The Uncommonwealth Podcast – Mike Siemens the Former President of Good Sam Club

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Here is the transcript from The Uncommonwealth of Kentucky Podcast with Mike Siemens.

 

Chad Webb:

Hey, this is Chad Webb with CrowdSouth. In today’s episode of the Uncommonwealth, we talks with Mike Siemens. Mike is the former president of the Good Sam Club. Jason Heflin and Chuck Gregory are also on today’s episode. The three of us worked with Mike for about 10 to 20 years through Camping World or Affinity Group, and the Good Sam Club. Mike talks about retirement, how the Good Sam Club grew during his time there, and how he started in the mailroom and worked his way up to president.

 

Chad Webb:

It’s a great episode, and we get to talk with a good friend of ours in Mike. The Uncommonwealth Podcast comes out every other week. We hope you’re enjoying the episodes and that you will subscribe to the podcast being your favorite podcast service. Let’s go ahead and jump into today’s episode, thanks.

 

Chad Webb:

Today we have Mike Siemens, who is currently retired, enjoying the good life. We got Chuck here with us as well, and Jason too. So we all know Mike from his days with Camping World, Good Sam Club, which we all came from. But Mike, why don’t you introduce yourself?

 

Mike Siemens:

Yeah, that was one of the questions that Chad told me he was going to say, introduce yourself and I was trying to think about that. But basically, I retired about two years ago. I spent 32 years at Camping World, Good Sam, and currently husband, father of two children. I had my first grandchild, a little girl, another one on the way, a grandchild.

 

Chad Webb:

Congrats.

 

Mike Siemens:

So yeah.

 

Chad Webb:

[crosstalk 00:01:29] got a third kid?

 

Mike Siemens:

No. No, no. Today I would say I bought an RV since that time, so I’m an RV or I’ve entered that category, do some property invest or real estate investing, property management, and a little bit of consulting. And basically then just being like a grumpy old man complaining about driving, the weather, and all that stuff.

 

Jason Heflin:

Man, minus the retirement part, that describes me.

 

Chad Webb:

So where did you were grow up?

 

Mike Siemens:

I grew up in Louisville, and specifically a little town called Shively. And Shively is I would call a hard-working blue-collar area. I lived in a little neighborhood with about 30 houses and everybody in the neighborhood knew each other kids that would run around everywhere. The neighborhood that if any mother in the neighborhood was allowed to spank any of the kids in the neighborhood. It was that kind of cool little fun place to grow up.

 

Jason Heflin:

And do you still hang out with any of those people? Do you still have connections?

 

Mike Siemens:

A number of those people were cousins. So we see a lot of those people but then the rest of the group of the neighborhood, it’s a mysterious. They’ve all moved away and haven’t really kept as close touch with most of them.

 

Jason Heflin:

Was that code for they’re in prison?

 

Mike Siemens:

I can’t answer that question.

 

Chad Webb:

Where’d you go to high school in Louisville?

 

Mike Siemens:

I went to high school at Bishop David, which was a all-male Catholic school. We had a sister school that was a girl school too. So kind of interesting dynamic.

 

Chad Webb:

I know there are a lot of those Catholic schools. But is Bishop David still around?

 

Mike Siemens:

Bishop David is now called Holy Cross. I went to Catholic grade school, middle school, high school, and all that. So Louisville and especially that area is a very Catholic-centered area of town and a lot of Catholic schools. A lot of beer drinking as Catholics do at night.

 

Chad Webb:

From high school did you go on to college?

 

Mike Siemens:

Yes. I went to school at Western Kentucky University. The best seven years or so of my life. Then after I graduated from Western, I did attend a program through the DMA called the Direct Marketing Institute, which was about direct mail and direct marketing. So that piqued my interest and that’s the direct mail area.

 

Chad Webb:

So when you graduate, what was your degree at Western in?

 

Mike Siemens:

My degree was in marketing and economics.

 

Chad Webb:

Did you jump right into Camping World or Good Sam right after Western?

