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EPISODE 101 : 02/16/2023

Steve Dennis

Steve Dennis returns for another insightful conversation on the Spark Plug podcast! Steve is a strategic advisor, keynote speaker, and bestselling author, and he is widely considered one of the foremost and influential voices in retail. Steve’s groundbreaking book–“Remarkable Retail“–is a perennial international business bestseller. During his career as a C-suite executive at two Fortune 500 retailers, Steve worked with dozens of retail, consumer, luxury and social impact brands to design their journey to remarkable results. He is currently the President of SageBerry Consulting.

Host: Ned Hayes and Ashley Coates
Guest: Steve Dennis

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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. Welcome Steve Dennis back to the podcast. Steve is a strategic advisor, a keynote speaker, bestselling author, and he’s one of the foremost and most influential voices in retail today. His groundbreaking book, Remarkable Retail is an international business best seller, and he’s had a long and storied career at Fortune 500 retailers. He’s worked with dozens of retailers and social impact brands to design journeys that help consumers experience remarkable results. Steve is the president of Sainsbury Consulting and he’s also joined us previously. So welcome back, Steve.

Steve Dennis [00:00:49] Thanks. It’s good to be back. It’s been, what, like a year and a half or something like that. 

Ashley Coates [00:00:52] You got it. Actually, my first question to you was regarding what you’ve done since you last joined us on the podcast, and you joined us in June of 2021. So back during the height of the pandemic, I feel like there have been many highlights of the pandemic. But what have you been doing since we last spoke with you? 

Steve Dennis [00:01:11] Well, you know, in some cases a lot of the same kinds of things, working with clients, speaking at various events around the world. I did that too long after we talk. Well, I actually I guess maybe was a little bit before we talked. We launched my own podcast. So I’ve been working on that and and growing that as well. So and I started working on a new book, so I got a little bit of time for that comes up. But so, you know, writing, speaking, consulting, that sort of stuff. 

Ned Hayes [00:01:39] Fantastic. Well, with your book and with your success there, how is the book doing? What’s been the reception for that? 

Steve Dennis [00:01:46] It’s been really great. I mean, the book is almost three years old now and it continues to sell well. It’s made it to the top of the retail charts and something like 15 different countries, which is which is kind of cool. And I’ve also had and this is actually maybe in some ways the most gratifying part of this, have had quite a lot of retailers that have bought copies, you know, either for their whole executive team or the one very big retailer bought it for like 400 copies for their entire global merchandizing team. And I’ve got to speak to them about it and work with them on on some curriculum for training and things like that. So it’s great when I get the numbers, I suppose. But to me it’s it’s even more important when it starts to sink into to the way retailers operate and the way their culture develops and evolves. 

Ashley Coates [00:02:35] Yeah, that’s wonderful. I know that. I think our whole leadership team read your book, so that’s been great for us as well. Well, Steve, now that you’re back on the speaking circuit, you mentioned that you’ve been speaking since you last chatted with us. Have there been any memorable or remarkable speaking opportunity you participated in? 

Steve Dennis [00:02:53] Well, the ones that to me are the most exciting. I don’t know if they’re the most exciting for the audience, but sometimes I get to go to some fairly exotic places, or at least faraway places. So the last year or so I’ve been in Dubai, I’ve been in New Zealand, Sao Paulo, Brazil, also, not to belittle any particular places, but also a little bit more common in places like Las Vegas, Orlando, New York, Dallas, things, places like that. But it’s interesting to go be in a different culture and see how the audience responds to my ideas. But also I got a chance to check out retail and in different places. And in many cases there’s a lot of similarities. In many cases, there’s really different kind of environment than you are used to in the U.S. and Canada, UK and places like that. 

Ned Hayes [00:03:38] So it does sound like there have been some real bright spots for retail even during the pandemic. I personally, since I’m a reader, I’m really intrigued by the resurgence of Barnes and Noble. I mean, Barnes Noble tried a ton of things that didn’t really work. They even tried to like integrate a restaurant into it. But the novel has really found their groove under James Dowd, formerly of Waterstones and now Barnes and Noble. And he’s he’s building a good bookstore and and they’re actually opening new locations. So is this something that actually aligns with your thesis in remarkable retail about what retail stores can be? 

