January 10

Episode 156: Revolutionizing Retail: A Digital Transformation Journey


In this episode of ‘Get Unstuck and On Target’, Mike sits down with Doug Spiron, President of ThinkTime, LLC. With a career spanning over three decades in the retail industry, Doug shares profound insights on leveraging technology for retail transformation.

Discover how ThinkTime is leading the charge in revolutionizing retail task management and customer engagement. Doug delves into the intricacies of digital transformation in retail, emphasizing the importance of adapting to technological advances to stay ahead. He also shares valuable lessons on leadership, driving retail innovation, and maintaining a customer-centric approach in a digital world.

Tune in to learn how Doug’s strategies can help retailers not just survive but thrive in the digital age.

Doug Spiron’s Bio

As the President of ThinkTime, LLC, I am responsible for our international marketing, sales, and client success teams.

ThinkTime is a leading provider of innovative and fresh solutions for retail task management, store audits, communication, help ticketing and more to help retailers achieve a high performance culture and improve customer engagement.

With over 30 years of experience in the retail industry, I have a proven track record of delivering growth, profitability, and excellence for my clients and partners. My core competencies include leadership, new business development, income statement management, and process improvement.

I leverage technology to solve modern retail problems and drive retail transformation. My mission is to leave retail better than I found it, one client at a time.

In This Episode…

  • Discover how technology is revolutionizing the retail industry
  • Understand the role of efficient task management in retail success
  • Learn about the transformation from traditional to digital retail practices
  • Gain insights into strategies for improving customer engagement in retail
  • Explore the importance of leadership and innovation in the retail sector

Links & Resources Mentioned…

Read The Transcript

Mike O'Neill: Welcome back to Get Unstuck and On Target

I'm Mike O'Neill with Bench Builders whether we're working with supervisors to improve their people skills or it's me coaching a leader one on one getting leaders and companies unstuck is at the heart of everything we do and that's exactly what this podcast

is all about I was looking back at some of our past guests and I came to the realization my goodness I've never brought on the podcast someone who has expertise in retail we're going to change that today I like to introduce the guests this is Doug Spiron

Doug is the president of ThinkTime

ThinkTime is a cloud based task management and associate communications platform and it's built to help retailers achieve a high performance culture and improve customer engagement

welcome Doug

Doug Spiron: oh so nice to be here I've listened to so many of the podcasts and it's awesome to be a part of it

Mike O'Neill: you know I was starting to kind of introduce you and I got a little tongue tied which is not like me but retail

I mean let's just jump right in that's what you know and what you know best but gosh it has changed dramatically

Doug Spiron: you're so right

Mike O'Neill: in what ways from your vantage point have you seen the most significant changes to retail

Doug Spiron: well I started retail in high school with Sears back when Sears Roebuck Company was an American icon and worked through my high school years and into my college years and spent 20 years there

and I just remember everything being so simple then the online part of retail really didn't exist obviously at that time and you know it was great displays great products and ultimately you'd be super successful and Sears obviously did that extremely well but after that I moved to Home Depot and that's when things really started to change

I spent 10 years there at Home Depot and the online part of uh everything really came on strong at that time created competition for bricks and mortar retail and really changed the expectations of the retail experience and so that's been a real big part of the change that's happened in retail

yeah I know this is a platform

we're going to talk about that a little bit more detail but your customers are they brick and mortar are they e commerce a blend

yeah so our com we have both the primary customer though is has a distributed workforce in brick and mortar stores around the world

Mike O'Neill: yeah I'm a little embarrassed to tell you this

I was just thinking about this this morning uh about this upcoming podcast and I was just realizing I personally have worked in organizations that have quote a distributed workforce but what I'm thinking retail it is distributed to scale and in terms of consistency in terms of the things that need to take place

it's just strikes me as there's so many moving parts you've been part of forming this business it's been around since when

