Entrepreneurship With Former Retail Buyer Shannon Curtin

OTS 142 | Entrepreneurship

 

There are so many layers to entrepreneurship that needs to be explored when you want to become successful in it. Going deep into the retail side of it is Shannon Curtin. Shannon is a beauty industry expert, art curator, real estate developer, clean water activist, and the founder of TPG, The Possibility Group. She gives great insights into retail as she provides her personal experience in the industry, from talking about a trip she took down to FAO Schwartz in New York to the Hallmark Channel. Shannon also gives out her thoughts on retail buying and specialty retail as well as the things suppliers should stop doing.

Listen to the podcast here:

Entrepreneurship With Former Retail Buyer Shannon Curtin

I hope that you’re off to a good start. It’s time to get after it. It’s time to make things happen. If you don’t know where to start, if you’re not sure what you should do right now, you need to reach out to us, and we can definitely talk about that. If you have a product that you’re looking at and you’re wondering whether you should take this product from Amazon or online and also diversify it into retail, but you’re not sure how it’s going to do, definitely reach out to us. We have a great evaluation program that we can take a look at that over. It’s eight different areas that we evaluate these products to see how they’re going to do in retail. The podcast is going to do a lot of great things. I always have a lot of great expectations for the podcast and some of those things happen and some of those things don’t. I’m not going to put out there what changes I’m looking to make because I don’t want to not be able to execute on those and then have people like, “That didn’t happen.” I have a lot of great ideas. Feedback from you guys has made that even easier to make some of these decisions. How the different podcast episodes rank helps me understand what you are most interested in learning.

I’m excited to put up different interesting content. If you have any other suggestions for the show, now would be the time to get those in so that we can start putting those into our overall yearly planning for the podcast program. I know that you guys are not looking to hear me ramble on. To kick that off, I had the opportunity to speak with Shannon Curtin. If you don’t know Shannon, you’re about to because she has some great experience in retail, especially in beauty. She has her own consulting group. I had an awesome time speaking with her. She’s very smart. She knows her stuff. She’s got her hands in a lot of different things. That doesn’t seem to bother her. It doesn’t seem to get her all scattered. She seems to have the whole part of her life where she’s easily able to move from one thing to another to another and crush each one without it getting all mismatched and out of sorts. I admire that about her.

She led one of the biggest beauty mergers in the industry between Coty Inc. and Procter & Gamble. She led the Beauty and Personal Care Division for Walgreens Boots Alliance. She worked for Walmart stores. She was a Senior Vice President at Coty Inc. even before she helped with the merger. She now owns her own consulting group called The Possibility Group. She has been in retail her whole life. She’s reaching out and doing a couple of new things. You are going to enjoy what she has to say. Even better than that, Shannon has also agreed to be a new full-time panelist on Flash Topic. Her debut on that is going to be coming up on our next podcast. I know you are going to love hearing her amongst the rest of the team on Flash Topic.

Our readers are called Big Boxers. Why don’t you give them a little rundown on who you are and what you’re currently doing? Maybe a little bit about your history.

My name is Shannon Curtin. My background has been retail, big box retail as well as small box retail that are in lots of locations. I started out my corporate career at Walmart in Arkansas. I spent nine years there in the Beauty Personal Care area. I moved over to Walgreens and led their Beauty and Personal Care Division there. I had responsibility for educating and training the 26,000 beauty advisors that were at Walgreens at the time. A couple of times in my career, I’ve done consulting. A lot of companies want to create transformation. I use a link to sigma process in order to create efficiencies for the company so they’re more effective all rooted in consumer customer and ensuring that they have the right steps in place in order to create a business breakthrough. That’s what I’m doing now. Before I did that, before what I’m doing right now, I worked at Coty Beauty during the biggest beauty merger in the history of beauty when Coty bought the P&G specialty business that doubled the size of Coty overnight. They went from a $4.5 billion company to a $9 billion company and helps get through the transformation of the internal workings of that company as well as re-launching all the iconic brands that our consumers are facing.

It’s possible to create something that's special and unique and have someone recognize that. Click To Tweet

I have expertise in supply chain, eCommerce, digital, new go-to-market, traditional go-to-market. We had 90,000 doors across North America. I know some of the pains and joys that your readers go through daily because I’ve lived it and done it on both sides, which makes it an interesting conversation because I can talk to both sides and fluent in both sides of the relationship. Now that I’m out on my own doing that, it does help other people realize what’s important to either side. How do we get together to create value for the customer and the consumer, which is why we work anyway? That’s why I rise is to ensure that we serve others to the best of our ability, increase success for companies, top line and bottom line. That’s what I’m working on. That’s my background. I spent 27 years in beauty. My very first job was selling fragrances on a department store floor. It put me through college. I still sell fragrances in a different capacity than I did when I was a young child chasing people around them mall and trying to spray them with perfume. I fell in love with the industry and the business and that’s my area of expertise.

