August 1, 2019

August Bonus Episode - NRF Interview with Sheetz, Rituals

Live from the NRF Big Show, a panel discussion Sheetz, Rituals, and more.

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Live from the NRF Big Show, a panel discussion Sheetz, Rituals, and more.

Phillip: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to Future Commerce, the podcast about cutting edge and next generation commerce. I'm Phillip. Today we have an interview that I conducted in January 2019 at the NRF Big Show at the Javits Center in New York City. I sat on a panel and hosted an interview between a couple of retailers and a systems integrator. And we talked about how they are using technology and IRL functions and in-store experience to be able to drive satisfaction with their customers, to drive long term value and success, to encourage repeat visits, and to even get their customers to stay a little longer. And so today on this panel, we have Emily Sheetz from Sheetz gas stations and convenience stores. We have Dave Henderson of CGI and we have Marjolein Westerbeek, who is from Rituals. And all three of them have really interesting insights to share. So without any further ado, let's get into the show.

Announcer: [00:00:55] I'd like to introduce our host and moderator for the next session, Phillip Jackson, and he's the host of Future Commerce. Thank you.

Phillip: [00:01:08] Welcome. Glad you're here. Thank you for coming to the Innovation Lab and the Innovation Stage. And thank you to our panelists for joining us. My name is Phillip Jackson, and I run a podcast called Future Commerce. And we like to say where the podcast about cutting edge and next generation commerce and you can subscribe everywhere podcasts are found in Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher Premium, and go to to check us out. And we love to put these sorts of discussions together where we talk to retailers and merchants, people who are doing things that are truly transformational, and so I cannot wait to introduce you to my new friends here today. Let's start with Emily. Welcome, Emily.

Emily: [00:01:50] Hi, Phillip. Hi, I'm Emily Sheetz. I am the head of Strategy and Innovation for Sheetz, we're a convenience retailer. We're located in the mid-Atlantic. And rather than try to tell you who we are and what we do. I thought we'd show you a video. So go ahead.

Phillip: [00:02:04] Awesome. Well welcome, Emily. And Marilyn, when she tell us a little bit about yourself.

Marjolein: [00:02:10] My name is Marjolein Westerbeek. I am responsible for the U.S. business of Rituals cosmetics, and I'm extremely important to be responsible for your portion of mindfulness today, so please be present in the moment and watch this beautiful video. So I will continue with a couple of strikes for you to get to know the brand a little bit better, because as we currently are the number one lifestyle brand across Europe and the Middle East. It's just only recently that we started our journey in the US. Today we have 700 points of sale across the globe. We have presence in 30 markets and the company is still growing. For us as a brand, It's super important to really spread the word of living more mindfully. And I think that message resonates with a lot of people because it's pretty universal. In order to do so, in order to keep up with our own growth, I think it's extremely important to have some common ground within our company and we use our brand values for it. I was hoping to show you our beautiful brand values because truly supreme pointed to guide you growth across the globe. But I'm sure at the later stage we will touch upon those.

Phillip: [00:03:21] Dave, why don't you introduce yourself?

Dave: [00:03:23] All right. So I'm Dave Henderson. I lead CGI U.S. operations. We're one of the largest end to end I.T. services firms in the world, but probably not a name that many of you are very familiar with. And we actually like it that way. That's by design. We really focus on our clients. We focus on their business, their brands, how we can work with them to make them more successful. But we are a global firm. We have a couple of unique, I think, aspects to our company. One is our proximity models. So we want our teams to be present and to live and work in the communities where our clients are. And we also have a number of software solutions across multiple industries, and that allows us to go deep with our clients, go deeper into their their business, and be able to provide solutions that are very pointed at how they're delivering services to their clients. But we're a company that is behind some of... I'm very proud to be sitting next to two of our clients here. But also, we have clients around the world in 40 countries and 400 locations. So again, large end to end global I.T. services firm that really focuses on supporting our clients and their objectives.

Phillip: [00:04:40] Great. Well, thanks to all of our panelists and thank you for joining us. So I thought I'd start us out. The topic today is systematic satisfaction, a little alliteration for a Monday morning. And when we approach this topic and I got to know the panelists, it seemed like the thing that was jumping out to me is that it's easier than ever. It's easier than ever in 2019 to adopt technology. Technology's all around this. Right? And we have no shortage of the types of technology that we can put into place. If you walk into any of your favorite brands they'll try to make their technology experience the only one that you ever interact with. But it seems like the more technology that we put into place, the further away we get from our customers. And so I thought I'd kick us off by asking Emily, who is your customer and how do you get to know them and how do you how do you listen to them and what they need?

