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Aramark in Colonial Williamsburg, VA with Nick Harbaugh

Nick Harbaugh Headshot
Episode #: 197
Aramark in Colonial Williamsburg, VA with Nick Harbaugh

Guest: Nick Harbaugh
Topics: Aramark, travel, retail


Chris Ressa 0:00
This is Retail Retold, the story of how that store ended up in your neighborhood. I’m your host, Chris Ressa, and I invite you to join my conversation with some of the retail industry’s biggest influencers. This podcast is brought to you by DLC Management.

Welcome to Retail Retold everyone. Today I’m joined by Nick Harbaugh. Nick is the Retail Nomad. I’m excited for him to be here. Nick, welcome to the show.

Nick Harbaugh 0:30
Chris, thanks so much for having me on, man. Appreciate it.

Ressa 0:33
So Nick, first question that, you know, I’ve been thinking about since we scheduled this, is, are you related to John or Jim Harbaugh?

Harbaugh 0:45
I get that question quite frequently from all the sports fanatics. And what I like to say is, they’re from northern Ohio. I’m from Central Ohio. Supposedly we are connected through that family lineage. Yeah, but they never pass me the mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving is what I say.

Ressa 1:02
Okay, fair enough. They don’t pass. Do they get your tickets to some games?

Harbaugh 1:07
Not at all Not at all. Unfortunately, no.

Ressa 1:10
Okay. All right. So there’s something there. Some connection.

Harbaugh 1:16

Ressa 1:21
Okay, so Nick, Retail Nomad, I guess start there. Tell us about what the Retail Nomad is, what you do with the Retail Nomad?

Harbaugh 1:30
Absolutely. Just a little backstory, I’ve been in the retail space since the mid 90s. And, you know, created an installation firm, and sold that entity. And when I did that, I started some international travels, you know, when some of the US brands started crossing, you know, north and south of the US border. Lowe’s, Home Depot, were the first few that took me international in expansion. And when doing that, I got to see quite a bit of how retail was quite the same, and yet quite different.

So prior to 2022, I had the opportunity to sign up for a 12 month travel program, where I go 12 months, 12 countries, so one month per country. And I got to kind of hand select off an a la carte menu, which I thought was pretty cool. You know, and in doing that devised this concept of the Retail Nomad, and it was kind of delivered to me by a few industry colleagues, it said, Nick, you’ve got to collect some content and data while you’re bouncing around the world and the globe.

So I’m like, let’s do it, develop the concept, then having a riot. So every week I do one little video, it’s about three to five, six minutes in length. And it’s everything from mainstream corporate America, retail brands that we’re all familiar with. And then on the other side of the spectrum, stuff we’ve never heard of, seen. And it’s just that difference of how retail is similar yet different around the world.

Ressa 3:00
What is the one thing that is most consistent about retail around the world?

Harbaugh 3:09
Great question. Obviously, somebody’s got a product, you know, somebody made a widget or some kind of a product. And it’s that point of sale transaction. The thing that was most eye opening to me so far, in my 10 months of travel to date, has been where retail started. I unknowingly found the originating point from what I understand is where retail originated.

So the Silk Road originated in Asia with the silk garments and, you know, things of that nature, they would travel through Asia over to Europe to be sold to the wealth, the kings and the queens. And during that, one of the transition points was the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey, blew me away, I absolutely was just dumbfounded when I come to this facility. It’s massive, they get 1 million visitors per day, I believe is the numerix. The building was built originally in the 1400s. It’s just it’s badass.

It’s amazing. So you go through there. And what I learned was it was the first area in the world that they put four walls around a market. So somebody had a product and it was being sold to a consumer buyer. And it gave the government the ability to tax the product and number two, it allowed them to control the price points. Okay, so versus, prior to four walls.

You know, Tommy’s over here selling for x, Billy selling for 2x. You know, so it gave some of that control element. And today that’s what we’re all involved in is the retail space. And that was one of the originating point so it was just so eye opening for me to see that, and touch, feel and be a part of that. The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey. So,

Ressa 4:57
Did you buy something?

Harbaugh 4:59
Totally, it was overwhelming. I mean, it’s like the Disneyland of retail. It’s, you buy a tribal spear? Or you could buy like a silk shirt? Awesome. Totally awesome.

Ressa 5:12
Did you get a tribal spear?

Harbaugh 5:13
I didn’t, it wouldn’t fit my suitcase.

Ressa 5:18
Man, I would be cool to have a tribal spear.