That’s a lot. I feel like I’m exhausted hearing about it.

If you break that down into smaller parts, there are some good learnings from my successes and failures that other people can apply to their business and say, “We shouldn’t do that. Let’s go ahead and pick that up because that’s been tested, tried and true. There are data and evidence to support that. It will continue to behave in such a way if we behave in such a way.” Those are the things that I can help with.

What do you think that your favorite position has been through the years? Where do you look back fondly and say,” I enjoyed doing that?”

I’m the type of person who lives in the present. Now is my best day ever. That’s the way I am. I do enjoy helping bring transformation and breakthrough to life. I’ve liked complex problem-solving. It’s something I enjoy. What are we trying to solve for? What are the KPI’s that you’re trying to achieve? What are the action plans in order to implement? How do we set process and controls place in order to sustain that? I like that stuff. I also like the creative aspect of the business. Since I’ve been out of Coty, I’ve curated an art show. I have another art show that’s going on. I am going to India to do a water walk with moms and daughters and well installed. Those are problems too. How do you get clean water access to people all over the world? That’s a complex problem. The first place to go to is to the source of where the problem is and trying to figure that out. I’m enjoying what I’m doing now more than any other time before. When I was in those jobs, I would have said the same thing. I love the moment that I’m in.

You said that you’re going to India. Is that where you said you’re going?

OTS 142 | Entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship: The beauty of creating magic is that you can make it happen through your own creative lens.

 

I’m going there. I’m on a board that is called Bees Trees Water. It’s providing those three precious resources that keep this planet that we all share alive. I will be on a journey in some remote parts of India with some women and their children. I’m going to fetch dirty water and do that walk with them. Help that community get a well installed so they don’t have to do that journey anymore. That will help lift those children out of poverty because they’ll be able to stay in school. They’ll be able to flourish, especially the young girls that get pulled out of school because they need to go fetch dirty water. There’s more to life than that. Being able to help those communities find a better way forward is something I’m super excited about. I’m going to spend a couple of weeks there.

Do you happen to know Jane Mosbacher Morris?

I do not. How do you know Jane?

She’s the CEO of a company called To The Market. I had her on my podcast. Her market, she works with regions over the world where they’re depressed and people are making products. She groups these people together so that they can become a co-op. She markets their products for them under her umbrella of To The Market. The two people that maybe live in two different villages can team up and produce a product that and become a bigger entity than them by themselves. When she talks, you remind me a lot of each other. I’ll certainly connect you via email because what you’re doing that you’re on the board of, it would be something that she would be 100% behind. I’m sure she’s been in those areas that you’re going to be in because she’s always somewhere in the world where she’s trying to make something better.

That’s the reason we brought these into these communities because they can be beekeepers. They can sell the wax. They can sell the honey. They can utilize that as a form of commerce for them. I would love that connection. That would be wonderful and to listen to what she’s doing. Thank you for that.

She’s a great advocate. I saw it overall, a super nice person and doing great. It sounds like you’re busy. I love it that you have your hands in a bunch of different things and including that you’re writing now because that’s part of what you were doing over at FAO Schwarz. You’re writing because you probably have some free time. You thought, “Maybe I’ll write an article.”

We get what we focus on. Click To Tweet

I have a free couple of minutes I thought in my head. I would love to write about retailers that are doing things that are right by their consumer base. That creates excitement that have experiences per linear foot and that their omnipresence is something that’s unique and different. That’s why I stepped out of the beauty space and entered a different space to write about first, which is FAO Schwarz. When you walk through those doors, a lot of people transform to their eight-year-old self. That’s pretty magical. Literally, there was no elbow room in the store. I was there doing all these Instastories and having a blast. The parents and the children were having a great time together. We’re in the middle of the city, one of the busiest places of the United States this time of year because the city itself is so magical this time of year. Inside that building, all smiles and great energy. That was something special I wanted to share with other people, who hadn’t had a chance to go there. I’ll continue to do that.

When I find retailers that are doing something special here in the States or beyond that, not everyone gets a chance to go to and I’m in that moment, I want to share that moment with other people. It’s important to know that it’s possible. It’s possible to create something that’s special and unique and have someone recognize that. There are so many stories about what’s going wrong. It’s nice every once in a while, to read something that’s going right. Someone’s doing something with the best intentions to serve their consumer best. That’s what I think retail is supposed to do. When I see things that answering that are giving experiences and creating some magic, I want to share it with others. I make the time for those kinds of stories because it’s like a Hallmark but on the retail side. It’s going to have a happy ending at the end of the story.

