By building trust and connection, customers will make your business the logical choice when the market needs your product or services.
One of the things you hear is the longer you learn the smarter you’ll be. Our guest is going to challenge that notion and say that maybe you become less smart. He is an educator. He is an entertainer. He is the ‘un’ man, if you will. And he’s also going to be a general session speaker at the NACS Show this year. So welcome, Scott Stratten.
Jeff, I’m telling you, when you reached out about coming back to NACS I’m not gonna say it was one of the most exciting moments of my life over the previous few years, but it was right up there. It was right up there because I freaking love this industry. I love this event and everything’s coming up Stratten for me right now.
You spoke at the NACS Show four years ago and we’ve had people say, you know, we need to get somebody like Scott Stratten back. And then we said, you know, why don’t we have Scott Stratten back and that was the light bulb moment. One thing I remember most from when you talked last time is you showed various pictures around travels in our industry and you showed one where you were at Buc-ee’s and your line was, I rented a car to go visit a gas station. And you said, let me repeat that: I rented a car to go to a gas station.
And here’s the proof of how much I love the industry: I didn’t know I’m coming back to speak again. I’m just doing what I do, which is go to new places. I brought Wally’s into my portfolio of where I’ve been to. I was just losing my mind with Sheetz and I got a whole thing to talk about how they blew my mind on the road just a month or two ago. I’m still card-carrying member of the convenience store fan club. So it’s gonna be all new stuff and even more fun if you thought the first one was great, now I’ve got you warmed up.
I don’t know if it’s trademarked, the ‘Un,’ but what you’ve done is you’ve built your whole brand around everything that you thought you knew you may need to relearm. Your company is UnMarketing, but you have a whole bunch of line extensions. Unselling ,unbranded, you’re gonna be talking about unleadership, which is very timely given all the things that are going on right now. So take us through broadly the whole concept of ‘Un.’
It started with something I realized very early on in my corporate career, and that career lasted a whole four years after college, start to finish. It was that we seem to have a lot of hypocritical things about business, about ourselves and how we act or we do things. Everything started with one visit to a friend of mine in his office. I was working, he was working and we just dropped in. We’re talking and his phone rang and it was a cold call. You’d get a lot of B2B phone calls to his office and he kind of berated the person on the other end of the line and just wasting his time, you know, all the type of things where people will react to you on a cold call and kind of just slammed down the phone.
And we then talked about it for a few minutes afterwards, about how ridiculous it is and blah, blah, blah, blah. And he’s like, all right, Scott, I gotta fly. I gotta go do my calls for today. And I’m like, but you just talked about how much of a waste of time that was, and yet you’re gonna do it yourself? And he’s like, yeah but I have something that people need. And it was just this thought for a second, like do unto others as you would like, it was that type of thing. And that just started me off. And this is 20 something years ago. And it started me on this journey of I really think there’s other ways of doing business instead of this buy or goodbye. This either you’re a customer or get outta my face, or I’m gonna interrupt you all day until I find that customer. I really thought about positioning was important.
I thought that relationships were important. I thought that community was important. And that’s why our pillars are integrity, authenticity and community. There is a way to do things in sales and in branding and marketing and leadership that doesn’t just have to be the snapping necks and cashing checks. I just really think, especially now today, going forward more than ever, there’s a place for people who believe in people, not in a cheesy way, not in the we are the world, let’s hold hands type of way. Although a great song, I’d listen to it any day.
Why was Dan Aykroyd in that?
Now that is the question. See, Jeff, this is why I like talking to you because you ask the right questions, which is the Dan Aykroyd issue, which we all have. I just think maybe he was that level of celebrity. You know, that level where you get to, it’s like Dice Clay, where you could show up in random things for that the eight months he was huge. You just like that makes no sense, you’re at a hockey game where you’re gonna play and you’ve never stepped on on the ice. So I appreciate you getting that out there. But with people it’s that big part. It’s that big part of understanding a very simple concept, which is when people say…as I get older, I’m trying to not be so black and white with stuff.
