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 as CMO of Wireless Dealer Magazine and now, the Wireless Repair EXPO. eTech Parts got a chance 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 2nd annual Wireless Repair EXPO at CTIA Super Mobility 2015.
As CMO of Wireless Dealer Magazine and the leading force behind the Wireless Repair EXPO, Michelle James is blazing the trail for independent wireless retailers nationwide.
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 in London for 2 years, Singapore for 3 years, 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 marketers from different brand backgrounds like me: Coca Cola, Philip Morris, Dr Pepper, Siemens, one from an entertainment production company and a couple from the ad agency side.
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 every TDMA and GSM 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.”
What sparked your passion for helping wireless retailers? How does this apply to your current role as CMO at Wireless Dealer Magazine?
Nokia moved me to NYC in 1999 for 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. Talk about deals on wheels, there are some super smart business people on main street! 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 them continue to be successful.
At Wireless Dealer Magazine, I am CMO – but really I am chief connector. Our reader relies on our magazine as a catalog of all things they need to be successful at retail. My job is to make sure we cover every category in detail and as broadly as possible by making sure we have the right relationships with trusted suppliers, giving retailers guidance in operating successful storefronts.
How did your team at Wireless Dealer Magazine get involved in promoting wireless repair?
At the magazine, we’re constantly talking with and thinking about the independent wireless retailer. Sustainable growth is paramount. We have the luxury to look at the big ecosystem perhaps a little more often than a store owner who is dealing with big and small issues in front of them every day – we look out on the horizon to see what is coming.
We try to be in front of it and create a meaningful path for our readers – or at least help them understand the path the market is on. We saw repair up and coming a little over two years ago.
According to consumer surveys, independent retailers are more trusted than big box retailers for wireless products. So where were people going to get their phone that cost them $500-700 fixed, the phone that has their kids’ pictures in it and all their contacts? Somewhere they trust. Our readers’ stores. We needed to help them build that business model; so we started writing about it, well before the Wireless Repair EXPO was launched.
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.“
Tell us more about the creation and growth of the Wireless Repair EXPO. Who helped bring it to life?
As a publisher, we believe strongly in creating a community where business can grow. We have always had a ‘dealer’ show or event to create an experience for our readers and our advertising partners to network together. As we saw repair grow and the needs of the Repair Community grow even faster, we took the idea of a Wireless Repair EXPO to CTIA. We felt like it needed to be physically present among the bigger wireless ecosystem.
CTIA fully embraced the idea and asked us to become a pavilion partner last year. Build it, they will come….and they came. 1700 people registered to attend the 2014 Wireless Repair EXPO, and 900 business owners attended onsite training and seminar workshops. 120 people were trained in hands-on micro soldering. 27 exhibitors and sponsors networked with the Repair Community inside 3600 square feet. And of course last year the eTech Parts VIP suite meetings were jam-packed! CTIA deemed it a huge success and invited us back for 2015.
What can people expect at the 2015 Wireless Repair EXPO?
We’ve grown the square footage of the EXPO exhibit area by 46%, and are working on another stellar lineup of speakers and workshop sessions for attendees. 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!
We will announce in the coming months an exciting lineup of business owners workshop content the Repair Community can attend for FREE, 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. 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 10 days!
How can people sign up to attend this year’s Wireless Repair EXPO?
You can sign up for a free pass at WirelessRepairEXPO.com. We will be opening registration soon for the workshops – for now we are open for badge registration at WirelessRepairEXPO.com. Once attendees register there, they become eligible to receive a free badge to the entire CTIA Super Mobility show floor including the Wireless Repair EXPO area.
“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.”
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 – part of the publishing team at Wireless Dealer Magazine – success looks like a community of healthy wireless retail business owners who have access to all the information they need to be successful, and where consumers get to be the benefactor of a knowledgeable retail store owner.
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, written 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.