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Pivot With Purpose

Pivot with Purpose with Meghan Houle Ep 2

When will you get a real career? When will you stop working nights and weekends? When do you plan to use your college degree?

If you work in retail, these are questions you often hear. Does this make you feel like the career you love was all just an accident? You’re not alone. The retail industry employs millions, yet most people don’t end up there by design.

Ron Thurston wrote Retail Pride as an indispensable guide for every retail employee, manager, and multi-store leader looking to accelerate their potential and grow their career. It’s filled with straightforward, practical tips for developing your talents, connecting with customers, and building your leadership skills.

Based on more than twenty-five years of Ron’s retail leadership experience, you’ll discover a sense of belonging in the words of someone who has been a champion for the industry and shares your journey.

Ron Thurston loves retail. And he’s proud of it. Ron has led the retail teams for some of America’s most prominent brands, inspired thousands of store employees, and traveled relentlessly across the country to sit and listen to what they have to say.  From a part-time sales associate to a vice president of stores, Ron has put in the hard work that a retail career requires and wrote this book to share what he learned along the way. 

Ron is a fourth-generation Californian, but he and his husband now live in Manhattan.

Ron Thurston’s LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rthurston/

Retail Pride Website: https://www.retailpride.com

Follow Ron on Instagram @retailpride

Click Here to Read Full Transcript

FC Podcasts: [00:00:00] Pivot with Purpose a podcast that highlights the unique stories of professionals that pivoted their careers to align with their work lives and personal lives, more purposefully, and with more joy.

Pivot with Purpose is hosted by Megan Houle,  a globally accredited career and business coach and creator of the Megan Houle method. 

Meghan Houle: [00:00:33] From a part-time sales associate to a vice president of stores, Ron has put in the hard work that retail career requires and wrote his bestselling book, Retail Pride: The Guide to Celebrating your Accidental Career, to share what he learned along the way.

Ron Thurston, I am so excited to have you on the podcast. You are a gift to the retail universe, and I cannot wait to share with our listeners the story about your pivot and all you have up your sleeve, which I know is a lot. 

FC Podcasts: [00:01:02] Thank you for listening to pivot with purpose with host Megan Houle, you can find out more information about each guest, including full transcripts @pivotwithpurposepodcast.com.

And if you’d like to share your own pivot with purpose, click on the share button and add your story to the conversation. Finally be sure to subscribe and share your comments wherever you listen to your favorite podcast, your support amplifys our voice. And now this week’s episode.

Meghan Houle: [00:01:37] Thank you for being here with us today. And with that being said, I would love for you to tell us about your current job, what you’re up to, can you give us some career highlights? 

Ron Thurston: [00:01:46] I would love to thank you, Megan. And you and I have such a multi-year relationship that was part business, part friendship, part mentorship. And I’m just so proud of you for doing this podcast and for talking about pivoting. And I’m really honored to be one of your, I’ll just call it season one, guests. So, thank you. I’m excited about our friendship. 

 So, yes, I am currently the vice president of stores at Intermix which is the largest multi-brand specialty retailer in the US owned by Gap, Inc.

And we, really  for 27 years have celebrated the idea of being your personal style editor and about the mix and about bringing in well-known brands, unknown brands often first to the US. And mix it in the store experience and the fitting room in a way that really celebrates style, celebrates the mix of your wardrobe and really  teaching women every day about how to use what’s in your closet, add to it, what’s on trend for the season and just have so much fun doing it.   This year without as many people in our stores, the challenge is really how do you do some of that virtually through chat, FaceTime appointments, through consignment, through all the different versions of continuing to be your personal style editor but doing it in a new way.

I think this year has really taught us all that work in this business, that we have to learn to work in new ways and exciting new ways in some cases, and continue to make a big impact on the industry and the customers that we serve every day. 

Meghan Houle: [00:03:23] As a fan of Intermix, for sure, I appreciate the service level and I feel like you really have gone above and beyond to do amazing things and create wonderful experiences.

And, on top of what you’re doing at Intermix, talk to us about some other things that you’re really proud of career to date.

Ron Thurston: [00:03:39] So, when I really thought about this idea, you know, of being proud. And we’ll talk about my book in a minute, I think many of us that work in retail, we love it and we’re proud of it because it’s a career of service and it’s a career of serving our team, serving our customer, serving the brands that we work for and really giving generously of our time and our energy and our spirit. And so when I think about what am I most proud of, it’s really those moments where we’ve made positive impacts on first and foremost, our team and those around us because retail being, one of the largest employers in the world, if you look at it where it ranks by country, it’s always at least in the top five. And in the US, continues to be in the top three in private sector employers.