There are a couple of things I want to say, but you mentioned Hallmark. I pretty much have the Hallmark plot system down now, but it doesn’t mean I can’t get hooked into watching every single Hallmark movie. Even though I know that in the end it’s going to be snowing and they’re going to kiss, I still can’t help myself.

I love Hallmark. They were one of my suppliers when I was at Walgreens. I had beauty personal care in seasonal. I had the card aisle. I had an opportunity to go to their Kansas City facility. I know the whole family. They’re incredible humanitarians, number one. Incredible creatives, number two, and the whole purpose is to bring joy to other humans. Why wouldn’t everybody love this company? Being there and being part of that environment for the couple years that I worked with them, their mantra is to provide joy and help bring people through moments in their life and be that connector. It’s an infectious energy that’s around there. I’m addicted to the Hallmark Channel because I love that company. I know without a doubt there’s going to be someone kissing and having a great life together at the end.

I have a box of tissues beside me in case I get a little teary-eyed, but most of the time I’m happy than watching something that doesn’t make me cry and the other way. It’s great to have that outlet. I don’t watch a lot of television. When I’m streaming something on my phone or getting up to date on the latest information, you could get sad by the end of the day about what’s going on. The earth, this planet is 98% good, 2% bad. We get what we focused on. I want to make sure that we focus on things that are positive and leaves that mark in my own little way on the planet. Not cover all the things that are negative unless it’s a learning experience. What you learned from that will help you grow.

They have the Hallmark app. They have the Hallmark channel where there’s no commercial so you can get more snow kissing.

OTS 142 | Entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship: Retailers and buyers have to open themselves up a little bit because stuff is passing them by constantly.

 

You can send a card to someone over the app as well and have them sign it and deliver it while you’re doing that. I’m seeing all good spirit while you’re perusing that Hallmark network and their brand.

You mentioned something about how you were bringing the FAO experience to people through social. I talked to people a lot about this when I’m talking to them about social. There’s a huge difference between sharing what you’re doing at that moment and letting people know what it’s like to be there. There’s not a lot of people that nailed the whole letting people know what it’s like to be there. Instead, they share their experience, which is okay, it’s cool. For people that can’t be at an event, it’s fun for them to watch you but they want to know what it’s like to be there. I got the feeling that that’s what you were trying to do is let people know what it was like to be there. Not sharing your experience, but know what it was like, “You can’t be here but this is what it’s like.” When you’re at an event, that’s more what people are trying to capture or what they want. If they can’t be there, they want to know what it’s like.

The next generation or way of the influencers will be great at that because I get asked often what’s next in influencers. It’s those people who are able to convey and be the vessel for that experience instead of the person being the main attraction. The event is the main attraction and they’re a vessel in which to communicate that experience or that moment that they want other people to enjoy with them. When I was doing the stories, I had a friend with me who is filming, but I wanted to be in the middle of it. It felt like my best friend was sitting with me and we were having the conversation around the elements of the store that was happening or where the energy was and bringing that forward. They felt like they were sitting there with me.

It’s not about me, it’s about the store. I’m a vessel in which to communicate what’s going on. I especially like people who do travel blogs. I love some of the travel bloggers because it’s not about them. It’s about how they open up that luxury experience and I feel like I’m there in that experience. That’s a special technique that someone would have. A brand can do that too where they can create their own brand experience or someone feels like they’re in it, that they’re part of the brand versus being someone who’s looking at the brand, someone who’s just checking it out.

It’s the next part of being an influencer and sharing is to take the focus off of yourself and put it on the experience. That’s what people are wanting because not everybody is able to be there. Instead of watching somebody be there, if they can have the experience of being there, that’s better.

It’s like old fashion reporting. Remember when news reporters would go somewhere and let people see what’s going on behind them instead of showing themselves. There’s that but you’ve put it on a social platform. You can communicate emotion through 140 characters or through a video. We have so many new ways to connect people to experience this as it couldn’t happen themselves. When they’re sitting at their house that night and spending a couple hours going through what events happened that day, it’s like a story. They want to be in different parts of those stories and come in and out and feel good. Hopefully, they want to have a good experience while they’re doing that.

