Building a successful brand is no easy feat. It requires hard work, dedication, and an understanding of your target audience's needs. Fortunately, there are some great examples of entrepreneurs who have achieved success in this area.

Paul and Richard discuss the importance of focusing on customers needs when building a successful brand in today’s competitive market. They state that by staying connected and present in the channels customers interact with, brands will better understand their audiences needs. This will ultimately provide them with valuable content to engage with, in turn, leading to higher retention. 

By understanding what their customers want from them, whether that’s quality products at competitive prices or exceptional customer service, they can build strong relationships with their audiences, leading to increased loyalty, and increased sales potential.

In this episode of Building Brand Advocacy, Paul is joined by Richard Honiball, EVP/ Global Chief Merchandising & Marketing Officer at NEXCOM. 

They cover:

  • Richard's career trajectory
  • Building a Brand by selling products at a discounted rate
  • The identity of Nexcom and the strategies it employed to grow 
  • The Importance of having your unique brand
  • How social media has changed the narrative around brands by personifying them through their founders
  • Amazon's copycat, which is cheaper than the leading brand and its consequences to the original
  • Knowing the customer's needs and acting on them
  • Strategies to attract a new set of customers 
  • Richard's work at JC Penney 
  • Producing products according to the persona of your customers 
  • Advice for brands hoping to grow

If you’re interested in exploring strategies that will help you build a brand for a captive audience worldwide, tune in to this episode of Building Brand Advocacy.

Building Brand Advocacy 022: Richard Honiball, EVP/Global Chief Merchandising & Markeing Officer at NEXCOM

Paul: Hello. Welcome back to Building Brand Advocacy. My name is Paul Archer, your host, and today I'm incredibly excited to be joined by Rich Honiball. Rich, welcome.

Richard: Pleasure to be here.

Paul: So let's start from the very top. Tell us a little bit about your background and your work history and then lead us on to tell us about what you are doing at the moment? We're going to dig into a bit of that from there.

Richard: I will give that a try. So I am in the retail industry, but an interesting segment of it, which I look forward to talking about. I actually started wanting to be a lawyer in the Navy. I didn't have a plan B when that didn't work out, so I kind of wandered aimlessly for the first few years and chose jobs where I would either get paid or would have a mentor that would look out for me and make recommendations. And I found myself in the retail industry and I went from specialty retail to luxury retail. The department store, made my way through buying product development and sourcing, brand design and trend. And then when I joined JCPenney, I can't do the math. Maybe about 17 years ago, I went into the brand director, and it was my first real marketing position, focused on building brands and building them really with a true understanding of the customer and have been kind of hooked ever since.

Paul: Incredible.

Richard: Yeah, it's an interesting journey. I think in the beginning, because I didn't have a roadmap, I just found interesting destinations and traveled there, not necessarily location, but just by job. And I don't know that I would have done it if I had an organized roadmap. So I'm kind of glad I started off with that bit of ambiguity as to what I wanted to do when I grew up.

Paul: And you kind of ended up where you wanted to start in the first place. So tell us a little bit about what you're up to at the moment.

Richard: So that is an ultimate irony, right? So after several years as an executive at JCPenney joining Haggar, and we could talk more about that later, as their head of marketing and ecommerce, I took a year and worked with a couple of overseas manufacturers, building direct to consumer brands. A couple of brands here in the US. Worked with a couple of startups, and when I decided that I loved the freedom but I missed the teams, I started to look at opportunities. And there's an artist that I love, Hugh MacLeod. And I have a sign that's actually I'm looking at my office right now that was in my office time, and it says, life is too short not to do something that matters. And as I was getting presented with opportunities, something that wasn't right about it, maybe the location wasn't right or I wasn't feeling the vibe, or maybe the customer equation wasn't right. And a friend of mine told me about an opportunity with a Navy Exchange. I had worked indirectly with NEXCOM before when I was with Brooks Brothers, ironically, on a uniform program. I put in a resume and went through a very interesting government hiring process, which I was not prepared for. That, in and of itself, is a story. And after about five months, I joined the organization as the head of merchandising and marketing. So I'm the chief merchandising officer for the Navy Exchange, which is about a $2 billion global retailer that is part of the United States Navy. And I'm the chief marketing officer for the Command, which also includes our hospitality division, uniform ship stores, and other services. So it's a great opportunity and come full circle. I actually am a civilian, but working for the United States Navy.

