Plugged In 2021 Brings TRIB Tribe Together Online

APRO member TRIB Group held its annual convention and buy fair in late March, completely online for the first time. Plugged In 2021, a five-day event, offered TRIB members tons of the group’s trademark volume-buying opportunities, networking via various platform tools, and a lineup of educational sessions aimed at helping over 500 attendees grow and succeed in their RTO-related businesses.

From Left: Katey Kale, Chris Kale Jr., Chris Kale Sr., Jeff Lebakken, Dennis Shields, Jeff Kale, Tricia Fisher, and Dan Fisher.

While Plugged In 2021 held some surprises – like a General Session intro by saxophonist Kenny G – many parts of the event remained familiar: an annual meeting kickoff; a Hot Show featuring $10.4 million in sales; 63 vendors with (virtual) booths who totaled in the double-digit millions in sales; and the lauding of the many generous convention sponsors. Additionally, TRIB honored exceptional members with annual awards, including:

  • Norman W. “Slats” Slatton Sr. President’s Award – Jeff Lebakken, Owner of Lebakken’s Inc. of Wisconsin
  • John D. Blair Hall of Honor Award – Rich Ziegert, formerly of Whirlpool Inc.
  • James B. Baber Vendor’s Choice Award – Julie Kirby, Buyer for Full-O-Pep Appliances Inc., dba American Rental
  • Lowry Shrader People’s Choice Award – Eddie Cohen, Key Accounts Salesmen for Technical Pro Inc.
  • Executive Club Award – Ashley Furniture Industries, L-2 Corporation, O’Rourke Sales Company, & RES Marketing
  • Top Gun Award – Ashley Furniture Industries
  • Rising Star Award – Florida State Games/Ideal Electronics
  • Soaring Eagle Award – Leopard Mobility Inc.

APRO Executive Director Jill McClure, talked with the “TRIB Tribe” about the importance of APRO’s Industry Health Survey, the compelling information members can gain during the organization’s upcoming Legislative Conference, and the excitement growing around APRO’s annual collaboration with TRIB, RTO World, scheduled for August in Tampa, Florida.

Three daily “Lunch ‘n’ Learn” education sessions each began with an update on a particular sector: Almo Corporation Vice President Matt Cyrulnik covered appliances; Ashley Furniture Industries Vice President of Rental Sales Gary Jones presented current info on furniture, and O’Rourke Sales Company President of Sales and Operations Andrew Terry talked TVs.

Day One’s education session was “Milestone Marketing” led by Mike Tissot, President of Countryside Rentals Inc., dba Rent-2-Own. Tissot told members how RTO marketing must evolve in the wake of 2020’s warp-speed change to a mostly digital shopping experience – from buffing up the basics, like superior staffing and stunning stores, to establishing a digital foothold rather than just a digital footprint.

“For a digital foothold, you gotta work to get eyeballs, and once you get eyeballs, you can sell them something,” said Tissot. “The first thing you need to do is work to get eyeballs through Google Places, through Facebook. You gotta work hard at it – watch it, measure it, push it, work it – and then you can sell them something.”

Day Two’s Lunch ‘n’ Learn featured a live tour by David P. David, President of Full-O-Pep Appliances Inc., dba American Rental, of his well-appointed Bloomington, Indiana store, and a live presentation from Ohio on trending products – like bigger TVs and “muscle stereos” – by Joe Fischer, President of Jaguar Holdings LLC, dba Eagle Rental-Purchase.

Day Three spotlighted “Employee Engagement and Company Culture: The Secret Sauce,” a lively panel discussion among Chris Kale Jr., Partner at Happy’s Home Centers Inc., Dan Fisher, President of Majik Enterprises International Inc., dba Majik Rent-To-Own, and Jeff Lebakken, President of Lebakken’s Inc. of Wisconsin. Influenced by Patrick Lencioni‘s business books, the three shared their journeys and success with creating extraordinary company cultures, which also changed their professional lives.

“At board meetings, we’d run into each other, and I was a stressed-out mess,” remembered Fisher. “Jeff, back in the day, was considered ‘the grumpy board member.’ But over the last few years, I’ve been like, Who is this guy with all the smiles, and proactive attitude and participation? This process not only makes your team enjoy coming to work, but it also makes [rental dealers’] lives easier and lets us enjoy what we’re doing.”

The trio credit Lencioni’s approach – and Fisher’s sharing of it – for their notable transformations.

“For our first fully virtual show, a conversion of our annual Meeting of the Minds in-person convention, it was a hugely successful event,” concluded TRIB Group Executive Director Dennis Shields. “We embraced and used the opportunity to leverage technology in bringing 100% live broadcasts to our convention attendees from across the U.S. Helping everyone reconnect and ‘plug in’ to learning and buying opportunities through live broadcasts via the virtual realm charged up our anticipation of returning to our upcoming in-person industry events!