Influencer Insights: Yolanda James

Yolanda James recently joined the Nashville Health Care Council where she serves as the director of the Fellows initiative and content strategy. 

In addition to managing Fellows, James plays a key role in strategy development and works with staff in program planning, addressing subject content and speaker selection.

Before joining the Council, James was the director of public relations and strategy for the Tennessee Hospital Association. She also provided oversight of THA’s Agenda 21, an internship program for minority students.

James has nearly 20 years of experience in public relations, social marketing and grassroots advocacy. She holds a bachelor’s in journalism and a minor in women’s studies from Miami University (Oxford, OH). 

Ketner Group: You have a long history in public relations and marketing through a variety of industries. Clearly, you love what you do. What is your favorite thing about PR?

Yolanda James: My favorite thing is the problem-solving, finding that solution to your client’s problem. It’s that constant task of making the puzzle pieces fit. The solutions are equally as exciting. Often, I’m asking questions, such as:

Do you want to do press conferences? Will you meet with community organizing and public affairs? What’s your target audience? How can we draft impactful bylines? How can we reach ideal publications and use the right channels to achieve your goal?

KG: What do you think differentiates really great PR professionals? 

YJ: The true greats are flexible, especially those on the agency side. In PR, you have to expect the unexpected and embrace it. In many instances throughout my career, I’ve worked with professionals who were able to pivot and deal, revise talking points or take new information and then draft a news release or document accordingly.

Secondly, the truly greats write and edit well. They know when to add a transition and when to delete a bunch of fluffy run-on sentences.                                            

In my new role at the Nashville Health Care Council as the director of Fellows and content strategy, I still use all of these skills every single day (even though I am no longer responsible for PR).

KG: How do you see the PR/marketing industry in Nashville evolving in the next five years? 

YJ: Nashville is a growing city and it is growing not just by population, but by industry. Health care accounts for more than 270,000 jobs locally, with Nashville-based companies operating in all 50 states. Facing unprecedented growth, the city will need more PR and marketing professionals who are effective at promoting their companies at a regional and international scale.

KG: You’re incredibly involved in your community. What is one of the biggest challenges Nashville is currently facing and what have you been doing to address it? 

YJ: Top of mind is the massive growth that’s happening and making sure that everyone — native Nashvillians, women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ community — continue to experience advancement from it. Nashville has an opportunity to not be like other growing cities that have reached their peak only to come up with excuses for why the rising tide is not lifting all boats. We’ve built healthcare, tourism, music and entertainment dynasties. Surely, we can figure out how all Nashvillians can not only be invited to the table but also given a piece of the pie and a fork to eat and enjoy it.

To help with this, I am a Board member of the Tennessee Diversity Consortium. TDC focuses on creating positive community impact where peers gather to offer support, exchange best practices and become better diversity leaders.

KG: When you’re not in the office, what do you enjoy doing on a personal level?

YJ: I love reading. Besides my Bible, I have 7 books on my nightstand right now: Michelle Obama’s “Becoming”; Mindy Kaling’s “Why Not Me?”; “O’s Little Guide to Finding Your True Purpose”; and Jasmine Guillory’s “The Proposal”.

For my business brain, I have “The Memo”, “Multipliers” and “The First 90 Days”. They will all be completed by November 1, possibly before then!

I also love music and dancing, especially to hip-hop and 80s and 90s music – any genre.

New obsessions include hiking and people watching. There are so many cool places in Nashville for both of those.

KG: What’s the best piece of personal or professional advice you’ve been given?

YJ: I have received a lot of great advice. The best PR nugget I’ve been told is “No matter the typo, no matter how many misplaced commas or semicolons, nobody died.”          

The most useful personal advice comes from my dad: “Yolanda, people’s reactions to you are not about you. It’s about them.”                                

Remembering that keeps me grounded and humble on my most amazing days, and that motivates me to keep smiling and moving forward on my worst days when I really want to crawl home and listen to B.B. King on repeat. 