Harbaugh 5:23
You have no idea what I’ve seen this year and the travels in you know, today, just so you know, where we are, you know, we’re month 10. I’ve been to five continents. I’ve been to 18 countries. And I’ve touched my feet in three oceans already this year. So you can just imagine the diversity of what I’ve seen centered around retail. It’s unbelievable.

Ressa 5:50
Really cool project. What is the place where retail is most different than it is in the United States that you’ve seen?

Harbaugh 6:08
Wow, another great question. You’re good at this, Chris. You know what, I mean, I’ll actually go back to Istanbul Turkey. And the reason I say that is because of the history of that Grand Bazaar. It’s, it’s, it’s still in a building that’s over 500 years old. I mean, it’s just, but they’ve done it to where the point of sale transaction is what we’re accustomed to seeing, and a CVS and Walmart and a Louis Vuitton.

But it’s in a building with so much history. And it’s just, it’s phenomenal. It’s like an old school market meets modern, you know, they can process your credit card right there with a handheld device, you know, so it’s, it blends old school with modern tech, you know, is the best way I could summarize that.

Ressa 6:54
Got it. Okay. Let’s go back for a second. So this is what you’re currently doing, the Retail Nomad. And I would call it that’s a, it’s a fun project. But your career and where you generate a living from is your installation businesses?

Harbaugh 7:16
That’s correct.

Ressa 7:18
Right. Can you give everyone a little context of what that is, those installation businesses?

Harbaugh 7:23
Absolutely, I like to summarize, what we do is we install things and those things typically fall within two buckets. One is the core signage. So it’s the Walmart, Sam’s Club of the world, we install that signage that says, you know, beer, wine, chicken, food, those type of departmental category, signage elements, over to the flip side, we install a lot of the millwork fixtures, you know, for brands, Disney, you know, Samsung, you know, Lacoste, you know, these type of banners out there, that you go into the store to purchase your goods.

And it’s sitting on some kind of a wooden fixture or millwork, you know, your whole wall system, it could be a kiosk, if you’d be a shelving unit, those type of things. So we either go in when the store is new being built from scratch, and install new, or we go in during a remodel refresh type of initiative. So we go in, and we demo all the existing we call it the old fixtures, and we install the new fixtures and items and millwork. So hopefully that summarizes it.

Ressa 8:27
Got it, that’s super helpful. And for those who don’t know, you mentioned like in the grocery store, the beer, wine sign. Yep. I think some people would be surprised that someone actually comes in and installs that and you’re like you would do I think there’s a group of people who think Walmart just buys that and the store management team like hangs them up.

Harbaugh 8:49
Great question again, you’re gonna look at that, the store employee, they’re trained and groomed to sell the goods. They’re not as an installation professional that knows how to work a 30 foot scissor lift, that gets them up to the top of the screw gun and you know, all the right screws and attachment hardware, the wall cleats, you know, seismic systems, that it truly is a niche within the industry that from an installation perspective.

So what what a lot of those banners do, the retailers, they force the vendor. So if they procure the signage from company ABC, or they procure the fixture, millwork from company XYZ, they say hey, we’re gonna purchase your goods, you’re gonna have to include installation with that. So a lot of cases we perform the installation for the vendor or for the brand it can come from two, two or three different channels typically, you know, so our check rate.

Ressa 9:49
What is what is the most common, super helpful description, what is the most common and are you typically hired by the vendor are typically hired directly from the retailer? I imagined the vendor.

Harbaugh 10:01
I gotta, I gotta say it’s probably a little more weighted on the vendor side, you know, but it depends on the brand and the philosophy of the of the brand retailer. Some of them want to control all those aspects. And then some of them want to offload that that responsibility and task to the vendor. So it truly is brand retail driven on how they want to perform and manage their programs.

Ressa 10:28
Are there a lot of groups out there doing what you’re doing? Has it gotten competitive the space, the niche?

Harbaugh 10:36
I mean, there’s, there’s, I would say, five to 10, nationwide, or even international, you know, companies that do what we do. It is a niche, you know, because it’s not typically, it’s not general construction. And that’s why I like to categorize it as installation. You know, can we perform general construction scopes of work? Yes, we’re not licensed, we’re an installation group is what we are.

Some of the groups like to push that envelope, and, you know, they’ll go out and slowly work and chisel away to get their GC license. But you know, that’s a different animal, you know, you’re building walls and that type of thing, and plumbing and electrical and the different trade elements, we try to, like, specialize in what we do. We install things.

Ressa 11:22
And do you have to sub any of your work out? Or do you do everything yourselves?