 

Mike Siemens:

Yeah, the family business from Louisville was bars and liquor stores. So a bit my informal formal education was in the entertainment business. And so I did that for quite a while and then bounced back and forth from school to family business. But eventually took a job at Camping World or it was a part-time job and a temporary type thing and started working there and then basically never left for the next 32 years.

 

Jason Heflin:

When was that? What year roughly?

 

Mike Siemens:

Oh, it was the mid-80s, 84-85.

 

Jason Heflin:

How big was the company then? How many people?

 

Mike Siemens:

Well, the marketing department just to give you an idea. I think there were four people in the marketing department including… Well, excluding Murray Coker, who was a senior-level guy. But we operated out of a little farmhouse on Beech Bend Road down at the amusement park there and so basically that was it. That was the department four people.

 

Jason Heflin:

How many are in the marketing department now roughly?

 

Mike Siemens:

If I had to guess today all the locations over a hundred for sure.

 

Chad Webb:

Did you spend a lot of time like you said you’d mentioned out there in Beech Bend Road did you work directly with Garvin at all?

Mike Siemens:

Mr. Garvin was around a lot at that time. Tad Donnelly was starting to take over the reins of the company. And I think at that time, Tad was maybe 28 years old. So everybody in the entire company was very young. David Garvin was maybe only in his mid-40s. But he shortly after that, he turned the reins over to the young people in the company and they took off with it. So it was a fairly interesting time.

 

Mike Siemens:

But David was around and a lot have his principles and things that he believed in and how the company should be run were almost woven into the fabric of the company and the culture. So its almost like he was there.

 

Jason Heflin:

A little background to everyone at this table worked at Camping World or Good Sam at some point in their career.

 

Mike Siemens:

Yeah.

 

Chad Webb:

Yep.

 

Jason Heflin:

And also on owned jeeps at some point in their career.

 

Mike Siemens:

Right.

 

Chad Webb:

Yeah.

 

Jason Heflin:

Mike-

 

Mike Siemens:

[crosstalk 00:06:23] retired guys still does.

 

Chad Webb:

So because we keep saying this like you said Camping World, Good Sam. We actually worked at Affinity Group, the three of us. Were you always Good Sam… We’re always Camping World. I know you’re Good Sam there at the end. Did your job ever switch between those companies?

 

Mike Siemens:

It went back and forth. And I worked on certain projects or programs or businesses that were on the Good Sam side of the house or the Affinity Group side of the house if you will and then also the Camping World side. I think at one time, they even split my salary. Half of them paid this and half paid the Camping World portion of the salary. So I got a lot of exposure to different people and products, locations.

 

Chad Webb:

Sure.

 

Mike Siemens:

It’s pretty cool.

 

Chad Webb:

That first job you had, you said mid-80s. How old were you when you took that job? Do you remember?

 

Mike Siemens:

I think I was in my early 20s at that point. So I had to do the math and I’m not doing math today.

 

Chad Webb:

Right, right, right.

 

Jason Heflin:

That’s that economics mind at work.

 

Mike Siemens:

I’m done with that. But the first job that I had there, interestingly enough was in the mailroom. I came in and went to the post office, picked up catalogs and flyers and stuff that were return mail to the post office and brought them back to the company, and had to sort through them and process them. So I always like to tell my kids that literally, “I started in the mailroom.”

 

Mike Siemens:

I started at ground zero. But then shortly after that, then other opportunities came around different projects. And anything that anybody didn’t want to do that was my job for about the first three years. So there is a career in doing stuff that no one wants to do, by the way.

 

Chad Webb:

Absolutely.

 

Jason Heflin:

When I was there, the mailroom was the source of all the gossip. If you wanted to know something that was about 40% inaccurate but fun. That’s where you’d go. Was that the case back then?

 

Mike Siemens:

Yes. I think every building that I’ve ever been in that has a little mailroom area is like that. A little side note, hopefully, I won’t get anybody in trouble but the mailroom that was in our office down at Beech Bend Park, on Fridays, we used to bring beer in, bring a six-pack or so, a bag of pretzels then that was our little three o’clock thing. We had to watch for cars coming down the lane. Just in case, Murray Coker or Tad or one of the guys were coming in. But we would sit around and talk about the business, drink a few beers, and then head to the house.

