By Avenue Code
Jest Dempsey Sidloski, VP of Marketing, Customer Experience & eCommerce at Peavey Industries LP/Peavey Mart, discusses how his company is emphasizing community care as it adapts to COVID-19 and merges its brands. The interview was conducted by Avenue Code.
Avenue Code: Tell us about your personal career path. How did you get to where you are today?
Jest Dempsey Sidloski: I started working at Peavey Mart during high school, which means I’ve spent more than half of my life working for Peavey Industries LP. Interestingly, I went to college for Emergency Medical Services but accepted an invitation to join Peavey’s Manager trainee program during the recession of 2008. At 21, I had 16 staff members and was running a multi-million dollar a year store. I successfully grew sales, improved employee culture, and was able to help impact my community with my team’s support. I was then promoted into the Home Office as the company’s first corporate Training & Development Manager, where I created an LMS system, and developed a program for finding and training new talent within the company. I also accepted an interim role as District Manager for 10 stores, including our flagship home office store in Red Deer, Alberta. After this, I was promoted to Director of Customer Experience, where I helped define customer journey maps, improve customer experience, manage the complaints call center, and update customer-facing policies. From there, I was promoted to Director of Marketing, which incorporated our customer experience department. In 2020, I was promoted to Vice President of Marketing, Customer Experience in eCommerce. My current role includes flyer, eCommerce, social media, videography, magazines, community sponsorships, partnerships, branding & public relations, customer service, and call centres.
AC: What are you personally most passionate about in your career?
JS: A passion for client happiness, customer experience, and sales attracted me to retail initially. Today, my passion still starts and ends with good customer experience, whether for external customers (buyers) or internal customers (employees). I try to constantly improve experiences, systems, and software. As a former President of the Suicide Information Center, 100 Men, and The Women’s Outreach, I am very oriented toward charity and service. Peavey Industries allows me to exercise that same passion through company-sponsored philanthropic endeavors while still having time to focus on my family and home life.
AC: You’ve spoken of COVID-19 as a positive force for accelerated change. How have your digital initiatives related to eCommerce and marketing pivoted since COVID-19?
JS: We were one of the first retailers in Canada to pull our flyers from distribution to improve consumer safety. This led to an instant eCommerce growth strategy, which included adding more products and offers online as well as facilitating a seamless curbside pickup experience. We learned that our consumer was eager to explore our business digitally, which allowed us to put more time and energy into creating better workflows, tighter eCommerce timelines, and new rules to make it easier for customers to shop with us according to their preferences. When we felt it was safe, we re-introduced both traditional and digital flyers and launched a new, comprehensive digital strategy. We also launched an education portal for our consumers in just 2 weeks. This was in response to an incredible shift in consumer behavior and purchasing habits as people began growing their own food, raising animals, and enjoying nature in their own backyards. Connectedtotheland.info works with Canadians from coast to coast to develop educational blogs, live stream education, articles, how-to’s, and even a podcast that made it to #3 on the Canadian podcast charts under home and garden. This initiative fits within our marketing strategy, dubbed “doing retail different.”
AC: What are the most important factors in sustaining and growing retail and consumer brands through the pandemic?
JS: My keywords this year are transparency and integrity. These two words speak to everything we’ve done as an organization to sustain and grow through the pandemic. We didn’t have all the answers or all the experience customers were looking for at the onset of the pandemic. We had to transparently tell our customers what we could do today while letting them know what we were working on for tomorrow. We listened to feedback from our staff and our customers and were able to pivot and quickly react to expectations. This was extremely important in letting customers know how we planned to continue to support them and their essential needs. Transparency is at our core – we had daily updates from our president at the onset of the pandemic. With transparency came teamwork I’ve never seen before – we had constant meetings with department stakeholders from Human Resources, Health & Safety, Store Operations, and our supply chain to ensure we were all on the same page. That teamwork allowed marketing to address its aging website infrastructure and sign on to build a new website, which we hope to launch in March of 2021.
AC: Which strategies did Peavey Industries LP implement ahead of its larger competitors, and how was this possible?
