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(Real Talk Series 5) Zach Lones

Episode #: 028
(Real Talk Series 5) Zach Lones

Guest: Zach Lones
Topics: Walmart, social media marketing,


Chris Ressa 0:02
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.

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Everyone welcome to retail retold. Today we have another bonus episode, we have Zack lowness Director of Social Media Marketing for Walmart.

It’s going to be a real interesting one for everyone here because most people who listen to this are active on social media channels. And Zach works for a company and is Director of Social Media Marketing, that puts out almost 15,000 pieces of content a week. So they have some interesting strategies. And you can get a glimpse in what a or what number one on fortune 500 is thinking about when it comes to social media. But before we go there, I wanted to talk about a different topic. A couple of nights ago, I was in a group text with some of my friends. And someone mentioned last dance, which is the new documentary series on the the 9097 98 Chicago Bulls, and one of my friends are on the group. Yeah, I’m gonna watch it. I need to be inspired right now. And everyone laughed. But it got me thinking. And I wanted to talk about the difference between inspiration and motivation. A while back, I read this LinkedIn article by this Australian guy by named Ron Prasad. And he talks about the differences between inspiration and motivation. Because I think if you ask someone that question, it’s not easy to really differentiate the two. And he differentiates them really, really well. And he says that inspiration is something that you feel inside. While motivation is something that from the outside that compels you to take action. And that is really interesting, right? You know, the the things that might motivate you to go work out. Different than being inspired when you read a book. When you hear someone speak. Being inspired is this feeling inside that makes you feel energetic, productive, you know, get you excited. And so during this time, I challenge everyone out there. Find the things that inspire you get inspired, it will help you be productive every day. Anyway,

I hope you enjoy the show. We I think you’re gonna really take a lot of this. We’ll see you later everyone. Bye bye

Zack, tell us about you got an amazing story. You went from cashier to director? Why don’t you tell us the story of that and how you you know working for a big corporation number one on fortune 500. Walmart how you ended up doing that?

Zach Lones 4:14
Yeah, it was honestly an accident. I needed to get a job so that I could pay my basic rent. You know, I had honestly just gotten engaged to my now wife. We moved into this apartment and I was like, man, now that we got this apartment and we’re engaged. I don’t have any money to pay for. I didn’t have health insurance. I didn’t have anything. So I was like the worst catch that she could have caught, you know? So I was like, you know, I’ll just go I actually started at Sam’s Club with Walmart. And I went there. They paid just a little bit more than minimum wage. I figured I could be a cashier. Something started out there until something better came along. But as I was at Sam’s Club that was in Cincinnati, it was club at 132 It’s at Try County,

Ohio. Got it? Yep. Yeah, it was great.

And I’ve met so many amazing people there. And as I was running the register, I also sold memberships. And people would come in and say, hey, you know what? This membership, it actually saves me 1000s of dollars from my small business and it allows me to put money aside or I’ve been able to hire an assistant or people would come in and say, My job is to do nothing but come to Sam’s Club and buy things for people and deliver them. So it’s like this is actually helping our economy and helping people and giving jobs. So that’s what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to help people, I went to a religious school and college I went to for Judaic Studies at the University of Cincinnati because I was like, I got to help people in the world, the only way to do that is through some religion. And I learned that retail is a really viable option if you want to help others and make a difference

Ressa 5:53
in the world. Wow. So you start out

as a cashier, you get this like passion for what you guys are doing.

What happens next?