Lisa Roberts headshot

Influencer Insights: Lisa Roberts

Lisa is the founder of Great Catch Consulting, where she works with a myriad of mostly B2B technology businesses, from pre-seed to mature growth stages, on creation or refinement of key go-to-market strategies and tools. Lisa has built and grown Marketing & Product teams and strategies for early- and growth-stage businesses for 20 years. She has the experience to confidently anticipate and navigate the go-to-market challenges that will come for all growing businesses as they strive to reach their full potential. Lisa is inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit and only knows how to go all-in when partnering with those attempting to build and grow something meaningful.

What do you think are the biggest changes most impacting the tech industry in Austin?

The continued influx and growth of large tech firms in Austin (Apple, Google, etc.) is changing our entire landscape. For tech companies, it’s creating an even tougher fight for talent as recruits have more options. Companies, not just in Austin, have to reorient themselves to the experiences that people are now looking for in their jobs. From how career paths are defined, to environment design to accommodate different working styles, we all have to work harder to find ways to nurture and retain great talent.

Where do you see the tech/startup industry in Austin headed 10 years from now?

These are all realistically more my hopes rather than predictions, so take them with a grain of salt:

  • Embracing even more Californians. 46% of Bay Area residents plan to move away soon, and Austin is the 5th most cited city that they are targeting as their new home. Basically, our growth is not going to slow and it’s going to be heavily fueled by smart, driven tech employees and investors from the Bay Area.
  • Increased diversity in tech verticals. I hope to continue to see the diversity in the industries that our startups are serving. It’s been great to see the rise of tech startups serving real estate, CPG, fintech, healthcare, security and social good, in addition to verticals like hardware, retail/ecommerce and analytics tech that have been foundational in Austin.
  • More diversity in our investors and advisors. We have some incredible people who are paving the way (i.e. Kelsey August at CTAN, Sara Brand and Kerry Rupp at TruWealth Ventures, Female Founders Fund), but I hope to see more. And, I hope that we don’t always have to make it us vs. them. Our local VCs will benefit from more diverse people being involved, as will local company boards.

Who or what are you “rooting” for in the tech industry right now? (Anyone or a company you’d like to single out whose work you are appreciating or look forward to hearing more about, etc.)

I’m rooting for an old co-worker turned friend of mine, Beth White, and her business, MeBeBot, an AI and chatbot technology for Human Resources.  One, she’s a woman bootstrapping her way to create a business that she believes in wholeheartedly. Two, as an employee to numerous companies over the years, I see so much value in what she’s creating. The solution streamlines employee engagement with a dizzying array of systems and information, helping everyone simply get or give important HR information much easier. Think getting your questions about company holidays answered, getting info on how to change 401K selections or providing updates on your OKR progress simply using a single chatbot embedded in the tools you already use, like Slack or Teams. HR teams are loving it and I hope she’s going to be wildly successful!

How do you most like to stay up to date on tech trends?

I primarily pay attention to the trends that directly affect my work. Given that I’m a marketer, I’m always interested in ways that people are USING tech to have an impact, not just what new stuff is out there. My best sources for that are generally podcasts. Some of my favorites are Tim Ferriss, Flip My Funnel (w/ Sangram Vajre) and the OpenView Build podcast. Having a strong network of other marketers who enjoy sharing successes and failures with new tech is also invaluable, whether over drinks or more formally through organizations, like the CMO Club. For broader tech industry trends, I still love good ole Fast Company.

When you’re not in the office, what can we find you doing?

I am both a homebody and an extravert, so I keep a healthy balance of both in my life. I love being home with my family playing soccer in the front yard or hanging with our neighbors, but I’m also still a longtime Austin girl and love to get out for a live show. The Mohawk is still my favorite venue to hear great music and have an experience. I also support the Andy Roddick Foundation who does amazing work to provide after school opportunities and an amazing summer program for students at some of our east Austin schools. It’s a great foundation with a great mission.

