With over 15 years’ experience in marketing, retail and wireless, Michelle James is no stranger to building things from the ground up – in fact, it might be what she’s best at. After 9 years spent creating innovative sales solutions and in-store campaigns as Marketing Director for Levi Strauss & Co., Michelle lived “a marketer’s dream” as an essential part of the team that helped mobile phone company Nokia climb to #1 global market share. Since then, Michelle has supported wireless retailers nationwide in publishing, event production, brand management and now, for the past three years has rallied the entire wireless repair community together to build the Wireless Repair EXPO from the ground up. eTech Parts had an opportunity to chat with Michelle for an exclusive interview about how her former role as Marketing Director at Nokia sparked her passion for helping entrepreneurs, her thoughts on the future of wireless repair, and what you can expect from the 3rd annual Wireless Repair EXPO 2016 at CTIA Super Mobility 2016.
Tell us about your history and background. Where are you from?
Dallas, born and raised – I moved to NYC in 1999, then outside Philly, then spent 2 years in London, then 3 years in Singapore, and now I reside in sunny South Florida. I attended the University of Texas at Dallas, double majored with a BA Economics & Finance. That’s probably when the left brain marketer in me turned on, now that I look back – which I don’t do often.
How did you get started in the wireless industry?
For Levi Strauss & Co., I spent the better part of 8.5 years in San Francisco every other week. The next logical step was to move west – but one day delayed in fog for my flight home, I read a week-old Dallas newspaper about a mobile phone company called Nokia that just moved to Dallas to set up their new US headquarters.
I cold called their marketing department, got an interview, gave a mock presentation then was hired on the spot. Nokia was smart and hired a full team of 8 like-minded marketers from different brand backgrounds: Coca Cola, Philip Morris, Dr Pepper, Siemens, one from an entertainment production company and a couple from the ad agency side. It was dream team of marketers, the best kind of real life MBA you could achieve. This was the lucky part. The rest was a ton of hard work and very little sleep for years….and I mean years. Best experience ever.
Tell us about your position at Nokia. What did your team accomplish during this time?
First day on the job, I was handed 8 plane tickets to visit regional carriers and instructed to sell them product. But first, I had to convince my sales guys I was worthy even of attending the meetings. Nokia executive management decided that Field Marketing – the 8 newbies sent out to the fields – would be deemed more important than brand marketing (at least briefly). After all, the company tagline said we were about “connecting people,” not connecting national media buys.
My colleagues were each assigned ONE sales guy – I was assigned FIVE to manage! One by one I was able to win them over and they let me tag along on sales calls… soon they wanted me at every meeting. Sales and marketing go together! One is better at messaging and the other is better at closing. Ameritech in Chicago bought their first digital product from me and my sales guy; it was so important as it was literally in Motorola’s backyard. So big. I still remember the day vividly.
I was promoted to Marketing Director and touched almost every carrier business over the course of a few years, lived through loads of carrier mergers and acquisitions, watched a lot of carriers grow up. Racked up over 100K domestic frequent flyer miles in a single year. Managed national programs and approved local efforts, daily.
Not much sleep for a few years for that core group of us who rallied together, but we went from a distant #4 global market share when no one could say our name (or thought Nokia was Japanese) to #1 during that time. A marketers dream to be part of it, really.
“Everyone should find the ‘something’ they can be best at and go for it – no matter how big or small. In our industry, the sky is the limit.” -Michelle James
What sparked your passion for helping wireless retailers?
Nokia moved me to NYC in 1999 for a Regional Sales Manager position, covering the indirect wireless retail channel for what would become T-Mobile – which is where I really started to understand the independent entrepreneur in a very real way. In the markets is where the real magic happens. Most independent retailers were surprised to have a supplier calling on them at all since national retail and large chains typically stole the limelight just like many other product categories. What I gained in return was a greater understanding of the daily demands of the hundreds of specialty storefronts out there. I feel this is an under-served community of business owners still today, which is why I have dedicated so much of my career to find ways to help specialty retailers find their way to success.
I have always understood the value of being a “connector” even before that was a ‘thing.’ There is something special about the hustle on the street and the small and mid-size players in any market, in every market on Main Street. The folks out there literally have everything on the line for their own individual success. Every single connection counts. Plus, for me, I have always been most interested in the last point of contact between a consumer and their product transaction. So few retailers execute this last, most important step in the retail transaction with excellence even today with all our access to technology. If only there were a ‘six sigma’ in retail transaction! Actually, that’s a good idea, maybe my next idea. Don’t tell anyone. Seriously, I will forever be a champion promoting that retailers strike the right relationships with trusted suppliers, maintain operational and back office success while keeping their eye on the real prize – creating the best possible customer experience that speaks to their brand personality.