Lones 6:04
Yeah, so I started I went all in on Sam’s Club and just really started thinking, what do I have to do to be the best at the job that I meant today was, firstly, it was doing membership refunds and refunds at the service counter and selling memberships. So I got really good at that. I went read some books about sales, got better started doing outside sales, where I literally drove door to door and like knocked on businesses, doors and interrupted their day to say, Hey, can I save you some money with the Sam’s Club membership? I learned a lot from doing that. And then I started taking the lessons that I learned and saying, it’s not good enough, if I’m the best, the only way to really make an impact and do what I want to do is to make everyone I work with just as good or better than me. So I started teaching other people. And that’s what got my leaders attention. I said, Man, this guy, Zack, he’s not just selling memberships. He’s teaching everybody else. That’s what a leader does. Let’s make them a leader. And I just find from went to a team lead to assistant manager, cross over to Walmart, once I became an assistant manager went to co manager store manager now your home office, so just

Ressa 7:09
took off. So

give everyone context, I think they forget. So you were store manager to Walmart? Yeah. How many? How many employees do you have as a store manager

at Walmart?

Lones 7:20
Oh, man, I did. I worked in a couple of different stores. The first one I worked in was a small low volume store. But I still had about 150 Associates again. Then when I ended the last store I ran. So I actually was running two stores at the same time. And I had 515 associates that I was leading at that time.

Ressa 7:41
Wow. And so I know Walmart, if you hit the 100 million dollar store, they give you the yellow, they give you something right? What

Lones 7:47
do they give you? You just really good pat on the back and your, your high volume status

Ressa 7:54
of your five items. So when did you get to that status? At some point? Yeah, we

Lones 7:58
actually grew our status. So like I said, I was running two stores at one time. And we grew from we from that middle level to the higher level. And that was a huge thing for all of us. Because what we were doing mattered to our community, and people were coming in and buying more. So we felt good

Ressa 8:14
about that. Awesome. That’s great. And so how long were you in the stores? How long of a period from cashier to store manager to run to leading 500? People?


Lones 8:24
I worked in the stores for just over 10 years? Not a long time it took me from cashier to store manager was a five year

Ressa 8:35
journey. And so did you.

And I know there’s a couple of paths you could come like a district manager and have or a regional VP and stuff like that and have, you know, multiple store managers report up to you. Did you want to go into the home office? Or did you? Was it just an opportunity? Like what was the what were you thinking at the time when you were a store manager?

Lones 8:58
Yeah, I wanted to be a district manager, I wanted to climb up and go from running one store. Like I said, I got this opportunity where a store manager was out, I got this opportunity to run two stores for about four or five months. And my the natural next step would have been run a district, you know, 10 to 11 stores, more people more volume and climb up. It was just really weird. I went to this meeting and started talking about marketing and the way social media plays into the store and retail experience and this opportunity at home office came out of nowhere, and it just seemed too good to pass up. That’s why I’m at the home office. Now. Have you

Ressa 9:37
been in the role long enough

where you know coming from a guy where driving sales matters, where you’ve seen like an impact that’s tangible, like wow, we’re doing this and this guy this store grew 5% or something

like that.

Lones 9:52
Yeah, that’s exactly it in May I’ll even share the story. That’s exactly how I got into this role. I was I was running these stores. And I started thinking, you know, what, where are we going with retail? And the truth is I actually walked in to my house and my wife was was on her phone using Instagram and she had tagged me in this picture of a swimsuit for our at the time two year old daughter. And she was showing me how the police that she tagged the swimsuit and asked me like, Oh, do you like this swimsuit? Or when do you think it’d be Q had responded back to her and said, Hey, thanks for checking out the stuff. If you like it, we’ll give you a 10% discount to buy now. And she did she bought that swimsuit. They came in they told said a little thing and said, take a picture of your daughter in the swimsuit and feel free to tag us. You know, when share she did, they ended up sharing the picture of our daughter on their Instagram page. That company literally went called Red dolly swimwear went from a place my wife did business with to her friend, her digital friend, because they shared a picture of our daughter. And it felt so personal respond to that comment. And I was like, Man, my store is not doing anything like that we’re not responding to comments, we’re not putting out products for people, and we’re gonna miss out on on the future of retail for small business can do it, my store should be able to do it. So I only did heavy to Facebook, we had a Facebook access from the company. And I got all about it. And we started making posts showing clearance items and great deals to people with good captions, we’d let them know when we were going to do tastings and different products and just different ways to save money. I started tracking the sales on the items that we promote. And I just did a really quick window of like, how much did sales increase in a 2472 hour five day period. And we would see things like real life example. I put bunk beds and these bunk beds were sitting out as a feature. And a main ally, in my store for like two weeks, didn’t sell a single one made a post about it on social media for my stores page. Within two days, no bunkbeds left, every single one of them sold. And there were all kinds of shares and comments on that post. So I was like, man, it’s a great example, though, like 5k business case scenarios around social media and selling products. I share that up with my leadership, I actually got the opportunity at a meeting to talk to the CMO at the time, Tony Rogers shared that information with him and said, This is what I’m seeing. This is the power. Imagine if every store got behind social media, and had the same situation happened with my bunk beds where they’re selling out of products. That’s huge sales when you scale that across the company. And he literally looked at me and said, I love it. Do you want to do that for the company? That’s like what he’s like, do you want to do that for the company? He’s like, could you get every store doing posts like that and driving sales like that? And I told him, I said, I don’t know that sounds like a lot, but I would love to try. Three weeks later,