 And that kind of joy that comes with the number of people that we employ often, you know, one out of three people, it is their first job is in retail. And we make enormous impacts on career choices, on economic status, on career growth, on education, because retail is also an industry that is so self-taught, you have to do the work, you have to have great leaders around you, and my pride in what I’ve done and I know I share this with many other people, is that positive impact that we’ve had on  the people around us. And we have the ability to make decisions about careers and about, you know, it’s kind of an open forum for the brands you choose to work for. And that’s the beauty of it.  You’re not kind of stuck into one part of this industry, or one role. You can move around, you can pivot as we’ll talk about, and you can continue to engage as as much as you want to. And it can feel very kind of liberating that way. So certainly, that’s a big piece of it.

The other part that I’m proud of that is really serving me well is I have been a maniacal networker for a long time. And not because I expected anything back from meeting people or offering my own advice or time. But when it came time to really launch this book and to think about, you know, how  I wanted to be the voice for positive change in retail, that network has come into great benefit for this. And to my advice to many people and to, all the work that I’m doing is really use your network, build your network, whether you think it’s valuable to you today or not, or if you’re not looking for a job, you are looking for a job. Your network is the foundation of how you will grow your career. And I’m proud that I was kind of an early adopter in LinkedIn and built a big following. And it’s really wonderful to see how that has evolved. And I think supporting the message around retail pride. 

Meghan Houle: [00:06:37] Yeah, leveraging your network is like hot topic for me as well.

You know, in talking through,  and now having this wonderful podcast, have a platform. But you’re right, through LinkedIn and various channels and I know you and I have done some really fun things together that have connected new people. So, gosh, it’s been  a year of pivoting that’s for sure. And in the spirit of this podcast where we dive into pivots, can you tell me a story maybe about what led to the desire for you to write Retail Pride, you know, maybe taking that pivot, or if there’s any certain memorable points in that career journey that you’ve had that wonderful career journey that really led up to this pivot and what did you do specifically to get started?

Ron Thurston: [00:07:16] Sure. I think the moment I will describe, but the, journey to get here is really, three decades worth of work. And when we think about how often we are challenged as those of us that work in retail leadership roles, particularly in stores , is that it’s not a valid career. That it’s not actually something to celebrate. That you may or may not be using your education. That it is so self-taught and therefore not recognized as a great career. All of that messaging continued to kind of be really dominant in our industry.

And several  years ago, when we started to talk about the retail apocalypse and as more stores started to close and the headlines were really devastating to the industry, for those of us that work in it, because you can see this and you say, wow, certainly there are store closures, but I think what was missing out of all of that was this idea that, yes there are store closures, and yes brands are in the decline some are on the decline that were some legacy brands that didn’t really evolve with the world and how people shop.  What you don’t hear about as much is all the great brands that are actually growing and thriving and doing great work. And the millions of people that work in retail are so happy to do it. And I experienced it just firsthand over the last couple of decades. I’ve opened, I don’t even know how many stores, I lost count, hundreds. You know, and hired thousands of people. I’ve visited hundreds of stores in my career. And they’re so happy, they’re so proud, they’re so energetic, they’re so engaged with their clients. And it always felt like this is a lost art of how to communicate the magic of this industry. I wrote a blog for awhile, and then, you know, I said, this, actually needs to be a bigger message. This needs to be a book and I need to pivot into the idea of being a thought leader, a spokesperson, if you will, you know, self nominated spokesperson, and say we have to change the conversation from hiding in the shadows that we work in retail, to we’re really proud to do this, and we make an enormous impact on millions of people. And we impact careers and we change people’s lives and we celebrate the brands that we work for in ways that can’t be done through their website. I mean, the list goes on. 

Meghan Houle: [00:09:47] Yeah.

Ron Thurston: [00:09:47] And so my own kind of personal journey was I just made this decision summer of 2019 of I’m going to do this. I am going to do this, this year. I’m going to get this work started. Because there’s no better time than right now. And this was certainly pre COVID. But what I discovered, as I was just finishing the book in March of 2020 , that this now has been never more important than it is right now. And that’s kind of where it began. 

Meghan Houle: [00:10:13] Yeah. Gosh, I feel like I remember meeting you almost a year ago today. Remember? When you showed in New York and like have coffee. 

Ron Thurston: [00:10:22] I do remember. 