Emily: [00:05:37] Great question. So we have 600 units, again across the mid-Atlantic, six states, and we're very embedded in the communities in which they operate. So I think first and foremost, being that touchpoint in that community is what we're known for by our customers. And our employees are just amazing and fantastic at connecting with our customers and really making them feel like they are special every time they walk in the door. Now, of course, there are community stores that, you know, they know people's names. You know, it's just like the Cheers thing, but also everybody who comes in there, you know, we're just having fun. We are in the convenience retail business. It's nothing serious. It's fun. And so our employees treat it as fun. And that comes across the counter and it comes across on the floor and just makes people feel good to be there.

Phillip: [00:06:28] And people have a reason to go into a Sheetz. Right? So they're probably in search of something. How do you make them aware of everything that they can engage with? Some might come for gas. Some might come for some other reason. What is your approach to making them engage with you more?

Emily: [00:06:45] Well, great question. So we have a complicated story. Where we are located people are now used to this idea that you can get great food at the gas station, but that's a hard sell in a new market. So it usually takes a bit of time for people to engage with our full offer, that full one stop shop. So we usually start with that gas offer and then entice them into the store and then hopefully, you know, build their loyalty and engagement from there. But as you saw from the video, our brand is very fun. It's very loud and it's very authentic. So I think that in and of itself is able to speak to people when they come on our property, when they come on the lot. They walk in the store and they just feel good being there. So that really helps them to have a point of reference for engaging with.

Phillip: [00:07:35] And Marjolein, Rituals has totally the opposite challenge, right? You have to entice people to come in. What's the first experience that somebody has when they come into a ritual store?

Marjolein: [00:07:48] Well, it might sound like a detail, but I am super proud of the fact that every customer who comes into our store has been offered a cup of tea globally in each of our 750 stores. And the reason why is that in every of our points of show, we encourage people to slow down. And so our brand is all about storytelling and our brand is all about spreading the philosophy of living more mindful. So that is where the journey starts with.

Phillip: [00:08:13] And we actually have your slide here about the philosophy. So mindfulness is key to what your experience is about. That sounds like an interesting challenge to you have to tell that story in many different retail markets?

Marjolein: [00:08:28] Yeah, it has been a story ever since, well, when he founded our company, it was the first eight years that were super tough because we truly believed in the mindfulness way of living. But probably, now reflecting on it back, it wasn't so relevant back in the day. But now in an environment, well not only the retail environment, but in an environment where you have access to anything everywhere, it's super important to really stay connected to your own port. And that is why we use our brand to really encourage people to slow down, really step back. So it's not only the cup of tea, it's also the hand massage we offer. It's really the stories around each and every product category that helps us to do so.

Phillip: [00:09:13] I'll take you up on the hand massage later.

Marjolein: [00:09:17] {laughter} Challenge accepted.

Phillip: [00:09:18] Creating an experience in Europe... That's really where the foundation of Rituals as a company. I'm sure you've had an opportunity to tell your story there for many years. What is it like coming to the States?

Marjolein: [00:09:33] Well, it's starting all over again. And it's also the challenge you have in every market, is that you really have to stay true to the core of the brand, but try to find the local nuances. And that's not always easy, especially not for a Dutch company, because we tend to be a little bit stubborn. So if it's a success across Europe, then it's supposed to be a success everywhere in the world. But that's not really how it works. And we are you know, recently we have launched a brand in the US. And after three years, we found some common ground. But we had to adjust a lot of things we were kind of used to working with in Europe. Yeah.

Phillip: [00:10:09] Yeah. Telling the story all over again. I see sometimes that it's very difficult, especially when you have an age of customer interaction where every brand is talking directly to the customer. There's a lot of noise. And so having a brand that's all about mindfulness and trying to cut out the noise, it sounds like you have a very specific challenge. Emily, you're family owned and operated. How does that help you understand who your customer is and does that win more trust with your customer?