Ressa 12:49
I was in Bentonville believable store is crazy. Yeah. That is crazy. So and what is your title? Now? I

think you have a cool title for Walmart.

Lones 13:02
I’m a director of social media with emphasis on local social media. Awesome. And

Ressa 13:10
so what is the director of social media and at Walmart and an emphasis on social media do? Yeah. So

what are local and emphasis on local?

Lones 13:18
Yeah, we operate for 1700 Facebook pages. Yeah, 600 Instagram pages, a couple tick tock pages. So basically, what we do is we partner with the stores. And we find a great partner associated inside each store that’s out there and teach them how to become a content creator that reaches the customer on their cell phone, wherever they’re at whenever they are looking for the store to provide solutions with merchandise, pricing services, so on and so forth.

Ressa 13:52
So and in how many people are on your team now? Yeah, I have

Lones 14:00
one person on my Walmart team, Brandy, and she does a great job. And then I work with agencies. So I have a tech agency called Brand Networks. I work with them. And they’ve got a team of engineers and support managers and so on. And then I also work with a group called AI creative. And I’ve got a team that works with me here in Bentonville. Lindsey runs up the creative team there and they do a lot of the actual content that we put out in encourage how to make the right content.

Ressa 14:32
So how was that transition from leading 500 people to now having like one direct report and having all these third party vendors?

Yeah, it’s

Lones 14:42
been different. I had to learn about remote work, you know, how do you be a leader and influence and make things happen when people are spread across the country? The other way I see it is I actually expanded even though I only have one technical direct report. I’m at actually working with, you know, 4700 stores across the country because we have to have a great relationship so that we can tell them, here’s how you create a post, here’s what should go up, here’s what you should be posting about, here are the things you shouldn’t be posting about. So we have to build these relationships. And honestly, I get emails, text messages, phone calls, DMS, from stores all over the country, and I see them not as a store who’s interrupting my day, but I see them as co workers of mine, that I’m just in the trenches, they’re my partners, and we rely on each other to be successful.

Ressa 15:35
Very cool. And how do you like to switch from

like operations to marketing and and even more so into digital

media? Yeah, it

Lones 15:46
was different. I know, we were talking for a minute before the call about you know, some sometimes an operations like what is marketing, and I was one of those people. Yeah, marketing is, you know, such a waste of money, it’s pointless, I don’t understand it. But getting into marketing, I guess I learned that what you’re, what we’re really trying to do is provide a solution, the best customer experience for a customer, wherever they choose to be. It just so happens that 86% of Americans choose to spend something like two hours a day on their phone, and they’re shopping there. So if if I look at it and say, well, that’s just marketing, that’s garbage, it’s not worth my time, I’m basically saying, hey, the way that customers spend their time isn’t important to me. And I don’t want to I don’t want to be a part of their world. That’s not acceptable anymore. And that’s why I got into this. So I’ve learned that great marketing, can build relationships that go beyond sales, it’s a real partnership. And the way that I think about it today is, through social media, what we’re doing is we are just partnering, the friends, family members and neighbors, of our store associates with the store associates, they’re all friends are in the same community. So how do we get them talking and providing solutions in a digital atmosphere for one another mobile wherever they’re at? Hopefully, that answers Well,