What’s the best piece of personal and/or professional advice you’ve been given?

If what you’re going after doesn’t scare you a little, you’re probably not growing. When I remind myself of this in a moment of, “Holy crap, this better work,” I can usually shift my nervousness to excitement. I’ve grown to trust that when I choose well in who I work with and how we plan, we have a high chance of succeeding. I’ve also grown to see the learning in my failures, some of my best lessons yet!

Kirsty Goodlett, Director, Ketner Group Nashville

Employee Spotlight: Kirsty Goodlett, Director, Nashville

Get to know Ketner Group’s fearless leader in Nashville as we open our newest office in her favorite city.

Tell us a little about your background with KG.

Kirsty Goodlett: I met the kind folks at Ketner Group seven years ago when I was a client of Ketner’s while working for a retail tech company, Digby. There, I found Ketner to be a true extension of our marketing team, and I really relied on our partnership to create successful campaigns and achieve our goals.

When I moved to Nashville five years ago, I joined the team part-time while I additionally ran Seamless Marketing, the company I founded to help small businesses with their marketing efforts. This February, I returned to Ketner to open our Nashville office, an opportunity so amazing it has at times felt like a dream.

What new opportunities are available to you and KG now that we have an office in Nashville?

Nashville is a wonderful city! Being here provides us access to a whole new set of B2B tech companies to partner with. One thing I love about Nashville is that it’s a great city for relationships, and a lot of those are built over good cups of coffee.

Additionally, Nashville is known as the “Athens of the South” because of the large number of universities and colleges in town. I believe the city will set us up for success from a hiring perspective.

How would you describe Nashville in comparison to Austin and New York? 

Great question! I could go on for ages, so I’ll work to be brief.


Weird and fun, Austin is a city that welcomes folks with open arms and features a tech scene that is constantly innovating. Austin is a super hub for our headquarters because it’s a true representation of the companies and employees we attract.

New York

New York is one of the biggest cities in the country. Business gets done quickly and things are always changing. Being in NYC gives us access to great media contacts and influencers.


The friendliest city in the country, Nashville has a diverse, growing economy that attracts people from all over the world. Nashville will provide opportunities for us to grow in new markets and ensure a lovely quality of life for our team. Not to mention, it’s the best city to host clients. Who doesn’t want to come to Nashvegas?!

What is your favorite part about living in Nashville?

My favorite thing about Nashville is the people. Everyone is collaborative, kind and really supportive. That attitude makes opening an office here ideal, people are excited about your efforts and look to help you through challenges. I am so grateful for all of the people and communities that have shown up to help us prepare for and then celebrate our launch! 

What are the top three spots in Nashville everyone should visit?

Marche: hands down my favorite restaurant in town, Marche is a French classic with lots of local flair and the best food.

Robert’s Western World: you can’t come to Nashville without going to a honkytonk and Robert’s is a classic, old-school joint with the best music and plenty of locals in addition to tourists—a rarity these days.

Monell’s: not only does Monell’s have my favorite fried chicken in town, but it also features the added bonus of sitting you family style so you can get to know your neighbors.

Influencer Insights: Andrew Tull

Andrew Tull has been a staple in the Business Development and Start-up/ Entrepreneurship community for over a decade now. He specializes in technology solutions and focuses on integrating strategic business plans for sustainable company growth. He currently works for Tailwind Business Ventures where he helps to provide end-to-end technology solutions to real- world business challenges.  Before partnering with Tailwind, Andrew served in a variety of director and executive positions for companies such as, Switch Inc., Pragma Systems Inc., and more.

KG: What do you think are the biggest changes most impacting the tech industry in Austin?

Andrew Tull: An inability to attract, find and keep quality folks in key roles, most particularly product management, product delivery, and technical architecture and development roles.

