re talking about zero waste. I mean, you can look at I could list 100 different brands right now and you look at their website and they’re all talking about, hey, we’re going zero waste or Hey, we’ve eliminated plastic bags or we’ve eliminated some sort of fuel that we are using to power our plants. But the customer is becoming more choosy, I guess, in how they’re spending their money. So for us, the story, the narrative that we have, that’s not just lip service that’s actually happening. There’s supply chain transparency on our website. You can see the factories that our clothes are made and you can see the certifications they have. You know, you can see where clothing is sourced from. Like, I think people love that and they’re like, Oh, you know, I’m proud to wear this. I’m excited to be on this journey with them. 

Kira Cleveland [00:14:35] I love that and storytelling really matters. So that’s very prominent in what I’m hearing there. And so I’d love to hear is what do your customers say they like the most about the product brand, right? What is the story they’re telling back to you about product? 

Josh Hagquist [00:14:49] We hear a lot. I think the majority we hear is really good, which is always a bonus. People love the transparency that we have just with our web. Presents them with our information that we give. They love the quality, especially with our hiking clothes and our climbing clothes. I think that they’re always taken aback by the fact that, hey, we’re using 100% recycled nylon and these pants. So they didn’t go to a landfill. The nylon didn’t go to a landfill. It was repurposed. And there’s that circularity there. But they also are tough and they are good quality and they stand up and they’re functional. So people like that, we are mindful in how we make things, whether it’s amp or organic cotton or recycled fabrics or tencel, which is tree based fiber. You know, I think people are excited about that and excited to learn about that. And people always ask questions, right? They come in and they’re like, This is made from trees. Well, yeah, there’s a portion of this that is made from trees or we reused nylon or recycled polyester and you see light bulbs going off. That’s the coolest part for my teens, I think, and myself as well. As you see, people start to go, Oh, that’s I like that. Tell me more about that or what’s the story with that? So I think people are saying that you can have sustainably made clothing that is good quality, which is huge because if you’re spending $100 on a pair of pants, you want them to last. And that looks great, too. You don’t have to have one or the other, right? You don’t have to have your your parents hiking pants that were that super wide leg of very drab earth tone from the seventies and eighties, you know, that were not reusable. You can have cool stuff that is mindfully made and that ticks all the boxes for you. 

Ned Hayes [00:16:42] Yeah, absolutely. It’s great that you have a story that can be told in a way that’s coherent, that’s comprehensive. And I think that your ability to tell that story comes out of maybe your career history. So I’ll just ask you, what do you think in your career history really helped you to tell that story and to kind of articulate the kind of mission driven set of values? 

Josh Hagquist [00:17:02] I think it started with Starbucks. I was with Starbucks before everything exploded and their growth before they were opening a store on every corner. I think that was the joke back in the day before the recession, before the crash in 2008. And so when I was being trained, I had to learn the story. I had to learn about Charles Schulz and why he founded the company and what the narrative was from beginning to where we were. And so being a history person I love, I used that up. Tell me a good story and I love it. And it was the same with Stone and with stone in particular. You know, at the time they were an independent company, the eighth largest craft brewery in the United States, the eighth largest independent craft brewery in the United States, and started by two guys in a garage and, you know, had become a business that drove hundreds of million dollars in sales. And so I was overseeing the tours department as well. We offered tours at the brewery so you could come in and take a half hour tour and you’ve get all the history and all the fun facts. And so as I was going through my career at Stone, I was learning the story and then I was having to deliver that story as well. So the narrative resonates with people, whether it’s Starbucks and this romantic idea of coffee in Italy and Charles Schulz starting this empire or it’s a Steve and Greg who started down. It’s a great story and I think Prana has that as well with Pan and Beaver starting product in their garage, making recycled clothing for climbing and yoga. So for me, I love the story and I have been very lucky to work for companies in my career that have a great story and not just, Hey, we make this, sell it, it’s hey, these two guys started a brewery in their garage. And now, you know, the facility that we had in Escondido was, you know, two buildings, over 400,000 square feet, an acre of garden space, a world class restaurant tour, you know, I mean, thousands of employees distribution worldwide. It tells a great story. So for me, I love that about Parana as well. And it makes my job so easy and I think it makes my team’s job a lot easier once they embrace that story and know it. Oh, we’re going to tell it to everyone because it’s great. 

