Full transcript of Episode 1
Growing Our Trade Ep001: Jackson Miller
Jackson: [00:00:00] Having somebody there who’s always reliable, always helping you out and actually getting things done. It’s just not another tool it’s another worker.
Host: [00:00:12] That’s Jackson Miller. He’s the founder of ResaleAI. He’s describing RAI, the app for Winmark franchisees that helps them love being a store owner again. In this episode of Growing Our Trade, you’ll hear the honest story of a Plato’s Closet store owner and how they solved their own problems by building a software that would eventually become RAI. And how they started sharing and building the solution for other Winmark franchisees. The Growing Our Trade podcast, presented by ResaleAI, features stories of the very store owners and managers who are shaping the future of Winmark franchisees.
Host: [00:00:48] You can hear more stories like this by visiting ResaleAI.com/podcast. Let’s begin!
Jackson: [00:00:58] You know growing up my dad was the Director of Information Technology at Vanderbilt and so I had the Internet when it didn’t have colors and pictures and so I just grew up around it and so I always always knew how to use computers, you know, pretty well.
Host: [00:01:12] Was it your father who first got involved with Plato’s Closet? How did that happen?
Jackson: [00:01:17] We were both in the technology sector and we wanted to do a family business. And so we were obviously looking at different tech ventures to do. And then he went to Lotus Fest in Bloomington, Indiana, with some of his college buddies and one of them, Tim Dressler, owned some some Plato’s Closet retail stores and he said, “Oh this business is great! You just open it up and you make money.” And he came back and he said, “Well, this sounds pretty good.” I thought it sounded pretty good, too, so we jumped in, having no idea what we were doing.
Host: [00:01:47] When was it when you figured out you have no idea what you’re doing?
Jackson: [00:01:53] Our first day. Our grand opening. So with Plato’s you open and you only buy clothes for six to eight weeks.
Host: [00:02:01] So you start with no clothes and the building?
Host: [00:02:02] Yeah, and you have to run advertising and get people to come in and sell you their stuff. But you can’t sell anything because you need to acquire inventory. So normally it works out really well in that by the time you’re ready to start selling stuff people are so excited about all this great stuff you’ve bought that you have a huge first day. And our first day was a huge letdown. It was a little depressing.
[00:02:28] And you know hindsight we didn’t have the kind of population density we should have. We didn’t have any retail experience. We didn’t know what we were doing. But we didn’t quit and we just kept going.
Host: [00:02:39] What was the date? Do you remember the date of your grand opening for your first store?
Jackson: [00:02:44] Yeah I think it was February 10th, 2004.
Host: [00:02:48] So the day ends, and what are you thinking?
Jackson: [00:02:52] I was thinking, “I thought this was supposed to be easy? I thought you just open these things up and they make money?” No, I mean we’re problem solvers and so at the end of the day, we’re thinking all right, so what are we going to change tomorrow? How are we going to adjust? And you know it’s been a process of continuous improvement ever since. I mean every day it’s how can we make this thing run a little bit better?
Host: [00:03:14] All right. How long is it from February 10th, 2004 – how long does it go until you open up your next store or stores?
Jackson: [00:03:21] I think that the next one was in 2008, maybe it was in 2007. I think 2008 and then it was 2013. So four to five years apart as we did one, two and three.
Host: [00:03:36] Was it your grand opening on the second one, was it different?
Jackson: [00:03:39] Record breaking: $27000.
Host: [00:03:42] Redemption!
Jackson: [00:03:43] Oh, it was great! People camped out overnight again in February to buy used clothing. Yeah it was wonderful. It was like, “Oh, we’ve got this thing figured out.
Host: [00:03:51] Before Plato’s Closet, you were doing a lot of work with business intelligence, with dashboards, analytics. How do you describe that kind of stuff to someone who doesn’t really do business intelligence. It’s such a big buzzword already, but what was it that you were really doing for those many years?
Jackson: [00:04:08] I worked in startups, dot coms, and was a business intelligence consultant for Janus. I like data, I like databases. I like creating simple solutions to really complex problems and try to find new ways to explain it and to make it self-evident. And so that’s what I was doing as a BI consultant I worked with big national corporations like Gannett, Bed Bath and Beyond, Rattner Inc., Black Angus Steakhouse to help them create dashboards and reporting tools to know how they were doing.
Host: [00:04:45] It’s after your second store, a couple of years before you start to actually create software to help you with some of your pains. Is that right?