 

Chad Webb:

And it wasn’t even necessarily that you were worried that you get in trouble. You’re like, “They didn’t pay for this. They’re going to take our beer.”

 

Mike Siemens:

Yeah, there were only two beers per drinker.

 

Jason Heflin:

You only had so many to go around?

 

Mike Siemens:

Yeah.

 

Chuck Gregory:

So that was in the main office was at the store and it’s that one side or upstairs of the store?

 

Mike Siemens:

Right. The main office, so to speak, was the retail store in the warehouse combination. And then the marketing part was an old farmhouse. So it was ideal actually. There’s a lot of independents and if there were a meeting, you just jump in the car and drive a couple of miles up the road to the office.

 

Chuck Gregory:

Was that the farmhouse that had the fire pole from the second floor down?

 

Mike Siemens:

I wasn’t sure if there’s a pole in that one. I don’t remember.

 

Chuck Gregory:

A fire pole.

 

Mike Siemens:

Oh, a fire pole. I don’t remember a fire pole, but it may have been a different house. I don’t know what house you were at, Chuck.

 

Chuck Gregory:

It’s the one Dave got married. I don’t know, they got to borrow that.

 

Mike Siemens:

Oh, cool.

 

Chuck Gregory:

It was really nice. They may have renovated it and put stuff like that in.

 

Mike Siemens:

No, fire pole at this house. But I want to check out that house that you went to. I’m concerned.

 

Jason Heflin:

It’s been mentioned that we need a fire pole here in the office to go from the first or second to the first floor.

 

Chuck Gregory:

Yeah.

 

Chad Webb:

It can be tough to go first to second on it. It would need a lot of work.

 

Jason Heflin:

It’s part of the interview process.

 

Chad Webb:

If you’re comfortable talking about it, what were that path over the 30 years at Camping World? What did that look like? How much time was basically at each of your stops along the rungs and then kind of and I think because I hope younger people listen to this as well and understand that there is like you had said starting at the mailroom, there’s time that you put in to get to where you want to be.

 

Chad Webb:

Just like when I joined Camping World, I started off in the call center, and then I looked diligently for a year, six months trying to find the position that I took when Chuck was my boss, which was an intern position in the web department. So there are times where like you said you have to put in some work, but then you grow. And so maybe could you talk us through that process.

 

Jason Heflin:

Because I think the great thing about this story is he did go from the mailroom to President over the course of that term. So that’s there were a few stops along the way.

 

Mike Siemens:

It’s interesting that I never really felt like there was these big jumps, it just was a natural evolution. And Camping World was a very and Good Sam as well, a very entrepreneurial company and they allowed people young and somewhat inexperienced people to try things and to do things. I can look around at you guys and know that you benefited from that as well starting a web within the company and working in some of those areas.

 

Mike Siemens:

But with Camping World, I basically came in and started taking responsibility for maybe a small project, and sometimes it turned into something bigger. But you really do have to get your foot in the door and prove yourself with one job or maybe a second job. And then things sometimes start to happen.

 

Mike Siemens:

And that’s the way it was at Camping World until 32 years later, I said, “I think that’s enough.” I just was ready to go on and do other things. And it felt like the timing was good for me and for the company to leave and so that’s what I did. But the reward was that if you do a pretty good job and you don’t screw stuff up, they’ll give you another responsibility or another area or another…

 

Mike Siemens:

And unfortunately, with that company having multiple hats, two and three and four different things, you weren’t just a one-trick pony. If something didn’t really pan out, you didn’t necessarily lose your job, you might have gotten rid of one of your hats and then you might get two more. So that’s a great thing that I think was a place in both of those companies that many of us benefited from.

 

Jason Heflin:

You did a lot of unconscious. I think you were referencing some of the things, some unconscious things you did that advanced you through the company. But were there any conscious things you did through your career to try to… Did you position yourself a certain way or did you try to be a certain way in your business dealings that you feel like advanced you or made you stand out? Because not everybody became president.

