Appointment shopping. With more people having flexible work schedules, there is an opportunity for retailers to promote and maximize appointment shopping. If they know they are slow at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday, give certain customers a reason to come to their store at that time. They could offer a discount, a promotion or more customized customer service with added benefits to shop in person.
As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rob Almond.
Since taking over as CEO of NEST in 2015, Rob Almond has positioned the company as the premier leader and innovator for Integrated Facilities Management in the retail space throughout the United States and Canada. Rob’s direction and guidance in developing enterprise-wide solutions has brought new offerings to retail clients including best-in-class business and financial analytics that drive cost savings. His strong desire for a great workplace culture has allowed the organization to see double digit percentage growth each year since 2015. Rob was named by Chain Store Age as one of the Top 40 under 40 retail executives and has been featured on CNBC and Fox Business.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve been in and around NEST since the company’s infancy. My father founded NEST in 1994. But it wasn’t until the end of my freshman year in college that I realized I could help grow the family business into the future. I saw my father was expanding the business at a fast pace and needed help. Around the same time, I had a mentor at the University of North Carolina Greensboro who recommended I switch my major from communications to business in order to prepare myself to help my dad. That led me to earn my MBA from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. I am proud to see my education come full circle, as NEST is currently working with St. Joseph’s students through a comprehensive co-op program and I sit on their Board of Visitors.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Back in 2013, we were working with a major national retail brand while simultaneously trying to determine how we would grow our company. The client asked us to speak to their entire corporate leadership team and field managers at an event in Washington, DC. Quick to say yes, we didn’t realize the attendance would be nearly 1,000 people until we arrived. Shaking off a little stage fright after a rehearsal that included pyrotechnics, we delivered the speech and left the stage to a standing ovation. We still work with this particular client at a high level. I look back at that moment in DC as a turning point in our relationship and we view them as a partner and not just a client. Their partnership has provided us with a model of how we want to work with all of our clients.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
About 15 years ago, we had a local retail client in the Philadelphia area that needed a cleaning job completed ASAP. Unfortunately, we had several service providers cancel on us at the last minute. As to not leave our client out to dry, I decided to do the job myself with Jason Bishop, who is now our VP of Client Services. We were a much smaller operation back then and we had the mentality to do whatever it took to get the job done. We rented the necessary equipment and off we went. We were challenged with a full store cleaning that included an indoor fountain, complete with a waterfall. Long story short, we backed up a hose that exploded in the middle of their store and we destroyed inventory and décor. My heart sunk. Our client was not happy in that moment, but she saw the effort we made to go above and beyond to help her business. We strived to make it up to her and I’m happy to report she is still a client to this day and one of our longest running partnerships.
Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
In 2021, we are dedicated to helping and growing the industries that make up our independent services providers. These small businesses and tradespeople are the backbone of our country. From janitorial to plumbing to health & safety cleanup to disaster recovery, we saw in 2020 truly how important these areas are to keep companies running. We are putting programs in place to help grow and support the future of these small business owners and their employees out in the field.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I think it’s safe to say that we were all burnt out prior to March when the pandemic hit — especially if you were in a job that required you to be on an airplane every week. The pandemic was a wakeup call that we can still work hard, maybe even harder, but find a better work life balance. I encourage our team to spread out their work as needed. In my opinion, the Monday through Friday regimen is gone. If your employer doesn’t embrace some type of remote offering permanently, consider moving on. Simply removing the rush hour commute five days a week is one easy approach to prevent “burn out.”