Jackson: [00:04:54] Yeah. But specifically we created this tool to help us manage our back stock. And so in these stores, Winmark franchises, we buy, sell and trade. And so you have a whole bunch of unique used items – one of each of them.
[00:05:08] And when you have more than you can put on the floor, you have to put them in bins and keep it organized and you don’t want anything to get too old and it’s this terribly difficult process of moving these bins around to know what you have and trying to keep track of it. And so we would buy netbooks – netbooks were a thing back then, nobody had smartphones – so we’d buy netbooks.
Host: [00:05:28] What year?
Jackson: [00:05:29] This would have been 2011 – some people had smartphones. So we’d buy these netbooks and put Excel on them and use Excel to manage. And then the Excel spreadsheet would get corrupted. And we’d have no idea what was in our back stock. And so it was completely unworkable. And so we’d have to go in and go look at every bin. And sometimes we might have 800 bins to go through. We thought, “This would be better as just a web app.” So we built it.
Host: [00:06:00] When you implemented this, you’d been in business for eight years since your first store, so what was it like having this when you actually did have a functioning working web app? How did that change your day-to-day?
Jackson: [00:06:15] So that wasn’t our only one. We would create a bunch of tools. Most of them were terrible. And so our team gets accustomed to trying new stuff and so, “Oh, we got some new thing we’re going to try out.” So that one, it was almost anti-climactic and in that it just worked. And it just integrated into our daily lives and just kind of made things a little bit simpler. But it was no huge epiphany, aha moment.
Host: [00:06:39] What was something you introduced to your team thinking they would like – because you don’t have any evidence if this stuff would even work – what was something you thought might work that just didn’t?
Jackson: [00:06:46] We built a tool for doing our own inventory where you go through and scan every item – all 100,000 items that you have – in a night. And the company that we could outsource to do it was slow and there wasn’t any alternative at the time. So we built our own software and the software had about a two-second delay between when you would scan it and when it would beep and it took us forever to get it done! I had to rewrite the software in the middle of the night to try and speed it up. So you win some, you lose some.
Host: [00:07:20] Ok, so now you introduce the software. It just works. Time goes on and you keep tweaking it, you keep fixing it. Tell me a little about that timeline of adding on to that foundation at times, or is it just this one?
Jackson: [00:07:35] Actually we’ve started building other things separately. And you know we have multiple logins and different tools that we were using and it all kind of came together when we wanted to start using text messages to tell our customers that we were done with their buy. And so we built that has its own standalone separate thing. They send out text notifications. And I started seeing. Error logs where people were replying to these text messages we’d be like, “Hey your stuff’s ready.” And then there’d be an error message saying they try to apply it never dawned on me that they would want to reply to these messages. And so I wrote more software so that we could see those and make it conversational. And then we had a problem. And sometimes a customer might reply but if we weren’t paying attention to it, we wouldn’t see it and we wouldn’t respond. And so that’s when we start merge and all the tools together into the one place that people would be in there and be using it and be more aware if something needed their attention.
Host: [00:08:37] And so this is still before ResaleAI?
Jackson: [00:08:42] Yeah. I mean so we-
Host: [00:08:43] Quote-unquote, before we actually like made it a thing it’s working in individual parts but it’s not necessarily the companies haven’t started yet.
Jackson: [00:08:51] Yeah yeah right. We glued it all together right before our conference in 2015. And we started showing it to people and at the conference and people were interested in trying it out, but we didn’t maybe even have a name, we don’t have a project we don’t have a domain name that was running on like this terrible, long, string string of letters. And so I bought thatdashboardthing.com. And said, “Well I don’t know, you can sign up here,” and threw up a little signup for him on thatdashboardthing.com.
Host: [00:09:18] You still have that domain?
Jackson: [00:09:19] I don’t know.
Host: [00:09:20] OK.
Jackson: [00:09:21] We don’t we don’t use it.
Host: [00:09:22] Definitely it’s just part of the story. But-
Jackson: [00:09:23] Yes it’s terribly long.
Host: [00:09:25] But that was at the conference?
Jackson: [00:09:26] Yes.
Host: [00:09:27] OK, So you create this. Now what happens when you put the splash page up?
Jackson: [00:09:33] You know, a couple of people signed up and said they’re interested.
Host: [00:09:35] What did feel like?
Jackson: [00:09:38] Well that was kind of like a “Oh crap, now I got to like make new software to allow multiple stores to use this once.” But that was good. You know what I mean? It’s a good problem.
Host: [00:09:45] You’ve always really loved that kind of work.