Kira Cleveland [00:19:36] Absolutely. Let’s kind of turn the corner and talk about the rise in use of technology in retail. How does retail technology eat in customer engagement when it comes to the fashion industry? 

Josh Hagquist [00:19:47] I think there’s a lot of tools. It’s been really interesting to see that progression from when I really got into retail in 2000 to now and see how user friendly things are and the ease. Is of transactions for customers. And seeing all that happen, it’s great. You know, in our stores, I don’t think we’re the most technologically advanced when it comes to our customer experience. You know, we have QR codes that that people can scan to look at items or learn more about certain items or promotions. We are able to sell things online, so we have a multi channel on omni channel kind of experience in the store. I see those things as being huge for the customer experience. It’s a balance because I want to have those options for people in the store and have things that make their life easier or give them more information. But I really want the old school approach to come in as well, if that makes sense of the people part of it, because I think technology is great, but we become very disconnected if that’s all we’re using. And I know that I’ve been in two places in the airport, for instance, where you don’t even see a human. You order on an iPad, a tray comes out from a conveyor belt that has your food on it, and that’s the extent of it. So I think there are ways that we can do it when it comes to email capture and I don’t know all the PCI compliance issues that come up with this, but you know, customer information retention, where we have a database and it’s secure and we’re procuring items for them, whether it’s private shopping experiences or things like that, where we’re kind of giving them suggestions. I think that’s another area that we could do really well in with technology and having that piece for them. It’s balancing that. I want a personal, procured experience for you, but I also want it to be digitally accessible as well, if that makes sense. 

Ned Hayes [00:21:40] Yeah, it does. The company that sponsors this podcast, Snowshoe, delivers a retail loyalty system for stores. And I’m just curious if you have any particular way of gauging consumer loyalty and reengaging people on a digital level? I know you talked about having a brick and mortar experience that is really unique. I’m curious if you have anything that actually delivers that ongoing engagement on a digital level. 

Josh Hagquist [00:22:06] So from a digital perspective for Pronto, we do a full we have an in-house email program where we’re continually emailing our customers. A lot of those are targeted specifically to what items they’ve purchased online. And so they’re able to procure things for our customers that are e-com customers. We don’t have that ability to do that at the store level right now, but we are doing this kind of things, reaching out in that way. And then we you know, we use social media as well. That’s more indirect, I think. 

Kira Cleveland [00:22:40] Sort of a fun question. Where is it going in the future? What would you say as far as instruction? 

Josh Hagquist [00:22:47] The plan is to open more stores, which is fantastic. We’re growing in all areas and wholesale, in e-comm and in retail. So the goal is to have more stores, more in-person experiences for people. And I think as we’re refreshing, the brand and marketing is coming up with kind of a new plan for the direction that we’re going to go and the customer that we’re going to target. I think it’s going to be really awesome to see that manifest itself in the retail setting. Like I’m part of the DTC group, like the direct to consumer group, retail is one channel and I was talking to my boss the other day and our one on one and and e-comm and the digital side is so much out of my element in a lot of ways with that because I just I’m so retail focused that I’m always in awe as to all the metrics that they’re getting and all of the advances that they have and and just the reach that digital has versus that the retail in-store experience that, that I’m in charge. So I really see my vision for what we’re doing in retail is I want as we grow, I want to have the in-store experience mirror our story. So when people come in, the narrative is played out in store. So whether that is using art or fixtures or the flow of the store, the same story or the materials used to tell the same story that we’re telling with our apparel, I think that’s going to be important and also including an interactive experience. So people come in, they can touch the garments. We already can do that. We do that when we open. It’s going a step beyond that. And I think we can really utilize the digital space in store with multimedia and with projectors and different sort of graphic displays, not using paper. You know, we with so much paper for posters and signage and visual merchandizing that I think we can get away from that but make it even kind of combine the two, you know, have the physical and the digital. That’s where I see. 

