Forbes CEO Strategies

This article was originally published on Forbes on 11/26/19.

Your Pie CEO Drew French was one of the CEOs selected to be part of this informative series. He shares his insight on the customer experience in the article below.

One year ago, we launched a new series of interviews that focused on middle market transformative CEOs within critical business sectors, entitled “The Middle Market Transformative CEO” show. I co-hosted the show along with RSM US Chief Economist Joe Brusuelas, a prominent thought leader on the middle market with more than 20 years of experience in finance and economics.

The series aired one interview per month and featured leaders from middle market companies who are leading change and driving growth within their businesses, as well as the overall economy. The first episode of the 12-month series aired June 24, 2018 and the last one aired May 26, 2019.

[You can read the full interview with Your Pie CEO Drew French here.]

Leading off, Joe reminded us about the growing influence of the middle market: “The middle market is truly the beating heart and soul of the economy, accounting for one-third of the U.S. labor market and making up nearly 40% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). As the influence of this important segment of the economy continues to grow, it becomes increasingly crucial to the country’s growth and stability. The show enabled transformative business leaders to share valuable perspectives in the middle market, and to provide a real-time pulse on the significant opportunities and challenges impacting the real economy.”

We recently asked our “Middle Market Transformative CEO” guests, “What do you think is the greatest upcoming challenge for a middle market company and how do you as a middle market transformative CEO plan to tackle it?” They provided the following salient insights, which organically fit within the categories of talent, customer experience and branding/innovation in our digital world:


Scott Deviney, President & CEO, Chicken Salad Chick: “The greatest challenge is people, and providing a workplace that values and challenges them. The key becomes finding ways to reward great people so they feel like they are part of the bigger purpose of the company. Luckily, Chicken Salad Chick has great people who are invested in our purpose: spread joy, enrich lives and serve others.”

Danny Meyer, Founder, Shake Shack: “Fielding a winning team has never been harder. Which should come as no surprise given the record low unemployment. If ever it were important to hire people with the right emotional skills to deliver exceptional performance and hospitality, it’s even more so now.”

Cindi Bigelow, CEO, Bigelow Tea: “Our challenges will be accessing adequate human resources for continued growth, and adapting to ever-changing consumer buying preferences. We’ll continue to ensure Bigelow remains a desirable workplace, and drives plant automation in order to double our production while maintaining our current size workforce. Embracing flexibility and innovation to anticipate trends and consumer needs is key.”

Travis Hollman, CEO, Hollman Inc.:“The greatest challenge facing our company is the ability to hire young people that will stay with our company for a long period of time. It seems to be the trend of the millennial generation to change jobs often. At Hollman, we are transforming our offices and work environment to meet the interesting demands of the newest workforce.”

Customer Experience

Ron Losby, President & CEO, Steinway Musical Instruments: “Mergers are making for even larger companies with some efficiencies of scale that mid-market companies don’t have, often excelling at doing many things well but no single thing to a high level of excellence. Mid-market companies can remain relevant by focusing on excellence in a few specific areas rather than trying to compete on multiple fronts.“

Jack Mitchell, Chairman, Mitchells Stores: “For those in brick and mortar businesses like ours, we must recognize that the world has embraced digital. We’re addressing this change by offering engaging online options. Everyone says that millennials also want to sample experiences. We believe in making every single visit to our stores a fun and valuable personal experience.”

Drew French, Founder & President, Your Pie Pizza: “As a middle market company, we do not enjoy the recognition nor marketing budgets of larger competitors. We believe that long-term success comes from creating and sustaining a differentiated customer experience. Our core values include “Treat people like family” and “Create shareable moments,” and we work to create an experience that fosters lasting connections with guests.”

Branding, Digital and Innovation

Sharon Price John, President & CEO, Build a Bear Workshop: “Build-A-Bear is executing a multi-dimensional transition to monetize the value of our powerful brand. Opportunity to diversify our revenue streams beyond traditional retail varies from enhanced e-comm to entertainment. As such, our challenge is to aggressively prioritize these opportunities, with the goal of delivering profit first, balanced with creating long-term stakeholder value.”

Michael Hansen, CEO, Cengage: “Without a solid culture as foundation, companies will struggle to scale effectively. I’ve chosen to listen to smart, creative and dedicated colleagues as a means of fueling innovation. This approach led to Cengage Unlimited, a textbook subscription model that has disrupted our industry from within, and put renewed focus on students.”

Chris Miglino, Founder & CEO, SRAX: “The greatest challenge for middle market companies is the consumer data privacy movement that’s transforming advertising and marketing. Marketers have had the power for too long and now the industry must brace for a new normal: consumers owning and controlling their data. I’m tackling this challenge by leading the revolution.”

Chris McCann, CEO, 1-800-FLOWERS: “A challenge many CEOs face is worrying that, despite all the many initiatives we’re working on, we may not be moving fast enough in today’s digital world. At 1-800-FLOWERS we’ll continue to drive innovation throughout the organization. I tell folks that I’d rather they get speeding tickets than parking tickets.”

Dawn Zier, President, Tivity Health (Former CEO Nutrisystem): “One of the biggest challenges is embracing the notion of disrupting yourself at an accelerated rate. In this data-packed world where technology becomes obsolete overnight and the consumer is bored in a nanosecond, one must use AI and insights to change direction on a dime while simultaneously safeguarding consumer information.”

In summary, as I think about these leaders, the message is clear to me: the middle market is a key driver of our economy and what makes middle market companies thrive is their vision and ability to change quickly, which is based on one concept that most larger enterprises can learn from … agility. The Middle Market Transformative CEO is truly proverbial tail wagging the dog in the “real economy.”