Paul: Incredible you got there in the end.

Richard: I did.

Paul: So talk us through just that a little bit. For anyone who doesn't know NEXCOM, $2 billion. That's quite a lot there. How does that sort of work? I would not normally associate the Navy with a retail brand, as I'm sure you'd expect, and some people would be there. How do you fit into that mix? And are you selling to service personnel? Are you selling to fans? Selling to the Navy itself? How does that all work?

Richard: It's interesting because coming in from the outside, you would think, okay, well, I could understand if you are procuring and selling uniforms and kind of daily essentials, right? But if you study the history of retail and  branding, every retail innovation was due to a certain need the way populations would migrate or the way the middle class might get built. So the story I kind of like to tell is if we're in the late 1800s and you and I are in a larger city and we need something, we go down to the corner store or to a large major store. If we're in a suburb or a rural area, we can go to a general store, travel into town. Well, if you're on a ship somewhere in the middle of the ocean or you're overseas, you can't get a beer or comic book or a gift for somebody. And so at the time, you'd have these informal canteens that people would open, or you would have bumboats, which are flat bottom boats run by entrepreneurs that would pull up alongside the ships when they were near a port, and they would sell their wares. But when you have a captive audience, you would tend to sell second-rate goods at high markups. And in 1896, there was a captain of the USS Indiana that said, this is not convenient. It's not affordable. And so he opened up a small canteen. Its first product was beer, and he bought first quality branded beer, sold it at a very small market. The Navy obviously can't make a profit off of it, so the revenue would end up going into a morale fund so that if they were going to do a family picnic or an outing, they could take it from that morale fund. And that's where the genesis of a Navy retail store started. Go through until he became an official command in 1946, and you had the expansion of ship stores in 1909 and eventually what they called a ship store ashore, which was the same thing, but in a foreign port for families. And then in 1946, we became an official command based in either Staten Island or Brooklyn and eventually became known as the Navy Exchange Service Command. And so our mission is to provide quality goods and services at a savings for those who are active duty, military, retired military, or dependents. And it's both a savings, what they call a non-paid benefit, and it's a convenience, because even today, if you look at some of our stores here in what we call CONUS, Continental United States, you could argue, well, I can go to the local store and get something. But if you're in Guam or Yokosuka or Djibouti, where our CEO just came back from, you don't have access to the same goods and services. So we provide a very valuable benefit to the men and women who serve and have served.

Paul: The history of it is fascinating. And the opportunity to actually provide something that people are so desperate from when they're far from home is very impactful on there. When your role kind of comes into it, I mean, this shows all about brand building, right? And we're looking at brand and what is the identity of NEXCOM, and how do you go about building that brand? I mean, you're selling things at a discount to a very captive audience, right? So you would guess that you don't necessarily need to worry too much about it, but actually, I'm sure that you take that to a whole nother level because it's not just about someone in Djibouti who shops with you. It's across the whole country. It's across the whole world. So how do you think about that?

Richard: Well, actually, it's a great question and probably one of the first questions that I asked when I came on board. If you look at our store, we're probably more like a Marks & Spencer than any store that you have here in the US. Because we sell food and convenience items, right. You know, we have stores that will be 200 square feet and provide almost every product and service you can think of. I in some cases, in many cases today, it's much harder to show a value even though we don't charge sales tax, it's much harder to show a value because of all the discounting and e-com and rolling prices. So you have to have an authentic brand and an identity. And I remember arriving and saying, okay, I'm trying to understand who we are, and what would you compare us to? And people would say, well, we're kind of like if you took a Macy's and a Best Buy and a Walgreens and combined it with this, and then I would ask the question, well, who should we be? And the answer was, we should be the Navy Exchange. And so the brand identity is really an authentic representation and connection to the military community. We do things… 85% of the time, we're like a regular retailer, and many folks that work here came from outside retailer. But about 50% of the people that work here have a connection to the military. They know what it's like to serve. They know what it's like to be away from their families for months on end. And so that gets integrated into our communities and it gets integrated into our branding. And we call it we don't just offer a value, we offer values. And that's something that really resonates, I think, when we do it right.

Paul: I think that definitely makes sense. When you kind of take this and compare it to your experience at Haggar, for example, you were responsible for a major brand refresh. What did you learn from that experience that you were able to take on to your new role at NEXCOM?