Emily: [00:10:42] So we are family owned and operated, and it's not something that we talk about to our customers a lot. Maybe it's an opportunity we have to tell the story a little bit more. But again, we feel like the story of our brand and our offer is complex, a little bit, you know, because it's this different thing out there in the marketplace. And so that's really where we focus our messaging. But being family owned and operated indirectly I think really allows us to have a very deep and strong connection with our customers. First and foremost through our employees, as I mentioned they're a key part of that customer experience. And we really feel like the 18,000 people we have working with us are an extension of the Sheetz family. So our people are extremely important. We treat them as such. And because of that, you know, they are happy to come to work and they're happy to present the brand and themselves every day, which is just the most important part of the experience. The other part, though, being family owned and operated, is it allows us to invest in the long term. It allows us to invest in innovations that are really going to make a difference for the customer. And so I think that has always given us an opportunity to do more on behalf of the customer.

Phillip: [00:11:56] And you're in the local community, and you're powered by the local community. So the community sees you as one of their own. Yeah, that's pretty interesting. And I think that helps with being authentic. Dave, we were talking about, backstage, talking about being authentic. And I realized that Sheetz has an interesting dilemma in that they have to appeal to, you know, both the soccer mom and the career trucker and Rituals has to tell their story in a European market and North American market. And you have to serve both of them. How do you deliver services for your customers who are every bit as varied as theirs?

Dave: [00:12:40] Yeah, I think really for us, the only way to do that is to make sure that we have teams and leaders that are really fully embedded in our client's business. There's no way that I can be the the expert across the multiple industries that we serve. But we've got to make sure that we have teams that are local, that are present, and really working alongside our clients to really understand their business and their challenges. And I think that allows us to come to the table with innovation and solutions that help them further their brands and further their business operations. The other thing about being a global company is that we can have clients like Rituals, where we started the relationship in Europe and now as they're moving to the US, we can expand our global operational fabric to support their expanding operations. And the same as with Sheetz, as they expand across the U.S. and in the northeast, we're able to expand with them. We have operations in all parts of the US and all parts of the globe. So I think we put that together in a really effective way to help our clients. But again, it's got to be very mindful, and I think very personal, in terms of the relationships that we want to develop with our clients, because that promotes the collaboration that we really need to be successful.

Phillip: [00:13:59] And because you deliver technology, whenever you deliver technology goes perfectly the first time with no problem.

Dave: [00:14:05] Absolutely. We've never had a technology problem.

Phillip: [00:14:10] But and I think that that's what it comes down to. You said it's a long term partnership.

Dave: [00:14:15] It is.

Phillip: [00:14:16] Understanding the brand and growing with them and helping them grow... Marjolein, that partnership, that's key to how you're going to grow Rituals beyond where it is today. Long term partnership.

Marjolein: [00:14:31] Obviously. A long term partnership. Always. Yeah, I think that's also part of our DNA, that we are here to stay, so we're never interested in short term success. And even with our partners, and we were just talking about it, that partnership is always so easy said. But a partnership really shows its true value when you struggle your way through growth. So we had a couple of conversations with the CGI team and learned the easiest topics, but we have fixed all of them and that enables us that we are able to say that we are ready for future growth. So we have built a solid fundament and we think we're part of that. So it's not only us believing in our dream, it's also that.

Phillip: [00:15:12] Yeah. And you're making investment every day. Yeah. You were saying that there's sort of a regional delivery where you've found that some people adopt your story very quickly. They understand and identify with the brand. We actually have a picture on the slides that you can put up of what the in-store experience is like. It's this beautiful immersive... You're surrounded with sensory overload. How do you bring people that sense of serenity in New York versus California?

Marjolein: [00:15:52] It took me a while. And not only me, it took the team awhile because I was just mentioning in New York especially, you see people running around with yoga mats all the time. But does the real message of yoga resonate in their heads? Question mark... So it obviously doesn't make it really easy for a brand like ours to bring that whole story of mindfulness across. But if I'm fairly honest and I look back on when the brand was founded in the Netherlands, it was kind of pretty much the same journey. So we have to hang in there. We have to stay true to our core, and we have to keep on telling our stories. And also, which is maybe the hardest part, give ourselves the time to really develop the message. And I think it helps that our stores are surrounded by these beautiful cherry blossom trees and all the innovation that all the teams behind the scenes put into all of these beautiful points of sale. But at the end of the day, it's about the story we have to tell. And it takes time.