Doug Spiron: 2011 is when we started

Mike O'Neill: and in terms of what y'all did my understanding is that other retail experts you came together and says there's got to be a better way can you describe a little bit about the quote the product slash service that the time

Doug Spiron: is absolutely the origin of the product was really having lived

day to day retail operations both from a headquarters perspective and from a store's perspective and you said it really well so think about this idea of I start small as an entrepreneur and I have the store that I created in front of me and I can control everything but as you said as growth happens now I have to have Leaders in all of these locations and I'm trying to impart my operational tendencies and desires and strategy to those leaders

and I get bigger and I get bigger and that makes it more and more difficult so being a part of 2 gigantic organizations myself fears and Home Depot the day to day uh consistency between the locations was lacking I can remember as a district manager uh being responsible for a group of 15 locations or a region manager being in charge of a whole entire region in the Northeast United States you travel to one location and you get one thing you tried to travel to another location and get something quite different both on the high end and then of course unfortunately on the low end

so we developed this product to really help you we're going to be using a lot of the same people that are at the headquarters organizations but mostly field leaders people that are interacting with the stores every day to help them gain that consistency through communication through tools that we're going to help them digitize processes that in the past would have been paper based or something very inefficient

so we've created a digital tool to help them reinforce their standards reinforce their strategies make sure everybody's on the same page that was really the origin story of this is having lived the day to day retail as a region manager or district manager you see those flaws and how hard it is to get everybody on the same page

so when we had the opportunity to build this company from scratch we build a digital tool that would make that process much more

Mike O'Neill: simple you said something kind of caught my attention Doug and that is uh when you're with large organizations you're looking for solutions and this is where the big players come in and they offer you this huge package with all these kinds of things

but it seems to me it's really geared towards corporate the people who are signing the check for who does that and you said something about the field leadership it sounds as if y'all purposely built think time with them very much in mind

Doug Spiron: yeah I think you're right most software tools are headquarters centric

We didn't do that we built this product from the store level day to day associate the front line folks that are interacting with the customers every day they make the biggest impact I mean honestly in the retail world and I think you know this expands beyond just retail to hospitality and to any customer facing business

Those are the people that make the biggest difference and so we built the tool with them in mind how do we make it easier for them to know what's going on how do you personalize the information that they receive one of the things that I remember is getting these big manuals or decks or PDFs that you had to sort through to find out what's relevant to me

As a person as a cashier or a store manager or district manager I don't want to spend all that time trying to filter through all this material to find out what's relevant and I want to find what's important really really fast and so we built the tool in a way to help those folks find exactly what they need

but the material has been personalized to them based on the fact that we know who their location where their location is we know what their role is and therefore everything has been served up to them in a personalized way and you can do that in a digital environment all right much easier than you can do that in a paper based or an email or a excel spreadsheet

Mike O'Neill: etc

you know the ability for you to kind of customize that such that the person who's in a particular role Really only has a need and desire to see that which pertains to them And therefore all that Noise is eliminated

Doug Spiron: yeah I mean I I I can remember folks going to a a bookshelf behind them to find the right manual and then sorting through to the right chapter et cetera

so the idea here is I've I've got a digital search like a personalized global search and I type in what I want and I instantly find what's relevant and pertains only to me my role in my location or I have a dashboard that's been specifically crafted for me and on it I find the status of my projects and what's new and information that's current news items or knowledge based tools that I can utilize to do my job better and so somebody in that Situation finds themselves feeling more engaged more knowledgeable and therefore easy to give a better customer experience because I have all the tools right at my fingertips

I don't have to go find them I don't have to go search for them so it was a big objective mike since the very beginning was this idea of creating simplicity but from the store level looking up to headquarters rather than the other way around

Mike O'Neill: you know in my introduction I hope I described this correctly whereas your solution kind of breaks down to task management and associate communication

let's start down this task management you mentioned dashboards the dashboards that you make available to your clients that can be drilled down is it are they visual how does a dashboard with your tool work