Harbaugh 11:30
It’s a hybrid mix, it depends on the market, you know, so we blend those two, and it’s all volume driven, you know, in the major metros, top 20, 25 markets of the US, we’ve got you know, W2 employees that, you know, rock and roll, and they, they control those markets and areas.

And then we blend that in with a hybrid mix of individuals that we contract with. Thankfully, we’ve got the ability to vet them out. So we’re utilizing the right, the correct Tommy’s and Billy’s that have already been vetted on our programs.

Ressa 12:01
Got it. And over the years, I imagine building the relationship with these vendors and retailers has been critical, and like getting to know who the sign companies are and who the kiosk manufacturers are. Is that fair assessment?

Harbaugh 12:25
No, you’re spot on. It’s funny, I don’t know if we touched too much of this previously. But I’m a part of a few networking groups. And one group uniquely enough is called the mob. And that’s an acronym that stands for maximizing opportunities for your business. And what we are, is we’re a collective group of, you know, 15 to 16 members, and we’re all non competitive, what we do is we help and support one another.

So, you know, we got flooring, individual, we got to lighting, individual logistics, architectural engineering, and truly, we get to help one another. And when you go into a program where you know, every other vendor that’s on the, on the roster or on the schedule, it’s so much easier to be in tune with each other. Right? So sometimes we’ll look at the flip side, we go into a program where we know not one other vendor on the schedule, okay.

And what happens is, you know, who is this company? How do they operate? You know, it’s a learning curve from day one. So when we do all know each other, I know the, the fixture, millwork group, or I know the decor people or I know the logistics people, hey, where’s the truck at? You know, it’s easier to have success when you’re working with groups that you’ve worked with in the past.

Ressa 13:40
Sure. Okay. And what’s the name of the company?

Harbaugh 13:45
Well, that networking group is called The Mob, but the group that I, that we are in this relation, yeah, it’s called Flexicution. So they created their own term we say we flexacute, which, you know, they combined the word execution and flexible. Yeah, because our industry, we need to be very flexible with schedules and timing. And we need to be able to execute. Flexicution. Yeah.

Ressa 14:12
I like the word. I like the word. I might just take the word. Internally, we need to flexacute guys totally.

Harbaugh 14:20
We actually have a reward award program. That’s we say that who, who has flexecuted and we created our own verb, it’s, it’s, we actually use it on a weekly basis and within our team, flexicuted you got it.

Ressa 14:34
I’m trying to think if I feel flexicuted this week, okay, there. Yeah. Nick, so you have a really interesting background in retail, wondering if you could share story of how some store ended up where it did.

Harbaugh 14:49
Absolutely. We had a unique story with a location down in Virginia. This was a very historic location, and a lot of limitations on what you can and cannot do with the American History Association, though what we can’t do certain things. What we did is we went in there and worked hand in hand with multiple vendors, and did everything from design to the manufacturing. And in our scope was the installation. The unique factor of this location, because it’s a historic building.

Ressa 15:21
What was it? What was it originally what type of…

Harbaugh 15:25
It was another store location, but complete remix of merchandise and goods and products. And it’s everything from furniture to knickknacks is what I would say, based around the military, huge Navy presence out there in Williamsburg, Virginia. So amazing project, very difficult for, for our perspective, in the sense that existing location, but we couldn’t bring a lift into the store to get to the second level.

So literally, and then being such an old building and structure. We could only bring hand crank lifts. And to get up to the second level, these are seven, 800 pounds would fix your huge, massive. Yeah, it was a it was a collaboration with all the engineers, local individuals, site supervisors, the brand themselves, Aramark was on site. It was it was a true collaboration of multiple folks, vendors and entities to bring this to success.

Ressa 16:29
Interesting. And so Aramark, they provide like food and service like facilities and uniforms to like schools and military and groups like this. Is this, the facility you’re working on, was it consumer facing? Like, at the end, will people like military be able to walk in and buy something?

Harbaugh 16:51
Absolutely. You or I could walk in today and purchase? You know, so it’s a it’s an historic area of Williamsburg. Very high tourism, huge tourism, we used to own a property in Williamsburg. I know it well, oh, there you go. Okay. You may be familiar with this property.

Thankfully, the group collectively within our mob, we were all right, we received an award from Aramark, that it was just an amazing reciprocation from them and their team, knowing what we all had to go through to make this happen, primarily based on all of the history of how old this building and structure was, and to entirely revamp, remodel, refresh this location.

Ressa 17:33
So, this is really interesting. So we’re talking about for those who just joined us, we’re talking about Aramark in Williamsburg, Virginia. So when you’re doing the installation on this building, for your signage decor, what are some of the, when you say historic, what are some of the limitations they’re putting on you that were unique?