Steve Dennis [00:04:13] Well, I’m going to be a little bit the contrarian. I think there’s some premature celebration going on with Barnes and Noble. They do seem to have gotten back to some profitability, but I think it’s very unclear that anything that is in motion is a success yet. I was at two Barnes Noble stores over the weekend. They are exactly the same as they were five years ago. Perfectly fine bookstore, but nothing the least bit remarkable. So at least based upon the stores that are open, I would say they’re very average and it is encouraging that they are opening new stores. 30 stores to their total is like 4%. So, yes, encouraging that they’ve apparently gotten back to at least making some money and they’re willing to invest behind the business. But I would wait another couple of years before I would declare. Or that there is a resurgence there. The fact that they’ve managed to stay out of bankruptcy, I guess, given what happened to Borders and some other bookstores, this is definitely a victory, but I would not rank them high so far. Anyway, on the remarkable retail scale. 

Ned Hayes [00:05:12] Yeah, I guess what I was encouraged about with them was the idea that the CEO actually saw their core retail business as a good reason to to be in business and to actually meet customers with the reason that they came in the bookstore, which I know might might not be groundbreaking, but in some retail environments it is. 

Steve Dennis [00:05:39] Well, I think they’re they’re perhaps emblematic of what, you know, something I’ve been talking about for a while that I think in some cases some observers of the industry have gotten away from is that physical retail still adds a lot of value. Not everywhere, but in particular situations. So if you’ve got the kind of business that is about browsing and discovery as opposed to purely search, then having a strong physical presence can can be a real advantage. And I think the independent bookstores that do well are very much about that. So I don’t think it’s terribly surprising. It’s a bit ironic that Amazon closed their bookstores and that apparently Barnes and Noble is moving into a few of those locations. So I kind of like I kind of like that David and Goliath story there. But, you know, I think it’s just it’s understanding who the customer is, what’s going to make them excited about traffic, your traffic and your website traffic in your store and and, you know, growing that customer base and hopefully acquiring some new customers as well along the way. 

Ashley Coates [00:06:44] Well, looking ahead a bit, you are kind of famous for your predictions every year in the world of retail. And you recently shared your predictions for 2023 on your podcast, Remarkable Retail. Can you run through a few select predictions for us? 

Steve Dennis [00:07:00] Sure. So yeah, I did. I did a dozen of them, plus a few bonus predictions that are a little bit more out there. I don’t know if I want to share because I’ll probably be wrong about those in particular, but I guess a few I’d call attention to. One is actually related to what we were just talking about with Barnes and Noble, which is this idea that there’ll be more I believe there’ll be more investment into physical retail because in many cases physical experiences are even more important in a digital world. And this really speaks to the idea that and I stole this idea from from somebody else. I think I might have talked about it a bit. The first time I was on is the difference between buying and shopping. And, you know, it’s really about kind of on the one hand with customers just wanting to find the shortest path to getting something off of their to do list. And it turns out e-commerce is really good at that. But if you’re trying to create a solution or discover new things or get sales help or touch and feel a product, etc., etc., the community, you know that it’s not really where e-commerce shines. And so I think as digital becomes more important, there’s really this split between e-commerce and more kind of functional physical retail, siphoning off customers in one direction and the need for retailers to create something really worth going to see and experiencing in-person. It’s really getting stuck in the middle, which relates to another one of my predictions that’s problematic. So so it’s not surprising to me that physical retail, certain kinds of physical retail continues to do well. The key is to really invest in physical retail, to make it worth that trip and really deliver something of value. So I think we’re see the tide turning on that kind of attitudinally, and I suspect we’ll see more investment behind that in this next year. Which which leads me to the second thing about what I call the collapse of the unremarkable metal. I’ve been talking about this as an idea. So again, it kind of gets back to the split between buying and shopping and these retailers that get stuck between not really being the lowest price or the most efficient or the most convenient, nor do they have anything really special in terms of unique product or an experience or sales help or whatever. It’s really those retailers in the middle that we’ve seen have this have the toughest time of the last few years. So this is a phenomenon that was something I started to observe over a decade ago and it was picking up pace. And I think what ended up happening with with the pandemic is we’ve had somewhat surprisingly to me, I guess, almost three years, like the best three years in the history of physical retail sales were up a lot, and a lot of that had to do with stimulus payments. A lot of that had to do with people being at home and investing in things for their home, in their office. They weren’t going, you know, we weren’t out traveling, we weren’t out going out to eat. So there was this huge bump in discretionary income. So retail sales have really, really been high. They’re now starting to moderate a lot. But I think that gave air cover to a lot of these unremarkable retailers. You know, they didn’t necessarily gain any share, but their fortunes were sort of kept afloat. And also we had pretty much zero interest rates. So now we’re going into this environment where sales are contracting. Cost of money has actually gone up quite a bit. And I think we’re going to see a number of these retailers stuck in this this what I call the boring, unremarkable metal get into a lot more trouble, whether that’s store closings, bankruptcies, etc.. So that’s not the most optimistic prediction, but I think that’s just the reality. 