Doug Spiron: yeah so 22 primary tools like some people are at a desktop or a laptop right other people are using this on their phone

so we have both web based environments that are great for a laptop or desktop but also a native mobile application that's been specifically designed for hardened devices phones tablets etc and so for me if I start my day with a cup of coffee I want to know what's going on what's new and so when I log in I know who you are I know what your location is and the information that I'm seeing tasks that are on my plate

okay new news articles new information that's been provided about my holiday setup for an example or a new display that I'm supposed to execute in my location it's specifically there there's notifications both in the app and external so there's no doubt this person can start their day with significant knowledge on what's on their display

how to get it done and then real time recognition when they actually get it done they know that everyone above them their district manager their region manager the headquarters folks see that real time status that their projects being completed so there's some significant satisfaction that comes from that as well

we all like to check things off the list right I have a list

Mike O'Neill: right off camera here and yes I find it very gratifying not only do I check it off I take a yellow highlighter because I want to see a lot of yellow on my list at day's end yeah I'm the same way doug you described how this tool that y'all have developed helps leaders and helps those that they lead have clarity on what's got to get done and how to manage

the business and you made reference to this as maybe a communication tool you've kind of married the 2 and at least in my experience Doug when I began working with the organizations when you go and survey employees the most common response that they will give is we need to improve communication it seems like regardless of the industry regardless of the size uh there's complaint about communication

how has this tool how does this tool help improve communication and culture building yeah

Doug Spiron: I think I think it's a big factor in employee engagement and as you know turnover is a big deal in The entire workforce not just retail it's it's a broad based problem keeping and retaining great people is is a gigantic problem

and so one of the things you dig into and you say you know this idea of satisfaction and engagement comes through knowledge it comes through being appreciated it comes through knowing that you have the tools that you need to do the job so we consider ourselves more than just a task management platform and a communication platform

we're a digital workplace and so the idea here is everything I need is at my fingertips I can find it easily I can flawlessly execute based on that so I'm doing better in my job performance I'm getting recognized for my effort so the communication part of it is just one facet it's this idea that I have a digital workplace where everything's in one place

I don't have to go over here for this tool I don't have to pull a manual off the shelf for this activity everything's being centralized in a way where it makes the effort so much easier for the end user and so in that there's satisfaction in that there's productivity in that there's engagement

and all of those things play into preventing turnover in the long run keeping your best people regretted turnover keeping those best people is huge

Mike O'Neill: I've not heard that term regretted turnover that's great

Doug Spiron: yeah regretted like your the regretted turnover would be losing your very best people right

the ones that you just can't afford to lose and you know there's turnover where you're talking to somebody about a performance issue and ultimately you decide to part ways right but when those best people that you count on aren't engaged and don't feel appreciated and they leave there's a huge regret on the business's part

and there's a huge cost to that because they're your most productive best customer service people right

Mike O'Neill: well clearly I subscribe to the same thing what I do find is all too often organizations spend way too much of their energy on those low performing employees and they tend to overlook those who are really there delivering day in and day out

out you know when you mentioned that the checklist as you're going through the ways that the software was particularly designed to do the things that meet the cross my mind is all employees regardless of level need to feel valued they need to know what's expected of and they need to be given the tools to do that what you're asking them to do

and as you described it it was for me check check check

Doug Spiron: right right I think the you you mentioned the lower level performers and I think that's an interesting point real time visibility to the status of the work that's being completed you're assigning it out to everybody your top performers your lowest performers you're giving them to dues

and so ultimately that visibility helps those conversations be much more clear I think I remember back to my days as a store manager or district manager when you have a performance conversation with somebody and there's no facts behind it it's very very difficult to do that right because now you're talking anecdotally and that never sits well and that conversation goes very poorly

in a tool like ours It's a push of a button to get reports that are you know holistic in their nature I see the whole year I see your performance I see how many tasks you completed on time I see how many store visits you completed I see the status of those visits or the scores of those visits I see your visibility to news articles and things like that

and ultimately it paints a picture for a manager to have a much more quality conversation with a lower performer as well as recognizing those that are at the top so I just wanted to pick up on that thought because I think it works at both ends of the spectr um