Richard: So a couple of things there. I've always had a love and respect of history and tradition. And when you work with startups, you don't have that history and tradition. You're starting something fresh. So it would be very hard for me to argue that you have to be steeped in history in order to be a brand. If that was the case, you'd never have new brands. But when we looked at Haggar, the challenge I had the opportunity to go work for Tim Lyons, who was the president, and he wanted to bring in somebody with more of a merchandising customer background to run their marketing. And the challenge given was the average age of our customers north of 50, and we want to bring in a new customer. And when brands have a tendency to do that, and I experienced that for a time at Penney’s, the biggest mistake that they make is either with intent or without intent, they jettison their current customer in order to go after this new shiny customer. And so one of the first things that we had to do at Haggar is understand who our existing customer was and what we could do to go to them and say, we appreciate you, we love you. We want you to be part of this. But we want to expand the brand. And how do we do so in a way that doesn't alienate you? And with Haggar at the time, there was a trend of kids going into their grandfather's closets and taking Harris Tweeds and having them tailored down. And so that vintage was cool, and we were looking at rebranding or refreshing the brand. I wouldn't say it was a rebranding. Tim and I and a couple of other on the team were in New York, and I saw a John Coltrane quote that said, sometimes you have to look at old things in a new light. So what we did is, rather than try to reinvent the brand and make it something that wasn't, we went back to the history of it and said, what made this brand cool at particular points in time? What made grandpa's cool? And let's take that and introduce it to a new generation. And we did some disruptive things with music and with social media and blogging, and it resonated with a new consumer. It shocked a lot of people, and thankfully, it did so still honoring who our core customer was that was still paying the bills.

Paul: So how did that actually come to life? So I think that the idea of taking something were you taking old music and giving a new modern twist, or you're showcasing people of a certain generation and showing the incredible things they did. I'd love to know how you kind of went about doing that. A few examples.

Richard: So as we went into the archives, a lot of which weren't there, we had to go back and buy some things. But have you ever heard the term slacks?

Paul: As in the trousers?

Richard: Yes.

Paul: Yeah.

Richard: He invented that. It was a pant that Joe Haggar created for the time when you were slacking off, and they became known as slacks. And so we took that and we said, okay, let's take that and run with it. And we went back to the 1970s when they were doing some really cool looking plaids on materials that you and I wouldn't wear, but they could be translated into a better fabric. And we did a vintage capsule, and we took the slacks expression. One of the activations that we did, and I loved it, is we did an activation some place southwest. We took over a dive bar called the Clive Bar on Rainey Street for two days. We did a two days worth of music. We brought in bloggers from New York. We created the Haggar Slacks Lounge, where musicians would come in and slack off and tell stories. And who we picked were artists like Vintage, Trouble, and Aloe Blacc. And what we weren't trying to do was take someone's music and reinvent it, but we were trying to find those artists that were popular with the younger generation, that were old souls or borrowing from the older generation. I've always found that music and sports transcends generations, and so by making that connection, we found a level of credibility that we could leverage.

Paul: Yeah, that makes absolute sense. And then did you identify a whole new generation of customers who came on? I mean, this is the 2013, 2014, if I'm right? About ecommerce days, did you suddenly find a whole different buy and behave?

Richard: My retail math is very strong. My chronological math is horrible. But what we found was over the course of a couple of years, we actually lowered the trackable age several years to around 45, what we did, and after a couple of years, the brand took a little bit of a different direction. But what we found was at that time we launched a new sub-brand with Target. We expanded our business with Amazon. And so the idea was never really to create this vintage collection and turn it into that was going to be the crux of what we were doing. But it added validity to the core of our brand and it brought a younger customer in that otherwise would have heard the word Haggar and would have thought that's old. And so it helped us to be able to it's kind of like I ran a custom business once and you can have 2500 fabrics and everyone's going to buy navy and black. So we did all these cool things and people saw, you know, still a basic khakis, but it allowed us to really gain traction with consumers that would have otherwise considered Haggar but were turned off by maybe the name in the image. But we're now saying, you know what, it's pretty cool.