Harbaugh 18:08
Well, I mean, it’s that’s an on that design element of what you can and cannot do. And keep in mind, we’re kind of the last piece of the puzzle, meaning we put the puzzle together, the engineer, designer, architect team, they were the ones working with the local city officials on what you could and could not change. Even I believe the color theme on the front of the building had to be within certain specs, though, you could not go too far this direction, or too far that direction.

Ressa 18:38
Sure. Was there anything about how you installed something that limited you?

Harbaugh 18:42
From our scope? No, because if we were just literally installing the fixture millwork you know, it is pretty cut and dry from our standpoint and what we were doing.

Ressa 18:53
There wasn’t any, like, make sure you don’t touch that wall over there. Or, make sure nobody talks in that window pane over there. Because that window panes actually it’s from 1200 BC and they shipped, and Christopher Columbus hand put that in, is there something like that?

Harbaugh 19:09
I wasn’t there myself. So I didn’t get to hear those elements. I’m sure there were, you know, because we had some cement and brick structures, you know, and I’m assuming that we couldn’t put you know, any secured attachment hardware into those type of elements. So I didn’t get to see the engineering drawings but I can assure you that those elements were taken into consideration.

Ressa 19:31
Yeah, I imagine they were. So is it now open? Or is it still being built?

Harbaugh 19:37
Absolutely. We could rock and roll and go there today and you know, purchase goods in there.

Ressa 19:42
Got it. And how big was this facility?

Harbaugh 19:46
It was a few thousand square feet. I don’t recall specifically, I want to say 566 1000 square feet. It was a decent sized facility, two level as well.

Ressa 19:57
So okay, well Nick, I’m going to have to check it out. I’ve never, I don’t think I’ve ever been inside and Aramark. I’m actually in like every retail store. How did you guys get the business here? Who hired you? Is it a vendor? Aramark?

Harbaugh 20:16
It’s Aramark. You know, funny enough. Our contact Eric, I went to school at Ohio State and he’s an Ohio State Buckeye as well, and we kind of bumped into each other in Michigan.

Ressa 20:29
Now. I just I’m kidding. I have no issues with it. I went to Rutgers. No, there’s no competition at the moment.

Harbaugh 20:39
Yeah. But, but no, I bumped into an old Buckeye at one of our industry events. You know, years ago, started chit chatting and it worked out really well. You know, so now we perform installations for them on their projects, a lot of amusement, amusement park, national parks, gift shops, we just did Pikes Peak forum, you know, I think we got Yosemite coming up for them, you know, just very unique type locations, not your standard retail, mainstream, you know, but we’re all familiar with a lot of their locations.

Ressa 21:13
And is the, are the fixture packages prototypical? Or do they change from location to location?

Harbaugh 21:20
Totally customized from location to location, because, you know, some of them, even Pikes Peak, you know, very old facility, you know, you imagine these gift shops looks like an old log cabin, you know, type of thing. So, we got to, again, be delicate, and, you know, take a lot of this into consideration. Yeah, so each one is totally customizable.

Ressa 21:38
Interesting. I’m gonna, I’m gonna have to do more homework on Aramark. I mean, I know them, but they’re not someone who comes to mind for me right away, and I’m glad you highlighted them to me.

Harbaugh 21:54
What I’ll do is I’ll send you over a little piece afterwards, after the show here. And just to give you a little blip on what we did, and the article and on the award about that.

Ressa 22:04
Perfect, I’ll see if we can put it in the show notes for sure. About that location. That’d be great. And it’s absolutely out there. So, okay. Well, thank you for sharing that story about Aramark in Williamsburg, Virginia, really cool story. I want to bring it back last few minutes to the show. So tell me, when does this Retail Nomad journey end?

Harbaugh 22:30
That’s a great question. Because at this point, the original plan that I had in place was 12 months. 12 countries, right. And we’ve obviously shifted gears a little bit. I’m on country 18. Right, as of right now.

Ressa 22:45
What country are you in, you didn’t even tell us. Tell everybody. Where are you right now?

Harbaugh 22:49
Great. Great point. I’m sitting in Sicily, the island off of Italy right now. So I’m here for the month of November.

Ressa 22:58
Amazing. What’s the weather like?

Harbaugh 23:01
It’s absolutely fantastic. I would say it’s 80 and sunny here today. Absolutely beautiful weather.

Ressa 23:06
Wow. When does when does it get cold? Where you are, consistently.

