Retail Band

Corporate Gifting and Employee Appreciation During COVID-19 – Tom Romine – EP45

“Too much choice can create a stalling factor.”

What you’ll learn:

Have you tried onsite gifting for your company events?

In this episode of the Page One Podcast, Luke Peters speaks with Tom Romine, the founder and visionary leader of Cultivate. This is a company that brings new ideas into the world of corporate gifting.

He describes how his company gives meaning to the process of gifting by the use of new and exciting ideas that makes it personalized. Listen in to learn how Tom’s company is handling gifting virtually during this pandemic period and the difference between that and onsite gifting.

Key Takeaways:

  • Understanding how virtual gifting works and how to accomplish it.
  • Learn the types of gifts that are appropriate for both your customers and employees.
  • The sales and marketing process of an onsite gifting company.
  • Factors to consider before gifting your employees to make it special.

Episode Timeline:

  • [0:30] Intro
  • [2:17] Tom explains the onsite gifting concept that his company specializes in.
  • [4:05] How the COVID-19 has affected the hospitality industry and how they’re handling it.
  • [5:45] Using creativity when gifting employees during COVID-19.
  • [10:00] Tom explains how their sales and marketing process works.
  • [14:14] What are the factors to consider when choosing the type of gifts to give your employee or customer.
  • [19:28] The type of items to gift virtually.
  • [22:56] Tom tells a fun story of how they handled a company’s small budget gifting event that turned out great.
  • [25:22] The destinations that they have been to

Podcast Transcription

Announcer: Welcome to the Page One podcast, a podcast featuring a variety of guests and thought leaders on topics ranging from digital marketing, sales channel strategies, influencer marketing, best in class product launches, and all the details about how to accelerate sales. Now here’s your host, Luke Peters.

Luke: Thanks for joining us on the Page One podcast. I am your host, Luke Peters, of NewAir Appliances and Retail Band Digital Strategy Agency. We’re now in a coronavirus world and I know it’s on everyone’s mind, so I’m going to adapt to all the interviews to ensure that you, the listeners, are getting the most out of this podcast.

Luke: You can expect us to get right to the point and provide valuable business insights with a focus on COVID-19 impacts. And before I get to that, quickly, I am offering a free evaluation of your online sales strategy. If you’re interested, find me on LinkedIn or email, and with that, we can take a look at your,, sales influencer marketing and all kinds of other things like that to make sure that you are showing up where you should in the rankings.

Luke: And really excited about this episode. In this episode, you’re going to learn from Tom Romine on how to improve your company culture, how to award your key A players by thoughtfully gifting them. And Tom is the founder and visionary leader of Cultivate. This is a leading onsite gift experience company in meetings and incentive travel industry. He has a team of 31 employees and over 100 independent contractors. Cultivate helps and works with Fortune 1000 companies and helps them appreciate and inspire their top performers by providing more than 600 gifting programs and 130,000 gifts annually around the world. Welcome to the Page One podcast, Tom.

Tom: Great to be with you, Luke.

Luke: Okay, cool. So hopefully the listeners understand the business here with that quick intro. But before we kind of get into COVID-19 questions, Tom, why don’t you just give us a quick 30-second introduction on the business so everyone listening understands it.

Tom: Sure, yeah. Onsite gifting is a solution so that you can make sure a gift you’re giving out at an event is well received and used and the recipient feels appreciated. So the old way to gift, if you’ve got an event with 300 people, was to pick an item and hope that all 300 people love that one item. And commonsensically, it just doesn’t make sense to do that. So we come on site with a popup boutique retail experience, so that all the guests of the meeting actually get to shop for the item that they want the most. So we might have 18 pair of sunglasses from three different brands. They get to try them on, find their favorite pair, and then we turn around and give them a brand new pair on the spot, and that becomes their gift.

Luke: Perfect. Perfect. And then, so for those listening, just think about your big parties, your Christmas parties, or maybe if you have a sales event, on a team that’s lucky enough to throw a sales event, say in Hawaii, and that’s where Tom’s company would come on board. But also, we’re going to make this hopefully reachable for all the companies, and I’m going to ask specific questions about what we could be doing inside our own companies.

Luke: Our smaller companies of 10 and 30 and 50 or 75 employees. What can we do when there’s anniversaries, or someone hits a sales goal, and because I’d love to learn more and I always like to implement these things into NewAir as much as I can.