It’s extremely hard for somebody who’s created an entire brand about standing very strongly on points. But I used to think there’s two types of leaders and managers, just good ones and bad ones. But it’s a scale. And I read something online a few weeks ago and it was a great quote. It said if you don’t have imposter syndrome for the first three months of your leadership or your managing job, check yourself in the mirror. If you still feel you have imposter syndrome a year into your job, check your manager. And so this was a nice contrast to me of understanding that our brains do shift and do change in leadership, but there’s a reckoning happening right now. You hear this great resignation, you hear all these type of things that’s going on.
And the problem is the rules still haven’t changed. The rules for retention are the same. The rules for engaging employees are the same. I took HR in college in the nineties, if you can believe that I went to school for HR. I worked in HR. I taught HR at college. And retention, obviously, HR’s entire function is to attract and retain great people. That’s it. That’s the end of the story. That’s the end of the description for the department. That’s the end of the reason for being in HR and when you have this world and all these people who are coming under this world and saying, well nobody wants to work anymore. No, they don’t want to work for you. That’s the difference right now. And we have to look in the mirror. I’m all about marketers looking in the mirror and saying, are we going after vanity metrics?
Are we going after real metrics? I’m going after sales people, are we actually promising the right things to people? Are we over promising or underdelivering? And now I’m going after leaders. I’m coming. And I’m coming with love and passion in my brain for you, but also the fact that you need to listen. Both to me and to your staff because they have the answers. They know what makes them tick. Quiet quitting is the term that’s come up now. Hashtag quiet quitting. That’s just doing your job. Maybe it’s not going above and beyond for sure. But you know what? You know what I find interesting?Let’s talk about faux firing instead. Let’s talk about what do we doing the least possible for our people so we don’t fire them, but they want to leave.
It can go both ways, Jeff. This is the problem. We never have this back and forth. And I’m here to give the back and forth about that. You want reference checks for my job? You want three of them? No problem. Can you give me three reference checks for you for people who have worked for you, including one who’s left in the past six months, I’d love to chat with them. We’re dealing with adults. Are we not? We’re working with adults and if we’re not, if we hire people who aren’t yet adults even more so how important it is to be a leader versus a manager for these people? Because we’re helping develop their skills for the future. You just got me off on a rant and I’m sorry, Jeff. I just kept going because I’m the basement right now and it gets me going, but it’s a passionate point for me and for a lot of people.
You have a staff. When they get together and have some beers, what do they say about you?
Frst of all, it’s Allison and I that run the company, who’s also my wife. So I really need to know what she’s saying about me. But I let my assistant go. I had her for 16 years, the pandemic hit, the industry changed and we parted ways. I have no idea what it’s like to work for me. And neither do you. That is a huge, huge impact. A leader has no idea what it’s like to work with them or for them. That’s not a negative statement. I said this on stage a few weeks ago at an event. I said this: You have no idea what it’s like to work for you. And the room kind of went quiet and it was uncomfortable.
And I said, whatever, I’m gonna say to you today. If it rubs you the wrong way, understand one simple thing: I don’t know you. I can’t be talking about you specifically. I don’t know you, I’ve never talked to you. So if it rubs you a bit, maybe it’s telling you something. Maybe it’s telling you something that we have to look and say, I don’t appear the way I think I appear like. Look, I’m a straight, white, able-bodied male from Canada who lives in a suburb. I haven’t exactly have had to persevere over a lot of things in this life, in this world. I’d walk out of a room before and I didn’t even think about what people thought.
