Episode 24: Creating Unconventional Experiences That Leave Customers Craving More with Dallan Rees of Lovesac
Full Transcript Below
James: So excited about this episode. Today we’re going to be joined by Dallan Rees. Dallan Rees has 15 years of experience of wide ranging experience in the product management… project management and implementation, team coordination, marketing campaign conceptualization, media and technology. He spent some time at Universal Studios as well. We’re going to be unpacking that for sure. I’m very excited about it, especially about that conversation. You’re going to love what you’re going to hear. He is the Senior Director of E- commerce that Lovesac currently. Love what Lovesac does. They’re fantastic. If you haven’t checked them out, they’re big Lovesacs. I have three of them and they’re incredible. We’re going to learn about that on the episode. Anyway, stay tuned. Should be a good one. We’d like to thank our current sponsor of the Month Aircall, aircall. io. Go check them out. Love what they do. They also just reached$ 100 million in revenue, which is incredible. We partner with them. They’re big part of our ecosystem. Aircall is a cloud based call center and phone system of choice for modern businesses, a voice platform that integrates seamlessly with popular productivity and help desk tools. Aircall was built to make phone support easy to manage and accessible, transparent and collaborative. Aircall believes that a great conversation is the most powerful way to communicate with customers, prospects, candidates and colleagues. We tend to agree. They are as equally invested with voice and sound as we are. I’m James.
Brian: And I’m Brian.
James: And this is Spamming Zero. Dallan, thanks for joining us on the show today. We’re going to be talking about a whole bunch of stuff, but in particular, we want to break down a little bit of the experience that you’ve had at Universal Studios.
Dallan Rees: It was interesting. I guess just as a setup, I was only there for… Oh, let’s see here, 10 months. I chose to start working at Universal two weeks before COVID hit and shut Universal down. So I was in office for two weeks, total. From that, it was an interesting time for sure because we were trying to figure out how to run a website selling products for a park that was closed for… Here in Florida, it was closed for a month and then we opened back up. But for that month it was like, how long is this going to go on? What do we do so we come out on the other end of this and we’re in a good place? How do we communicate it to the customer? Whole lot of… It was an interesting time for sure.
Brian: So how much different does that company think about customer experience versus a consumer brand selling physical goods where you also have a lot of experience?
Dallan Rees: It’s a lot different. And honestly, it’s an experience that I wish I had more time in because you have to ask a whole lot of other questions. It’s not just,” Hey, we’re going to sell you a product and then we’re going to ship it to you and you’re going to be happy.” Actually, when I was interviewing with Universal, in talking with my boss, she said something at the time that it’s the reason I took the job. It’s not just, Oh yeah,” I’m going to be the cool dad who has park passes and can get us in anytime we want.”
James: Yes, it is.
Dallan Rees: She…
James: That’s part of it.
Dallan Rees: It’s part of it, right? I make jokes with my wife now that I’m no longer the cool dad. But we were sitting there talking in my interview and I said,” Hey, what are your goals for this?” Because my job title was Director of Commerce essentially. And she said,” We have a very complicated ticketing process and our tickets are complicated.” For one day at the park you can have five tickets per person. And so she said,” My ultimate goal for the website is that when somebody comes in and they place their order, they get done. They’re not worried about how much they just spent. They’re not worried about if they ordered the right thing. They’re worried about how they’re going to tell their kids that they’re going to go on this awesome trip and that they’re going to go ride some cool rides and have a good time.” To me, that’s how I really approached my time at Universal. Even with the COVID thing, it’s like, okay, people are going to come here with more concerns than before. How do we put that on the site in a way that doesn’t scare people away, but also gives people who are concerned about it, the things they need to know like the mask policies and all that other stuff that was going on during that time? So we’re just answering that customer’s question at that time. To me that was really cool and was different than general eCommerce was I could go see how the customer was experiencing what I sold them. I could go to the park and see families there and walk around and it’s still… As I walk around there, that’s the thing I miss about working at Universal, is just that it’s different than I’m selling shoes or I’m selling a couch. It’s different.
James: Yeah, you get to consume the experience with the consumer. The beautiful arc of the entire… every interaction is the product or the sum of what a brand is. I don’t know why this is not something that is thought more about, talked more about by brands that don’t have that type of experience. It doesn’t mean that they can’t create it. And that’s the key. To me is like these companies Universal have created an opportunity. You put it beautifully. They don’t care about the product. What they care about is how are they going to deliver the experience to their children so that that is a memory. I think it’s so fascinating and so interesting how brands in general, and there’s a lot of them that I talk to quite a few folks out there that are doing this stuff on a B2B scale or a B2C scale, and they don’t think about these things. They don’t think about the experience that they’re having with every little touchpoint that they have with their brand. And that’s why some of it’s so disjointed and that’s why the customer experience oftentimes suffers because of it.