Luke: So Tom, we’ll get into that. But before we do, let’s talk about COVID-19. Obviously it’s disrupting a ton of companies, disrupting travel and entertainment. I’m sure you guys have felt that. Are you able to share how you’ve seen the impact on your end?

Tom: Yeah, I mean it’s been a tough time for us and everybody in the incentive travel industry, really, from hotels to planning companies to companies like us that service this market. We feel really fortunate that we already had a platform in which we could deliver our experience virtually. And we used it in the old method as a way to help when guests couldn’t make it to the event. So we had a 300 person event, 10 people didn’t make it. We didn’t want to just give our customer 10 pairs of sunglasses and hope they knew what to do with them. We actually gave them codes that they could go onto our redemption site. And those are those, yes, they couldn’t make it, could redeem those, their selection later. So because we have that platform, we’ve now pivoted our business towards that direction and really are trying to service our customers in that way, so that they can still get a great element of choice for their recipients and still deliver our experience, albeit not in person right now.

Luke: That’s awesome that you guys, that is just amazing that you have the kind of foresight to have that put together, because otherwise you would have been in a much tougher position. Really happy to hear that you have something there. How have you seen, just a little bit more in the industry? Have all of these offsite events been canceled, or it sounds like companies are still trying to reward their top performers, but they’re just having to find more or different creative ways to do it. Right?

Tom: Yeah, I mean the biggest bummer is that most of the incentive travel programs happen in the spring because they’re rewarding previous year’s top performing salespeople with a trip somewhere. So many of those spring programs, in particular April, May, have been canceled obviously. So that’s super disappointing.

Tom: In the group of customers that we’ve been servicing, some of them have rescheduled their event to the fall, which is terrific. They just moved this right over to their fall program. I’m happy to see that many have done that. And then others that couldn’t find, if you’ve got a bigger group, you might not be able to find hotel space on that short notice in the fall. So some of them did go ahead and outright canceled their incentive trip.

Tom: But a lot of them, what we’re finding, now that the dust has settled, they’ve gone through all the contracts with canceling hotels and air and all the other logistics of turning on an event like that. Now they’re saying, “Wow, we had 300 top performers. How are we going to recognize that performance now?” Because there’s no trip. So they’re getting creative and we’re trying to help them. Some cases they’ve said, “Hey, we were going to give everybody a pair of sunglasses at the event. Instead, let’s up a budget a little bit here and really give them a bigger gift experience.”

Tom: So some people are actually offering multiple gifts or a bigger gift or those kinds of things, again, delivered virtually through our platforms. So that’s exciting for us. And you know, now with the launch of this new virtual program, we’re really hopeful that we can talk to our customers about servicing other needs within the company.

Tom: So say it’s you want to appreciate employees that are all working from home right now. They’re used to getting all these terrific perks, free lunch at the office and other terrific things, gyms and things that companies offer now. Well, they’re not getting that, because they’re working from home. So how can we show them we still love them?

Tom: So they’re using us for those kind of things. Employee appreciation, and maybe maybe you need to get your sales team back on track because this year has thrown almost every sales budget out the window. So how do we get them motivated to get out and reach out to customers again, either now or when things start to come back? And maybe a sales incentive, a short term or mid term sales incentive could be to help do that.

Luke: That’s great. And we’ll talk about those later on, because I want the audience hear your thoughts on it, and a lot of business owners in this audience who we want to think about how we can reward folks. And like you said, right now it’s tough because we’re not all with each other. We’re all working separately. Before we get to that, though, it’s just amazing that you’re able to pivot so quickly with COVID-19 here. So that’s a great success story, because in your industry, some people are just 100% shut down.

Luke: So good on you for being able to do that. Before we get in, let me just ask a more business-specific question. I always want to learn more about sales, and you’re selling a service, so it is different.

Luke: But I’m curious how you’re connecting, if you don’t mind, if you can share a little bit about your actual company sales process. So you’re selling to Fortune 1000 and other companies. I’m assuming, I’m making assumptions here, correct me if I’m wrong, but this is a very niche category. Organic search in content marketing might be difficult, because maybe people aren’t actually thinking about this, where you have to go out and actually educate with maybe sales calls out to those potential prospects.

Luke: A, is that correct? And how does that look? And then B, how does your sales team look? Is it more of an outbound type of sales thing, or is it just a lot of inbound? I’m really curious about that part.