There's a huge difference between sharing what you're doing at that moment and letting people know what it's like to be there. Click To Tweet

In the beginning, when Instagram first came out, what I used to enjoy about Instagram, that was back when I could roll through my feed in a couple of minutes. I would see real people taking pictures of where they lived in. It allowed me to be in Turkey or Brazil or wherever. It’s morphed a little bit since then, but I remember back when I first jumped into that. That’s what I enjoyed about rolling through my feed was feeling a part of some of these places. Not so much these professional photographers to wait two hours to get this picture, but real people taking pictures of the coffee shop where they go over morning or whatever. It gave me a feeling of being there.

You feel like, “I can do that too.” It helps out the whole world economy. When you see your friend posts something and you think, “I can do that too. I could be there.” I’ve got lots of great ideas of travel or something new in my life through the visual stimulation of Instagram. I liked it in the beginning too. It’s something a little more commercialized now that every once in a while, if you bypass that other stuff, you can get into those feeds where you’re inspired to do something different because of seeing what your friends are doing or people that you admire for that they’re inspiring to you.

Let’s jump back to something that you said about FAO Schwarz and what you liked about that company that they were different and that you want to highlight some companies that are socially responsible maybe bringing products to the consumers in a different way. I’m a big fan of REI. They’re doing things a little bit differently. This is going to sound a little bit negative, so I apologize but I don’t know that there are that many retailers out there that are thinking that way. What are your thoughts on that?

I don’t think that’s negative. That’s the truth. Many retailers communicate publicly that they want to change the experience. If I looked at all the public retailers, earnings transcripts, part of their strategy would be an increase or do something to better the experience. That’s a standard need in the marketplace that’s still not being met. That’s why it’s a challenge to find something that is truly different. When you walk through the door, something different happens to the person who walks through the door. The mindset changes. That’s difficult to do although every retailer wants to create that. What is the problem to solve is how do you do that with keeping your own retailer DNA intact? How do you do that where you get credit for it? That you get someone to come by and say, “You did do something different. That does feel different.” It starts from the basics of, “Are you going to be in stock every day?” to “Am I going to have somebody who says hi to me?” to the checkout experience of, “I don’t have to stand in line with 300 other people,” and that someone at that register, the last moment of exchange is going to be pleasant to deal with.

That’s hard to find retailers that are able to do that with consistency at the frequency of how people shop big box and small box at that frequency with consistency. It’s hard to find. Some of these flagship locations are easier because it’s so controlled. Even some flagships aren’t that great. You don’t have a great experience when you walk through the door. You don’t have a great experience when you leave the door. Finding a few of those stores that take the extra steps to get the extra dollar. It’s worth recognizing and trying to find them. I’ll be very selective about who I write about because it’s got to be from the moment I walk into all the touch points to the moment I walked out that I had a great experience. I’m demanding in the way of what I think is great. That’s subjective.

It has to go beyond someone saying hello to me. They need to be in stock. They need to have smiles on the faces that are purely happy to be there. They’re knowledgeable about the products. They understand what they are, what they do, how to answer them. If that’s not there, there’s no reason for me to go to the store because I can find all that information through my own research online. There have to be elements in that store that go beyond someone’s saying that they’re trying to increase their experience. Doing something that’s demonstrably different and that they get credit for it the time that person leaves the store.

OTS 142 | Entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship: There are so many stories about what’s going wrong. It’s nice every once in a while to read something that’s going right.

 

Those are few and far between. I think that the experience goes one step further because there are two parts to the consumer experience in any retailer, which is one is while they’re in the store. The second one is whatever it is they buy when they get it home and they open it up, that experience, the unboxing experience, the experience of if the product works, is it crushed, is it broken, does that retailer take pride in making sure that what they’re selling is quality? Do they have this great experience at home once they unbox the product that they purchased as well? Those things are in disconnect a lot of the times.

I can give you two contrasts. For instance, I’m a big fan of REI. When I walk into REI, I automatically feel healthier. I feel like I’m a hiker, a kayaker. If I go over to the kayaking section and I find a person over there, they know about kayaks. They can tell me the ins and outs of the kayaks that they at least sell and what I’m looking for, not if I want to do lake or ocean. The same thing holds true if I go over to the shoe section. There’s somebody over there. Everybody is pretty knowledgeable because they’re all part of it. They’re making money when we spend money there. It’s a co-op. They’re much more engaged. They don’t skimp on the products that they sell. They’re not looking to have a huge discount section as opposed to if you walk into maybe a DICK’S Sporting Goods where anybody that you talk to don’t know anything anymore. DICK’S didn’t always use to be that way, but their employees struggle to know even what they have in the building.

