WDCast – Q+A With Michael Owens

We had an energetic and informative conversation with the co-founder of influence group: Michael Owens. Influence group delivers an event platform for B2B events, including all the events featured in this very Wayfind issue, including Restaurant Spaces, Retail Spaces, and Health Spaces. Listen to the full podcast interview here, but while you’re here check out this Q+A segment below!

Lee Peterson, EVP Thought Leadership & Marketing at WD Partners:
Okay, so, let me ask you about this: We always talk about the Store of the Future, the Restaurant of the Future and Healthcare of the Future. We’ve even been talking about that now for the past few minutes. But what do you think is the conference of the future? Where do you see it going? I don’t care who you are right now, you’re always thinking about this is where my business is, but then a few years from now it’s going to be something else completely… and that’s also the American way. Tell us about the conference of the future. And then, what do you think: how are you going to get across the delta from where you’re at?

Michael Owens, Co-Founder of Influence Group:
So for me, if I were to have a clean slate tomorrow to start a new conference, it would be a lot less structured. I think that that’s still a challenge that people have when they’re deciding to go to a conference. All the conferences advertised that 80 speakers, 90 tracks, blah, blah, blah… you know? Who the hell has time for that? You may go watch only 1 or 2, because you’re going there to be with other people.

The conferences of the future that will be the most beneficial (if people come around to accepting it that way) is going to be no exhibit halls, then, of course the foundation of all of our events are those 1-on-1 business meetings between our partners and the attendees there. That still needs to take place, but I would like to see it not in a conference—even in a ballroom. I’d like to see that, like, Hey, let’s book a walk with Lee Peterson and go for a walk around the property. And let’s anchor it with 2… maybe 3 provocative talks that are still only 30 minutes, but some big names! And then everything else is breaking people up into groups and going outdoors as much as possible to just have conversations. We do a lot of that at the Spaces events, but I still feel that there’s a bigger opportunity to really have a structured morning on the first day, and then have the afternoon to be more of a conference that’s actually designed by the people that are there. Let’s get everyone together. You submit the topics you want to discuss and we put them up on a board. Hey, if you want to go talk about BOPIS, go off with Lee Peterson and meet him in the bar over there and let’s chat about that. And then let’s report back later and kind of see what we came up with. We do a lot of that, but I still feel that there’s a lot of people that still (specifically on the sponsor side) get a little anxious if we come together with something like that maybe a bit too progressive or, you know, sound like a hippie.

*Lee laughs*
1-on-1 setups are really great, because they have a limited amount of time. Any retailer, healthcare provider, or anybody that’s at the conference to think, well, you know what… in exchange for being at this resort and listening to these great speakers, or getting to know a lot of people in my own industry, I got to talk to Lee Peterson for 10 minutes. Hopefully that’s not so bad. We get that vibe from people that we talked with on 1-on-1s for 10 or 15 minutes. I think I’ve had some of the best conversations that I’ve ever had with retailers at conferences, in years, because they know this is sort of a limited thing. They come in and they go: Hey, I got a problem here. Do you think you guys can help me? Then we go through it for 15-20 minutes. We know that we’re not going to solve it there, but the conversation will continue somewhere else. And that’s all you’re asking for.

If I were to have a clean slate tomorrow to start a new conference, it would be a lot less structured.

You know, Lee, I appreciate the opportunity to join you on your podcast here. Every year myself, Jason Schwab, and my partner: Mike McCarthy always look forward to get on a call with you and Mark Bateman, as we talk about the year. I always like to ask you, who do you think are the chains that are doing interesting work… the ones that are doing, specifically in retail, interesting concepts like store of the future?

Well, you mentioned Dick’s Sporting Goods, and I think they have a bit of an advantage because you kind of have to go touch their products. I have 4 kids, all in sports, and when you start talking about baseball gloves, golf clubs, all that stuff, you got to go test them. Dick’s has done a great job in saying let’s make it more of an experience where I have to go touch those golf clubs, but I’m not going to stand in an aisle full of product, and start swinging a golf club. So, let me come over here and play that. In the meantime, my kids can climb a rock wall and all this other stuff. They’re closing that delta between 20th century and 21st century retail, piece by piece, experience by experiencing.

The other company, that on a broader scale is interesting to me is Best Buy. That’s somebody to keep an eye on. Their CEO is a great thinker, they try new things, they’re talking about showroom stores- which to me is the big part of the future of retail- where you test something, scan it, and have it shipped to your house. Why not? Why do you need all that inventory in a store? They’re always doing new things with e-com. They had the foresight, and it may have been partially accident to do Geek Squad, but now they’re in your house with your stuff, which is paramount right now since that’s where everybody is. AND they’re really nice people.

I also thought that Supreme, before their sale, was a great product innovation company to think about because of the way they did their drops. They really took advantage of product scarcity, more than anybody has in the last 50 or 60 years, intentionally. They said, we’re going to drop this stuff, and then it’s gone. I don’t know if you know this but that’s how Zara started in the 80s. In Madrid, they would drop all this product into a store, people would bum rush the store, sell everything out, and they close the store.

Wow, I didn’t know that. One point you hit on there was work from home. That’s going to impact so much right now. A lot of companies now are requiring people to come back into the office just for the sake of doing it, but you’re seeing a lot of the big, more progressive companies, right?

Listen to the full episode to hear more of Lee and Michael’s conversation