Tom: Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, we have a pretty good mix of both outbound and inbound sales effort in marketing to support that. We’re very active in this niche space of incentive travel. So our customers, while they are these large companies, we’re talking to a really specific buyer most of the time. It’s a meeting planner or director of events, that kind of role, within these large companies, because they’re the ones planning the meeting or the incentive trip in which they might use us.

Tom: So there are some industry trade shows that we go to meet new people. But we actually have a fantastic marketing play and I feel really fortunate that it exists. And that is that there’s another category of business that’s far larger than us. It’s the premium hotel world. So imagine Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons, all the big chains, and even the boutiques and smaller ones, they’re trying to get the same customer set, these meeting planners of large companies, to bring their group business to the hotel.

Tom: And so they’re constantly having their own events in which they want to network with meeting planners, stay in touch with them, build relationships with current customers, and find new customers by interacting with both together. So they throw luncheons and dinners and happy hours in all markets across the US throughout the year. And what’s really cool is what better way to make sure a meeting planner remembers your brand, Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton, whatever brand we’re talking about, than to actually give them something tangible, something that they’re going to use frequently and enjoy and love, like a new handbag. Most of these planners are women. We do a handbag gift experience at the event for the meeting planners. They walk away, they’re like, “Oh my gosh, I love this hotel brand. I want to be a partner.”

Tom: And they’re going to use that product for months or years and remember where they got it. So we benefit from that, and instead of sending our regular onsite team to do that event, we’ll send our sales team, so they get to make a one-on-one connection with a meeting planner, with us delivering our service to them right there on the spot. So it’s just a perfect way to show off what we do.

Luke: Yeah, that’s like perfect partner marketing. So how are you partnering? So does that mean that the lead is then the event planner at the hotel and not necessarily the event planner at the corporation? I mean, both of them are potential customers, is what you’re saying?

Tom: No, the hotels’ sales teams are bringing in their clients and prospects, which are the corporate meeting planners. And that’s our customer.

Luke: Yep, I gotcha.

Tom: So they’re bringing them in for their event, and then while they’re at their event, we gift that corporate meeting planner. So basically we have the same customer set and do lots of events like that, where we market together to that customer.

Luke: Oh yeah, no, that’s gold. That’s gold. So that’s a huge, I can see that being a huge part of your marketing funnel. And thanks for answering that, because I just think for all of our businesses, everybody listening here, we can think about that, where do these ancillary or related services that we can potentially partner with, or organizations we can partner with, that maybe have the same customer and we can help each other. So, that’s why I was asking that, that question there, Tom. And thanks for that. It’s super helpful and just gives us a real-world example.

Luke: So why don’t we pivot to, I think everybody understands your gift-giving program and it’s super unique. How can companies do this internally to improve their culture? What are some ideas that you might have?

Tom: Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of people don’t give too much thought to gifting. Sometimes they do it as, “Yeah, I’ve got a list of things to do and one of the things we need to do is we need to get our customers for holiday,” or once they become a customer, I was talking to a real estate agent the other day. They’re like, “Yeah. We needed to do something nice. They just bought a million-dollar house. We should give them a nice gift.”

Tom: And gifting is hard, especially when you don’t have an intimate knowledge of that person’s likes and dislikes. Even if you do, imagine gifting for friends and family members, even that is really hard. So our whole philosophy is to try to break it down into three simple things.

Tom: Number one, and I think most important, is you need to offer an element of choice. That way, you ensure that you’re not guessing whether they will like it or not. You give them the opportunity to select the gift that they want, not what you think they want. And I think it needs to be the right amount of choice. I talk to customers who say, “Oh, I’ll just give them an Amazon gift card, or a Target gift card or a cash card,” and to me all those types of things, they just go right into your household expense, and it’s not really delivering the right amount of choices. An Amazon card, you would buy anything you want. Too much choice. And we also bump into some of these larger recognition platforms, which I think can serve some terrific purposes, don’t get me wrong about that, but oftentimes there are, so there’s thousands of choices that they can redeem with points.

Tom: And I think too much choice can create a stall factor. People that are like, “I don’t know what to pick, so I’m not going to pick anything.” And they just bank their points and use it on a future date. So we really believe that if you can narrow it down to a select number of options of the right amount of choice, it’s going to give you the best chance that that person’s going to pick something they love, pick something they want, and redeem it at that time. So that’s first. Choice.