Ned Hayes [00:24:59] It sounds like you have a really clear vision for the future of Prada. I’m curious if you have a vision also for the future of retail. Do you think retail in general is going that direction? 

Josh Hagquist [00:25:09] You know, I do. I don’t think I’m reinventing the wheel. I think that I have read about where retail’s going from a million different people and I’ve read all the trends and everything. So this is one thing I noticed from doing music and we didn’t know this back in the early 2000 or and or we were not smart enough to do this in the early 2000 because nobody was doing it. It’s the idea of unique experiences and providing unique experiences to the fan or to the customer. So bands these days that you go to buy a ticket, there’s always a VIP option and you pay more. You get an autographed poster and you get to watch soundcheck, or you get a question and answer period and you get a meet and greet with the band. These are all things that don’t cost the band any money. They’re going to do a soundcheck. They’re going to be hanging out at the venue. They don’t mind signing an autograph. But now they’re providing this unique experience to the customer, to the fan that goes above and beyond the norm. So I think brick and mortar is really positioned in a strong way. If we take that example and transfer it to the retail space. So procured experiences, elevated experiences, offering things to people like private sessions. And I think some brands are doing that now, but giving the customer something more than just walking in and having a great experience of one of our sales associates. We want to come in after hours and we’re going to pull 20 items because high end retail’s been doing that forever. And I think that that’s the future for all retail is to keep brick and mortar going. You have to have something that’s different. You have to have something that is unique. You have to have something that’s tangible because, hey, I can order this online and get it tomorrow. I can have it delivered in an hour. Why do I want to go in and talk to somebody? So it’s elevating the experience by education and just by the things that we offer. I think we can remain competitive there and really set the bar high for all retail. 

Kira Cleveland [00:27:20] Honestly, it’s the customer. I love the sound of that. I love your vision for it. As a last question, one of my favorites. What do you think your legacy will be? What do you want to be remembered for personally? 

Josh Hagquist [00:27:32] I want to be remembered for treating my team well and treating my team members with respect. That was one thing that was ingrained in me at a very young age is to treat other people well, treat other people with respect and in a retail setting. That hasn’t been the norm, I think. And there are a plethora of people who have no business managing people in retail and in hospitality. And I think, you know, as we get more aware and there’s more visibility online to workplaces and maybe places that aren’t the most enriching to work at. I think people have options. But my goal is always treat my teams well. I think if you have teams that are treated with respect and are given the opportunity to grow and given the opportunity to learn and have all the tools they need to be successful in their job. And you also give them space for ideas. If you give your teams that environment, they’re going to elevate their work and they’re going to give the customers a better experience. So it’s like the cart horse. How do you work on the customer experience if your teams aren’t supported teams to be supported first? And so my legacy, legacy, because I don’t have delusions of grandeur, I’m not waiting for books to be written about me. But I want to go out knowing that, hey, he treated as team as well. He treated people with respect to develop his team. He was people focused and modeled servant leadership. I think that’s what I would want to be known for. 

Kira Cleveland [00:29:10] That’s beautiful. And definitely something that connection and treating people well. And, you know, that relationship building seems to be very prominent throughout your entire history, which is beautiful. 

Ned Hayes [00:29:21] Truly inspiring. Thanks for your time today, Josh. 

Josh Hagquist [00:29:24] Yeah, thanks for having me on. And this is Rad. 

Ned Hayes [00:29:26] Sparkplug is a wholly owned property of Snowshoe. Copyright 2022 2023 Sparkplug Media.