Phillip: [00:16:50] It does take time. And that sense of helping people re-ocus on self care, definitely seems like it has... California might be very receptive to that, where in New York you're having to teach it, right? So they're different customers. Yeah. We were saying before, I call that aspirational mindfulness when you're carrying your yoga mat around with you all the time. For Sheetz, do you find that you've become a destination as opposed to the place you stop on the way to your destination?

Emily: [00:17:26] Yes, certainly in some of our markets where we're really well known, where our food service has kind of taken over the business, for sure. And, you know, that takes time. As I said, we've been in operation for over 65 years, mostly in that time in Pennsylvania. So in Pennsylvania, we're like very well-known, western Pennsylvania. And yeah we're a destination for food. And that's amazing. But, you know, we're also very, very happy to serve the people on the go, too, because those customers need somewhere to shop. And that's why I think we can really appeal to almost anybody. As you said, because anyone's on the go, whether it's a soccer mom or a long haul truck driver, or anybody in between. Everyone's on the go. Everyone needs a little pick me up, and everyone can use just a little moment in their day or they can have somebody greet them with a smile on their face and give them what they need and be on their way.

Phillip: [00:18:25] So we were talking about systematic satisfaction. You might have those moments of satisfaction with the customer. How do you create that as a culture, as a process? And how do you drive technology towards that?

Emily: [00:18:39] Well, technology is certainly a key part of the experience today, and I think our partnership with CGI has allowed us to extend our brand into a more digital space, as well. And we're still serving that customer on the go. But, you know, trying to figure out all the time how to innovate towards driving more of the technology towards providing to a customer on the go. But, you know, I think, as I said before, our brand is all about having fun. And it's getting people what they want when they want it. We're not doing anything difficult or hard here. So we we really approach, I think, all of our work very lightly with that sense of having fun. And so that helps us to expand what we offer to the customer, whether it's in our product selection or the store design, to just kind of systematically, like you said, kind of extend that customer experience around fun.

Phillip: [00:19:34] Dave, technology is easy, right? That's what I keep being told. It's quick and easy to implement. And but when you're creating systems, interconnected systems, you have to sort of understand what the purpose is they're supposed to fulfill.

Dave: [00:19:51] Yeah, I think, you know, it's really easy for technology companies and technologies to get wrapped up in the technology and the how to build the thing right. Because we're engineers and we want to build something. But what I've discovered and I think what we've latched on onto as a company, is that we're much better when we're trying to understand what is the right thing to build. So, and that again goes back to being really present with our clients and collaborating with them to understand, "Are we building the right thing?" And then to implement a process that is very iterative so that you can fail quickly or understand quickly whether or not we're building the right thing to that is meeting expectations for the experience that Emily wants to have for her customers in a Sheetz store or that Rituals wants to have for their customers in a Rituals store. And so we have to be very tuned to those experiences. And the only way to do that is to understand that with our clients, to focus on the human side of things, not the technology side. The technology will come. But let's focus on as human beings and as experiences, what experiences are we trying to create here? Or what experiences are we trying to enable with technology, and that's where we focus.

Phillip: [00:21:08] In Rituals, you have the experience of the cherry blossoms in the store. Do you have to now think about how you bring that feeling of being surrounded by cherry blossoms on the Web and in an app? How do you engage outside of the store and how do you grow that sphere of influence there too?

Marjolein: [00:21:31] Yeah, actually we are trying to create the same environment online and in our app. Probably you have the app where your phone already preparation for this meeting, and if not, please do so because it's just beautiful and it's really helping you to understand the same experience which we offer in store. And I think we have a lot of projects going on, even if we look in the next year only it's a paperless store completely surface by partners. It's creating a better online experience always because it's a continuous process. We will launch a new app. We will implement a CRM system. But in the end of the day, I think it's super important that you always have those stores in the streets and in the malls to really offer the brand at its fullest potential.

Phillip: [00:22:19] And it's not technology for technology sake. It's to understand your customer. Yeah.

Marjolein: [00:22:24] Yeah. And I think that's also the era where we are living in. A lot of companies tend to be too focused on technology only. And to me, it's an important piece of the pie, but not the only piece.