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
That’s my dad. He’s the mentor I have had my entire life. When I was a young child, I witnessed how he handled bankruptcy with a previous venture prior to NEST. I saw him overcome immense challenges to make NEST a reality when I was in high school. He truly never gave up. Now, he’s given me the opportunity to take his baby and grow it into the future. He’s always there when I need him.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Starting with my father, NEST has always put an emphasis on giving back. We’ve had longstanding partnerships with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and Ronald McDonald House Charities. In 2020, we saw a need to create a philanthropic division of our company called NEST Nurtures. The division now focuses on supporting many nonprofits and improving communities. Our first significant NEST Nurtures initiative committed over 70,000 dollars in 2020 to nonprofits across the country. The beneficiaries were selected by our clients to benefit local charities in cities where their headquarters are based. I was humbled by work others were doing during such difficult times. Now more than ever, it’s important to give back.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share five examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
- Turn brick and motor into an experience. It is evident people still want to go out and shop in person. If you create an experience beyond the inventory, people will come with friends and family. Depending on the industry, that could include events, artwork, sampling, celebrity appearances, virtual reality, esports or interactive activities. I know many retailers that are getting creative in these areas.
- Appointment shopping. With more people having flexible work schedules, there is an opportunity for retailers to promote and maximize appointment shopping. If they know they are slow at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday, give certain customers a reason to come to their store at that time. They could offer a discount, a promotion or more customized customer service with added benefits to shop in person.
- Up the customer service. I think the pandemic was a wakeup call for customer service. As stores reopened after being closed for weeks, it became much more common place for retailers to go out of their way to make sure their customers felt safe. Now, as the vaccines are administered and we come out of the pandemic, what are the areas of customer service that can take satisfaction to the next level?
- Technology. In our world of integrated facility management, we asked our retail clients, ‘How can we best work with your stores to communicate on their time as opposed to our time?’ We want to use technology as a tool to benefit our clients. Mobile apps and browser-based systems are replacing paper records, allowing facility professionals and business leaders to provide real-time feedback from phones or tablets. This will free up time to maximize other important duties like selling products and customer service.
- Retail as Fulfillment Centers. We’ve seen many retailers turn their stores into fulfillment centers during the pandemic. I think this is a trend that is here to stay to keep up with customers who want their items as quickly as possible. Rapid fulfillment strategy continues to be a popular topic. As technology advances with drones or self-driving cars, retailers with multiple store fronts could find new ways to deliver their products faster and cheaper.
In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?
Yes, I believe retail will continue to exist. There will be an ongoing focus on two key factors that will determine success: the convenience factor and the experience factor. If you can provide accessibility that is more desirable than ordering something online or if you can offer an experience that elicits a special feeling, retail will live on. It will just look a little different.
The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?
While some companies have unfortunately filed Chapter 11, others are thriving and opening new stores even in a pandemic. Organizations that were profitable with strong leadership before the pandemic are accelerating now that customers feel safe to return. Companies that were struggling prior to March of 2020, have to work harder to bounce back.
It’s imperative to have a leadership team that is open to changing the way they go to market. Look at your suppliers as an extension of your team and they will look after your bottom line. Retailers should also expect their suppliers to come to them with proactive initiatives for the future and start to determine what their footprint and experience looks like after the pandemic.
Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
Retailers need to look at all areas of their expenses. I should note that facilities management is a top five spend. This is where an integrated facilities management company like NEST can come into play. We use real-time data, reporting and technology to empower retailers with the informed insights that enable them to make smarter decisions. We work closely with our partners to find areas where they can save money.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I will be placing additional focus in a couple key areas this year and into the future. The first is to help small businesses. Sure, we all love our big brands. However, as business leaders, we need to do more to help get Main Street USA shops back on track. They took a beating, and a good portion didn’t have the capital to remain afloat. They are true entrepreneurs and with the right efforts, I believe we can help them rebound.
My second area of focus is to show the true impact of our philanthropic division NEST Nurtures. While we didn’t have the year we expected in 2020, we made sure we did all we could to give back. We want to raise awareness of this effort so that larger companies can help those in need as well. It’s not just about cutting a check. Leaders should get to know these great organization and share their stories with their internal staff. A winning culture is what drives true success. I can tell you that our staff enjoys hearing who we are helping and in turn, they continue to deliver exceptional customer service to our partners.
How can our readers further follow your work?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!