A Note From Our CEO: A New Year

It was suggested that I write about my predictions for the New Year. Since it seems almost every interview and trade publication is covering this in-depth, it struck me that my predictions would sound like many others. As I sat down to write this in my barn, I started thinking about the future and how the world seems to be in a constant spin. I wholeheartedly believe America is the most blessed place to be, however, we are not at our best and in fact, are going in the wrong direction. Over the past year, we witnessed a divided political system in Washington D.C. working to pit Americans against each other. 

Several years ago I attended a three-day C-Suite conference where the who’s who in economics, technology, and other sectors shared their insights on what they considered to be the current state of affairs. One of the speakers was Robert Gates, the former Secretary of Defense, who knew first-hand how Washington, D.C. operated going back into the early 1960s.  A person in the audience asked him why it seemed like no one in Washington seemed to be able to work together. Mr. Gates easily spoke at length about the subject, but what truly stuck with me—and pay attention because I believe our industry is on the cusp of going in the same direction—is how disengaged the politicians are with each other and with the day-to-day interactions in our nation’s capital.

Mr. Gates described that back in the day, most political leaders and their families lived in and around D.C. It was a time where politicians interacted with each other through churches, schools, and clubs. This took place regardless of one’s political affiliation, so it was very common to break bread with many others and socialize. The business of running the country was still at hand, but people valued their relationships so much that when political hurdles arose, they worked together for the common good as they did in church, school, and on the golf course. He went on to say that today’s politicians visit D.C. for a few days and then rush back to their home states. They are basically choppering in and choppering out thanks to the expansion of technology and easy access to air travel.

What does this have to do with 2021? We just went through a year where Zoom and virtual meetings became the new normal. At first, we were incredibly relieved to not have to do what we had been doing all along: booking air travel, sitting in traffic on our way to appointments, and waiting in lobbies because someone was running late. Gone are the days of attending shows and conferences, only to be replaced by a new type of virtual reality. The younger me sees the upside to the new normal, but I am also fully aware of the slippery slope to where this can take us: one that makes us more divisive and focused on personal agendas.

I believe there is great value in getting up in the morning and readying yourself to drive to an onsite sales call. You’re cognizant of what you’re wearing, excited to see who’s in the waiting room, and, if you’re lucky, you pass by other members on the retailer’s team that you may not be meeting but nod to them anyway. Sitting in the retail buyer’s office gives you a personal perspective of their personal and professional life: the family pictures on the wall, books they might be reading, or papers and new items off to the side. You don’t get this from Zoom. Zoom also cannot replace the invaluable networking opportunities that occur during the breakfasts, lunches, and dinners held during industry events.

My hopeful prediction for 2021 is that rather than rationalizing the convenience of a Zoom call, we place a greater value on how in-person meetings set our organization as well as our clients’ business up for success. It’s the human connections that make America what it is today. When people are together, they are more often than not, working towards a common goal. A win-win for all sides involved. You have true conversation versus “pitching on Zoom.”

Calling on a client is exciting, especially when you arrived fully prepared —and not simply prepared to get through a 15-minute videoconference call. Being onsite is your best chance of engaging people as they sample our amazing products and find themselves won over by actually moving forward. For me, it’s important to meet face-to-face so I can learn more about a client’s goals, the family who is depending on them, and how the decision-making process works at their business. An onsite visit allows me to understand everyone’s goals on a more personal level.

My “hopeful prediction” is that we get back to in-person meetings as this is the best way to achieve a win-win. Besides, there is nothing like the drive or the flight as you play out the big call in your head and the personal connections made by simply walking through the doors of a retailer’s lobby.