Ressa 17:07
yeah, that definitely does in so

what’s the strategy? And I don’t know if I’m missing it? Is this strategy really? Is it? Is it an extension of customer service? Is that like the key pillar there? Is that what you’re doing there? Or is it more about like, brand awareness in the stores?

And what is the what is everything?

Lones 17:31
Yeah, it’s a little bit of everything. To sum it up, the way that I try to explain it is, we are a group of associates that put people first empowered by technology to build digital relationships within their community. That could be everything from a solution to a price to a brand awareness, it could be all those things. And essentially, what we’re doing is crowdsourcing great marketing content from our frontline associates who know those communities and those people better than anybody. So we’re empowering them to do so

Ressa 18:05
how active are the stores and managing the pages,

Lones 18:09
extremely active, which is actually was really surprising to me coming into it, we have a loose number that I can say out there is that we need about 15,000 posts per week with the stores. So they’re really active.

Ressa 18:25
And so 15,000 posts. Now. If I if I

send them a message or a comment, can I should I should I as a customer? Is it reasonable to expect a response from a Walmart associate to respond back through social media?

Lones 18:44
Yeah, the way it’ll work is that will actually trigger into a queue line of sorts, just depending on what the common is. And if it’s a question or, or concern, or whatever it may be, and it’ll go into a queue. And we have a team, it’s a moderation team, it is that it’s our home office. It’s not locally based on those responses, but they will come and comment back, whether sometimes it’s just to say thank you, sometimes it’s to respond to the actual question or concern

Ressa 19:10
that you’ve posted there. Very cool.

So you have you know, working for this big battleship organization. I think a lot of people find social media interesting. What would be your top three tips in using social media

and retail? Yeah,

Lones 19:30
the number one tip I would give is, the best social media posts that you can do is the one you actually do. Like, just that simple. Everyone who ever thinks that like, you know, putting out any posts is better than putting out no post. And I’ve learned that, you know, even if it’s a post that’s not necessarily gets you the best feedback, it’s a post and it’s better than nothing. So a lot of people are just afraid to even step up to the plate when it comes to social media, especially when it comes to their job and whatnot. So just afraid. But the best pose you can do is, is just the one you do. The second tip that I would give to people is really lean into that local type of experience. It’s why I love the local, nobody knows the local customer or the person walking into those brick and mortar stores, then the associates working in them and Sam Walton, what he talked about, he said, I think the unique relationship that we have with our local communities is a strength that will take us forever in the future. And he says, the day that we lose, that is the day we’re going to have problems, something along those lines, right. So I believe that and empowering our local associates to be able to provide those solutions is the best thing. So do a post get local. And then the third thing I would say about it is get used to it. Because in this digital economy in this digital world, more people are relying on their phones, they’re looking for solutions online, before they ever walk into a store. So if you want to be a great retailer, in the future, social media, digital marketing, being where your customers at, it’s not an option anymore, and it can’t just be a throw a post or a video out there and hope for the best, you have to get really individualized, you got to be able to put out multiple pieces of content because what appeals to me may not appeal to the next person or what’s important in Florida isn’t the same as what’s important in New York. And that’s where that local level comes in. So don’t just try to do a blanket strategy of one post, and it’s gonna take care of everybody really lean into the way digital marketing works, which is personalized, individualized. hyperlocal. And it takes a lot of content to do that.

Ressa 21:38
Hopefully, that’s helpful.

Yeah, that’s some sage advice. That’s great. And

the Are there a lot of

Walmart associates? Who do you post personally, like, you know, and stuff and just Walmart? Do you guys encourage that?