Paul: Yeah, that makes sense. A lot of the time we're talking to brands and saying that you have to be laser-focused on your brand persona. And yes, you must only have the one. But what you've done there is that you are very honest with your brand persona but actually use that to then sell to a new persona. But off the back of the credibility you had for the original one. The example we give is these outdoor brands that you buy these jackets because you see someone at the top of Mount Everest who's just done something incredible or just got to the South Pole in it, and then I can be like them. So you buy this $300 jacket and then you put it over your suit and you wear it on the Metro and the way to work.

Richard: And that's exactly the case. And I think that if we had been trying to build a new segment of the brand that were for Everest, it would have been such a small, little segment. It never would have meant much, but it lent credibility to the rest of the assortment or otherwise. It wasn't it was more than just a tweet or a story. We were bringing it to life through the capsule collection, through social stories, through bloggers, and through music… and sports, for that matter.

Paul: Oh yeah, fascinating. Talking of Everest and Tweed, one of the first climbers you ever tried to attempt everest never came down and they relatively recently found his body. And the only thing that was completely unaffected by 100 years or whatever it was, 50 years in the ice was his Harris Tweed still in perfect condition. Which is a remarkable story. Not just because of the fact that that's a Harris Tweed is the fact that someone thought that they could climb Everest in a Tweed jacket as well, which I love about that story.

Richard: I love that story. I had not heard that.

Paul: When you were going into, like, hege, you had a whole wealth of experience at JCPenney into that. Were you working on the JCPenney brands themselves, trying to promote that as a retailer, or were you working with individual brands within that sort of umbrella?

Richard: So within JCPenney, my role at first from a brand director perspective, and then taking over as head of product development design for the men's and kids was to build private brands. But there's a huge difference, and I don't know, some understand that. I don't know that everybody does. There's a huge difference in a private brand and a private label. And at JCPenney, we did private brands. We had sourcing offices all over the world. We would develop materials, specs and innovation and truly try to build unique brands that could stand alone. At Arizona Jeans was at one point a $1 billion brand, if you looked at it on its own, and it was exclusively at JCPenney. And so we built that. In order to do that, you had to really understand what the customer was looking for, what they placed value on, what they didn't. How do you tell the story? And one of the interesting lessons, and I may regret telling this, but what the heck? It's been many years. And I remember when we were going through a rebranding of it, and we brought in the outside company and we met with the design team because I wanted there to be that connection between the product and the creative. And the person, the creative director for the outside agency said, okay, tell me what's special about the product. And the designer said, well, we see the hangtag being kind of vintage and beat up. And they said, no, don't tell me that. We'll put a story together, but tell me what's unique about the product. And after about two or three times asking that and not getting an answer, we realized that's probably because there isn't anything unique about the product, and if there isn't anything unique about the product and we haven't connected it to the customer, then all we're doing is putting a label on it. And what we ended up doing was taking the design team to the denim facility for two weeks, and we recreated the line and actually with the intent of, we're going to make the best damn $20 denim jean (at that time, when you could spend $20 in denim) that you could possibly find in the market. And then we'll put the packaging and the branding around it, and that was a good exercise. And we did that at Brooks Brothers from an opposite perspective, when I worked for Claudio Del Vecchio, when he bought Brooks Brothers from Marks & Spencer, and he would challenge us and say he once gave us the challenge to go build the most expensive suit we could possibly build, which is an interesting challenge to give somebody. And he was doing it because he wanted to raise our perspective when it came to revaluing the brand and repositioning it in the eyes of that traditional Brooks Brothers consumer. It's a fascinating experience, and having had the ability to do both the product part and then the marketing part, is it's fulfilling from a brand development perspective and truly honoring what the customer needs.

Paul: And when you think about that from a customer, because the idea of having multiple brands and most brands, and best practice for brand building is to narrow in on that very specific customer niche and to serve them with the best thing you possibly have. How did you get a persona for someone so broad, someone buying jeans from JCPenney that could be anyone and everyone. And actually, to make that differentiator, it's probably better to be as narrow as you possibly can. Did you have a persona that's like, yeah, we're building for this type of person. They look exactly like this. It's not that other people might like it in the same way that you may wear that jacket over your suit that you want, the one that climbed the fountain.

