Asa part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Derek Detenber.
Derek Detenber, Chief Marketing and Merchandising Officer at Batteries Plus is a franchise industry veteran with decades of consumer marketing experience at world-class brands such as Wendy’s and Massage Envy. In his current role at Batteries Plus, Detenber leads the brand’s omni-channel marketing team, design, category and merchandising teams. Detenber previously served as Chief Marketing Officer for Artisanal Brewing Ventures (ABV), one of the largest adult beverages holding companies in the U.S.
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?
Mypath into marketing was an interesting one. I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky and attended Miami University in Ohio. My first job outside of college was a sales/consulting role at IBM. I learned a lot in my time there, both about what I wanted and what I didn’t want out of my career. One of the key takeaways there was that I’m not really built for consulting and pitching business where my paycheck depended on it. I have a lot of respect for those who do that. It just wasn’t me.
Then, one day in an airport, I ran into an old classmate of mine from Miami named Brian Niccol. Brian would eventually go on to become the President of Taco Bell and is now the CEO of Chipotle. At the time he was working in brand management for Procter & Gamble. He was on his way back from a commercial shoot in Italy and after chatting with him, I realized that brand management sounded exactly like what I was looking for. I mean, he was running a photo shoot in Italy. How cool is that?
After doing some research, I realized that, to pursue brand management, I needed to go back for my MBA. I pursued that at the University of North Carolina. During my time there, I got an internship at Nabisco, which helped clarify that marketing was definitely the direction I wanted to move into. I fell in love with the idea that the stuff that I worked on which included packaging, product, pricing and promotion impacts a customer’s buying decision. And, I could see the end product of my work on shelves every day in retail stores.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
One experience that I always think back to was a new TV and digital campaign that I worked on for Gatorade. This was Gatorade’s first real venture into digital marketing (I am dating myself a bit here). The campaign was a TV campaign and it had a digital extension to it. Think back to when we thought about TV first, then digital second. This shoot was incredibly ambitious. It included a number of A-list athletes and had to be shot on a really tight schedule. The plan was to shoot in 4 or 5 cities over the course of two weeks. We shot with Peyton Manning during an off-day of a game week vs. the Patriots. Dwyane Wade’s shoot was in the middle of the night after a Heat game. Sidney Crosby’s shoot happened after a practice and Jimmie Johnson’s the day after he won the NASCAR series championship. It was a constant hustle and full of stressful situations, but the memories of the journey and the results of the program were something I will never forget. The campaign was so successful that we even extended it to cut an ad within 24 hours after the Super Bowl when Eli Manning and the Giants beat the Patriots on a crazy catch by David Tyree. Our team was on the phone immediately trying to figure out how we could cut an ad overnight and be able to get it on the air the next day. It was such a great campaign idea and it was fun to be able to flex and cut a culturally relevant ad in 24 hours.
Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
One of my key initiatives at Batteries Plus is helping to propel the brand to the next level. The company is in a very solid place, it’s been around for 30 years and has been consistently successful. The danger with any brand that’s been around that long is that it’s easy to get left behind.
That was certainly my experience during my time at Wendy’s. I came to Wendy’s in 2012. By that point, the chain had fallen on hard times and the brand was no longer really connecting with its core target. We had to change everything from the visual ID and store aesthetic to the experience (before CX was a thing), its online to offline strategy and, ultimately, how we delivered value through our menu to a customer. As part of that initiative, the way we communicated with consumers had to change. We created new ad campaigns and launched the Wendy’s twitter handle, which has become a key component of rebuilding the brand’s voice.
Now, while Batteries Plus is in a much better place than Wendy’s was at the time, my job is to help make sure the brand stays relevant and delivers experiences ahead of the curve. We are redefining the brand, contemporizing the assortment, and changing the in-store and online experiences so that they connect with as many people as possible.
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?
When I was working with Pepsi, someone told me something that really changed the way I approached my career. I was in a coaching session with Todd Magazine, our president at the time. I was really ambitious and wanted to move forward in my career as quickly as possible. He said that you should think of your career as a tool belt. Each experience that you have is a new tool you take with you on your journey. Instead of trying to jump ahead as quickly as possible, you need to work on acquiring as many tools as possible so that when opportunities arise and you’re assigned a new project, you have all the tools you need to do the job.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’ve been fortunate enough to work on brands that are either passion brands (Gatorade, Wendy’s), brands that bring people together (my beer brands at Artisanal Brewing Ventures) or brands that help solve problems that people have (Massage Envy and now Batteries Plus). Because of this, I have always viewed my role as one with a high level of responsibility for our consumers. I hope that along the way, the work that my teams have done has fixed a problem, brought a smile to someone’s face or inspired people to do great things.