Dallan Rees: And that’s something, even as I talk about it today, I get a little bit… In hindsight, it’s the only job because the California Park and the Japan Park were closed so long, they had to do layoffs. They tried desperately to not do it. Everybody in the company took a 20% pay cut. We were doing everything we can to not have to lay people off. But when it came down to it, those parks were just closed too long. And when I still get choked up, it’s the one job I look back on and I’m like,” Gosh, I just wasn’t ready to leave.” And you’re right though, I do approach Lovesac very differently. As we’re looking at the experience on the Lovesac website, I approach it very differently now, because now it’s like, okay, it’s a couch, but it’s something that’s going into somebody’s house. And even a movie night with the children can have that same sort of impact as a day at the park.
James: Their products create amazing experiences. They’re like sectionals… Sorry, Sactionals-
Dallan Rees: There we go.
James: Is what they call them. Those Sactionals… For somebody like me, I have four kids and you buy a new couch almost every year, every two years because your kids, no matter how nice of a couch it is, are destroying the heck out of it. And unfortunately for you, you have to foot the bill and get a new one because they’ve destroyed it. Now my kids are pretty rambunctious as a group, but we don’t let any of them jump on the couch or anything like that. But the fact you can take the entire cover off and throw it in the washer, put it back on, you can change the whole scope of how the couch looks… The whole nine, I think is just… I love it. And those Lovesacs are an experience too.
Dallan Rees: Some of the things that the CEO of Lovesac actually does, he really wants this to be the couch that can grow with you. So you start off with a love seat and then all you have to do is add another piece and now you’ve got a three seater and then you add another piece and you’ve got an L- sectional. That’s how he views it. In fact, he regularly says that the couch that we have in my living room, they’re generation zero. My kids have grown up on these things and we just recover them once in a while. It’s not the same as being able to walk through the park and actually see the miserable dad carrying everything and his kids having a blast. And you can tell that inside he actually is enjoying it. But it’s that same purpose just with expensive couches.
James: That was so well put.
Brian: So you said that there are… In some ways you wish that one, you had the job for… you were there for longer and two, you’d done it earlier in your career. What are the things if you were to try and put your finger on one or two things that you’ve really taken with you? And really from that culture of coming from a company where in so many ways the product is the experience and now going back into a consumer goods physical product sort of environment, what are those big things from a mentality standpoint, from a tactical standpoint, whatever comes to mind?
Dallan Rees: One of the big ones for me is in eCommerce, as you look at your website, you always want to ask yourself, what is the job to be done on this page? Why is the customer coming to this? Why is the customer coming to us? Why should they pick us? You ask yourself why a lot? I think since my experience at Universal, there’s a bigger sense of how important that question is. Because I got to see the person, they’re not sitting on a couch, they’re walking through that park, but I got to see them interact with their kids and have that experience with their kids. And so hindsight, as I look at my career and things that I’ve worked on, had I had that same view on it… When I was at KURU, which was a shoe story, we’re selling shoes and they help people’s feet. And there’s a real strong sense to why with that, but it’s just not in the same box as universal. And so as I’m at Lovesac and I ask that question why, it takes a very different, I don’t know, reverence or I don’t know what you call it, but it’s a very different really understanding. It’s not just, oh, they land on the PDP because they want to select their couch. It’s they land on the PDP because the couch they’re picking is going to become something that’s in their house and helps them and is something that grows with them as a family. And so it’s a very interesting mindset to take into any workplace, I guess.
Brian: It’s almost a depth of understanding and compassion for the customer. Is that a decent way of summing it up?
Dallan Rees: Yeah. No, that’s a good way to put it. So before I got in technology, I was in entertainment and I did a lot of sound and ran front of house for a lot of bands. And so here I am in the middle five, 10, 000 people pushing inaudible and watching them go berserk. For some reason, when I started doing eCommerce, I disconnected the two, compartmentalize the two, and it came back full circle at Universal where it’s like, okay, this is a full experience and if I approach things that way, everything I work on has a much bigger meaning. And so at Lovesac it’s that exactly. It’s approaching it, Hey, this isn’t just about buying a couch. This is about buying a landmark in your house where memories are going to happen.