KG: Where do you see the tech/startup industry in Austin headed 10 years from now?

Andrew Tull: I believe we will see a continued intersection of larger companies (Apple, Indeed, Facebook, Google) on the tech side. These companies will combine with a number of the key incubators (too many to enumerate) in town to drive forward an ‘Austin 3.0’ that will lead to a new wave of investing, as well as new industries coming to town. When you combine these tech companies and incubators with the massive growth engine that is US Army Futures Command, and the multi-decade significant impact that this group will be having, it speaks to a very bright future for the tech/startup industry in Austin.

KG: Who or what are you “rooting” for in the tech industry right now?

Andrew Tull: No specific companies – our team is focused on helping custom software development with a number of key industry players currently in Austin. I’ll continue to root for continued and sustained growth in a new and diverse set of industries and market verticals. 

KG: How do you most like to stay up to date on tech trends?

Andrew Tull: I’m blessed to be part of a number of startups, incubators, angel funds, and other groups that keep me up to date with the new tech trends happening in and around Austin. 

KG: When you’re not in the office, what can we find you doing? 

Andrew Tull: Spending time with my amazing family, running or volunteering with Texas Search and Rescue (TEXSAR).

KG: What’s the best piece of personal and/or professional advice you’ve been given?

Andrew Tull: Always, always, *always* lead with ‘how may I help you’?

Influencer Insights: Mike Troy

As editor-in-chief of Retail Leader, Mike sets the editorial direction for the publication. He focuses on providing business intelligence to senior retail and consumer goods executives to help them become more effective leaders and drive growth within their organizations. Mike leverages extensive industry experience and first-hand experience to manage content for the publication.

KG: What do you think are the biggest changes (technology or otherwise) most impacting the retail industry? 

Mike Troy: At a high level, retailers are attempting to keep pace with shoppers’ rapidly shifting expectations. Trying to stay on top of constantly shifting customer behaviors driven by new technology is impacting retail in a big way.

KG: How do you most like to stay up to date on trends?

Mike Troy: The best way to stay up to date is to read anything you can get your hands on. Read through press releases, research reports, 10-Ks, S-1’s, conference call transcripts and stuff my colleagues at EnsembleIQ write.  It is also important to learn from peers in the industry. I actively attend key industry events and listen to the thought leaders who are inventing the future.

KG: Where do you see retail headed 10 years from now?

Mike Troy: I have no idea. I’m not as smart as I used to think I was because retail is changing so fast. With technology constantly changing, it’s hard to say where any industry is going to be 10 years from now. The next big thing could come along next week or next month and ruin what sounds like a good prediction today. Directionally speaking, there are some well-established trends in place, but anyone can predict those.

KG: You must get thousands of emails a day with pitches and ideas (including from us!). Which emails stick out to you the most and why?

Mike Troy: I wouldn’t say I receive thousands a day, but the ones that stand out tend to be personalized to my brand. I’m more likely to notice pitches that make it clear the sender understands my style of storytelling.

When you’re not writing or setting the editorial direction for Retail Leader, what can we find you doing? 

Mike Troy: I’m rehabbing a house that is taking way too long and costing way too much.

KG: What’s the best piece of personal or professional advice you’ve been given?

Mike Troy: Tell the truth.

Influencer Insights: CJ Johnson

CJ Johnson is an award-winning photographer and content creator, a GQ Insider and Google Next-Gen Policy Leader, and a well-known “brand guru.” We wanted to learn more about his process and asked for his perspective on the state of influencer marketing.

KG: How do you as a social influencer create partnerships, and what is your criteria before aligning yourself to an opportunity?

Typically, I say yes to partnerships or sponsored opportunities with brands if it’s an industry I’m knowledgeable about and interested in already. That’s important. Then, I want to be sure the ROI makes sense and is beneficial to me and my time. More and more, I’m starting to explore social causes, too. Creating these partnerships varies – some come organically my way, others I reach out to. If my goals are aligned with those of the brand or cause, then it’s off to the races.