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 a few examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
When the pandemic hit, I was actually working for a wholesale beer business. Once Covid hit, there were very serious discussions about whether we would survive because ⅔ of our business disappeared overnight when the shutdown happened. I’m talking about the beer we sold to bars/restaurants, and our own taprooms. It was a period of learning and creative thinking. We created a to-go business and were able to evolve our marketing to support it. We pivoted hard to support the grocery business as consumers migrated there to purchase beer and other alcoholic beverages. In the end, we not only survived but came out stronger.
Though I wasn’t at Batteries Plus for the worst of the pandemic, many of the innovations the company put into play are still going on. Our CEO Scott Williams has really embraced the idea of being an essential business, of providing things like batteries and lighting solutions that both industries and retail customers can’t do without. The leadership also implemented curbside service at every one of our 700+ stores in a matter of days.
The pandemic put the consumer fully in control. Customers have been conditioned over the past few years to expect what they want, when they want it, in a way that’s as convenient as possible. I don’t foresee that changing. So, companies like ours have to understand that mindset, remain focused and deliver an experience, both online and off, that is valuable, frictionless and timely.
The supply chain crisis is another outgrowth of the pandemic. Can you share a few examples of what retailers are doing to pivot because of the bottlenecks caused by the supply chain crisis?
One of the big things we’re doing at Batteries Plus is attempting to educate the customer about alternate solutions. We have thousands of batteries available, so if one product becomes unavailable, chances are there are several others that can perform as well as, if not better than, the original battery.
For retail customers, this involves providing recommendations on our ecommerce site and educating our store associates so that they have the answers our customers need when they stop into our stores. In the B2B world, our commercial sales team does an amazing job of communicating with our corporate clients, understanding what they need and providing them with alternate solutions if their usual products are momentarily unavailable.
How do you think we should reimagine our supply chain to prevent this from happening again in the future?
I think a lot depends on the industry you are in and the balance sheet you have to influence your supply chain. That said, there are some lessons that I think will pervade any future decisions. Your supply chain has to be diversified and nimble. Using a single supplier to drive down costs through scale may not be the best strategy going forward. Which of your suppliers have diversified input streams for what they make for you? Which ones are well capitalized? Which ones are forward-looking? Who is eager to adapt quickly to changes in the environment?
It’s cliche, but I think the last few years have highlighted the differences between supplier and partner. I am trying to get closer to my vendor partners to work through business plans together, go through game theory exercises of “what happens if”, and to get deeper into each other’s businesses. If you aren’t adding value to my business and vice versa, we shouldn’t be partners in today’s world.
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?
I think they will exist, but they will have to continue to evolve. As I said before, the customer experience is paramount. Retailers will need to use data to better understand their customers and create online and offline experiences that convince customers that we understand them. If we are able to drive a customer in-store, by need or by choice, the service experience and environment have to be top-notch in order to convert a transaction. Otherwise, there are other brands that will be able to fill that customer’s needs.
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?
Brands like Lululemon and Costco have a very good sense of who they are and the value they provide. Lulu, in particular, really has an aura about it that extends through their entire operation from its products, to their employees, and all the way to their store and online experiences. You feel like part of their tribe whenever you engage with that brand. That’s a lesson all retailers can follow. Customers need to have a great sense of who you are, why you exist and how you can impact them in their various mind states. Once you’ve figured that out, be maniacally focused on deploying that across every touch point of your business, each and every day.
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?
The pressure that these brands are putting on US/European retailers is largely price-based. In order to compete, retailers need to add value to the shopping experience that goes beyond just delivering products. So, the question becomes what can we add to the experience that mitigates a cost or price advantage? All the things that I’ve talked about earlier, including learning more about your consumer, delivering experiences that make them feel like you know them and delivering quality products and services at a reasonable price is the secret sauce to offset that pressure.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Know more about your consumers than your competitors.