That experience is not that great. They wrote an article where they said they were literally going to move towards a strategy of discount. Bringing in discount products, low-cost goods, and not understanding that you can’t trend off of that, so what if you get an extra $20 million in revenue next year? You may not have those items. It’s not a move forward model. It’s not moving your company forward. All of a sudden, your employees don’t have to be as knowledgeable because you’re not selling decently high-end goods that people want to understand it. That’s why DICK’S is struggling and REI is somewhat not.

Another retailer I enjoy is Trader Joe’s. Every employee at Trader Joe’s has to try every product that they sell. You can’t run into an employee and hold up an item and say, “Is this good?” and they don’t have an idea. They generally have already eaten it and can tell you exactly what they think. Is it good to them or is it not good? That model makes shopping at Trader Joe’s a good experience and knowledgeable experience. Generally, there is a two-bell ring system where they don’t let their registers fill up. Every employee in the entire location is able to ring register at any time. You’re always pretty much in and out of there a decently fast if you want to be. That’s another retailer. Other than those, I struggled to find people that I’m impressed with. A huge issue of it comes down to buying. As somebody that works in that area of selling products to retailers, the bind door is more close now than it’s ever been. It’s stifling these retailers. You’re not bringing out anything new. There’s nothing exciting because they don’t look at anything anymore. They don’t want to step out on anything. What do you think about the state of retail buying right now?

I’ve had this conversation before with another manufacturer. I do want to tell your readers that think about the experience as the life cycle. This will help answer that question. That partnership between retailer and manufacturer come together during the experience life cycle. The experience of getting that person in the door to find your product, to get it to the register, to get it sold at the highest value proposition that you can. Knowledge changes the value equation. You don’t have to do a bunch of price promo. Price is what you pay. Value is what you get. When you change that value equation as REI has, you pay more often at full price than you would at DICK’S, for example. That’s a way for the companies to think about their proposition is how do we create a great experience in the store. When I get home, I will deliver on the value proposition to the consumer because I’ll continue to stream content. I can connect into our community. I can continue to listen to the feedback of my item and do real-time updates and changes if necessary to satisfy the needs of the consumer and our customers. That’s one way to look at that to have a conversation.

The other part is that I was talking to the manufacturers on a panel that I was moderating. One of them said that that it is so transactional now between big retailers and manufacturers that no one’s willing to take the risk. That’s why some of these regional players continue to do so well. For example, I’ll highlight a company like ATB was recognized as a great retailer because they still take appointments. They still email you back. They still try to find some way to bring a program to life. It seems like that’s an outlier, which is crazy because the whole point is if you keep the customer at the center of what you do, they want buyers and manufacturers to work together so that homework is done for them. They have the newest, the best, the next evolution, the next revolutions of whatever in whatever category. That’s the work, that’s the duty of either party on behalf of the customer and the consumer to do that work.

Knowledge changes the value equation. Click To Tweet

Some of these retail players do that very well. They continue to take appointments. They continue to be the leaders in bringing new items out. What I’ve heard from some of my clients even as when they’re new and they’re small, the big box will say, “Go get your head start at the smaller chains and if you do well, come back to us,” which is surprising. One of the other strategies that’s often communicated is they want to be first to market. How could that even be true if you’re asking them to go get a head start somewhere else?

I don’t see any retailers anymore that say that they want to be first to market. I see them saying the exact opposite. You and I, Shannon, are talking the exact same language. I probably could not have put it as well as you put it because the customer is supposed to be at the forefront of your focus. As that person that was on your panel said to me. I have been in over 100 pitch meetings all over the world. I’ve been with people from back ten, fifteen years ago where they wanted to be first to market. They wanted to step out on products. They were excited.

They already knew in their mind where it was going to go into the stories to part and now trying to get them on the phone to even take a look at it is an eighteen-month proposition. I tell this story all the time about I was trying to sell a composting product to Bed Bath & Beyond. I emailed the buyer for almost a year straight every couple of weeks. One day I got a phone call from her saying, “I’m interested in composting and I typed it into my thing. I have almost 100 emails from you.” It pays to be consistent, but I already know what happened there. She went to a meeting. Probably her GMM said, “We got to get into this composting gig. Go back and see what you have.” They went back. They typed it in and I was the first one that popped up. That’s a year.

Competitive advantage, number one, is speed. This is my favorite example. I worked in the Empire State Building for a couple of years. That building was built in 1931. It took 410 days to complete it. It was the largest building, the tallest building in the world for decades. For companies to take a year to respond to a trend that’s happening now is beyond any words that I can express on the continuum of ridiculousness. Why are we not growing? Because we’re not reacting in the speed in which the market, the customer, and the consumer demand. They demand that speed. If you don’t have speed as part of your transformation to growth, you won’t ever grow.