KG: Recently there have been headlines about consumers feeling “influencer fatigue,” as they voice feelings about inauthentic content. How should you and other social media influencers respond to this sentiment?

CJ: Influencers who are frustrated or misunderstood by this discussion are feeling a bit judged. There is always room for improvement – everyone can agree on that. The “fatigue” mentioned is stemming from every influencer trying to compete with one another, and the inauthenticity is felt because of a lack of imagination as people copy each other. To help the state of influencer marketing, people need to be more educated about this industry and there also needs to be a culture that fosters more creativity.

Additionally, a more standard pay structure would help influencers understand their market value and how to better negotiate their pay. Right now, influencers – and the brands they collaborate with – are in the dark with what the market asks for. It’s a bit all over the place. Someone with 100k followers on Instagram can demand $1,500 per post while someone else can ask for $500, and both parties don’t even know the real value of either ask.

KG: You say there needs to be more education on the industry. In what ways do you see that playing out?

CJ: For content creators and influencers, there needs to be a clear understanding of professional etiquette, the deliverables they’ll create for companies they collaborate with, and their overall value as a business. On the other side of this, companies need to understand what really incentivizes these content creators and influencers. It’s not just about free stuff or monetary value. Content creators and influencers honestly care about their messaging and the impact they’ll make on their community. With every collaboration there is a lot more risk involved than you’d think.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more to learn on both sides of the aisle. We’ll see more workshops, webinars and events that will center around these topics in the future, for sure.

KG: Do you think the influencer space is becoming too cluttered?  Is there still room for individuals to make their mark and curate authentic community online?

CJ: For every article that talks about the pitfalls of influencer marketing, I see another that talks about how fast it’s growing into a lucrative sector. Two things stick out to me. First, the critiques often come from someone who is attempting to be an influencer, someone who is frustrated with not being recognized, even possibly experiencing a bit of “FOMO” (fear of missing out). The second thing is a difference in audience perception due to the influencer strategy – one sees content from influencers as annoying advertisements, and the other has no idea they’re looking at an ad in the first place. In any case, I think transparency and authenticity is key to growth and success in influencer marketing.

Even if it’s cluttered, it’s a growing industry. Influencer marketing used to be a thing only a few people were doing online, and now there’s an upcoming generation whose sole goal it is to grow up and be an online influencer. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bubble waiting to burst – I think of influencer marketing as evolving just as the acting or entrepreneur industries have done.

KG: What is your advice to companies considering influencer marketing as a part of their strategy?

CJ: First, consider why you need it in the first place, and then what your goals will be. Too many times, I see companies that “heard from a friend” or are following a competitor that is growing quickly because of influencer marketing, so they want in too. But that can lead to unrealistic expectations or experimenting without quite understanding the value of an influencer. So, please recognize the “why” before you begin. Secondly, you need to understand there are several strategies with influencer marketing now, including:

  • Getting as many influencers on board as possible
  • Recruiting a smaller number of influencers to act as brand ambassadors
  • A combination of the above for a specific limited campaign
  • One-off influencer-promoted posts
  • Repurposed influencer content and posts

When you know which plan fits your goals, set aside the time to do authentic research. Yes, there are automated tools and databases, but it might be smart to also have a team-member (here’s looking at you, interns) do some research on influencers that fit your criteria. After researching, make sure your collaborative efforts bring as much value and long-term relationships as possible. Again, influencer marketing is incredibly impactful and a lot more cost-effective than people give it credit for.

We enjoy following CJ online and think you might too. Learn more about what he’s up to by visiting his Twitter or Instagram.

Influencer Insights: Caroline Farley

Caroline Farley is the Chief Growth Officer of Shoptalk and Grocery Shop. 

KG: Why did Shoptalk decide to create a separate conference solely dedicated to the grocery space?