Mike O'Neill: it clearly does you know Doug right before we hit the record button you shared with me that yes you are the president but you're we're part of the founding team that kind of built think time

can you just share a little bit about that journey that y'all are on you went from being a corporate leader to now being a business I am owner

Doug Spiron: building from scratch yeah I mean there were a lot of products out in the market that did things similar to what we did but we just felt like we could do it better

having come from a retail background having lived that every day it was more than just creating a software platform it was creating a tool that was going to be really really useful in the hands of the people and so when you understand those scenarios and you can speak the language and you develop software that actually helps them with that process it mattered

so we started small we've been self funded since the very beginning and really it was a pick and shovel work as some bubble gand duck duct tape along the way right but we grew the team pretty significantly we started getting global customers back in the 2015 16 time frame and really exponentially grew across retail

so we started with some department store retailers and then we've added grocery and convenience stores and we continue to kind of proliferate getting across all the retail verticals and have quite a presence around the world from Australia to South Africa to to Europe and the United States and so that allow us to grow the team to grow the product to make it more competitive in the marketplace with the modules that was needed

uh recently we actually were acquired by a capital funding company and also became part of the store force team and so store forces uh WFM platform that specializes in specialty retailer kind of the smaller very boutique very customer facing retailers would become part of that team and there's some nice synergies between what they do and what we do and we'll continue to bring those forward

so it's been quite a journey Mike it's been you know from being years and years of self funded years and years of kind of bubble gand and duct tape as it were to build the team and to build the revenue over time but recently have gone through that acquisition phase

Mike O'Neill: in what ways has that acquisition changed kind of your outlook going forward

what opportunities does that present to you to the key leadership that you might not have had before

Doug Spiron: yeah so as you know expectations come with uh being acquired right you're gonna the whole idea of being acquired is to Grow revenue and and and to expand your market share and to really compete on a much more significant level

and so that's the that's where we're at I mean so in the past where we would have small sales team you know a really small marketing team you know we're beginning to grow those assets the idea here is you know obviously become much more known and you spend a lot more time on that side of the business trying to expand the net

and make sure people know about you et cetera so you know I think that's one of the things that I'm the most excited about is we've spent a lot of time kind of being the unknown player or the smaller player and the opportunity now to to really compete on a higher level and to be more known in the industry and have those opportunities is a huge part of that acquisition

And part of that comes with the integration opportunities also with with the store force team and so they have a WFM product tasking has time associated with it being able to integrate the time of the tasks into the forecast and scheduling processes is a really big deal and we're looking forward to that as well

Mike O'Neill: you know you mentioned that you've you've joined a company one aspect was more boutique y'all are handling multiple verticals in your experience of all the verticals that y'all have taken on which yeah

Doug Spiron: so you think about clients that are super super large and are multi country they're multinational

and so we've got a couple of grocers that literally are on every continent that we deal with I mean these are gigantic 10 000 location behemoths right they they have high expectations but also You know when you start to deal with a bigger organization like that there's this you know this it's a gigantic entity right

and so you're dealing with multiple people and you're coordinating those activities across the globe so it's challenging but it's fun because every single one of their locations have different expectations so Australia thinks a little differently than what the European team does or the North American team does

and you've got to solve for all of that and I think it's a tremendous challenge but something that we've taken on and it's been awesome As you kind of