Meghan Houle: [00:10:23] We will get there again!

 But I don’t know. I feel like I kind of feel an answer to this, but maybe you can fill in the blanks. I mean, certainly also for myself as a retail leader sort of veteran, I guess you would say, I know you and I have talked a lot too in the past about having mentors or just really kind of growing up in a space where some of us had great mentors, some didn’t, and I really see Retail Pride as being such an amazing book for someone to purchase.

You know, if they want to have, I guess we’re calling it almost like the retail leadership Bible and talking about all of the wonderful points that you do and. And thinking about creating this book, you know, do you feel like it was a realization that maybe there was a white space in the market or was it maybe more of like a personal need for specific alignment related to something else, where did that fire burn inside of you to get this going? 

Ron Thurston: [00:11:12] So, when I did my homework, I think anyone that wants to write a book, you say, what is actually the space? Is there a need for this conversation? And I had questioned myself for a while and would say, well, nobody needs another leadership book.

Because there’s hundreds, if not thousands of them out there by very famous authors and I’ve read them all and I’ve used them as topics in conferences. But then the more I thought about it, there’s nothing that speaks about retail. There’s nothing from anyone that truly understands the hard work and passion and love that we have of retail. There’s literally not a single book on the market.

And to be one of the biggest employers in the world, yet no one says anything to us. So, that’s where it kind of changed my mind as I started to explore publishers. I did not want to self publish. I don’t know anything about the industry. I didn’t know the first thing about how to get a book on a shelf.

And so I did the work. I went to writing classes on Monday nights after work. I explored different publishing options. There’s what I ended up using is a company called Scribe and they have a guided author program. And so they actually kind of, you do all the work, but they kind of handhold you along the way you know, help you with editing, do all the work on the backend to help you get live on Amazon and sell it to bookstores. And help you with interior layout and cover design. They do a lot of that work. Now you’re paying for this. Um, but for me that was less important than putting out a great product that was going to be easily accessible. And that I thoroughly enjoyed, but this idea of this is now a conversation we can have about our industry in a way that’s very personal and very real to the people that work in it. And it’s been so rewarding to see all the comments, the reviews, all the messages that I receive of, thank you for recognizing my 20, 30, 40 year career in retail. Thank you for doing this. And that just gives me so much joy every day. 

Yeah,  I remember in our fabulous book club that we had, you know, I think almost everyone said, I feel like Ron was talking to me when reading this book. Which is so special, you know, it captures you. I think you can learn something from every chapter and just really walk away feeling like, gosh, wow. That is me feeling even more empowered. I mean, I’ve certainly heard people say I’m falling back in love with my job, which is so special. So we’re so excited about this book and know that it will just live on out there and again, in the spirit our conversation about pivot, thinking about a yes or no answer, do you remember the exact moment you decided to go for it, in terms of writing your book? 

I do. I do.

Meghan Houle: [00:14:03] With that, we’re going to take a quick break, leave a little mystery and we will certainly pick this back up.

Okay, Ron, let’s take the mystery out of this. So, tell us, tell us that moment that you decided to go for it. 

Ron Thurston: [00:14:28] So, this is completely off topic, but I’ll tell you why. And when I think about my own life and, you know, I am married and that’s, you know, the number one relationship in my life, but what’s,  important for me that keeps me motivated is that I really try to surround myself with people who are also doing important work on themselves and growing. And so I got also involved , summer of 2019, with men’s group work and very much by accident.  But what I discovered is you put people together in a room who want to do great work and have an honest place to have conversations, you can learn how to set goals for yourself that become not just dreams, but reality. And I kind of discovered this idea of having this close network of men specifically, because this is work that is unique to this particular ideal of having a safe space for men to talk about what’s going on in their life. How are they feeling about things? How can we support each other? How can we create trust and loyalty to this conversation? And what came out of some of that early work for me was a commitment to get this done in a very like emotional way, when you talk about legacy. And as someone that doesn’t have children, I, and I’m in my fifties, you say, well, what, what actually is my legacy? What do I want to kind of leave here that’s not just work. But like, yeah, I did a great job at work and I was successful. I’m a good husband. But what else, what else? What’s the bigger impact I can have. And that’s when the book started, to talk about like what actually is my legacy that’s where it began.

And I, think they were actually pretty shocked. I’m like, I’m going to write a book. They’re like, “Oh, that sounds great.” And  then you know…

Meghan Houle: [00:16:24] Good for you!