Richard: So it's a great question, and I think it's a question that sometimes people who build brands don't ask, and they end up building brands for a community that will never have the level of support for it. So you can build a very niche brand that is going to have this micro community and you can be very successful with it. A friend of mine several years ago was the one that launched Psycho Bunny, and for the longest time, that was a very niche community that loved his persona and that brand, and it was fun to watch him grow that. When you're building a $20 denim jean at JCPenney, and then I'll equate that to what we do here at the Navy Exchange, you're looking from a broader perspective, but you're trying to find a common thread, a couple of common threads. I will tell you the exercise, and I don't mean to be dismissive of it, especially with my peers, but I've never enjoyed the argument of trying to figure out what dog this persona has or what magazine they read. I scratch my head sometimes. But you're trying to find what are the common things that you can look for. And with JCPenney, it was somebody that valued quality but didn't want to spend the additional dollars. Fit was important to them. They didn't want to buy a no-name jean. They didn't want to go into Walmart and buy a jean, and they didn't want something that was necessarily identified to JCPenney. And so Arizona had to have a unique identity that just happened to be available at JCPenney. But it wouldn't surprise them if it was available at Macy's or somewhere else. And so we tried to find those common threads. If I look here within the Navy Exchange, we have a very closed audience because you have to have served in the military, be a dependent or be a retiree. So I can't sell to just everybody. And you have everybody from someone very entry level all the way up to retired and has an executive career in a variety of tastes. But the common threads are when someone joins the military, they do so with a sense of purpose and a commitment to service. The majority of them are joining because of a sense of giving back and sacrifice. And so that ends up being that thread that we bring through the private brands that we develop here or through how we execute the assortments with the national brands that we buy, is that understanding and level of commitment to service and to giving to others.

Paul: Yeah, that makes absolute sense, given your experience from JCPenney. And now at NEXCOM, what are your thoughts on the Amazon brands that are popping out the copycat brands that they are doing and bidding against those, but the fact they've got the distribution and they look and smell almost exactly the same as the brand name, but they're a lot cheaper. Do you think this is a good thing? Do you think it's just a kind of cheap shot and undercutting the market? I'd love to know your opinion.

Richard: I'll tread lightly, but I'll answer it. Do I think there's a market for it? Yes. And there's a big market for it. When you look at health and beauty and you look at whatever they're called, takedown brands or copycat brands, because there can be huge savings because of the amount of money that goes into branding a name brand health and beauty product. And we try to do that when we do our private brands here. Is there an audience for it? If the product is good, yes. But I think it lacks authenticity. I think it lacks a connection and understanding with the customer. And I think the more as a brand, as a business, as a retailer, you try to follow somebody, you're in a losing position. And it doesn't mean you have to be first. Sometimes… who remembers Palm Pilot? That came out before BlackBerry. BlackBerry came out for iPhones. So being the first isn't always the best. But I think if your brand is built on just copying, I don't think you can call it a brand. I think you have a product with a label on it and a brand has to stand for something more.

Paul: I wholeheartedly agree on that. One of our customers, at Jules, is a brand service called Beauty Pie, which is almost like a buyer's club. And it's generally face creams and beauty creams, which are coming from the same factories as the big name brands that will cost you hundreds of pounds to get the products and they're offering them at a fraction of the price as part of a membership of the club under completely Beauty Pie’s own brand. So it's its own brand of super high quality stuff, which you could be the other brands, but it's a fascinating kind of amalgamation of antibrand meets brands and a lot of great things kind of going on there. I don't know if you've seen many of those sort of plays where it's actually it has become its own brand.

Richard: Well, it has. And you can look at there's a couple of brands that we have here in the US. And I haven't heard of that one, but at least in doing that, you're telling a story and you're pulling in a community that's saying, you know what? I value the quality, but I don't value the name on the box. Or if you look here in the US, we have Trader Joe's and you look at what they've done and they've taken private brand to a whole new level. I, quite frankly, have tremendous strength from Marks & Spencer. And I think what they've done with some of their brands and in food, I think there's a deliberate attempt to give them well, I want to be cautious. I was going to say deliberate attempt to give them a personality. But I think that's where branding goes too far. I think when you try to say that a brand has an emotional connection to a customer, and I think the brand voice is important and the connection to the customer is important, but brands aren't people. The people who build the brands are people, and how do they connect is different. But I think that's the part that I think a lot of people get wrong in branding is spending the time to truly understand what that audience isn't just asking for, but wants and needs and finding a way to serve that need in a way that's just not trying to replicate. When you do that, and it becomes solely about price, you're going to get replaced very quickly.