Tom: Second is aspirational brands. I think trying to find stuff that brands and products and which people may not otherwise go out and buy for themselves. A good example is OluKai sandals. You’re in Southern California, you might’ve heard of this brand, the number one premium sandal brand out there.

Luke: Yup.

Tom: But a lot of people don’t even know that it’s possible to buy a pair of flip flops over $100. So it’s not even on their radar. They’re happy with their $20 little Havaianas or something like that. And it’s because they don’t even know that OluKai sandal even exists. But once they step into those, oh my gosh, we’ve seen so many recipients just absolutely be blown away by the comfort, instant comfort, of that sandal. And then they become like a brand advocate for OluKai, and they’re telling their friends, “Oh my God, you got to check out these new sandals I just got.” And that all reinforces the whole gifting philosophy.

Tom: And then I think the third thing is frequency of use. We talk about, one of my favorite brands is Yeti coolers. But unfortunately, if you think about Yeti coolers, even if you’re an avid camper or outdoorsman, how often are you going to be using it?

Tom: You might tailgate at a football game. Is that once or twice a year, even a few weeks in a row. It’s not a high enough frequency. I’m not saying it’s a bad gift. I’m not saying it’s a bad brand. I’m not saying it’s not aspirational. I’m just saying compared to a pair of sandals you might wear every day, a pair of sunglasses might wear every day, or something that you’re going to get regular use out of, we think can deliver that ultimate goal, which is the recipient will love it because they got to pick it. It’s an aspirational brand they wouldn’t normally buy for themselves maybe. And third, they’re using it all the time, and they’re going to be well refined of who gave it to them. It doesn’t have to have bro logo on it to for them to remember who gave them their first pair of OluKai sandals. Trust me, it works. So that’s kind of our philosophy on it. Does that make sense?

Luke: It does. And what I really like is the part about let them select it. I think it makes 100% sense. And you talked about a couple categories, Tom, about sandals. Like you’ve got summer coming up, so I can see that being a great idea. Sandals, the sunglasses. What are a couple of other ideas? Because you talk about aspirational, so I could see some sunglasses like Ray Ban or something like that. But then, choice, let them select it. But the key one is they’re going to use it a lot. So what else falls into that category there?

Tom: Yeah, it’s interesting because, as I mentioned, our business is pivoting towards virtual gifting for the moment. And I think that will continue to evolve over time, as we go into that more. But traditionally, when you’re onsite at an event, you can’t do large items, because people have to travel home with it. They’re not going to want to take a new espresso machine home with them.

Luke: Yep.

Tom: So we’ve shied away from that.

Tom: But in the new virtual gifting space, what we’re trying to do is hit on all the major categories. So, right now, with all the people working from home, there’s some terrific electronics, whether it’s headphones, ear buds, Bluetooth speakers, those kinds of items, to help your home office.

Tom: Comfort. I mentioned sandals, but we work with Lululemon, Vuori, which is a terrific actually another So-Cal brand that makes amazing athleisure wear, so we can be comfortable while we’re at home.

Tom: And then I think the whole houseware, home decor and kitchen space are obviously, right now, super relevant. But even going forward, I think of knives. You couldn’t possibly do knives at a travel program, for obviously reasons but in our virtual gifting space, I have some terrific friends that make a really nice living. You go to their house and sometimes you see the knife set and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, this knife is not sharp and unsharp knives ar dangerous.” Man, you get a beautiful kitchen knife or great chef’s knife or something that’s awesome, and it actually makes the whole chore of cooking and being in the kitchen more fun and safer. So you know, looking for, again, those aspirational things you might not have to have, or you might not need, because you’ve already got one. But to get one that’s head and shoulders above what you have and you able to instantly see the difference is really cool.

Luke: I like that. So glasses, sandals, headphones, Lululemon, chef knives, or with NewAir, we got a beer froster or beer coolers. I’ll have talk to you after the show here, Tom. Those will be good for guys.

Tom: Heck, yeah. I’m big time into mixed cocktails and all that kind of stuff too. So I think all that kind of stuff really fits well.