Ron Thurston: [00:16:25] Less than, in a year I had a book on the shelf. But that’s just, you know, that’s the retailer in me, we set a goal for ourself and we make it happen.

Meghan Houle: [00:16:32] just make it happen. And also too, I mean, I’d love talking about this, but what you did was you just started, right? You surrounded yourself with really some high vibe people that bring out the best and are like-minded and you get energized.  And that’s so amazing. And  with all that you are doing, talk a little bit about your balance because I’m sure like all of us we’re juggling a million things, but in writing this book, with your work commitments, probably take some serious habits, right? Of like structuring your days to make sure you can commit to everything that you need to do.  

Ron Thurston: [00:17:03] It did. And part of working with the guided author program says, in order for you to write 35,000 words in an average book, you need to write X number of words a day, and you need to actually create that structure and we’re going to hold you accountable.

And what I really enjoyed about meeting. So, I went to a weekend workshop in Austin and met 12 other very interesting professionals who all want to write books, who are not writers, who just said, I have a great story to tell. I have something I want to say. I want to write a book. So, you put 12 people together in a room who are all highly successful and highly motivated, you immediately create a friendship bond with these people that none of them work in retail. And so when I would describe like what I do, why I think this is an important book, they were actually surprised that there’s nothing out there. So, these are like a gold medal Olympic athlete. There is business owners, coaches. There were a couple of women writing very intense memoirs about experiences. There’s a book that I’m reading right now called Generation Zero about  she’s the first generation born in the US and what that experience has been for her. And so four of us, of the 12, have published. And the rest are chugging right along to come out this year.

But that creates accountability. So, you surround yourself with people who also want to do great work, who don’t want to do the same work, but they create a level of an accountability around you. So, we have a very active group chat.  How’d you write today? Did you get your words out? What are you accountable for? And for me that was necessary with a very busy job and life and board work that I do that I had accountability for what I wanted to accomplish. And that I think is definitely a best practice. 

Meghan Houle: [00:18:57] Yeah,  how important do you feel like it is to have that group of support when you are looking for a pivot in general?

Ron Thurston: [00:19:04] I think it’s critical and  I don’t know that you need to find exactly the same people who want to do the exact same thing. I think you surround yourself with people who  also need balance, can give you best practices, can say, how are you doing on this? How can I help you? How can I learn from you? Just all of that. I think you, you can’t rely just on your family. You can’t rely just on your own knowledge. I think it’s important. I would go back to networking, you know, networking helped me build the infrastructure to get the work done. And I have my full-time role and the book is kind of the second one. And the third one is board work that I do. And I am still every week in a men’s group. I actually need all of that around me to keep it going. But it’s just, it’s balance and time and making sure that you’re prioritizing what’s important.

But it doesn’t mean it can’t get done. It’s just for me, it’s about prioritizing. 

Meghan Houle: [00:20:01] Yeah. No, absolutely. And how do you feel like if at all, has bringing this Retail Pride book to life, change your actual life? 

Ron Thurston: [00:20:10] It’s helped me become more thoughtful about my own legacy. Exactly that. It’s helped me really think about the space that’s available to speak to an enormous audience that isn’t being spoken to today. And that just gets me so excited. And I’ve had incredible response from media and speaking opportunities and podcasts like yours to talk about it.  But it also takes an incredible amount of to do. And so that’s what I would say is dream as big as you can, but don’t be afraid of what might happen. Because I was also a little anxious of like, what if I get bad reviews on Amazon? What if no one buys this book. What if nobody likes it? What if nobody cares? And so you have all that self doubt in your head, and I just had to let that go.

And said, you know what, I’m going to put out a book. If I sell five copies, you know, when most books actually sell about 200 copies in their lifetime, which is a statistic that I didn’t even know, you know, unless you’re a best selling author, most books don’t sell that many copies. So, you have low expectations.

And I’m happy to say it’s significantly higher than that, but it was never about selling books. It was about the conversation that needs to happen in our industry. 

Meghan Houle: [00:21:29] Yeah, I love it. And that, what if, that fear, I think sometimes that holds us back. The imposter syndrome that comes in that’s no one’s going want to read my book and it’s like, but what if you don’t do this for you?

Ron Thurston: [00:21:40] Right.

Meghan Houle: [00:21:40] Like you said, and just get it out there and see what happens and let the universe take control. So, I just think it’s been fabulous and I know you’re leading and inspiring so many more people beyond the reach of all the wonderful people that get to work with you directly every day at Intermix.

And, you know, is there anything you wish that maybe you did differently? 