Paul: Yeah, I think that makes sense. And I do think that there has been a shift in recent years, particularly because of social media and the personification of brands, not just the brand itself that has its own personality, but because of the founders themselves are now so much more integral part of the narrative than they would have ever been before. And so the brand and the founders personalities then become synonymous. And so therefore, there is almost like, I believe, particularly since COVID a strange thing happened is that people started relating to brands as humans in many ways, and they had these relationships with the social media accounts. They were obviously the people at the other side of it. But it has shifted. I think there is something a bit more than there ever was because you have these direct relationships that never would have existed, pre social media.

Richard: I agree with that. And I don't know that I have an answer to the question, is it the brand or is it the people behind the brand, whether you know who they are or who they're not? One of the things that we try to do is, and I will say that it stems from, my boss is the CEO of Navy Exchange Service. He's retired Admiral. And this is a man who served for 31 years, retired and then came back to serve in this position for another ten. And he cares more about this community than anybody I've ever met. And he will always say put the sailors first, but he'll do so with a sense of humility and that brings its way through our brand. So in our marketing and our social media and I'll give you a very quick anecdote. We try to take a little bit more of a humble approach. We're rewriting copy for a program now and there's a statement in there that says this is our everyday low price. Is it always going to be the lowest price? We've got 40 teams managing 500,000 items. No, but don't worry, we've empowered our team to do price-match guarantee. It's that you go past the marketing speak in the technical jargon and you say, you know what, you're humans. And I remember, and I have to give her credit, about six years ago, five years ago, it was Wednesday night into Thursday morning, Thanksgiving and the biggest night on the web. And we were starting to see some outages with certain instances. And so social media is blowing up and this is before we had a dedicated team. We had people who were drafted to work all night and man the social channels. And it's funny, the more responsive you get on social media, the more responses you get on social media. So instead of calling our care center, they are hitting us on social media and not direct messages. And so we started to get pretty hard because I've got something in my cart and the instance just timed out and in the middle of it the social media manager posts a meme. It's the cat meme typing on the computer screen and it's here's a picture of our IT department trying desperately to fix the problem. Stay tuned. And I'll tell you right now, I don't think I ever told her. I cringed and I have the power of delete and I said no. And in a split second what I saw was the tone of the conversation change from how dare you to the Navy Exchange just broke the Internet. Hey, give these guys a break. Hey, that was really funny and I just watched that authentic moment. And so to me that is the brand and that was a person behind it. And as long as we're consistent with that, I think that makes a big difference.

Paul: Yeah, absolutely. The most successful social accounts are the ones with the personalities and often when you know who the person is at the other side of it, it becomes much more powerful. And you have a relationship with something that's beyond that, whether that's the founder on an earlier stage or the person who is the social media manager on Twitter or whatever that case is, just that humanization of it, which is what's changing is. One last question there on this comment is what's the craziest thing that you sell the most of that you'd never expect in a far outpost of Djibouti?

Richard: Wow. I wasn't prepared for that question. That's a great question. So actually, I will tell you one, and we probably do sell it in Djibouti, but it was one of those mind shifts for me at the time. And now actually, there's more of a branding, Pedialyte. I was walking through one of our stores in San Diego that serves the Navy Seals, and I saw an endcap, when I first joined, and I see an endcap of Pedialyte. And I'm making a note to go back to the buying and planning team saying, this is where the Navy Seals training base is. I know I just got here, but they don't have their families out here. And why do we have an endcap Pedialyte? Somebody screwed up. 

Paul: What is Pedialyte?

Richard: Pedialyte is like Gatorade for babies. This isn't Gatorade or Powerade. This was Gatorade for babies. And I'm sitting here going, Navy Seals, Pedialyte, and it's perfectly stocked, which in my mind means it doesn't sell. That endcap turned over three or four times a week because the Navy Seals found that the replenishment factors of pediate were better than what they had in other drinks. And so that was a request. And so in a lot of our active-duty areas, we sell a lot of Pedialyte. And that was one of those where you kind of scratched. Thankfully, I didn't come in guns a blazing to tell everybody how wrong they were. I asked the question first and found out, all right, that makes sense. But there are some interesting things.

Paul: They're putting formula in their coffee and everything like that.