Ned Hayes [00:10:29] Yeah, well, I guess that’s a reality of business in general, right? That businesses have to have to meet consumers where they’re at. And what you’re saying is that. And like you just said, in the era of digital retail, the physical experience really has to stand out. Right? 

Steve Dennis [00:10:45] Mm hmm. Yeah. I mean, at the risk of stating the obvious, one of the things I’ve been talking about in my keynotes is often start out by saying, Let’s set the Wayback Machine to 1995 and think about the way retail was. And back then, you know, 98% or so of all retail was done locally in a physical store. You had some order catalog, but your choices as a consumer were pretty much limited by the stores you happen to have in your town, or you were willing to drive to whatever they happened to carry and you could buy it whenever they happened to be open. And so, you know, in the intervening almost 30 years now, we’re in a world of choice, a world of abundance, very little friction. And so if you just want to get a product quickly and cheaply, it’s really easy to do it. And in most cases and, you know, whether that’s online or just to run into the store that’s nearest to you. But if you’re really trying to get customers to come traffic your store, particularly if that drives a, you know, a fair distance or deal with the mall or, you know, all these other impediments to to convenience, then you really better make it worth worth. While there’s very few places to hide anymore, which is why, you know, that’s the point I make in the book is you really have to be remarkable that even very good is not good enough anymore in most cases. Right. 

Ashley Coates [00:12:01] Well, so, Steve, you talked about digital retail, and there’s something on the horizon that is all about digital, which is the metaverse. So we can chat about that a little bit. Mark Zuckerberg keeps pouring money into the metaverse. So what do you think of the metaverse and the metaverse as a retail experience? 

Steve Dennis [00:12:20] Well, I believe that the metaverse will be important more broadly at some point in the future, but not likely anytime soon. I was talking to a guy the other day who said to me, the thing about the metaverse is that it makes both physical retail and online retail worse. And I think what he meant is if you think about having a having a AR VR and then a physical store, what’s the value added from that? And if you’re at home, you know what? And shop home shopping, what exactly are you getting as a consumer benefit? Now, that doesn’t mean that won’t change because clearly technology will get better over time. It will get used to it. But I think right now it’s very hard to find strong, meaningful use cases outside of some pretty limited success stories. And, you know, the places where, you know, pornography, gaming and gambling, that tends to be where where they get these adaptions of these newer technologies, for better or for worse. So I don’t see the metaverse being a big a big revenue driver in the next few years. But I’ve said to many people and to clients is it’s something worth experimenting and in trying to understand the potential to make sure that you’re ready when these use cases start to become more obvious. But if you look at consumer engagement, you know, the penetration of AR VR headsets, I mean, it’s teeny tiny. So I think I think there were more visits to MySpace, which I didn’t even know existed anymore than somebody has a website for the metaverse. So that’s not a super positive indication. 