Phillip: [00:22:37] Wow. "It's an important piece of the pie. It's not the only piece." That's really good. Tweet that, somebody. One of those things I think that we get away from in implementing technology is, we're all about that initial deployment or that initial launch has to be this spectacular splash, but Dave was just touching on iterating and creating programs out of constant improvement. What does constant improvement looks like for Sheetz?

Emily: [00:23:15] Well, I hope that through a partnership with CGI, we can get a little bit better at iteration because in our past we wanted to put out the perfect app, as well. We wanted things to be, you know, just right. And I think we're getting better at understanding that it's better to put something out there and learn from it and continue to improve and evolve, that the expectation from the customer is that that's OK. We have been doing this for a long time. And I think the expectations of customers we've seen have shifted. You know, if we didn't do something right the first time, we got a little bit of backlash from customers. And so, you know, I think that scarred us a bit to say, "Oh, no, you know, it has to be perfect." But we're learning, we're learning that customer expectations have shifted. The ability to have partnerships that help us get better at that learning and that iteration is improving. And given the number of technology innovations that are happening in retail and food service right now, you kind of just have to get in the game and start doing it if you want to play.

Phillip: [00:24:26] And how do you build a... You have this really interesting brand voice that I think is humorous.

Emily: [00:24:34] Yes.

Phillip: [00:24:34] And can you bring that to how you engage with the customer digitally? How do you pull that into that experience? How do you make that part of who the brand is no matter where you're interacting with it?

Emily: [00:24:46] Yes. So I think we're actually very lucky in the sense that we've been using technology in our stores to support the customer experience, and particularly the ordering experience or our food service, since 1993. So we've had all of our food has been ordered on kiosks since 1993. And so we have used that as a platform and an interaction point with our customers for a long time. And that, I think, really helped to develop our brand and our voice. So that's kind of been natural for us. You know, that was a natural extension then to take that to our mobile app and our Web site and all of those things.

Phillip: [00:25:24] Before we wrap up, we have a... I usually end our podcasts sort of asking people what challenges they've had to overcome to get you to where you are and what you're going to have to overcome to get to where you want to be. And I guess I'll start with you, Marjolein.

Marjolein: [00:25:43] Well, I think the most important is to get us ready for future growth. We are the number one bath and body brand across Europe and the Middle East. And our next chapter will be growing into a global brand with our initial expansion here in the US. And Asia will be the next on the radar in Q3 this year. And for a Dutch company growing in to be a global brand, we have to overcome maybe ourselves over time and really try to be focused on how we can bring our brand across all these different markets. And it's also how we learn. Trial and error a little bit. So I hope we will never lose that. And with partners like CGI and a lot of more partners, we will insure ourselves that we can stay true to our core and that they can complete us in order to be the global player. And it will happen, but it takes time.

Phillip: [00:26:40] If anyone can solve global commerce, it's probably the Dutch. So...

Marjolein: [00:26:44] Keep that in mind and download the app.

Phillip: [00:26:46] Yes. For Sheetz... What have you had to overcome to get to where you are? And what are you going to have to tackle to get to where you want to be?

Emily: [00:26:57] Sure. So I mentioned, we're this one stop shop, we're this three business models and one and again, convincing people that you can get great food at the gas station, that you can have fun at a gas station is a hurdle, you know, any time that we go into a new market. But I think we're learning more and more how to really spread that message. And I think probably our biggest hurdle going forward now is that at 600 stores, we're no longer this really small and nimble company. We're pretty big. So we need to figure out how to keep that innovation happening while also keeping this machine, I call it, of 600 stores operating really smoothly, 24/7. So it's a big order.

Phillip: [00:27:38] Wow. Dave.

Dave: [00:27:42] You know, I think for us the challenge and the opportunity is just to keep up with our clients that are growing so quickly, keeping up with the markets and making sure that we're bringing the right skills and capabilities to really enable what our clients are trying to do across multiple industries. So it's always a challenge, but that's what makes it fun. And it's fun to work with fun clients. And so this is what's meaningful to us. And we just appreciate being able to work with Sheetz and with Rituals in their growth, in their journey.

Phillip: [00:28:16] Awesome. I will really appreciate all of your time. Thank you, Marjolein, Dave. Thank you, Emily. And thank you all for joining us. This has been a wonderful time.

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