Jackson: [00:09:47] Yeah, yeah. And so then it just it just grew from there Winmark gave me the OK to let other people start using it. And so it was I think August went to a little mini-conference for some Plato’s Closet owners and and show it off there and then we’ve been signing people up ever since.
Host: [00:10:06] Now, you’re still a store owner.
Jackson: [00:10:08] Yeah.
Host: [00:10:09] And whenever you show people this – I actually get to see it the other day, and I was really interested in the text message feature that you were showing me and it’s all – like when you do a demo or show ResaleAI, or you – that’s for short, you call it RAI?
Jackson: [00:10:23] Yes.
Host: [00:10:23] And we’ll talk about RAI and what that means and why you really like that persona you’ve created. But whenever you do a live demo, you’re showing how it works and it’s connected to your stores, Which I think, I’ve never really heard of that before. It’s so real. It’s literally your stores and you’re operating and using this every single day. And you’ve been – before you even introduced the quote-unquote, “beta,” you had a couple of years where you were kind of poking at and seeing how you could break it and fix it.
Jackson: [00:10:53] Yeah. I mean it’s – and on the one hand, showing people how we use it in our stores, using our store as the demo is incredibly validating, right? We know it works in stores like this because we’re using it in stores like this. It’s also really humbling, right? I mean, our mistakes are out there for people to see in demos all the time. And we don’t – you know, we’re not perfect and people have stores with higher sales than ours or – you know. But at the same time, those warts, those mistakes that people see, they’re pretty common and they’re pretty relatable too. And so it does help.
Host: [00:11:31] It feels like this is one huge community and it’s all under Winmark. And when you when you say, you know, these words for these these challenges that you have that a lot of people face, what do you think are one or two that come to mind first of just things like only those who would be, for instance, you know an owner of Plato’s Closet would really understand?
Jackson: [00:11:54] There are some that are kind of universal or retail or, you know, even foods service having people call out and having staffing issues like those are bigger than the buy-sell trade. But, you know, particularly in the clothing brands where we do buy a lot from our customers, we spend a lot of time telling people that we’re not going to buy their stuff. And people don’t like that, right? They come in, they want to get some money for their stuff, we run these commercials like, “Hey you get money for your stuff,” and they come in, they bring us their stuff and we go, “We’re not going to buy any of it. And so we disappoint people all the time. And so we get reactions from our customers about that all the time. And so those reactions, I mean, that’s pretty universal. We all know what that is.
Host: [00:12:36] Yeah you have a smile on your face. Is there a story that comes to mind from –
Jackson: [00:12:40] Yeah. You know, I mean, it’s I’m smiling sort of because when we’re going to the demo and there will be a text message like, “How was your experience?” you know. And the reply is like, “I hate you. You guys are terrible,” and it’s you know it’s funny and terrible at the same time. But now we have a way to have that conversation and that doesn’t happen on Yelp. It happens via text message. And so you know I prefer it this way. But, you know, in some ways it is always humbling to be like, “See we have the same problems that you have.” We don’t we don’t totally solve them.
Host: [00:13:17] Right. People are still people.
Jackson: [00:13:19] Yeah.
Host: [00:13:20] But at least you have a way to listen to it. Now I know I use Plato’s Closet as an example but it’s not just about Plato’s Closet but it is all about Winmark franchises. So that’s that was a decision you made to build a tool that you needed but you’ve kept it really specific to these types of franchises. You want to kind of share what’s on your heart about why you stay really focused on just that?
Jackson: [00:13:48] Yeah. I think I understand that market really well. I think it’s a market that has a need for great tools. And so if we can do that better than anyone else in the world, then that’s what we want to do. And I could go do the same thing for hair salons but I don’t have the same kind of, you know, unique perspective on that. And so instead of trying to take some kind of useful tool and taking it really wide, we’re going very, very narrow and trying to take something that, you know, you don’t want to live without.
Host: [00:14:24] ResaleAI, for short, you call it RAI?
Jackson: [00:14:27] Mm hmm.
Host: [00:14:28] How did that name get coined and where were you – who kind of came up with that?
Jackson: [00:14:32] Well ResaleAI doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. You know it’s kind of long. It’s got some stops and starts in it. And so people want to shorten it. And so sometimes people will just shorten it to AI. And there’s so much going on in that space right now, that that’s not good from a brand perspective.