Harbaugh 23:10
I gotta be honest. I don’t know. I just got here today. Not today. Not today. I gotta say the weather here is amazing. I’m not, I’m walking around like a true tourist. And I’m not sure when it gets cold. To be honest with you.

Ressa 23:26
Are you eating some good food?

Harbaugh 23:28
Oh, dude, I’ve gained two but two or three pounds already from the pastas and pizzas since I’ve been here. It’s been. It’s been amazing.

Ressa 23:37
The, how’s the retail in Sicily?

Harbaugh 23:41
Well, that’s, that’s very good question because, one, my program, I’ve kind of got to do the homework, right to kind of find the story build a story, if you will. In my research here, there’s the brands. I mean, there’s the high end shopping and things. I found the the the town where Dolce and Gabbana, you know, two individuals, I found the town where Dolce originated. So I may go to that town and basically create a story on, you know, how that whole thing came about.

I’m going to do some more research basically, to see if I can find and build a story out of that, you know, and where they originated, where that originated. Everybody’s familiar with the brand, but I’m not sure what the story is or the backstory there.

You know, I could go do some of the mainstream things here in town and Palermo’s where I’m located right now, you know, for the next few weeks, but I may bounce around Sicily and create a few of those concepts with the products and goods that are sold here locally and you know, from this island.

Ressa 24:45
Have you been Airbnb?

Harbaugh 24:48
Well, I’m part of the program that I’m with they take care of all those logistics for us. So your accommodation, co-working space, transportation A to B, you know that type of thing. So we got, you know, basically corporate housing type of structures, you know that they set us up in/

Ressa 25:07
Are you with a group right now?

Harbaugh 25:09
Correct. Yeah, but the whole travel concept from January to December is with a travel entity and organization. None of us wants to…

Ressa 25:20
Yeah, I got that. Yeah. I just meant like, is in the building next to you someone else on the same trip?

Harbaugh 25:27
Correct. Exactly. There’s, there’s like 20 something of us. Yeah. Bouncing around.

Ressa 25:33
Got it. Very, very cool. I am nowhere near having the bit you saw earlier at kids. I’m nowhere near the ability of being able to do something like that but not uninteresting. When you summarize this all up, your Retail Nomad. Give me your top three takeaways from the whole Retail Nomad experience.

Harbaugh 26:04
Okay, wow, great. Another great question here. Um, I obviously outlined a Istanbul Turkey piece. I’ll go Thailand, because I kind of put that story of three different videos I did this year, and I did them accidentally in reverse. And I didn’t even know it. Right. So I started with the silk exchange located in Valencia, Spain. And I got to learn it, that’s where all the garments and all the goods were transported. And that was one of their final destination points are the kings and queens to purchase, right?

So kings and queens of Spain, England, and France will come down there and buy the goods that were transported over there. From there. And I again went in reverse order, not knowing I stopped at Istanbul, Turkey to the Grand Bazaar, that was the midpoint. Okay, that was where Asia met Europe. And literally, if you look at the arteries, from the waterways, to the roadways, all the goods were brought into that central point, and then the distribution would go out bound from there.

So two months ago, I was in Thailand, and I got to physically visit a silk factory. So think of that. That’s where the goods were first made. And I mean, literally from the wooden machines. These machines had to be over 100 years old that I got to see absolutely blew me away. Making the silks, the silk fabric, I mean, just amazing to experience to see it.

Ressa 27:38
Still working 100 years.

Harbaugh 27:41
100 years. I mean, I’ll fire you over a little video on that one. I mean, it’s just it’s so eye opening. Yeah, the just in their greatness, the facade fabric, but yet think of that 500 years ago, that was the same concept. And they would put them on old horse and buggies and these this system for distribution, traveling all the way to Turkey.

And then he put him I guess from what I understand on a boat to get him into Valencia, Spain into the harbor. And that silk exchange is right, like, two blocks off from the harbor area. Yeah, so got to see that if you look at the logistics and that whole line, if you will, it was so overwhelming and eye opening to see that retail process hundreds of years ago. Yeah. So

Ressa 28:25
Wow. That is really cool. Thank you for sharing that. Nick, it was great having you on I really appreciate it.

Harbaugh 28:33
Cool, Chris, I appreciate your time and the invitation.

Ressa 28:38
Thank you for listening to Retail Retold. If you want to share a story about a retail real estate deal that you were a part of on our show, please reach out to us at This show highlights the stories behind the deals from all perspectives. So it doesn’t matter if you are a retailer, broker, entrepreneur, architect or an attorney Also don’t forget to subscribe to Retail Retold so you don’t miss out on next Thursday’s episode.

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