Caroline: The grocery and CPG industry is facing a major shift into e-commerce as this space is the last retail sector to take the leap into online; today just 2-3% of grocery sales in the U.S. come from e-commerce, a small fraction compared to other retail categories. It was a natural next step for the team that built Shoptalk to launch an event creating a new framework and dialogue with a community of rapid innovation and disruption.

KG: What are the most interesting trends you are seeing in the grocery space this year? 

Caroline: The obvious trend is the impact innovative technologies have on the industry in terms of digitization and the new consumer landscape: new technologies are enabling more interactive, engaging in-store experiences, as well as making store operations more efficient. Groceryshop is designed to meet the needs of the sector as it undergoes widespread disruption. Over the next few years, new omnichannel offerings will emerge, which will include new ways to order as well as more convenient delivery and pickup options. The result will be an increase in orders via digital platforms, as well as significant changes in physical stores as they become a key part of order fulfillment. At the same time, new technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain will start to transform the supply chain.

KG: Now in its fourth year, what can we expect to see and hear at Shoptalk?

Caroline: Shoptalk 2019 will have a core focus on empowering retail with education. Our framework outlines how the retail industry has evolved from a Legacy Normal(2015 and earlier) through a period of Disruptive Change(2016-2017) and into a phase we refer to as the New Normal(2018 and beyond).

The New Normal is characterized by optimism about transformation and a renewed confidence in the future of retail. In this phase, disruptive innovation is no longer simply reactive or something that a minority of people advocate. Instead, it is embraced by the mainstream and is a top priority throughout the ranks of retailers and brands, increasingly touching all parts of the organization.

Culturally, this New Normal has ushered in an era where innovation, not inertia or protection of the status quo, is reflected in companies’ daily operations. It is an extended period during which innovation is no longer an “if” or “why” but “who, what, when and how.” Retailers are now in a state of constant improvement as they look to ensure that everything from the supply chain to the online and in-store experience is optimized.

Shoptalk’s 2019 agenda is organized to reflect the key themes that represent this new era of retail and how brands and retailers are positioning themselves for the future. To ensure that we continue to lead the industry conversation, we’ve retired a number of topics and added others–about half of the session topics are new.

As well, attendees can expect to see unique activations in the Exhibit Hall and more intimate retailer to retailer networking with peer dinners. We’ll also feature Shoptalk’s Shop Hop, allowing retailers and brands an opportunity to network with each other in a casual setting and reflect on the three days of extraordinary education. Just as we have the past three years, we will continue to introduce the element of surprise onsite to create the most exciting, hyped and educational conference model in the retail space.


A Ketner Q&A with Steve Dennis, President of SageBerry Consulting

What technology trend do you see most impacting the field?

In the short-term, technologies that help create what I like to call a more “harmonious” experience will add the greatest value.  Brands need not only remove the friction of shopping cross-channels, but find a few things to do remarkably well.  Medium-term I look to artificial intelligence and machine learning to help retailers create smarter more personalized experiences. Longer-term, virtual reality has the potential to be transformative.

How do you most like to stay up to date on trends?

I read a lot of different newsletters, attend a few high impact conferences and follow a handful of industry leaders who have a great pulse on what’s going on in retail (like Scott Galloway as just one example) or more broadly on innovation and consumer behavior (like my friend and first business partner Seth Godin).

What’s the best piece of personal or professional advice you’ve been given?

Accept the things you cannot change.

How did you get involved in the industry? 

I got laid off from a job and wanted to stay in Chicago. I focused on consumer oriented companies that were in need of innovation and a place where I could quickly advance my career. Though a series of event I ended up going to work for Sears way back in 1991. Aspects of that decision worked out better than others.

What are three things we wouldn’t guess to be true about you? 