Lones 21:54
Yeah, there are a lot of associates that love to talk about, you know, what they do at work, they enjoy working at Walmart, they it’s a great opportunity for them, they have stories, a lot of people have stories similar to mine, where they’ve grown in their career and just learn more and have more opportunities given to them. They want to tell the world about that. So yes, associates are doing it. We don’t necessarily, I think we’re kind of on a on a line with it. And we’re not saying yes, you have to go post about that. Like we’re not asking anyone go tell your Walmart story. We’re also not stopping you. If you want to go out there and talk about things whether it’s positive or even the negative stuff go out there, it’s you have your voice, we encourage you to be fully you at Walmart. And that means talking about Walmart’s in the ways that matter to you. So yeah, if you’re if you want to go for it,

then go for it. Awesome.

Ressa 22:48
Let last question on this topic. What’s what’s next director, social media marketing? Are you going back to ops? Are you going somewhere else? Are you going to be the DM? Are you going to stick in marketing? What’s the what’s the plan?

Lones 23:02
Oh, man, that is That’s the million dollar question. You know, I don’t I haven’t said it in necessarily where exactly when I where I want to go. I love so many things about retail. I love you know, being in the stores. I love learning from people. I love the marketing, I love the digital version, you know, the digital concept, and ecommerce and all that stuff. So the truth is, my next step will be somewhere that I believe is, is going to challenge me to work harder, learn more, and take a lot of the assumptions that I’m holding today and have to get rid of them because I just want to grow as a person and whatever opportunity comes next. It’s gonna challenge me as a person.

Ressa 23:44
I’m open to it. So Zach, you know,

that’s some great perspective. One of the pivot right now, you know, we’re in this crazy time with the COVID-19 world. What is Zach thinking about this? And how it affects retailing? And what are you thinking about things of ways to be successful

during this time?

Lones 24:05
Yeah, you know, my personal opinions and my personal experience are telling me that the way that people are starting to behave today with because of COVID-19, there’s more people leaning into E commerce and using their phones, they’re streaming more than ever. They’re online, they’re finding out that they can have food delivered to him. I think that a lot of those things that people are discovering out of necessity today are going to become new habits for them. If I can order my favorite restaurant without having to get in the car, get the kids ready and go there. They’re just gonna bring it to me. I’m gonna keep doing that. So retailers of the future have to lean even more into this digital conversation. Right? And that’s, that’s honestly what I think about with marketing and social media. It’s really just digital conversation and digital relationships. We’ve got to build those and show how we’re providing those solutions because in the future, we can’t just take it for granted that we If we’re gonna walk into the store, we can’t take it for granted that, you know, if you build it, they will come like, that’s not going to be the philosophy anymore, it’s going to take a lot of work. And people are going to be thinking different and expecting a different kind of service. So I think that’s what we got to be prepared for. And those are the muscles right now is a great opportunity to be building those digital muscles and thinking about those digital solutions to problems, because you can test them out, get good at them. And then you know, right now it’s a little bit easy because everyone’s leaning into them. So again, take a step up to the plate and swing at the next bits pitch that comes to you whether it’s trying a curbside pickup, try a new type of social media posts, go for it, because it won’t be an option. It’s not necessarily an option day, but it won’t be an option of something to turn off even after COVID-19 If you want to remain a relevant

Ressa 25:53
retailer. So you’re a guy that was

on the front lines in the stores, you were a cashier, you suck pallets, you lead 500 people

in a store, do you have a concern about the viability of

a brick and mortar store? It feels like today that when you know even more than ever, as much as people are doing online, it feels like to me with the central retailing, that people felt the need to get to the stores. I went to my Walmart here in Riverdale, New Jersey, and it’s been slammed. Yeah, it feels like that, you know, they feel much more comfortable going to the store for those essentials. Maybe the supply chain was broken on delivery for online and they didn’t have the infrastructure to get it to me and delivery orders. My toilet paper was delayed but but at Walmart, they had it and so I went and got my pampers at Walmart because they had it and one of the things that was great was I went onto And they told me,