I didn’t even think about my effect, and now I do and I’m working on it. I’m working on understanding my effect. I think the most powerful leadership skills in the future are empathy and self-awareness, I think they were the most powerful before all this, but now they’ve been really pushed to the forefront. Understanding your impact, understanding how you affect your staff, how you affect the room. Do we have to go to the undercover boss level for you to understand that people are suffering on the front line in a lot of places? The public is harder to deal with now than ever. People are being abusive to people. People are just losing their minds at people. We have to be able to work as a team. We have to be able to be leaders who stand up and take care of our people because they’re looking to us to do that.
I want to follow up in on something you said about what it’s like to work for you. I’ve also heard the line that culture is how you act when no one’s looking. You spoke at our NACS State of the Industry Summit and afterwards the room cleared out. And one guy stuck around and shook hands with everyone in the audio booth area and thanked everybody. And that was you. That said right there that you’re not just talking about stuff. You’re also living that stuff.
I think it’s so easy, but thank you for bringing that up. I do appreciate that. I love my crews at events. My AV crew is the lifeblood of these places. They make me sound and look good. I used to do it plus I look like the sound guy. I think 520-ish keynotes over 12, 14 years. And my goal, I remember saying it to myself back then. I don’t set a lot of goals, I don’t sit there and go one day, I’m gonna do this. But what I did say was I want to be the same person onstage, backstage, at home and online. That’s authenticity to me.
It’s not about saying everything you think and having no filter. It’s that when somebody meets you, you meet or exceed those expectations and expectations they had for you originally. And if I’m putting that out there, because I was kind of like shaken to my core when I first started decades ago, because I would work with speakers or help them so I could learn the industry. There’s some incredible people in this industry and some were the opposite. They were horrible people off stage preaching love on stage. And I can’t deal with that. I left corporate for a reason, man. I don’t wanna deal with that BS. I don’t want to deal with a bunch of people walking around, the leaders with no clothes like the emperor and all these just games you play.
I want to be who I am and I want to connect. The sad thing is that you only have to be hospitable to people for people to think you’re wonderful because a lot of people are just not nice. Not kind. We don’t give the time of day to people like we treat people in convenience stores. That’s why I beg of people to understand this concept, which is if you’re in leadership in a convenience store brand, the higher you go, the more layers of people underneath you, the less you feel the actual culture. And the only people who actually feel the true culture of a company is the last rung on the org chart.
It’s that front line – the front line is the bottom line. And you don’t feel it if you are a GM, if you’re an area or district manager or something and they clean the shop up when you’re about to show up and they do special things for you. That’s not your actual culture. That’s not your actual store. There shouldn’t be fear when a GM shows up. There shouldn’t be panic if corporate drops by, it should be welcoming. It should be exciting. This is the real stuff, you’re seeing it right now. But the problem is we try to scale a lot of these things, we try to automate a lot of these things, and we try to say, okay, look, we’re gonna do this and this and this and the customers can do ratings.
At the end of the day, it’s your front line who’s standing up for you. It’s your front line that makes the world go round for it. Talk to them. I went on Reddit yesterday cause I’m doing a talk to the bank and credit union industry coming up. And so I always come from the angle of the employee or the customer, because I’m not in your position. And I can’t come and tell somebody how to be a VP of operations for a chain of gas stations because I’ve never done it. But I can come from the other angle. And I went on Reddit and just asked some people, if you could, if you ran the bank for a day, what changes would you make to make your job level better? It was unending answers and great answers. There’s some people angry and stuff like that, but great answers like they’ve never been asked before. They know these things, they do these things and I just think there’s so much gold in those front lines, but a lot of people also don’t want to hear the answers of how to retain them properly.
Editor’s note: To hear more of this podcast, visit www.conveniencematters.com
Convenience Matters is brought to you by NACS and produced in partnership with Human Factor.
About our Guest
Scott Stratten, Founder, Partner, Speaker
Scott is best-known for the concept that is also the name of the company he founded in 2002: UnMarketing. Together, Scott and his wife Alison have taught their unconventional practices to thousands of people worldwide and are co-authors of six best-selling business “unbooks.”