Ned Hayes [00:13:52] I don’t know. I think that’s the pull quote for this episode or visits to the metaverse. 

Steve Dennis [00:13:59] How about Second Life? You know, it’s like the sacrifice of Second Life. That’s a reference that not half of your audience won’t even that. 

Ned Hayes [00:14:08] Well, speaking of old school technology, I’ve been intrigued by livestream shopping and the idea that somebody can actually walk into a store. So they’re physically walking into a store, but they’re livestreaming the whole time. And I always wonder if that’s kind of a midway point or a bridge between the metaverse and in-person shopping. What do you see? 

Steve Dennis [00:14:27] Well, as I’m sure you know, I mean, livestream is hugely, hugely popular in China and for various reasons, not all of which I completely understand. It hasn’t gotten a ton of traction here yet. But I think the the appeal of being able to engage in a personal shopping appointment remotely or, as you say, you know, be able to walk through a store and be assisted in that journey that potentially can add a lot of value. And I think that will give customers a bit of a kind of like the training wheels experience of what a Metaverse shopping experience could be like. So I think that’s encouraging. You know, I think at least in the US, we have such ubiquity of physical retail in most major cities that it’s just not very hard for most people to get to all sorts of different stores. So you know that that added value like I know in some cases one I know one company that I worked on a little bit where they’ve had a lot of success with livestreaming has been with high end customers that are not close to one of their stores. So they could be in, you know, their house in Aspen or what have you, and be talking to their sales associate who can also show them outfits or walk them around the store. So that’s solving a real issue for them because they’re not proximate to the store. But if you live in Dallas, for example, where I do, it’s just not very hard to get to a lot of stores. And the added value of that’s not necessarily and I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s been more successful in China. But it’s harder to get stores for a lot of people. But but I think it’s interesting and I suspect it will continue to grow. And then as technology gets better and as more features and benefits, if you make it more personalized and those kinds of things, I suspect it’ll be more of an exponential curve. 

Ashley Coates [00:16:10] Well, so speaking of technology trends, chat up and similar engines really have the potential to change the face of customer service because they seem to be able to generate somewhat helpful information in multiple ways. So do you see jet chat and AI changing customer service for better or for worse? 

Steve Dennis [00:16:33] Overall, I would say for better assuming the right guardrails can be applied and that’s kind of above my pay grade in terms of understanding everything that has to happen there. But when I think about really any kind of automation, but particularly and AI and related technologies, I think there’s the efficiency aspect, you know, the ability to perform rote tasks more quickly, more cheaply, perhaps with more accuracy. And I think particularly in a world which looks like we’ll be in for a while where labor is a real issue, that’s pretty appealing. And then there’s the effectiveness side of it. So actually it’s something we’re going to have as a guest on the remarkable retail podcast, the woman who founded Fine Mind, and they use AI to make more personalized outcomes. Recommendations. And so they’re using the power of technology to do either what human beings can’t do well or to do it at a scale, you know, a very good personal shopper. If you were meeting with them in person, could do that. But that’s really hard to do on the Internet, right? And to do it at a scale and have that level of expertise. Plus they are able to figure out things that most human beings just can’t. So that that’s pretty powerful, I think, in terms of adding value to to the shopping experience. So unlike the metaverse, I think there’s a clear path to some really strong use cases that solve real cost issues or real effectiveness issues. But, you know, I think there are plenty of concerns about how how it gets applied and, you know, ability to like or the potential to con customers or have some bad actors exploiting it. So I think that’s going to have to get worked out. But as I said, I’m not sure I appreciate all the all the issues there and how they might be navigated. 

Ned Hayes [00:18:16] Well, I’m glad to hear that. You don’t think that retailers will be replaced by by robot merchants anytime in the future. 

