ISPA Industry Conference to Showcase Top-Notch Speakers

Those who attend the 2019 ISPA Industry Conference March 13-14 in St. Petersburg, Florida, are in for a treat. Guest speakers Mike Abrashoff, Bob Phibbs and Joe Theismann will share their experiences in business, leadership, winning strategies and creative energy. Learn a little more about what each will offer below.

Mike Abrashoff: Creating a Cultural Sea Change

Mike Abrashoff

When Mike Abrashoff delivers the opening keynote at the ISPA Industry Conference, you won’t find him using notes. Or any kind of presentation tool, for that matter. Instead, he’ll simply talk. You can hear him at 9 a.m. Thursday, March 14, at the Vinoy Renaissance Resort & Golf Club in St. Petersburg, Florida.

“I believe passionately about this,” said Abrashoff, former captain of the USS Benfold and author of “It’s Your Ship.” “I don’t need a PowerPoint to get my point across.”

His point? That leadership can create a work culture that leads to breakthrough performance.

He should know. In 1997, Abrashoff took command of the USS Benfold. Its performance was considered to be near the bottom of the Pacific Fleet. Accidents were high, as was the ship’s turnover rate. For a while, he obsessed over the things he couldn’t control, such as the ship’s missions.

Then, Abrashoff decided to focus on the things he could change.

“My community in the Navy used to have the reputation that we eat our young,” he said. “When my predecessor was leaving the ship for the final time, and his departure was announced on the public address system, my new crew stood in the back and cheered that he was leaving. In that moment, I said to myself, ‘Why do we eat our young? Why are we so proud of that? And what’s keeping me from changing it?’ And I realized the only one keeping me from changing it was myself.

“I decided to fix everything I was embarrassed about. I wanted to create a culture where I would be proud for my own son or daughter to come be a part of it.”

To begin to change the culture, Abrashoff interviewed every sailor on the ship — all 310 of them. It took him about four months. He got to know their names. Their spouses’ names. Their children’s names. Their hometowns. Their proudest moments. Their goals. He also asked each sailor three questions: What do you like most about the Navy? What do you like least? What’s one thing you would change if you were captain?

Abrashoff listened. He made changes based on some of their suggestions, and he helped them pursue their goals. In turn, they responded with gratitude and increased performance.

Remember that low ship ranking when Abrashoff took command? By the end of that year, the USS Benfold was ranked No. 1 in the Pacific Fleet — with the same crew, he said. And when Abrashoff left after two years, there wasn’t a dry eye on board.

Mattress manufacturers, suppliers and retailers can do the same in their own companies, Abrashoff believes. The first step is understanding how they are perceived by their employees. He said, “It’s asking yourself, ‘When I leave for the final time will people cheer?’

During the opening keynote, Abrashoff wants to give bedding industry audience members the tools they need to go out and engage their people and drive performance. And he wants the audience to leave with the clear message that it’s never too late to turn your ship around.

“Instead of being a victim, you can control your own destiny,” Abrashoff said. “That’s where the satisfaction comes from.” 

Bob Phibbs Brings Out Good Energy

Bob Phibbs

He might be The Retail Doctor®, but Bob Phibbs will have plenty to say about all facets of the mattress industry when he speaks during a business session of the ISPA Industry Conference at 10:45 a.m. Thursday, March 14, at the Vinoy Renaissance Resort & Golf Club in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Based in New York, Phibbs has spent 25 years as The Retail Doctor, working with such well-known clients as Lego, Tommy Bahama, Omega and Yamaha. He knows about creating customer-centric environments in which consumers walk away feeling special. “How do we create more of an emotional connection in our stores? That’s kind of what people hire me for. It comes down to the energy we create in it,” he said.

For the conference, Phibbs has prepared a talk — “Don’t Take Yesterday to Bed With You” — that he said will get the audience involved and leave them with a feeling that he acknowledges is hard to put into words.

“It’s not the easiest speech to describe,” Phibbs said. “It’s a great one, but you’ve got to trust me and get in the room to experience it. What it revolves around is, ‘What is the energy we’re putting into our tasks?’ and harnessing that energy in a more deliberate fashion to get better results.”