JS: The pandemic was declared on March 11, 2020. On March 20, 2020 we launched and marketed our curbside pickup options. Later on we launched drive through pickup and payment options. Peavey Industries LP brands sell a significant amount of growing supplies, including soils for consumer gardens, and we were quickly able to implement a drive through, load up, and pay system for customers to purchase large quantities of these items without ever leaving their vehicles. This was made possible by technology like mobile payment systems.
AC: Peavey Industries LP is recognized for its strong internal culture and brand reputation. How has your leadership style adapted during COVID-19, and what remains constant?
JS: The pressure on every single one of our retail employees was incredible in 2020. From balancing consumer expectations to constantly changing rules to new consumer shopping patterns to trying to keep a smile on our faces, it’s safe to say everyone experienced new levels of stress. COVID-19 did one thing: it brought our culture even closer together. One of the greatest things a business can do is listen, both to its customers and to its employees. We ensured we heard as many voices as possible through the pandemic. While we faced criticism for certain decisions, we also received praise, and that led to ensuring we continued to be transparent with each other and with our employees and customers on what we were doing and why we felt it was best for everyone. During the pandemic, I had to throw the leadership books in the garbage, because they simply weren’t relevant. I had to ensure I was not only a manager, but also an ear of support. My employees were afraid, nervous, eager, and exhausted. So was I. My walls came down, and I had moments of utter joy and utter emotional exhaustion. Empathy remained consistent and should be at the forefront of any challenge. Very few people alive today have experienced a pandemic before, and it’s okay to not know how to feel, to be vulnerable and afraid. Empathy allowed us to react calmly, to do what we felt was best, and to admit when we failed. Through an empathy lens, anything is possible.
AC: Tell us about Peavey Industries LP’s decision to merge its brands this year. What opportunities are in store, what challenges are you facing, and how are you addressing those challenges?
JS: One thing COVID taught us early on was that if we were going to be disruptive, now was the time. Peavey Industries LP purchased TSC Stores in 2016 and operated with two major banners in Canada. Both brands shared a similar history: they both launched only one year apart in the 60’s, both were originally American-owned companies bought by Canadians, and both offered similar segments of consumer products. With our eCommerce growth in 2020, a consumer market share increase, and the merging of our systems and technology, we still had two separate major corporate brands. (We also have a regional MainStreet Hardware brand and a primarily dealer-owned ACE Canada brand.) For Peavey Mart and TSC Stores, it meant one team doing double the work. We had 2 flyer programs, 2 websites, 2 social media accounts for each platform, 2 brand stories, and 2 different logos. But that’s about all that separated the brands since the acquisition.
The company has spent the last 4 years aligning product selection, pricing, customer service, systems, and even rewards programs. So it made absolute sense to continue our path of positive distribution in the Canadian retail landscape and to rename our TSC Stores to Peavey Mart – a brand that has supported rural communities since 1967. With this change comes better marketing strategies, more philanthropic opportunities, better culture alignment, and, most importantly, we can proudly say we work for the same company that’s aligned to create a unique retail experience in Canada.
AC: What is the key to successful strategic partnerships?
JS: For me, it comes down to reputable engagement. Everything we do at Peavey Industries is based on being authentic, real, and transparent with our customers, suppliers, and employees. Successful strategic partnerships are based on alignment in these areas.
AC: How have both COVID-19 and your decision to merge brands driven changes related to in-store experiences?
JS: “We want our customers to love us” is a phrase we use in the executive group and with important strategic pillars in our company. From new policies to the way our consumers shop with us to our employee service training to rewards and promotional programs, we must always ask ourselves: will this make our customers love us? This opens a door to ensure we continue to listen with intention and heart and to make changes to do what people need us to do. We are a retailer, but that doesn’t mean we can’t also be a community builder and a proud Canadian partner trying to do things a little more personally.
AC: Thanks for your time today, Jest! It’s a pleasure to hear how Peavey Industries is caring for its community as it continues to adapt.
Alfredo Moro is a Business Development Specialist at Avenue Code who is passionate about sales and loves to connect with clients all over the world! In his spare time, he enjoys watching the soccer games of his favourite team and cooking Brazilian BBQ in his backyard.