Host: [00:14:51] When you say “so much in that space,” there are referring to –
Jackson: [00:14:53] – Just technology wise. Artificial intelligence is the biggest, sort of the hottest area of software and technology right now. So having a brand based on just being called “AI” is not going to be very meaningful. But but also, it can it can be pretty scary. And we want to kind if, you know, soften it. We want – our vision for this company is to create a new team member. It’s like having somebody there who’s always reliable, always helping you out, and actually getting things done. It’s not another tool, it’s another worker. And so personalizing it in that way – not in the, you know, you can chat with it and ask how the weather is, like Siri or something, but you know, hey I’m really glad to RAI is there, you know, taking care of this.
Host: [00:15:44] Ray is in the back room working right now.
Jackson: [00:15:45] Right.
Host: [00:15:46] That kind of thing.
Jackson: [00:15:46] Right.
Host: [00:15:47] Was there a moment when you decided to call it RAI?
Jackson: [00:15:52] No, I’m still deciding, right? If it catches on.
Host: [00:15:55] Ok.
Jackson: [00:15:55] If other people pick it up and then it’ll stick.
Host: [00:16:01] Cool.
Jackson: [00:16:04] We’re still figuring it out.
Host: [00:16:06] Cool. When you think about RAI as a team member, someone who is, they’re in there, they’re going to see the bands that are in the back room, what are some of the benefits to having an additional team member like RAI?
Jackson: [00:16:19] Well, I mean it’s not a person, right? I mean, it’s software. And so one of our guiding principles is that we want to let computers do what computers are good at so that people can do what people are good at. And people are really good at relational – right? They’re really good conversation. They’re really good at physically being there. And they’re not really good at repetitive, highly precise data stuff, you know. And so we try to just automate some of that stuff, some of that stuff that isn’t getting done because people kind of dread doing it or there’s a lot of mistakes that tend to creep in. That’s that’s the stuff that RAI wants to do and is really good and and loves doing for you.
Host: [00:17:02] And some of those things that a human, a person would not maybe be as excited to do and do every single day perfectly. What does that look like?
Jackson: [00:17:12] So a great example is we integrate with the point of sale and we integrate with constant contact. And so if you enter a customer’s email address into the point of sale it will automatically go to constant contact. That means that if you have constant contact set up to send the welcome email, then on the customer’s first visit that same day they’re going to welcome email. Before, you’d have to do an export and an import. And so not only was it not happening every day, but then when you want to send out the email marketing campaign, you’re like, “Oh before I do that, I need to go to the store and do an export and then do an import.” And so you may wait a couple of days, or you may send you know a few fewer campaigns a month or a year because you’re waiting on import, or you just go ahead and send it and you missed sending to some of your most recent customers. And so in that way it’s just always there whenever you’re ready to hit “send,” you can hit “send.” And you’re going to get everybody who’s a recent customer.
Host: [00:18:09] It’s always thinking, it’s always working.
Jackson: [00:18:12] That’s right. And then another great example is this Quickbooks integration that we’re working on. You know, getting the data out from the sales reports into your bookkeeping software, if you do it every day it’s very time consuming. If you, do it every month, you don’t have as good of data. And there’s a lot of transcription errors. And so by just automating that, we’re having better data faster with fewer mistakes and saving labor time. And then there’s – we might talk about that more, but another really great example is when we first started bringing on customers, almost every store has something on their closing task list that’s like, “e-mail the owner the numbers at the end of the night.” And so we thought, “Well we can just do that. We just take this item off your task list and just RAI can do that for you.” And what we realize is that you had to have stick around in the store and wait for the report to finish running before you could send the e-mail. And so you might never want to have just one person in the store by themselves. So you might have two or three employees in the store and an extra 10 minutes every night to complete this task. And now that task just happens and you save 30 minutes a day of labor, 360 days a year.
Host: [00:19:32] How much is that, if you add it up?
Jackson: [00:19:33] Yeah well, it depends but it’s a lot.
Host: [00:19:36] How much time is that compounded 30 minutes like every single day of the year?
Jackson: [00:19:41] Right. I mean like it’s a hundred and something hours like 150 hours.
Host: [00:19:44] That’s like a that’s like a couple of workweeks.
Jackson: [00:19:46] Yeah. Yeah. Yes.
Host: [00:19:49] For a couple of people, yeah.
Jackson: [00:19:50] Yeah, so it’s not inconsequential. And so all that starts to add up. And yet our price doesn’t increase which is the other part of RAI. You know, we want to keep adding functionality, keep becoming a better team member, but not always like raising the price. So yeah. That’s part of what we’re doing.