Steve Dennis [00:18:23] Some of them probably will be. But, you know, but one of the things I think it’s interesting and this is, I guess just kind of a generic strategy issue, but, you know, there’s there’s always somebody if you’re successful, there’s always somebody coming to displace you. Right. You know, and Bezos apparently famously said, your margin is my opportunity. And that’s part of it. But I often say your mediocrity is my opportunity. If if you’re not doing a good job or whatever that looks like, someone’s likely to. And there’s a big profit pool, big revenue opportunity. You know, someone’s going to set their sights on it. And if you’ve got an enabling technology that allows you to do that faster, more cheaply for, you know, a strong competitive advantage or win or whatever that’s going to happen. I think, again, you kind of have this this bifurcation. That’s my famous favorite word. But you have this bifurcation from sort of commodity type tasks. And if you’re an individual producing shoddy work that in fact, chatbots could replace you, you’re probably going to get replaced. I don’t think that somebody who’s really doing amazing work that involves a lot of humanity and soul and creativity like that, it’s a lot harder to to replace. So I think, you know, that mix makes everybody hopefully makes people more aware of the value that they add and kind of ratchets their game up. So some people will get replaced. But hopefully the people that are really doing great work will not be right. 

Ned Hayes [00:19:50] Well, speaking of replacements, you know, tech layoffs, that happens. People are getting replaced. Sometimes they’re just getting laid off and not getting replaced. Most of these so far, the one in the the ones in the news have been from Microsoft and Amazon and Facebook, etc.. But these layoffs and this kind of sea change in tech employment will have a knock on effect on retail. 

Steve Dennis [00:20:12] I have to say this is one of the most vexing things to me that I’ve experienced in my entire time in retail, because on the one hand you’ve got a lot of storm clouds on the horizon and a lot of layoffs that are occurring and a lot of issues in terms of consumers and businesses being worried. And I think normally I would be pretty worried that it will have this kind of ripple effect. But, you know, so far, we’re not seeing it. The U.S. has the lowest unemployment in 50 years. There are twice as many job openings as there are people to fill them. If these layoffs are causing people to be unemployed for a significant amount of time, we aren’t seeing that yet. And the tech layoffs in the scheme, you know, they get a lot of attention. You know, 10,000 people, 12,000 people, but it’s very small relative to the total economy, at least so far. So I don’t know. I mean, I would normally expect that we will see this ripple effect and that we would see unemployment start to materially increase. But I just spent time interviewing one of the world’s top economists, and he basically said, don’t worry about it. So so I don’t know. It really I don’t think we’ve seen and you know, I’m pretty old at this point. I’ve seen a lot. I don’t think we’ve seen this combination of of macroeconomic factors. So to me, it makes it hard to predict how this will play out. But I generally think we’re seeing a slowing in the economy. But the at least the US economy’s ability to employ people is is pretty amazing at this point. So I think we’re probably not going to see as much of an impact as we have seen in the past. But I don’t know, while I could be wrong, I hope I’m wrong. I mean, I hope this doesn’t cascade. 

Ashley Coates [00:22:05] We’ll cut out this part in the in the interview if it turns out to be wrong. 

Steve Dennis [00:22:11] So I drive like, right of first refusal on. Yeah, exactly. Stupid. Yeah. 

Ashley Coates [00:22:15] We will see. We would love to chat with you about consumer loyalty, a topic that’s near and dear to our hearts. So you have said in the past that consumer loyalty is an emotion, not a behavior. Yeah. Yes. And you had you also said that just offering discounts, that’s really more bribery. That’s not really loyalty. So how do retailers create loyalty without discounts, which seems like it’s a pretty common practice. 