Mike O'Neill: reflect on your experiences thus far It could be at think time or elsewhere Can you share an example where you or the organization got stuck and when that happened

what did y'all do to get unstuck

Doug Spiron: yeah I mean I think in those early days the growth part of this was was the most difficult right getting resources to handle 24 7 365 service around the globe we're based in Chicago and the idea here that all of a sudden you're serving somebody in Australia or you're serving somebody in South Africa

that was a tremendous challenge and so putting those pieces together I mentioned we were self funded right so putting those pieces together and making sure that we had the right service model you know it's one thing to say your product's fantastic it's going to help a retailer deliver an exceptional differentiated level of service but you have that same expectation of yourself and your company right

and so putting together the pieces of the puddle to develop the product the right way in a modern architecture at the right time to make sure the product was solid and stable and secure all those things doing the 24 7365 service around the globe putting that team together was a really challenging moment

and you know there's times where we felt a little stuck right there's times where we felt like maybe this decision might not have been the right one and then we figured out a way to do it better and became unstuck through the process right but but it was a real challenge doing that on your own time doing that in a growth model that you were funding yourself throughout the whole entire process

Mike O'Neill: as I look back at clients that I've been working with one of the recurring things more often is growth on one hand growth is good we all want to see growth but what growth comes oftentimes growing pains and some of these were describing here kind of fits that description is yeah listeners know this is an unscripted conversation but we've talked a lot about building a solution for customers that got more and more diverse uh in making continual improvements over that time period

you're president of the company and what ways did you find that you needed to improve Doug uh as a leader well

Doug Spiron: that's that's very true I mean so go back to that same growth aspect right I've been a part of giant companies at at Sears and Home Depot but you have a support network there like you have an established business model that has the finance person and the marketing person the salesperson like you have all that right

and so you're just part of a gigantic cog and so you know if I think about it from a personal development standpoint it's all on your shoulders you know and you know you have a team a really great group of of core leadership folks but you got to tackle all those aspects yourself as you're growing the team

and so you find yourself expanding the things that you touch the things that you get involved in having opinions around things that maybe in the past you didn't have responsibility for and entrepreneurial experience is very different than a corporate experience from that perspective and so you get grown you grow and you you stretch

In those moments and certainly through the the 2013 to 18 range we had to significantly take on uh more of a leadership role across multiple facets of the business

Mike O'Neill: when you transition from being a corporate executive to being an entrepreneur and the lessons learned when people come to you which they inevitably do and say you know I'm in a corporate role but gosh I kind of have an itch

I like to own what I'm doing what advice do you give folks when they come to you with those questions there's

Doug Spiron: fear that that that goes with you know the stability that comes through a gigantic organization and being a part of it and I just you know you you've got to do something you love you know that and you've got to do something that you care about and that you feel like you're making an impact in the space

I'm on a LinkedIn profile I say you know I'm leaving retail you know one better than I found it like it like you become that mantra like you have a purpose in that and I I tell people when they ask me you know should I really step out on this plank and take this risk you know it's it's super rewarding

if you set yourself up right you're willing to work hard and you're willing to put everything you've got into it the chances are you're going to be successful and you're going to enjoy it more and you're going to feel more empowered through the process and I know that I've felt that since my early days here is that it's on it's on us right

we take it on and it's exciting fear but I'm so glad I did it and that's what I tell other people

Mike O'Neill: you know you mentioned that you are supporting customers across the globe 24 7 it doesn't shut down it never stops how do you personally find a way to kind of unplug yeah

Doug Spiron: my team is exceptional so I have the sales side of the business

I have the marketing side of business and then I have the customer care side of the business as well so it's nice because I'm involved from the initial acquisition of the client through the sales process and then ultimately my team also handles the after the implementation and the customer care cycle after that

and so Mike it's always people you can unplug if you don't your team's not exceptional and my customer care team we we actually hired our vice president of customer care was a previous client was a previous client but they had gone out of business during COVID due to cashflow problems a lot of businesses did right

So it was an opportunity for me to go find someone who had used the product who was a retailer and ultimately is now running my customer care team because he's exceptional he understands what the clients are going through he understands our product because he actually implemented it and his team then lives and breathes that kind of feeling every single day

so I can unplug with a tremendous amount of confidence because of the team that I've hired and trained and they're exceptional on their own