Host: [00:20:12] Excellent. Anything else you want to mention about the new Quickbooks integration?
Jackson: [00:20:17] It has been way harder than I expected.
Host: [00:20:19] It’s something you need –
Jackson: [00:20:21] It is.
Host: [00:20:21] What’s making it so hard?
Jackson: [00:20:23] Well, it’s a slippery slope. We thought – one, we really pride ourselves on creating software that is simple and easy to use and intuitive. And bookkeeping is sort of the opposite of that, right?
Host: [00:20:37] Right.
Jackson: [00:20:37] And so it was like, “No big deal we’re just going to make bookkeeping intuitive.” And so we started our first initial pass at it. It was a system that allowed a lot of flexibility which is – one, from our perspective, it was going to take a ton of time to support it and explain it to everybody, but, two, it just wasn’t it wasn’t very good.
Host: [00:21:01] And, you know, I ended up reading, you know, 100 year old books on, “This is how your daily retail ledger should work,” for like old general stores and realizing that there’s a whole wealth of knowledge of how this should be done, decades and decades of learning around this that we can take the best practices of and provide a recommendation on “here’s how it should work,” and so at the end of the day, we’ve created something that I think it does make bookkeeping intuitive. And more useful and provided that data always there when you need to make decisions where you need it.
Host: [00:21:40] And it’s your standard and that standard you are talking about, it is really pretty. It’s very easy to use is all mobile friendly. All the time you can pull out your phone and you can see everything in a very beautiful way. That’s always been a really important part to use the design of it, the functionality of it, can always continue to be your approach, I would imagine.
Jackson: [00:22:01] Yeah, I mean, in these stores we have high turnover in number of employees like we can’t have to explain how to stuff a lot, right? Anything we can do to reduce training time helps these stores stay more profitable. And I hope that people, I mean, I hear that people find it easy-to-use and beautiful and I’m always still seeing the the warts and the beautiful part and the tricky, hard part, the problems we haven’t figured out yet. So we’re you know we’re we’re constantly trying to fix those. But it’s balance. You know, how do we fix the bugs that come with scaling and add new functionality and refine what we’ve already got when you can’t do everything at once?
Host: [00:22:43] I really admire you for transparency to – you have a product that’s really strong. It works really well but you’re always wanting to improve. You’re always wanting to make it better. You always want to keep that really sleek, beautiful look and if someone – as we’re starting to wrap up this conversation – if somebody wants to see it for themselves and to see – I know you’ve only talked about a few features I really wanted to see more about your story and you and the vision of RAI, ResaleAI, what it is, where it came from, where it’s going, but if somebody wants to see you up close and personal they can do a demo that’s in person that they can actually interact with you – it’s likely going to be you on the other end, as of now. It’s usually how it’s been.
Jackson: [00:23:31] I guess the thing I want to include real quick is that initially I might have thought we had a great product and over time, what I’ve learned is it has gotten so much better because of our customers. We have learned so much more because of the questions that were asked and the processes that we try to incorporate. And so we get idea and feedback from our customers all the time like, “How about this?” And then we figure out, or we try to figure out how to make it simple and universal and useful to a lot of people. And that has helped us create the product, but it has also helped, I think, these stores benefit more from each other. And to have more of a peer relationship. And honestly, doing this podcast series that we’re going to do, I’m more excited about the episodes that are going to have our customers than about the ones with me because those are the ones that I learn from and my opinions are already in the product so that’s what I’m, you know, if we talk about where RAI is going, like helping all these stores become more connected and share best practices with each other. It’s where we want to be.
Host: [00:24:39] I love it. Jackson thank you so much for sharing a little about your story, what you’re working on, what’s is coming down the pipeline. And for someone to get that demo and to learn more what the next step?
Jackson: [00:24:51] Right. I always forget the sales part. Go to resaleai.com and there will be a big button right there that says, “sign up for a demo.” That takes usually about 45 minutes. And we do it on line with you live. If you want to create an account ahead of time we’ll do it with your store and help you guys get set up or we can use ours. Show you how it works.
Host: [00:25:11] Yeah. Because they’ll start to see those messages, those text messages, the reporting, all of that. Great, thanks again I really appreciate it.
Jackson: [00:25:19] Thank you Clark. I appreciate it.
Host: [00:25:22] Thanks for joining us today on the Growing Our Trade podcast presented by ResaleAI. For more stories like this and to learn how other Winmark franchisees have fallen back in love with being a store owner, visit resaleai.com. Thanks.