Training day: Mike Nedelec, VP of strategic marketing, Best Buy Canada

Before treating the middle-aged 'Trainee' with disdain the next time you're browsing around at Future Shop or Best Buy, consider this: He just might be Mike Nedelec, Best Buy Canada's VP of strategic marketing, foraging for valuable frontline insights.

Before treating the middle-aged ‘Trainee’ with disdain the next time you’re browsing around at Future Shop or Best Buy, consider this: He just might be Mike Nedelec, Best Buy Canada’s VP of strategic marketing, foraging for valuable frontline insights.

‘That’s where all of our great ideas come from,’ he says, pointing to new services like home installation and bundled computer packages as examples of offerings that originated on the floor. The practice is in line with Best Buy’s global ‘customer-centric’ approach. And the customers must be pleased: Since Best Buy Canada bought out Future Shop in 2001, the dual-branded company’s annual revenue has doubled, from $2 billion to $4 billion.

So, why the trainee badge? It lets Nedelec, 45, become a fly on the wall. ‘When we go to the floor, it’s to listen, not to teach,’ he says. He learns a lot from the associates about how consumers respond to certain promotions, what they ask for, as well as whether promos dreamed up at HQ are making life on the floor too complicated for employees. ‘We try to be very humble [when on the floor],’ adds boss Rick Lotman, Best Buy Canada’s SVP, merchandising, marketing and e-commerce. ‘Our slogan around here is: The person who is closest to the customer is royalty.’

This fall, Best Buy and Future Shop have increased their focus on customer service initiatives that stemmed from in-store insights. ‘We see what customers are asking for,’ Nedelec explains. ‘A lot of [them] don’t want just the computer – they want the USB port, Wi-Fi, multimedia, and somebody to come set it up for them at home.’

Another recent customer-centric project at Future Shop is Future Photo, which one of Nedelec’s team members thought of when he noticed customers often didn’t know how to get the most out of their digital cameras. Future Photo allows customers to set up accounts on futureshop.ca and create online photo catalogues, calendars and greetings.

Future Shop has also forayed into cellphone services, and tweaked its Geek Squad program – a ’24-hour computer support task force’ – thanks to in-store gleanings. Says Lotman: ‘[Nedelec] is an ex-merchant, which I think helps him understand how consumers think.’

Nedelec began honing those skills when he went into merchandising at Future Shop right out of UBC’s business school in the mid-’80s. ‘When I started, [the co's annual revenue] was less than $50,000. Today, it’s $4 billion,’ he says. He moved over to marketing in 2002, one year after the takeover. ‘I had merchandized all the categories – it was time to learn some new skills. I wanted to try to bring a little more rigueur and business to the marketing department.’

Part of Nedelec’s plan included pushing for a rigorous agency review in 2004. It saw the company’s creative and media business split for the first time. ‘That was a huge change for the company,’ says Lotman. Media for both brands went to The Media Company, based on the agency’s strength with both traditional and non-traditional media, as well as its experience in Quebec. Then creative was split with Best Buy going with Toronto-based Zig and Future Shop taking Vancouver’s Rethink.

Not surprisingly, recent campaigns from both brands have centred on the stores’ unique retail experiences. Nedelec explains: ‘We’re trying to be truthful, to be memorable – to show we are the store that gets it.’ Zig president Andy Macaulay describes Nedelec as a client who can be tough, but at the same time an all-round good guy who lets them know where they stand. ‘I think the biggest thing he [offers] is a broad organizational perspective,’ notes Macaulay. ‘Above all, I would describe Mike as level-headed…and I think that’s one of the biggest compliments in the marketing industry because there are so many ups and downs.’

This year has seen amusing TV spots from both brands. One, by Rethink, features nerdy collector types rushing into a Future Shop in an attempt to be the first to own a newly released DVD – one of them even forgos getting dressed and races into the store naked. Another spot for Best Buy, by Zig, reinforces the ‘no commission, no pressure’ tagline by depicting a couple so comfortable in the store that they start making out.

The ads may be fun, but marketing two competing brands isn’t easy. ‘There’s no book that tells you how to manage two brands in the same space,’ says Nedelec. Internal research indicated that there are two particularly strong attitudinal segments: shopping enthusiasts and the tech savvy. So, Best Buy went after the shoppers, while Future Shop shot for the tech savvy. This approach has worked well for both.

Nedelec constantly deflects credit away from himself, saying the company’s marketing successes can be attributed to his team of about 100 people, including the marketing, consumer research, flyer production and Web production departments. ‘He brings a lot of people who are doing a lot of different things together,’ says Rethink co-founder Tom Shepansky. ‘He makes sure people are aligned.’ Lotman agrees: ‘He’s a solid communicator and people person.’

FIVE QUESTIONS

Favourite book of all time:

The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I always think you should give pretentious answers to this question to sound sophisticated. But no, I really do like the book.

Favourite movie of all time:

Rushmore. It just grabbed me. It’s quirky. It’s funny. It’s weird. I love it.

Favourite vacation spot:

Tuscany. It has everything – the weather, the architecture, the art.

Greatest strength:

I’m going to steal from Conan O’Brien here and say a lust for mediocrity. No, that’s a terrible answer. I have a good sense of humour.

Favourite way to unwind:

Wine, great food and great company.