“I don’t really do failure – even when things turn out really badly or spin out of control, there is always something good that can come from it. I also firmly believe very few things in life are not ‘fixable’ even if they turn out looking completely different in the end.” – Michelle James
Why do you think wireless repair is important?
Consumers need it. Retailers need the revenue stream. Plus, because it’s a service it literally has the legs to create customer loyalty. Getting your phone repaired is personal; repair is a people business. No one wants to ship their phone off and hope it comes back – they want to talk to someone about what’s wrong, how will it get fixed and how much will it cost to fix it. Consumers need to talk to a person, in person.
What do you believe to be the biggest challenge facing the wireless repair industry?
For repair, it’s about quality. Technicians need to be trained. And, its not just one time training as devices change – it’s a challenge but the winners in this category stay on top of the changes and are able to keep their skills fresh with ongoing training. Hands-on training is the best! Videos are great for reinforcement or general knowledge, but you cannot learn to repair solely from a video. Also, having trusted resources for reliable parts and tools is key.
Getting your phone repaired is personal. No one wants to ship their phone off and hope it comes back – they want to talk to someone about what’s wrong, how will it get fixed and how much will it cost to fix it. Consumers need to talk to a person, in person.
What’s new for this year? What can people expect at the Wireless Repair EXPO 2016?
We’ve grown the square footage of the Wireless Repair EXPO 2016, a specialty pavilion onsite during CTIA Super Mobility to almost 10,000 square feet this year! Can you believe we started with 3,600 square feet in 2014? The growth of the show alone speaks volumes to the continued importance of this industry segment! I am so proud of the entire repair community for believing in me, believing in coming together as a community and believing in themselves by taking leadership roles – not just at the EXPO but in other activities we’ve been working on together this past year.
We are very proud eTech Parts is with us again this year as premier partner. You guys have great credibility in the repair marketplace and having you both as a sponsor and exhibitor this year is an asset for the attendees!
New for this year we have added a Repair LAB that will be a destination for live demonstrations of some of the latest repair equipment and techniques for attendees to check out up close and personal. This will be in a ballroom next door to the workshop and soldering course ballrooms at the Venetian, just steps away from the main show floor exhibits. Come and get your geek on, and meet the pros in the Repair LAB and grab a cold drink while you are there! eTech Training will also join us in the Repair LAB!
We will announce in the coming weeks an exciting lineup of business owner’s workshop content the Repair Community can attend onsite for FREE (with registration BEFORE August 9, 2016), which will be offered every hour on the hour during the show, starting at 11am each day.
Plus, an opportunity to attend technical hands-on training courses in micro soldering, where students can get certified on a specific aspect of board repair. This year we have added a 4-hour master course to the schedule as well! There’s a small fee for this course, as we will be bringing in the equipment. Last year the micro soldering course sold out in 3 weeks in pre-registration!
How can people sign up to attend this year’s Wireless Repair EXPO 2016?
You can sign up for a free hall pass before August 9th at www.WirelessRepairEXPO2016.com.
What advice would you share with someone aspiring to be as successful as you?
My meaning of success is creating something at the end of the day that I can be proud of, that is bigger than myself, serving a bigger audience who can take what they need from it and grow their own success. Where I sit today – producer of wireless repair events – success looks like a community of healthy wireless repair business owners who have access to all the information they need to be successful, and where consumers ultimately are the benefactor of a knowledgeable retail storeowner and trained technician.
Finally, who inspires you? What have you learned from them?
I am inspired by entrepreneurship. Sheer determination. People, brands and business models that, while flexible and dance with calculated risk – stay strong in their goals. Women who break the ceiling in any industry and are still nice people at the end of the day inspire me. Business owners willing to risk it all, even in bankruptcy but still never give up.
Hershey went bankrupt twice, Disney went bankrupt 7 times, Steve Jobs was fired from the very company he created. JK Rowling became the first billionaire author, as a single parent in a terrible financial situation. None of them gave up. Yes, they all built legacies in the end – but they all started out as just regular people with a goal to be the best at something, then gave the world something that lives beyond them.
Everyone should find the ‘something’ they can be best at and go for it – no matter how big or small. In our industry, the sky is the limit.