I looked for it. And they

told me it was at the store. And when I went it was at the store, which was huge because I went on to a major retailer that started as a brick and mortar as a big competitor. I started as an E commerce tenant, or E commerce retailer and was a is one of the biggest juggernauts in E commerce. And they told me I wasn’t going to get it to like may 5, I was like, well, that’s not good for my kids. I need diapers today. And so that was great. What do you think about the device? Zack, think about the viability of stores and physical presence, especially since you’re so digitally focused.

Lones 27:31
Yeah, and I do, I believe that there will always be the need. And that’s what I love about, again, the whole local social that I get to work on, the main thing I like about is is it’s that blend, because you’re using a physical store. And you’re thinking about this physical store that honestly the way I think of it, it’s like the physical brick and mortar store has a digital shadow. It’s just the same thing, right? You’re really running two stores, you’re running an online store, and you’re running this physical brick and mortar store. So you’ve got to have those kinds of solutions. I think more people will lean in even even like you mentioned, that’s the way that I see a lot of behavior have happening is people will look online first look at things like delivery dates, does this place, have it in stock, and then they’re deciding which brick and mortar store to go into based on what their cell phone and what the internet is telling them to do. So you’ve got to have both solutions available for people. I also think that what the difference is, is again, it’s essential items, it’s things I gotta go forward, something I need now, and I can’t wait two days or 24 hours for I think shipping will become two hours, you know, everyone’s talking about two hours shipping is the next big thing and then it’ll be even more convenient. So the question is going to be what takes me into a store, if even an urgent essential item I gotta get to I can get within two hours. Now it’s going to be do I need this right this moment for me to go to the store. Or the other reason you’re gonna go to a store is I want to get out of the house like right now. I would love to just get go to a Walmart and walk around simply because I want to get out of the house. My wife and I we take our kids to Walmart on the weekends. It’s something to do with our time. It’s not because we have to go there. It’s something to do. And I think retail brick and mortar has to lean into that experience. What’s the experience, it’s going to get me out of my house, to put my jeans actually on and drive to your store, fight the traffic to get in and it’s got to be a great experience where I can find new products. I’m gonna be treated great by the associates in there discover something that I wouldn’t be able to discover easily online. I think that’s what it’s gonna be about.

Ressa 29:38
Yeah, I think discovery is an interesting one. Right? People like to discover product for sure. I think that’s that American shopping need. I think discovery will be interesting and it’s a lot easier to discover in the store and more exciting right? You never saw oh my god, that impulse buy. Great perspective, man. I really, really appreciate it. We normally do this rapid fire At the end with a with a couple of questions, and I’m going to ask you two of them Zack. Yep,

question one what extinct retailer Do you wish would come back from the dead? Oh man.

Lones 30:16
All right now maybe like a KB Toys are like toys r us just because I grew up with those you know and I miss going to the toy store or taking my daughters to the toy store to just see the cool new toys.

Ressa 30:31
Awesome. Last one.

Play a little bit like a little bit like the price is right. I mentioned it before I’m on Walmart dot coms website.

I am looking at the Pampers swaddler my

it’s a box of 136 diapers. And

and it is

it is size five that is my son. What is the price of that box of diapers?

Lones 31:10
Yeah, so 2497

Ressa 31:14
It’s 3976. But thank you for playing.

Lones 31:18
Not even close. I buy diapers for my girls.

Ressa 31:25
Yeah, well,

listen, Zack, thanks for joining you gave a really interesting perspective about the digital effects on retail in the future. And I think everyone’s gonna really enjoy it and you have a unique perspective, working on this for the largest retailer in America. So thanks so much for joining.

Lones 31:44
Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Ressa 31:49
Thank you for listening to retail told. 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 retail retail at DLC This show highlights the stories behind the deals from all perspectives. So it doesn’t matter if you’re 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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