Given how much I put myself out there in social media and speaking some folks are surprised that I’m really pretty introverted. Second, I hate to shop. Lastly, given my interest in Buddhist philosophy I struggle with how many brands often appeal to consumers ego in shallow or meaningless ways.

What do you think is the biggest change occurring in the retail industry? 

Most consumer journeys now start in a digital channel and many brands are utterly unprepared for that.

What do you do for fun?

My first love is travel, followed closely by a strong love for learning, which usually plays out through reading and seeking out new experiences that challenge my worldview.


About Steve Dennis

Steve is the President of SageBerry Consulting, a strategic advisory firm focused on innovation and growth strategy for retail, luxury and social impact brands. His perspectives on digital disruption and the reinvention of retail are shared through keynote speeches, in the press and as the author of one of the industry’s most popular blogs. Steve is also a retail contributor for Forbes and has been named a top retail influencer by multiple organizations. He has consulted and/or spoken on six continents and still holds out hope for doing a keynote in Antarctica.

Prior to founding SageBerry, Steve was SVP, Strategy & Multichannel Marketing for the Neiman Marcus Group where he drove major growth initiatives and led the company’s multi-channel integration, loyalty marketing and customer insight strategy. Earlier in his career he held senior leadership positions with Sears, including Chief Strategy Officer and VP of Multichannel Integration.

Steve is the immediate past Board Chair of Social Venture Partners Dallas and serves on the advisory boards of the United Way’s Ground Floor Initiative, Education Opens Doors and Invodo.

He received a BA in Economics from Tufts University and an MBA from the Harvard Business School.


A Ketner Q&A with David Matthews, Managing Director at REVTECH

What is REVTECH and why did you start it?
REVTECH is a seed fund and accelerator program for leading retail tech startups.  I believe that Dallas is a logical hub for retail tech innovation given the number of national retailers headquartered here, most of whom are struggling to adapt to the rapidly changing retail model.  I started REVTECH because most of my most interesting deal flow (as a VC in Dallas for the past 17 years) has been in this sector.

What technology trends do you see most impacting the field?
The tools today’s consumer has at their fingertips bring selection, comparison and convenience never before seen in human history.  Retailers with legacy systems and processes simply can’t keep up.

How do you most like to stay up to date on trends?
I stay current on trends by monitoring the activities of the coastal VC’s and accelerators – especially those that focus on retail tech. I also evaluate the driving forces of M&A activity in the industry.

What’s the best piece of personal or professional advice you’ve been given?
Best advice I’ve been given is to surround myself with people smarter than me – not a high bar!

How did you get involved in the industry?
My involvement in retail began as a low-wage employee in my youth; it accelerated when I landed JCPenney as a major customer (in my past life as an entrepreneur) when they moved from New York to Dallas.

What are three things we wouldn’t guess to be true about you?
1) I’m personally a low-tech guy, only high-tech with my investments. 2) I’m a drummer (not a singer!). 3) I’m a Buckeye!

What do you think is the biggest change occurring in the retail industry?
The consumer’s growing ability to fill needs effortlessly and to focus their shopping efforts on the wants and unknown needs.

What do you do for fun?
Walk the dog, hang out with my wife and kids and occasionally disappear to my cabin in the mountains.

About David Matthews
David is the managing director and founder of REVTECH. David founded REVTECH in 2011 as a seed capital fund and accelerator program focused on technology innovation for the retail industry. He has over 25 years of experience in building and developing companies and investing in software startups. REVTECH has funded 30 companies to date, half of which were able to attract seed funding of $250k or more, and four that have achieved $1 million in revenue annually. David has also helped these startups create over 200 new jobs. His most successful endeavors include selling Green Mountain Energy to NRG and selling Fiber Systems International to Amphenol. Matthews was raised in Oklahoma City and earned his Bachelor of Science Degree from Ohio State University in 1986.

Influencer Insights: Greg Buzek

A Ketner Q&A with Greg Buzek, Founder and President of IHL Group

What technology trend do you see most impacting the field?