Mike O'Neill: just great people you know as I've been listening to you we've been talking about retail but we've also been talking about retail with an eye towards how might this conversation be relevant to to others

and I can see lots and lots of parallels I think my appreciation for the complexity of retail has grown and I hope this hasn't come across wrong but I think there's it's generally assumed that retail cannot attract the best audience and what what you're trying to say is yes you can you can attract you can retain with the right tools you can kind of accomplish uh that and defy what is really an onslaught of challenge for retailers

E commerce has upended it you've got to be that much better if you're going to stay competitive

Doug Spiron: it's so easy to click that button and just buy something and have it shipped to your house and so the brick and mortar experience has to be exceptional when I go there there has to be a differentiated feeling

I'm here because somebody is engaging with me they're making me feel important there's that human interaction part they can explain how a product works they can show you physically how it works a video can do that but it's not the same and so there's so many aspects of retail that's touch and feel

the apparel business is still very touch and feel But people buy it online and so you do need to make the retail experience be tremendously differentiated and a tool like ours Helps you create that consistency give you that real time visibility to what's going on in the Organization and to engage and retain those best people as well

Mike O'Neill: doug we've discussed a pretty wide range of topics What do you want our viewers and listeners to have as takeaways

Doug Spiron: yeah I mean I don't know that it's specific to our tool I think in general technology is a solution there's a lot of discussion right now about AI there's a lot of discussion about software

there's a lot of discussion about you know kind of simplifying your environment so whether you're a manufacturer or you're in hospitality or retail technology is a way to ultimately make things easier and finding the right tool is hard don't assume that the most prevalent tools that are out there that have the biggest names are the best ones because more often than not they're more often than not they are not the best tools

they're uh built they're not particularly deep they're very wide but they're not particularly deep and so just get out there for your industry find the technology that's going to make your team's lives easier and in retail that's a product like ours

Mike O'Neill: doug if folks want to reach out to you to connect or learn more what's the best way for them to do that

Doug Spiron: yeah you can find our website at thinktime.Com you can certainly reach out to to me personally I'm on LinkedIn we can certainly provide those links and we can talk more about the specific use cases that you might have the problems that you're trying to solve in your business and how a tool like ours can can certainly help

but uh the website's a great place to start and that's thinktime.Com

Mike O'Neill: ThinkTime I have to ask where did that name come from

Doug Spiron: yeah I mean it's it's interesting it was just there's a plethora of names that you go through right in the beginning and that just happened to be one of the ones that the team just rallied around

and it's like you know time's important in retail productivity and efficiency is critical so the time element of that and then think you know just the idea of getting your your business knowing what's going on getting that real time feedback having analysis tools and uh those kinds of just kind of made sense right

Mike O'Neill: you know I I may not have interpreted that name correctly but what immediately crossed my mind is in this fast pace environment it's react react react if you've got the right tools you can take a pause and make better decisions it might afford you more time to to think and and act and be that much better

uh at least that's my spin on your company name from

Doug Spiron: permission to steal that's really good

Mike O'Neill: permission granted

Doug Spiron: appreciate that thank you very much yeah this was great it was I watched the podcast often so it was fantastic to be a guest and really appreciate your time and what you do for folks out there

Mike O'Neill: Doug I also want to thank our listeners I got a question for our listeners are people following you because they have to or because they want to you know as a leadership coach I work with executives who have a track record of success behind them but they're feeling stuck they're frustrated because they're finding with each level of success that follows the bar is set even higher

they're discouraged because what worked the past is no longer working my clients despite all their successes in the past are lacking the clarity and the competence to make the decisions needed to get to that next level through coaching we're gonna work together to unravel those hidden blind spots challenge limiting beliefs and establish a strong sense of accountability

so if you're listening you're feeling stuck and that describes you or someone you know let's talk head over to benchbuilders.com to schedule a call so I want to thank you for joining us and I hope you have picked up on some quick wins from Doug that would help you get unstuck and on target

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