Luke: Yeah, no, it’s a lot of fun to think in this way, but those are, that’s great. That’s tangible. And then I just think for business owners, we can think about this for anniversaries or hitting sales goals. I can totally can see why this is more impactful. I mean, there’s more time involved here than the cost of the item. And that’s, I think, where it can mean more to other people, because if someone’s going to try to do this themselves, and this is probably why your company comes into play a lot, there’s some time involved. You’d have to have these products on hand or put together some sort of email or something with links to the options and create a nice experience for your team.

Luke: But I think the end result is then your team knows you’re thinking about them. And I think this is great. You’ve given us some tangible things to use within our companies. Why don’t we wrap it up here with a quick story about one of your events. I’d love to hear how it was impactful. You could just share maybe something specific that happened, and then maybe the results. I don’t know if you ever hear back from CEOs or sales leaders and they tell you how impactful it was to the team.

Tom: Yeah. I think of the first time we did a program that was really unique. It was for a company that wanted to appreciate their top customers. It was a customer event, so not employees. And they had them in a big ballroom at a hotel. I think there was about, close to 300 people, men and women. And we set up in a room that was right next to the space. They had a little more budget than a typical customer of ours.

Tom: I think they had a budget closer to five or $600 a person. And instead of doing like, “Hey, everybody gets a pair of sunglasses, then everybody gets a pair of sandals,” just an example, they said, “Why don’t we let them shop?”

Tom: So we created what we call a ticket program, gave everybody 12 or 15 tickets, and then we set up in this ballroom, the most amazing onsite pop-up experience, where there were probably seven or eight, maybe nine stations set up of ours around the perimeter of the room.

Tom: There was all the different categories, and you could go to the sunglass station and for three tickets get a new pair of Ray Ban. You can go to the OluKai station, and for two tickets, get a new pair of OluKai. Or you could go over to the handbag and luggage station and get a Kate Spade purse for three tickets, or some Tumi luggage for six tickets, or electronics.

Tom: And people walked into the room and they were just absolutely blown away. It was really cool. The CEO came up to me at the end of the night, he had a cocktail in his hand, with a big grin on his face and he said, “This is the best idea we’ve ever thought of, and you guys helped us do it.” And what’s really cool is I think that was seven years ago and they’ve done it every year with us for seven straight years. We just did it first week of March, right before all this happened. So really a fun story to see how much they liked it, and they liked it so much they’ve done it every year since.

Luke: That’s amazing. And I guess before I let you go though, you can make us jealous a little bit. None of us are able to travel now. So tell us briefly, what are some of the fun destinations? Are you guys doing these things in Hawaii? Are they usually kind of here in the states? What are, what are two or three destinations that kind of stood out to you?

Tom: Yeah, so we’ve actually operated in 52 countries now around the world. So, but the majority is, two thirds of it is in the US, in warm weather, so Hawaii, California, Florida, Arizona, Texas, some in Colorado, even, in the mountains. And then the other third is primarily in the Caribbean, Mexico. We’ve been to all the Caribbean islands and countries, but then we’ve done some exotic places. Been out to Bali a few times. We’ve been to Asia. We’ve been to Europe. Yeah. So you could probably pick just about any destination and we’ve been there. So it’s a lot of fun when we get to go there and some of our employees get to cherry pick some of those fun events, some of those great destinations from time to time, if the schedule permits. That’s one of the perks of being in this business.

Luke: It sounds like a massive perk. Wow. And sometimes, travel for work can still be stressful, but I’m sure at the end of the day, it’s basically paying for these amazing experiences that you and your team get to join in as well. So good on you for creating a business in an area where that’s also, you get to do all these adventurous and entertaining travel, so that’s got to be really rewarding. Listen, Tom, I want to thank you again for joining on the Page One podcast today, sponsored by Retail Band. How can listeners get ahold of you, learn more about you or your business?

Tom: Yeah, if you just go to, that’s our website, and we’d be happy to help. I mean, our new virtual gifting program, there’s no minimum. You can order in any, any dollar amount from 25 up to 500 or even more. So any size program right now is game and we’d be thrilled to help. So yeah, give us a call or reach out to us online and we’d be happy to help.

Luke: Awesome. Well, thanks again Tom, and I want to thank you, the listeners, for joining us on this episode of the Page One podcast sponsored by Retail Band. Hope you guys enjoyed the interview today and truly, truly appreciate your reviews on iTunes, and hope you join us for the next interview. Take care.

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Episode References:

Contact Tom Romine: Linkedin

Contact Luke: luke@retailband.comLinkedIn 

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