The single biggest trend for retail is how they compete with Amazon. Retailers must get to Unified Commerce with a single view of the order and single view of the customer regardless of how they choose to shop. And then they need updated POS technology at the store level to take advantage of these changes. Customers used to HAVE to shop, now they need a reason to WANT to shop your stores. This change is having dramatic impact on the number of stores, the alignment of personnel, and total operations. Retailers that make these changes and create a compelling reason for shoppers to visit your stores will survive and thrive. Those that don’t won’t be here much longer.

How do you most like to stay up to date on trends? 

We read massive amount of news, and talk to a lot of retailers and non-retailers. I like to spend a lot of time on bleeding edge technology sites to understand new technologies and then think through how these might be applied to retail. Certainly conferences and vendor information plays in here as well. But we always look at these things with a minimum 3 year lens before actual deployment anywhere. Retailers are notoriously slow at technology adoption. We have to filter through the “might be” to try and forecast what likely “will be.”

How do you recommend PR professionals reaching out to share news?

Announcements just to announce a product or new person or new office are fine for local newspapers, but what really gets the attention of analysts and influencers are actual customer wins and anything with $$$ in the headline. Customer wins or case studies are most important. Otherwise you are asking us to sort through hundreds of pieces of news and determine what is real and what is vaporware.

What’s the best piece of personal or professional advice you’ve been given?

Always leave a situation better than you found it. Whether a customer relationship, vendor relationship, or simply borrowing a tool from someone….leave the other person better off than when they found you.

How did you get involved in the industry? 

Before college, I worked at Hardees, Sears, Skyline Chili and a small restaurant in Cincinnati called J&Js. Once I went to college and graduate school, my first job out was with NCR and I was given that challenge of competitive analysis of the industry. This was an incredible blessing based on what I do now since most new hires only learn about their company, I was forced to learn about all the other companies in the industry. This served me well when I created an analyst firm 20 years ago.

What are three things we wouldn’t guess to be true about you? 

I dotted the i in Script Ohio performed by the Ohio State Band (wasn’t supposed to), I still may be one of the only Catholics to sing in the Mormon Tabernacle choir for a day and I got kicked out of my college dorm as a sophomore in college.

What do you think is the biggest change occurring in the retail industry? 

The decoupling of IT Spend for this year based only on a figure of last year’s revenues. Most retailers still look at IT as a cost of doing business and thus tie this year’s spend to last year’s revenues and growth. Those retailers who do that fail to see that Amazon has changed the game.  66 million U.S. homes now have Amazon Prime Accounts with Free 2 Day shipping. Amazon is an endless aisle retailer that is almost always in stock, supported by Amazon Web Services which is the largest and greatest value Infrastructure as a Service platform. Retailers that don’t realize that IT transformation is not only needed but critical to survival and don’t spend the required funds for turnaround will simply not be here 3 years. 

What do you do for fun?

I’m an avid sports fan. My son and I have for the last several years done a college football tour around the country. We love to go to different schools and enjoy the traditions and the game.

About Greg Buzek

Greg Buzek is the Founder and President of IHL Group and one of the Founders of the Retail Orphan Initiative, a charitable foundation that seeks to help the 400 million orphaned and vulnerable children around the world. In 6 years, RetailROI has been involved in 80 projects in 17 countries helping an estimated 158,000 children through clean water, education, computers, language training and care. Noted by RIS News as one of the “25 Most Influential People in Retail” and the National Retail Federation in 2015 as one of “The List of People Shaping Retail’s Future”, he has a Masters Degree in Business Administration (MBA) from The Ohio State University, and 25 years of experience in retail market analysis, business planning, product development, and consulting with Fortune 500 companies. In 2011 The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute honored Greg with the first ever Paul Singer Award that recognizes business and governmental leaders for going above and beyond their defined roles to advocate for better adoption and foster care policies worldwide.