Brian: And it leads to creating better experiences that are stronger tied to the brand and touching more deeply on the why of the business.
James: So Dallan, I have a question for you too. On the scale of which Universal creates experiences, it’s for massive amounts of people and oftentimes it’s almost like a production theater. I actually specifically remember Water World is the one that just blew my mind as a child. And even as an adult, I have gone back and seen it and I’m just like,”What in the world just happened?” And it’s a true production and the talent has to put on that production and have the same energy as the very first performance day in, day out. How do you make sure that experience doesn’t get exhausted?
Dallan Rees: That’s a good one. I think that goes back to the purpose. Why are we doing this? And I certainly can’t speak for those actors. As they go through it, you look at things like at Universal and down here in Orlando, they have one called the Jason Bourne experience and it’s insane. And you’re just like,” You guys have to do this every hour on the hour, seven days a week. Oh my goodness, I would be dead at the end of the day.”
James: A little hold back. Some of this, they jump off of crazy stuff and it blows my mind every single of them.
Dallan Rees: I think it boils back to the why though. There they are. They’re creating those memories for those people. You can’t do that and have it just be a paycheck.
James: We’re going to take this then to another level. Are you ready?
Dallan Rees: Okay.
James: Let’s go. Hi Dallan. CEO of Lovesac comes to you and says,” Dallan, I want you to recreate the Universal Studio’s experience for Lovesac, but I want you to have the same energy and feel for it.” What’s your response going to be and what is the first step you’re going to take?
Dallan Rees: That’s a good one. I think we might already be on the path to that one in some ways. I don’t know how much you’ve looked into it, but we have this product called StealthTech and it’s crazy how they’re putting that into the seats. And so you take areas of your house where there is no way your wife would ever let you wire 5. 1 audio or 7. 1 audio into the house. You can take that now and install it and it looks like a couch. I don’t know that Sean needs my help much on that one. He’s got enough energy for everybody, but I think that that’s a big one. I think for me, that’s a really good question. How do I create that same experience? And I think a lot of times in eCommerce, we’re a little bit scared of the word friction. Everybody wants to make this frictionless experience so purchasing is super easy, but when you look at things that purposely have friction in them, they actually build trust sometimes. When you go to remove your credit card from your Amazon account and it says,” Are you sure you want to do this?” That’s a little bit of friction, but you’re like,” Yeah, I do. Thanks for asking.” And so I think that as far as the website goes, some of the things that we’re looking at is where can we simplify the process and build that trust with the customer on their purchasing journey? And then we’re also looking at, once you place the order, how can we help support you as you get your couch, you’re putting it together and all that stuff. So I think there’s a lot of things that we certainly are looking at and things we can do.
James: The one thing you said though that makes it stand out the most to me is Lovesac is not a sound company and yet they are providing an unconventional way to experience sound. That is the key in my mind of what brands can do to change people’s mind about experience and how they can actually tackle this stuff. If you want to have the experience levels of what a Disney or Universal Studios or these big ones that leave lasting memories for people their whole life and make them want to come back as often as they possibly can because they’re the happiest places on earth as a motto, the best way to do that is to create unconventional ways in which people can consume the experience in a way that your current product cannot deliver. And I think that you put a beautiful little bow tie on that because I do think that you guys are absolutely doing that.
Brian: I wonder if there’s also a community element. When you think about Universal or you think about the experience of going to a concert, it would be really different to walk in there and be the only person at the park. And it’s interesting to think about-
Dallan Rees: Good point.
Brian: And it’s interesting to think about. When somebody’s-
James: It’ll creepy, man, I’m not going to Disneyland by myself. No way.
Brian: Even though it’s all strangers. Even though it’s all strangers. So then you think about, okay, how can that component be… What does that look like through the lens of a different sort of company selling a different sort of product? And going with the Lovesac example and these consumer goods, one of the things that I’ve started to see is increasingly these products will be hooked up to apps that have communities built into them. So you see this a lot with workout products like Whoop and those sorts of things where yes, the product that you are purchasing is a health thing for yourself to get information and all of the benefits that come with the product, but then they’ve attached on this social and community element to it. And I wonder how much it’s going at that same benefit and end goal. And it brings me to my mind back to, I remember there’s an old quote from Mark Zuckerberg who… I’m hardly… I am not at all a Mark Zuckerberg fanboy, but what he said seemed absolutely ludicrous at the time, but has stuck with me to today. What he said is in the next 10, 20, 25 years, 99% of the products that people use in their lives will become social. And of course Facebook, Instagram, social media is purely social. But then you started to see it bleed out into Spotify and workout apps and all of these different things that now have these social elements of it. And it seems like in a lot of ways those are knocking down the same doors.