It’s the same from idea to concept to delivery. If you can’t get a retailer to buy it, then make your own delivery. Go to Amazon, partner with them, do exclusives with them. They’ll blow up your search. Consumers will find you because the consumer is not going to wait a year for anyone to respond to an email. They won’t. They will make it themselves or whatever they’re looking for they will find it. The brand themselves also have to think with a D2C mindset as well as what’s my distribution strategy and market? What’s it going to cost to start up that distribution and market? I need to get these items to consumers now. They want them now. Keep speed in the center of how quickly I can get this to satisfy the needs of the consumers and the customers in which I serve. It’s the purpose of why we exist as a company. That’s who pays the bills. Speed is a value add. You have to be fast and good. You have to be fast and great. That is a very simple formula for growth these days.

It’s a bit of a lost concept. I had this conversation with my daughter. She was making slime on her own and selling it to her friends at the ice rink. She decided she wanted to set up an Etsy store. There were tons of other people selling slime on Etsy at the time. She created this value add where you could buy the slime and then you would get a bonus, small slime, but you didn’t know what it was like what color it would be or whatever. It was a surprise. She started making $300, $400 a month on Etsy. I remember a couple times where she’s up until midnight filling orders. Her orders locally with her friends started to rival that.

OTS 142 | Entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship: It’s a challenge to find something that is truly different.

 

She was doing well. There was this huge shortage of Elmer’s glue. You couldn’t get it anywhere. She started recognizing, “If I buy a gallon of Elmer’s glue, then my cost of goods goes down. If I go to a restaurant website online and buy containers, 50 to 100 at a time instead of going to Publix and buying three, my cost of goods goes down.” We walked into an Office Depot, I had to get some packing material or whatever, and they had a table right up front with all the slime ingredients that you need and some recipes and this and that. I looked at her and I told her, ” It’s over. You need to figure out what the next trend that you’re going do on online.”

She said, “What do you mean it’s over? It’s not over.” I said, “It’s over.” I said, “This retailer is now caught on finally, and they’ve worked with Elmer’s to get enough glue and it’s finally here. It’s over.” It was. “You can still buy slime, but it’s not like it was.” To your point, speed, somebody catching on. If they would have put that table up a year earlier, they would have been blowing doors. That whole thing would have been crushing it. A year later, not so much. It was a good lesson for her on trending and being at the forefront of a trend and watching it peak and then drop. Getting out and finding out what’s next. That was fun. Do you agree or disagree that this is probably one of the best times in the last ten to fifteen years for the specialty to start coming back?

I agree.

Ten years ago, specialty started getting pushed out of the market. The Millennials, biggest demographic, they want to go into specialty retail. They want to talk to people. They want to interact and find out what they’re buying and what’s special about it. Now for the next ten or so years is a great time to open up that specialty retailer in your little hometown and bring that back.

Number one, because it’s special and everyone in the world is special and unique in their own way. Having something that you’re famous for and that you do well, you’re fast to market, fast to serve, you’re satisfying that last few footsteps to the door plus you have great quality products, they’re going to win. You can do that in a virtual space or a physical space or an omni space that is more consumers are going because it’s almost like that company is an artisan. They’re back to the ‘30s when it was craftsmanship or the 1900 when it was all craftsmanship that you’ve got the economies of scale of the world now to help satisfy some costs. The intelligence is highly customized and specialized. They’re seeking that. They don’t want generalists anymore.

Consumers, they’re looking for people who know what they’re talking about. That’s multigenerational. You can get from a Gen Z to a silent generation. All those generations will say, “When I go somewhere and talk to someone, I want them to know what they’re talking about.” You can get that in the specialty space or if not you’ll create your own channels of that on your phone or through technology to find the information to make the right decisions for your wallet. This is a great time for anyone who says, “We’re pretty famous for this factor. This is what people know us for.” Do that, exploit that, evolve that, and make that happen. There’s nothing prohibiting people too. There is plenty of real estate space on the planet available. There are stores closing all the time because they’re too general.

If you don't have speed as part of your transformation to growth, you won't ever grow. Click To Tweet

I love it that you agree with me on that because what’s exciting about that is manufacturers can start seeking out specialty retailers and helping them expand their assortments to exciting items that you can’t get big box retailers to look at. That’s going to drive people more to specialty. It will be an interesting shift. I always think about Circuit City. People used to say, “Going into Circuit City is like getting into the Shark Tank.” Everybody is running over each other to get to you because they’re all on commission. The big difference was all those people at Circuit City knew what they were talking about. They were aggressive. Once you hooked into one and asked them a question about this TV or that TV, they knew their stuff. When Circuit City killed their commission program, that’s what put them under. That’s why they went away. You can go to Best Buy now and ask somebody about a TV, they just read the box. I’m like, “I can read the box.” Let me ask you these two questions. What do you think one thing suppliers approaching retailers should stop doing?