Most of us understand what people mean when they talk about the energy in a room: A “buzzing” room, for instance, is full of positive energy. Now think about what happens when a child learns to ride a bike for the first time. What does the parent say? “Don’t fall!” And what does the child do? He falls. “When you put it in their head, you kind of cripple them,” Phibbs said.

Like the child learning to ride a bike, some businesses operate from a position of fear. “If you start the process of fear then all you’re really doing is tapping into that,” he said.

“With all the things the legacy retailers and the manufacturers have been going through and the consolidation in the industry, it’s easy to focus on competition and Amazon and how it’s all changing,” Phibbs said. “But young brands don’t have that garbage. They’ve approached it from ‘What if we could?’ If you just start off with ‘What if we could?’ suddenly doors open, and you find yourself drawn to the project instead of hating it or putting some other kind of emotion on it.”

Phibbs said he will provide exercises during his talk to help audience members tap into positive energy, and attendees will learn a few more practices they can take home with them.

Here’s one in advance: Before bed, try listing five things you’re grateful for and five things you’re looking forward to the next day. In the morning, reflect on the five things you’re happily anticipating. “You’re consciously practicing being grateful and kind of setting your true north,” Phibbs said.

In other speeches he gives, Phibbs speaks more directly to retailers, teaching them to “engage the stranger, discover the shopper and make a customer.” But his ISPA Industry Conference talk will align with the idea that atmosphere matters. “It’s not price — it comes down to a feeling,” he said. “If you get the feeling right, the rest of it follows.” 


Joe Theismann Finds Parallels Between Sports and Business

Joe Theismann

Joe Theismann hardly needs any introduction. Really.

The closing keynote speaker for the ISPA Industry Conference is a former NFL quarterback, Super Bowl champion and ESPN commentator. Even if you don’t follow sports, you’ve likely seen him in commercials or simply know his name.

Theismann has been successful in a number of arenas, and he wants to share his “Game Plan for Success” with conference attendees. You can hear him speak at 3 p.m. Thursday, March 14, at the Vinoy Renaissance Resort & Golf Club in St. Petersburg, Florida.

“I firmly believe our own personal lives, the business world and the world of athletics all parallel one another,” he said. His presentation will cover goal setting, attitude, customer service, teamwork and motivation. He also will talk about competitive edge. He knows a little something about that.

“I was one of 13 quarterbacks that signed at the University of Notre Dame in 1967,” Theismann said. “I was 5’10” and 155 pounds. All these other guys were bigger. So, I went to Notre Dame one week early so I could get an idea of the offense, learn where to stand in a huddle, learn the cadences. When everybody else arrived, I was really the only one that sort of had a bit of an advantage because I spent a week in the system.”

Theismann was smart enough to give himself a competitive edge. “Now the question was, was I good enough to keep the job? At least I created the opportunity,” he said. “I think in every aspect of life, getting a chance to get inside the door first makes a world of difference.”

He further developed his game plan for success after winning the Super Bowl and becoming a high-demand speaker. “I noticed that whether I was talking to the chief executive officer of a company or someone in sales or someone in accounting or someone who works on the line, it didn’t matter — those six things (goal setting, attitude, customer service, teamwork, motivation and competitive edge) kept coming up in conversation in business.”

Every company needs to have goals, he said. And attitudes are critical when it comes to creating positive relationships with co-workers, customers or teammates. Motivation gets people moving and makes them productive.

“And then we’re all looking for that competitive edge. In the world of sports, sometimes it’s size; sometimes it’s speed,” he said. “In other aspects (of life), it’s intelligence. It’s showing up early, showing up on time, so many things that you can look at and say, ‘This is going to give me a little bit of an advantage.’ ”

You know what else gives you a competitive advantage? Sleep.

“When I was in training camp, we used to bring our own mattress,” Theismann said. “When I travel, sometimes I bring my own pillow with me. There are so many different ways to take care of yourself and one of those ways is to get good rest. You can’t beat it. You feel like an entirely different person.”

Mattress manufacturers, suppliers and retailers who attend his talk should expect to learn and be engaged, he said.

“I think the presentation has to be fun, and it has to have some meat to it,” Theismann said. “When people leave there, I want them to feel great about who they are and who they represent.”

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