Richard: And for the most part, I would say we sell what the average consumer wants. But there are those differences that we recognize that we can stand up. A lot of our younger sailors who are gamers buy gaming laptops, and the average gamer wouldn't buy a laptop, but the average gamer isn't stationed on a ship for six months. So there's some interesting learnings from that.

Paul: Fascinating. Okay, right. So I've got a couple of quick-fire questions if you're ready for them. So what advice would you give to your 21 year old self?

Richard: Lighten up. I don't have any regrets. I can't have regrets because I'm happily married to my high school sweetheart. I have a wonderful 18 year old senior daughter in high school, and I love my job and the people I get to do it with. And I wonder what life would have been like if my plan A had worked. My 21 year old self, I would say you were successful because you didn't know what the heck you were doing. Even if you knew what the heck you were doing, take some chances. Don't go after the money in the position or the title. Go after the experience. Go after the right mentors. Go explore the world and then start to make your decisions.

Paul: Great advice. Great advice. So along this journey has been unusual. What counterintuitive have you learned along the way?

Richard: Other than the Acne, which did throw me for a loop? Well, actually, you know what? I'll lean into that a little bit. I would say being vulnerable, and I think both from a personal leadership perspective or and from a brand perspective, I think especially with after what we've been through over the last two to three years, I think authentic is one of those words that can be misused, becomes a brand word or word sometimes. I think the ability for a company or a brand or a leader to be vulnerable is strong, and I wouldn't have intuitively thought that even five or ten years ago.

Paul: I love that. I completely agree. Completely agree on that. And it's such a powerful counterintuitive as well. The more you put yourself out there and say that I'm struggling, the more people support you with it and allow you to kind of become more powerful from that. And then the final one from me, then. So who in the world of brand building would you like to take to lunch?

Richard: So if I can do it quickly, can I invite half a dozen people for really active, engaging lunch?

Paul: Yeah, I think the round table sounds like a great lunch. Yeah. Will there be wine?

Richard: There will absolutely be wine. If I invited Stanley Tucci, there would be mixed cocktails, but I don't know that he would make the list. So here's what I would invite Mark Tritton, who I had the chance to briefly meet him when he was head of branding at Nordstrom. I think he has a wonderful understanding of product and customers. I really had hoped for better for him at Bed Bath & Beyond. I think he's fascinating. Antonio Lucio, who has, I think, most recently was a CMO of Facebook and has tremendous experience. I think he is as authentic a marketer from a brand or marketing or customer perspective as someone who I've met, someone who I look up to and I think would be fascinating if I'm looking at someone who just understands brands. I'm inviting Margaret Malloy, who I think just has a tremendous amount of brand knowledge. Or Katherine Black, who used to be with KPMG and we worked on a project, and she's just one of those analysts that has a love and a passion for the customer. I'm inviting Melissa Gonzalez from Lionesque Group because if you build the brand and, you know the customer, and you have the personality, you need the space, and I think she can create great things. I'm inviting Ron Thurston because I love what he's done over the last couple of years of bringing a face to the front line of retail and being an advocate, and you're only as good as the people who are serving the patrons. And then my wild card is he's an okay actor, but I think he is the younger, Canadian, a little less brash version of Richard Branson, and that would be Ryan Reynolds. I don't want to say genius, because if he ever heard this, I don't want to seem like I'm sucking up to him, but I think he's a really smart marketer. Just look at what he's done with Wrexham, what he's done with Mint Mobile. And you got to have someone like that at the table just to keep the conversation going, just in case. But I'm not exactly sure what I would do except listen and grab more wine.

Paul: Yeah, keep pouring. Yeah. And you get that sense of humor as well with Ryan Reynolds, I think anyone who decides they need to buy a French football team certainly needs to have a great sense of humor. That sounds like a hell of a lunch. I'd love to be a fly on the wall for that. And I'm going to ping every single one of them, see if we can get them on the show as well. That sounds incredible. Rich, this has been fascinating. Thanks so much for making the time. And good luck with the next stage of your career with this.

Richard: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. And look forward to connecting in person someday.

Paul: For sure. Maybe at that lunch with that wine.

Richard: That would be you know what? I'll put you on the invite list.

Paul: Great. That was all I was hankering for. Finally. Brilliant. Thanks for that.

Richard: Thank you very much.

We can't wait to meet you.