- Customer data acquisition should be a unified and extreme focus of a retail operation. If you can create a better experience (vs your competitors) because you know more about the person visiting your site or your brick-and-mortar location, you will win almost every time. Have you ever visited a brand like Four Seasons Hotels? They know who their guests are when they check in, which properties they’ve visited, and even their drink requests from the last time they were there. Their experiences are legendary, and they were so even before the true digital age. It creates an unbelievable level of brand loyalty.
- Use data to personalize their journey with you.
- In this uber-digital, real-time age, the customer’s expectation is that the companies they shop are one step ahead. Brands should know what you want before you even tell them, and that technology exists. So, whether it’s suggesting personalized recommendations to an online cart, or something as simple as personalizing an email with a customer’s name, go the extra mile to make your customers believe they are important.
- Synch your online-to-offline experiences to address consumer state-of-mind and needs from start to finish.
- As many of us have seen over the last few years, our shopping behaviors, expectations and tolerances have evolved. There are very few true physical retail experiences now. Customers have done their work beforehand, which means they’re price shopping, researching, etc. If you give a customer a great experience online because you’ve taught them something, shown inventory levels at a local store, or even closed a deal (using “buy online pickup in-store,” for example), and you can’t pull that through to the brick-and-mortar experience, you’re wasting your money. The best brands understand that a customer’s state of mind when they’re shopping online may be one thing, but when they enter your store, it may be another. For example, you may be in a researching mode online because you have time and curiosity. But, in-store, you’re all about speed and convenience. The best brands understand that and can adapt quickly because they know their customers, have studied customer mind states and are committed to delivering a great end-to-end experience.
- Hire the right people.
- When I worked at Wendy’s, I used to smile and commiserate about people’s experiences at one of our stores. Friends would tell me about how someone got their order wrong in their last trip or that a kid working the drive thru window was rude. I used to think, well, it was my job as a marketer to get you to go to Wendy’s and you went, so I did my job. But, in reality, it was a good lesson. No matter how good we are at our jobs, the customer experience is only as good as the weakest link in the chain. So, while I am not involved in hiring Batteries Plus store employees, I still look at my own team with that Wendy’s lesson in mind. We all have a role to play. Our customer experience has to be great, start to finish, and my team has to be great from top to bottom. If I’m hiring a customer service associate, I look for empathy. If I am hiring a performance marketer, I’m looking for someone committed to delivering the right message to the right consumer at the right time. If I am hiring a category manager, they need to understand that they aren’t just sourcing and selling products. They’re actually providing a value proposition that solves consumer needs. I need a team that, no matter which role they play, they put the customer and their state of mind first, and then work to create frictionless, valuable, solution-oriented outcomes for their problems or needs.
- Be service-minded after the purchase.
- This one is easy. In today’s retail world, you have no choice but to put the customer first. There are plenty of buying options out there, so if you’re lucky enough to have a customer complete a transaction with you, you’ve done the hard work. Now, you want to do all you can to maintain that person’s loyalty to your brand. Ask yourself: How do you talk to them post-purchase? How do you address issues they may have? How do you build communication plans that can change a perception or behavior before a customer even knows they need it? It can be as simple as saying “my pleasure” after a purchase at Chick-fil-A or as complex as nurturing a big GPO organization to buy from you the next time a bid comes up. Remaining service-focused is paramount.
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. 🙂
It’s a little cliche, but I think the way we connect with people needs a control-alt-delete type reboot. There are so many strong opinions, social conflicts and entrenched positions being shared in the media and on social platforms. It’s creating too many divides in our world. One of the things I loved about the beer business was the way it brought people together — whether it’s for a casual night out, a party, a memorable event or even just a chill day on the lake. When people come together, they talk, they debate, they learn from each other.
If I could start a movement, it would be that before you can have an opinion or post something definitive on social media, that you have a conversation and be open to listening to others. I don’t know how Twitter, Meta, Snap, etc. could monitor that, but I would love to have more talking, less posting and a greater level of learning, consideration and understanding. I’m not saying we all have to have homogenous perspectives, but we all could do a better job of trying to see the other side of issues without conflict.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Follow me on LinkedIn. It’s the best place to learn about the work that I’m doing. The rest of my life online would be boring unless folks like youth sports, UNC sports, cooking and good bourbon.