Dallan Rees: That’s really one of those cool things to look at. You brought up the workout apps, but Apple, they’ve got their cult following. We don’t call it an MP3 player even though they don’t make the iPod anymore. But then you also have companies like Traeger, they’re a great example. They have such a strong purpose of why. It’s like that barbecue, that three hours, that chunk of beef is sweating on the grill, that’s a time to hang out and commune with people.
James: There are a lot of brands that actually I think are doing this pretty well. Even some that did it so well that now they can’t manage it or they’re struggling a bit managing it. I shouldn’t say can’t, of course they can, but… I think App Peloton, seriously, think about the community that they’ve got now. App Pelotons ain’t cheap folks, it’s not cheap.
Dallan Rees: inaudible
James: They somehow got this massive following of people. A fat guy like me might even get on one.
Dallan Rees: They, they’ve gotten themselves to a point where it’s, how do we sustain this? We have so many users that uh- oh, how do we keep it going?
James: Talk about a good problem.
Dallan Rees: Yeah, for sure.
James: The holy of every business. We have too many people that like our stuff. But it is.
Dallan Rees: We’re not quite sure how to service all of our…
Brian: The community is a big part of Peloton.
James: I think also during the pandemic it amplified it even more. People wanted community more than ever during that timeframe.
Dallan Rees: I’ll tell you, you talked about walking around the park and there’s nobody in the park, that was such a weird time at Disney World. I became such a line snob during the time of COVID because there were really no lines. And so you’d go on these rides that would typically have 120 minute lines and they will walk on, but you walk around and it feels so weird because Disney World is quiet and you are literally the only person walking down this stretch of street.
Dallan Rees: And as people we do, we need a community. I think that that’s why churches are a thing. It’s about that community with a shared belief. It’s why Peloton works. It’s why Traeger is doing their thing. It’s why the parks are the parks. Even if that dad’s miserable, seeing his kids scream and have a great time, that overrides it, the misery. And then you look over and you see the other dad that’s a pack inaudible He’s miserable too. And you give him the nod and… There’s a weird unspoken comradery there.
Brian: So part of what we love here is these similarities and the learnings that can apply to the creation of totally different experiences and those common threads that exist, whether it is designing the experience for a concert, for an eCommerce brand, for universal parks. What for you, Dallan, is the dream experience that you would get to design? What would be the coolest experience design job that you could ever imagine?
Dallan Rees: And I hinted at this before, I do feel like I have a lot more to give to that theme park, that area of commerce. And I think it’s because for me, the times that I enjoy the most or the times that I spend with my family and those memories that I build, and there’s such an attachment to that for me. Building that kind of experience with that kind of calling, we want it to be about how you’re going to tell your kids not about how much you spent, honestly, anything that’s that, I could do that for the rest of my life, would be good.
James: So my wife, she was in her’30s and had not yet gone to Disneyland or Disney World ever her whole life. So she had never experienced it. And so we talked about it and we’re like,” Let’s take the kids. They’re a little bit older.” And I remember the reveal of Disneyland. We gave it for Christmas and we did it early. It was completely wild. That is one of the very first times I can recall in our family’s history where there was not a single fight. It was unbelievable. Me and my wife still to this day were like,” Let’s go back.” And we know it’s not going to be recreated like that. My boys were in heaven going to the Cars Land or whatever they call it and seeing Mader and all that other stuff. And I think that this is one of those things that I really love that companies like Lego, Universal Studios and Disney have created is they’ve taken a product that’s on screen and then they’ve taken that product and they’ve said,” All right, we are going to turn this into an experience that you can tangibly feel, you can see, you can touch, you can hear, and it plays on all the emotions.” And I’ve talked so much about this and Brian has heard me say this a million, million times. But the five senses are a massive part of how we create memories and experiences in our lives. And I love the idea of what these brands are doing. One of my favorite brands of all time, true story, and I talk about this a lot is Lego. I love Lego because they’ve turned a tan… They’ve done the opposite. So they’ve gone tangible products and turned it into digital experience, movies, video games, and now you have no age limit for any of these experiences. None. There’s not a demographic that doesn’t work for it. There are people that would love Legos. It’s just a matter of finding the right Legos. There are people that will love Disney. It’s a matter of finding the right experience for them. Turning Marvel and Guardians of the Galaxy and all those things into an experience that people love because they’re nerdy about superheroes. And then there’s Star Wars and then there’s Water World and there’s Nickelodeon and all these experiences that people have that now we primarily won’t buy our children gifts under the tree anymore because we want them to experience the same type of feeling that they had on that Christmas day when they got Disney. So now every time we planned Christmas from here on out over the last two years, it’s been about what experience are we going to create with our family and kids.