Steve Dennis [00:22:45] Well, you know, some of this just to clarify, then I’ll answer your question more directly. You know, people use the term loyalty or a loyalty program pretty loosely, I think. And I get that, you know, it’s really more frequency programs. Right. But but if you believe, as I do, that loyalty is an emotion, then what you’re trying to build is this emotional connection between you and the brand or you and the retailer and the and the consumer. And to me, that has typically a bunch of things. Number one, you have to be really distinctive when you give discounts to a customer. Oftentimes, you’re just going after the promiscuous customer who doesn’t care whether they shop at Macy’s or calls. They go where they get the best deal. Right. There’s no real attachment or there’s very little attachment to the brand. It’s simply about price. And if I can change your loyalty by giving you a discount, then I would say that’s not really loyalty. That’s a transaction. So so one is, you know, how do you really differentiate yourself from the competition in a meaningful way? How do you create deep relevance and resonance with that customer so they’re not inclined to be looking for a better deal all the time, and particularly for more premium goods. And this is not an original idea for me. It’s it’s really that, you know, how do you create this story that really cements, you know, how you create a story that customers want to be part of and really cements the relationship with you. So, for example, people line up for hours to get the new iPhone, all right. Or people are learn these crazy lines for In-N-Out Burger. You know, you can go down through the list of a lot of companies that the customers are obsessed with, and it would probably take them a lot to switch. And almost none of that has to do with price. In fact, in many cases, Apple being an example, it’s a very premium price product. So I think it’s really about meeting customers needs in a really profound way and creating that emotional attachment. I mean, what Seth Godin talks about being part of that. People like us do things like this, like you’re part of that club or tribe, and a little bit of a discount is not going to fundamentally cause you to switch. Now, as a practical matter, I know there’s lots of brands that are more mass and more about volume, and it’s very difficult to create that level of differentiation. So a little bit of a gift card or whatever every once in a while can contribute to that stickiness with the brand. But I would argue, you know, you want to try to take price out of the equation as much as you possibly can. And we’re really talking about loyalty. 

Ashley Coates [00:25:24] Yeah, absolutely. Well, so what characteristics of a truly remarkable retail experience help build loyalty? I mean, you started to talk about this already, but what keeps people coming back, especially in the world of physical retail? 

Steve Dennis [00:25:38] Well, there’s a bunch of things. It depends a little bit on the category. But I think the main thing is that intersection between differentiation and intense relevance. I mean, those those are ultimately, I think, the consistent, consistent things. You know, sometimes it’s a function of what’s convenient to you in the moment. But when you look at those brands that have the longest track record of doing well, it’s typically that they meet your needs in a very deep way and in a very different way that you’re sort of irreplaceable to them, or at least to go to somebody else would be seen as a significant trade off. And yeah, you might do it every once in a while just because you have no other choices or or whatever. But so I think that’s, you know, that’s what’s made I mean, this is not these are not new ideas that if you look at anybody who’s been working in marketing strategy and branding, I mean, these are a lot of the elements that have made the difference. I think what’s different over the last few years and is part of the premise behind remarkable retail is it’s just getting harder and harder to differentiate yourself in such a unique way because of, you know, similar to some of the things I said earlier, You know, we have so much choice, we have so much access, we have so much information. So a lot of times before you might when just because the customer didn’t know any better or you might when just because the customer’s got to drive an hour to go to another store and they got to run around between a bunch of stores. And that was really to the retailer’s advantage because the retailers kind of held all the cards. But when you’ve got all this choice, all this access, all this information, you know, the pricing, the ability to find prices in 2 seconds by Google, search that distance between you and the next best choice, you really got to amplify that and create that that distance. So that’s why I say, you know, we’ve got to be remarkable both in terms of the ability to be different, but also to literally create that story that really solidifies your loyalty with the customer. But also hopefully they will actually talk about literally mark upon it, because then that gives you that extra kind of spend in the marketing world. 

Ned Hayes [00:27:44] Yeah. Well, you’ve just talked a little bit about remarkable retail. And I’m curious, frankly, if you have another book in you, if if maybe I have another way of telling us what the future is going to look like and how to how to be effective as a retailer. Are you working on another book or not? 