Having too many slides in the deck. This is important for people to know. Less is more on many reasons because if you’ve got your consumer proposition right, you can do that in a few slides and be very effective. You can spend the rest of your time talking about that purchase order. They try to make the sell so long. If you can condense that part to where you get your proposition sharp and why you exist, what you’re famous for and it’s rooted in consumer and customer insights, that you’re delivering on something with speed and with the greatness of quality, spend the rest of the time getting the purchase order. What’s wrong with that? That’s one thing, first thing.

All of our readers, they’re trying to sell their products into retail. They should reduce their deck for sure and pinpoint in and position themselves better. What’s one thing that they’re probably not doing that they should start doing?

I don’t know your reader base, but I can give them some things to think about. For the longest time, 80% of the brand’s net revenue would be sitting in the big four. That is a very high cost to serve those big for. I would change the way you go to the market and start with small. I’d rather be a big fish in a small pond than a little fish in a big pond for the first 36, 60 months. Allow the kinks to be worked out of the system with these great regional players, eCommerce players figure out your own way to be your own store as well. Do that with excellence. I can’t express that enough.

Each brand has the ability to control their brand experience, the brand connectivity, the way they tell their story, and to build communities through social platform better than any retailer would be able to do for you. Everyone is on the same playing field there. Those who connect closest with the consumer with stories that mattered to those consumers are going to win. You can use social conversation and information that you get from the platform feeds in order to create your innovation pipeline. I don’t know if they’re doing that or not. If they’re not, that has a lot of gold in it. If they need help figuring that out, there’s me and lots of people in the marketplace can help them figure out how to make that happen.

A lot of manufacturers always have their eye on the prize, the big retailer, Costco, Target, Walmart, whatever that is. I always used to tell my clients, be careful what you wish for because you might not be able to handle that. I’m in a big agreement starting small. Also selling your own product. What you said was do it with excellence. That’s a big thing that a lot of small manufacturers skip over because they have this thought that, “I want to skip all over that and go right to the red carpet.” There is no skipping that step. The one person that needs to be able to sell your product is you.

OTS 142 | Entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship: Rather than be a little fish in a big pond, be a big fish in a small pond.

 

Shannon said, “Do it with excellence and make sure that it’s perfect.” If it is, then you’ll have the confidence to take it to bigger retailers. You never want to find out that your product is not perfect after it’s launched in a decent size retailer. The conversation never goes where I think it’s going to go. I still have questions left, but they seem out in left field. I do like where the conversation went. I truly enjoy speaking with you. It’s nice to find somebody that has a similar view. I think that we do. I know you hit on it at the beginning, but tell us a little bit about your company, what your niche is, and what you do.

Teeny, tiny little boutique consulting firm. It’s me. I have some group members that have a specialty in other areas. If you need someone from R&D, if you need someone in business development, M&A, legal services, we have had group members that have a specialty in functional areas as well that you can partner with them on a day project, a month’s project, whatever that looks like or ongoing services. We can do that for you. It is where I add value to companies is what I said in the beginning. It is defining who their customer is, making sure they’re squarely focused in that. That we have the insights and the analysis behind the information to make good decisions in which they can measure for improvement. Put processes and controls in place in order to have a breakthrough in their business. That’s what I do from a functional perspective. From a leadership perspective, it’s helping to shift the mindset of an organization to think about how they go to market differently. Ensuring that the cultural language matches inside the organization.

They’re all marching in the same 20-mile march together and no one is straggling off on the side. That’s critically important as you grow from point A to point B or if you’re in point D to E, whatever you are on the growth continuum. You’re going to have a series of different actions you need to take in order to keep growth going. That’s important that you take that time to assess where you are and where you want to go. Do you have the right action plans and priority order in order to get that? That’s what I do. I’m super operational in that way, but I also know the P&L from both sides. I love storytelling. That’s why I have a creative outlet with art and writing and being in the moment because that story that you create with your consumer and the relationship that you build with her or with him is priceless.