Brian: And it’s a very simple concept. By and large take existing customers that have some level of affinity for the brand and through creating new experiences that are in different mediums, in different channels, but expressing the brand in a greater way, in a different way, touching into those different senses, we are going to grow the brand in the minds and the hearts of these customers. And it’s this very simple idea of experience as a means to drive growth for a business.
Dallan Rees: So when I was at Universal, that year was the year they were supposed to launch over in Universal Japan, the Super Mario world. And so I was over all the websites. So Universal Orlando, Universal Hollywood, Universal Japan, and we were building that website and I cannot wait for them to build it here. I think they’re opening it in Hollywood soon. But it is so immersive. You get these wristbands and you hit the question block and the wristband tells you what you got. It’s immersive. You are Mario. It’s a cool experience. And same goes with Hogwarts. It is exactly what I thought the book-
James: Oh yeah, Harry Potter World was awesome.
Dallan Rees: When I read the book, that is verbatim how I thought it would look. It’s a nightmare for foot traffic. It’s the worst part of the park. But it is so incredible. This is it. You inaudible
James: My kids went berserk about the wands. You could go up to the windows and they would do certain things and
Dallan Rees: Swish and flick.
James: The jelly beans.
Brian: It really tests in a lot of ways the strength of your brand if you can create a totally different experience_product and be able to have people follow you on that journey and want to engage in it.
Dallan Rees: So I’m going to retract my last answer about when you asked what if you could have your dream job, what would it be? I want to be on imaginary or the universal creative team because building that kind of experience and imagining that kind of experience would be wild.
James: I agree.
Dallan Rees: That would be a cool product to work on.
Brian: I would like to design the experience of the ticker tape parade around New York City when the Rangers win the Stanley Cup. That’s my dream experience to design.
James: I still need to experience Star Wars world at Disney World because I have heard amazing things about it and it’s very similar. It’s immersive and I’m a massive Star Wars nerd. So there’s that.
James: If I had to take my experience though, it would be the Utah Jazz winning it all.
Dallan Rees: So unoriginal games.
James: You know what, I don’t even have to create anything.
Dallan Rees: You’ve been so close.
James: I just want to be there. I just want to be alive when this happens.
Brian: Sport is another example where community is such a big part of the product and the experience.
James: It’s very true, Brian. We’ve talked about that on the show before. Fandom, how important it is. I think fandom does something different. It adds a whole different level of experience to it.
Brian: Judge the strength of your brand by how many people will buy your swag.
Dallan Rees: Yeah.
James: No, no.
Brian: That doesn’t sit?
James: Nope. I’ll tell you why. I wouldn’t buy Disney swag.
Dallan Rees: Disney makes a fair amount of money selling swag.
James: But is it swag? It’s not-
Dallan Rees: It’s gone beyond swag.
James: I think of swag as it’s the brand on the item and I don’t think of… When I think of Disney, I think of they are a million brands summed up into one. They’re Winnie the Poo, their Mickey Mouse, their toys story. There’re all these summed up and people fall in love with the experience that they have with those smaller brands. I don’t know many people that buy a Disney sweater unless they’ve gone there for an experience and they wear it as a family. They buy the Mickey Mouse stuff and they buy the character stuff. But this is why the character thing is so important at Disney inaudible they walk around everywhere.
Brian: But that’s-
Dallan Rees: Those are huge.
James: Imagine if there is no characters.
Brian: I consider that in the bucket though.
Brian: I think so.
James: Whatever. It is not in the bucket. No way. Anyway. Dallan, we’ve had a blast. It is time. Thank you.
Dallan Rees: Thank you guys. I appreciate it.
James: If you have not yet followed us on the podcast, reach out to Brian or I. We would love to hear new topics and new experiences that you want to talk about on the show. You don’t want stay tuned because we’re going to have people like a brain scientist on, going to talk about what it’s like to actually have that scientifically and what happens with our brains with experience. Stay tuned. We’re going to have a lot of episodes that you’re going to be excited about and we will you then.
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