Steve Dennis [00:28:02] Yes, I am working on another book and I’m not talking a ton about it yet, but I will I will say that, number one, it’s not going to be purely a retail book. One of the some of the feedback I got on remarkable retail is that a lot of the principles actually apply quite well outside of retail. And that’s made me think about, well, which which of these messages really have more universal university metaphor, broader appeal. So hard to say on a monday. But the thing I’m really interested in and is really the thrust of the book is what does it take to make innovation work in today’s environment? There’s been a lot of books about innovation, more from a process standpoint, and I’ll touch on that a little bit, but it’s really more of the mindset or the mind shift that leaders need to make. And part of the argument on some of the things I’m working on now is that too many I will use retailers, retailers as an example. Too many retailers are engaged in what I would call a timid transformation, which is deliberately meant to be an oxymoron. You know, if you look at I pick on anybody, but I will if you look at J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Macy’s, the department stores, they’re making very incremental change and they have been making very incremental change for almost 20 years. And they continue to fall further and further behind. And I think it’s just harder and harder to just kind of optimize your way to success, to success or even do some fairly incremental changes to really transform. Because partially because of what I said about remarkable, the distance you have to create between you and your next best competitor gets wider and wider and disruption is increasing in many cases at an accelerating pace. So if you’re just kind of doing this slow and steady incremental change when you need to be up here and you need to be moving faster, there is this innovation gap that is created and you risk falling further, further behind. If you don’t move faster or aim higher, take more risk, those sort of things. So that’s what I’m interested in. I think as I’ve started to study it in other industries, we see a lot of the same things going on in the banking industry or the hotel industry or what have you. And a lot of the the brands that are winning today go about their business in a really, really fundamental way. So more to come on that. But that’s that’s that’s the next mountain for me to climb because. 

Ned Hayes [00:30:29] Great we will look forward to it. We’d love to pick that up as soon as it’s available and recommend it to our listening audience. One thing we forgot to ask was how was NRF for you this year? 

Steve Dennis [00:30:40] Well, it was good. You know, it’s very for people who have been or know about it, it’s a very overwhelming experience. You know, 40,000 people, massive conference facility and expo and all that kind of stuff. So it’s quite exhausting. I’m definitely not in conference shape. I’m not used to standing that long and running around that much and just talking, you know, for 72 hours straight, it seems. But it was great to be back with people. It was great to see what’s kind of new in next, all in a concentrated time. And I actually felt like there was a fair amount of optimism, you know, with all the layoffs, as we talked about and some of the doom and gloom. From a macroeconomic standpoint and kind of the world at large, I felt like most people were really pretty excited about the the promise of the new year and just kind of where retail is headed. So that was really, really encouraging to see. 

Ashley Coates [00:31:31] Well, Steve, this is your last question and thank you again for coming back on to Spark Plug. You’re our first return guest. So very, very happy to have you back. So the last question, last time you were on the show, we always ask you what do we want your people’s legacy to be? What do you want to be remembered for? And you had said that you’d like to be remembered for inspiring people and organizations to do their best work. So I’m curious if you have any modifications to that leg. Is that still your ambition and your goal? 

Steve Dennis [00:32:01] So I’ve got a little bit of a tweak to that and then a new element. And the first thing, maybe more my talking to myself than anybody else. But I’ve kind of changed it to be to help organizations and individuals reach their full potential, which is similar. But part of what I’ve seen in the work I’ve been doing over the last couple of years is that I believe and this is true for myself as well, that we tend to, you know, either be, as I said earlier, kind of focus on incremental improvement rather than where we can be and kind of reaching much, much further, much higher, taking a bigger leap. And I think in particular for retailers, this is probably not so true for individuals. I believe that. Brands in general are becoming more platforms rather than just being kind of product or centric or channel centric. So if you think more holistically about what your brand can do and you can pull in different solutions or services, I think there’s more potential there. So I’m trying to get myself and others that I work with to think a lot more broadly about what is possible rather than kind of this incremental what’s right in front of me, which the, you know, the language is a little bit more incrementality maybe. But the other one, which I tell you I have to fight really hard at all the time is just be a more kind and generous person. I think I default often to being critical and sarcastic and pointing out what’s wrong and, you know, being a critic as opposed to being a contributor and and being more generous and kind and compassionate and those sorts of things. So that’ll definitely that’s definitely a lifetime project. So I hope I have enough time to kind of shift the balance on that. 

Ned Hayes [00:33:48] Well, thanks for being there for us today. Thank you. 

Steve Dennis [00:33:51] Thanks. One day at a time. 

Ned Hayes [00:33:52] Spark Plug is a wholly owned property of SnowShoe. Copyright 2022-2023 Spark Plug Media.