Ron Thurston: [00:22:00] I wish I had done this a long time ago. But I’ve also learned to, when I say that, then my men’s group work kicks in and the answer is you did it exactly when you were supposed to.

Meghan Houle: [00:22:11] Right. 

Ron Thurston: [00:22:12] And that you actually, you needed the right space and time and people and network in order for it to happen.

And 10 years ago, I may not have had it. And I would have been more afraid of not being able to do it, or not having the finances to do it.  So, while I would, in my head, I’d like to think I did it a long time ago. I’m actually really glad that it’s right now, because there’s also a lot of pain in our industry right now. And job loss and people looking. And it doesn’t mean that they don’t love, or proud of working in retail, but they might need a little more help than they used to. 

Meghan Houle: [00:22:47] Right. 

Ron Thurston: [00:22:47] And I’m trying to provide forums for conversation and networking to help people actually get back to work and find that next great job, because that is, it’s so self motivated to make that happen. 

Meghan Houle: [00:23:01] Yeah. Well, and I know you have something coming up with your Saturdays with Ron, which is so amazing and you’re right. I mean, I think in this moment where there are a lot of people still looking to pivot what you know, what I love to call your Ron’s wisdom um, you know, any kind of lasting words of advice for anyone else out there looking to pivot right now?

Ron Thurston: [00:23:23] Don’t be afraid of what can happen. And don’t think that you can’t actually do your own work and pivot at the same time. I don’t think it’s one or all. 

Meghan Houle: [00:23:35] Right. 

Ron Thurston: [00:23:35] I’d love to say, yeah I would love to devote a hundred percent of my time to Goodwill, but I’m a board member that adds value when I can. I would love to say, could do and speak about Retail Pride full-time; that’s not an option. And so I think you can actually do and have multiple conversations at the same time and multiple streams and pivot. And just like you’re doing. You can do multiple things at the same time. We all have the ability to do it. It’s just kind of structuring your life around it to make it happen. But it’s very possible, I did it.

Meghan Houle: [00:24:10] Yeah, absolutely.  So, it’s about just starting, finding that network surrounding yourself with all kinds of different people that can lift you up in various ways and just get out there. And I know that there’s a lot of different ways our listeners can find you. But talk about some ways that people can reach out connect with you. 

Ron Thurston: [00:24:31] Yeah. So, the best way is retailpride.com. Which is where you’ll find links to my new weekly webinar Saturday Mornings with Ron, which is live; it’s entirely for networking purposes. Links to the book, links to my blog, which are excerpts from the book, some of it . There’s a lot of content on there. So, definitely retailpride.com or LinkedIn. 

And what I would say is, you know, don’t be afraid to reach out, but also don’t be afraid to reach out to other people in the industry that you admire what they’re doing.  And it was something I did early on. If I heard someone on a podcast or watched them on a webinar and I stopped being afraid of reaching out and just saying, “I like what you said, thank you. I’m writing a book and I’d love to ask for your opinion about things.” Or “this is what I’m thinking about. What do you think?” And people are generally very kind and gracious and generous of their time.

And so don’t be afraid of that. We’re all here to help and support. 

Meghan Houle: [00:25:32] Yeah, well, coming from you, I think for any listeners, it’s going to be such a powerful message that I know it’s sometimes a little nerve wracking to reach out and ask someone for a conversation. But I will tell you, like Ron and so many other senior level executives, there are some really, really nice people out there.

Ron Thurston: [00:25:48] There are!

Meghan Houle: [00:25:49] So, go for it. Ask for a conversation fearlessly network. And Ron, I am so tremendously grateful for you in my life. Meeting you so many years ago, I remember sitting down across from a table  and just seeing you and being like, he just gets it, like he is the sunshine that we all need in this light. And I know you’ve done so many tremendous things in 2020 to really help people.

And here we are in 2021 and we’re hitting the ground running. So, thank you for you. Thank you for all that you do. It’s such a pleasure to have you. I’m so grateful to call you a friend and a mentor and cheers to being on the Pivot with Purpose podcast season one. 

Thank you. 

Ron Thurston: [00:26:25] What a wonderful surprise today. Thank you for this. 

FC Podcasts: [00:26:30] Pivot with Purpose  with host Mmegan Houle is a Fashion Consort production, and part of the FC podcast network. It is produced and directed by Phil aka Corinne, and a special thank you to Spencer Powell for our theme music. Learn more at pivotwithpurposepodcast.com and be sure to follow us on instagram @pivotwithpurpose_podcast.

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