Big Boxers, what I would take from that is there are no shortcuts. There is no falling into things. It takes planning and strategy. If you don’t have somebody on your team that can do that, you can reach out to Shannon. It’s important to get somebody on board. You’re going to spend money. Here are the two places that you’re either going to spend money. You’re either going to spend money on people that know how to help you or you’re going to spend money making a ton of mistakes and then figuring it out on your own five years later. In some cases, those are your two options. Either way, you’re going to spend the money. My advice would be always to hook up with somebody who knows and put that time in your pocket so that you can get speed to market. That’s something that Shannon mentioned, which I’m a big believer in. The faster you get there in the right way, the better. Shannon, thank you so much. I appreciate it. How do you know Joe?

We did a webinar. That was way back on what would it be like to do business with Walgreens. He interviewed me. We stayed in touch through ECRM. He’s a fantastic human being. I enjoy his energy. I stayed connected with him over the years. Our original meeting was us doing an interview together similar to how you and I were talking. We were talking about business and how to grow and that’s where it all started.

That was years ago. One, two, how many years?

It might have been six years ago because Amelia is six now. I had her or got back from maternity leave or something when we did that. It’s been quite a while.

I don’t know whether you guys got back in touch, which is why he connected us or whether he was thinking about you and connected us. Either way, I’m glad that he did. Joe is always a great resource to send me people because he’ll out of the blue, “Do you want to talk to this person?” My answer is always yes, I do.

We saw each other at the panel I was moderating. That’s how this came up. We had a funny conversation about something. I said, “If we could have turned that into a podcast that would have been hilarious.” He was like, “I know a guy who does podcasts.” That’s exactly how this started.

I carry my handheld recorder when I’m out and about at events and whatnot. In case the conversation starts up where I’m thinking, “This would be a great conversation to put on a podcast,” I whip up my handheld and away we go.

He was definitely not as prepared as you for sure. He got me in connection with the right person to make that happen. Thank you. This is my first one. I appreciate you and the audience taking the time to read. I hope I can help in some way.

You’ve helped tremendously. All your information has been fantastic. Thanks so much for being on. I’m hoping that we’ll talk again soon.

Have a great day.

She did not disappoint. I wasn’t lying. I wasn’t kidding you. She is the real deal. Shannon, thank you so much for coming on board. Thank you so much for your time in this podcast. I enjoyed getting to know you. Thank you so much for the information that you were able to put out to the Big Boxers out there. I know that they found it extremely valuable. Anytime that you have extra time, I’d love to have you back. We’ll continue the conversation. That’s our first podcast. It was a good one to debut 2019. If you’re interested in supporting the podcast, if you want to help us grow, one of the very first things that you can do, it’s not going to cost you a dime, is subscribe to the podcast. One of the second things that you can do is you can put it out on your social media and let people know why you like it. You can act as one of our marketing arms and simply take one or two of your favorite episodes and push us out on social. Let people know what we’re doing here and why you’re liking it.

Three, you can reach out to us personally. Let us know what you’re liking, what you’re not liking, suggestions that you might have information that you want to see on the podcast or if you want to come on the podcast and talk about your experience and what’s happening with you right now with your current business. You can let us know that also. We have just a ton of different ways that you can do that. One, you can go to our Facebook page, which is On The Shelf Now. You can go to our closed Facebook group and join that. That’s also called On The Shelf “Now” and it’s a closed group. All you have to do is hit join and you’ll be part of the extended conversation.

You can find us on Twitter, @OnTheShelfNow. You can go to our website OnTheShelfNow.com. Anywhere that you find us on iTunes, Stitcher, or Spotify or 100 different places that you can find us, feel free to comment and give us a review so that other people checking us out know what you’re finding valuable. That is the best way that you can support the podcast and help us grow. I appreciate each and every one of you. Thank you so much for taking the time to hear what we have to say. Until next time, we look forward to seeing your products on the shelf.

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About Shannon Curtin

OTS 142 | Entrepreneurship

Along with being a wife, mother, beauty industry expert, art curator, real estate developer, traveler, foodie, wellness seeker and clean water activist, Shannon Curtin is also the founder of TPG “The Possibility Group”. After spending the last 18 years of her career leading beauty teams within big and small-box retailers across the United States, as well as transforming some of beauty’s most iconic brands as a manufacturer, Shannon created an unwavering positive mindset to any business challenge.

The TPG method starts with a positive approach to your business challenges. We listen, we focus on your unique strengths, your purpose, and “why” you exist. From there, we customize modern business solutions and action plans that are designed to move your business forward. TPG cares about you, the legacy you are creating, and the impact you are making on the world.

Transformation is really hard, yet remarkably rewarding. We will help you move through the hard part quickly, so that you have more time to enjoy the impact you have created. The group of experts assembled at TPG have deep expertise in their subject matter and they can help you overcome the obstacles standing in the way of your growth. TPG members will assist you in achieving what’s possible.

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