 

Mike Siemens:

No.

 

Jason Heflin:

So you did something differently.

 

Mike Siemens:

No. I don’t know that I really did anything consciously. I feel like that I tried to be a good human I wasn’t or at least hopefully, nobody’s going to come and post comments on the site after this. But I tried to treat everyone fairly, and be ethical, and other than that, just hard work. A lot of times, great opportunities and luck is on that road of hard work. And if you’re working hard, then things have a tendency to happen.

 

Mike Siemens:

So I think that’s one of the things that helped me. The other thing was I didn’t take opportunities that I didn’t have a lot of interest in or didn’t feel like that was something I wanted to do. And I had a few of those opportunities where I thought, “Man, this could be a good jump, but I absolutely don’t want to work in this department.” They didn’t ask me to work in IT but just think of some other things you know.

 

Mike Siemens:

And I will say this, Chad, you mentioned it about the call center that you look around at a lot of the key players in that company, Tamara Ward, the COO or other vice presidents or these are people who started working in an internship or a call center environment where you come in and you’re absolutely not on the fast track anywhere but you get your foot in the door, and those people rose up and became successful. So it’s a good place to start.

 

Jason Heflin:

Did you have a particular role that you enjoyed the most? So compensation and control aside, was there a stop along the career path where you said, you look back and say that one was fun?

 

Mike Siemens:

I enjoyed creating new businesses and new programs and new services. And the company allowed that to take place. It was a very bootstrap organization that you had to make due with the resources that were there. You may not be able to go out and spend $500,000 on this piece of equipment or a database or whatever. But boy, if you could make it work then you were in tall cotton. If you could get in there, use the resources, and make the business work.

 

Mike Siemens:

So you just had to work with limited resources a lot of time and in less than ideal situations. And I enjoyed that challenge looking back at a lot of those things that we did because if we hadn’t done it that way, many of those would have never gotten off the ground. When we started the club program, which was started back in the mid-80s. It was I look back now and think man, it was pretty cutting edge for that time. People didn’t have loyalty programs, they didn’t have membership clubs.

 

Mike Siemens:

But we started one and we had many of the key attributes that a lot of the clubs and memberships have today. They had a loyalty component. We earn points, they had a discount component where you received discounts based on being a member. They had a database. But now the database was a big card file that looked like the library where you would put three by five index cards. You’d write somebody’s name on the index card or put a mailing label on it.

 

Mike Siemens:

And then you put the card, you’d file it in the card file and that was the database. There was no technology. There was no computer that managed that. When someone renewed their membership. They called in. You crossed out the old date, you wrote the new date in. You put it back into the card file.

 

Chad Webb:

Do you remember the day that they made a switch because at some point, and you were there, they made a switch from those cards to an electronic version of that, right?

 

Mike Siemens:

Right.

 

Chad Webb:

Were people scared to death of going to that and losing the cards?

Mike Siemens:

It was a shit storm. Like any technology integration, there were a lot of things that went wrong in that. But eventually, we got our arms around it and it just was necessary. I can’t recall the file at that time but it was probably 35,000 members that were being managed on a three by five index card system.

 

Chad Webb:

So real quick, one thing we should say because we’re taking it all this knowledge that we already have but could you explain what Good Sam Club is real quick and as well as Camping World?

 

Chuck Gregory:

And President’s Club too, which I think that’s the club we started and then how those came together.

 

Mike Siemens:

Camping World coincidentally, the Good Sam Club and its sister club, the President’s Club were started at the exact same time. They were, I don’t want to say born but the concept was initiated and separately independently. And at some point down the road, Camping World was acquired by Affinity Group which owned the Good Sam Club. So now this company owned two clubs, one was President’s club. It was more of a buyers club for products and services at Camping World.

 

Mike Siemens:

And then there was the Good Sam Club, which was more of a lifestyle and services, membership organization that promoted not only just those products that help make your RV lifestyle more enjoyable and safer but also was a bit of a social club as well. So as time went on, the company really started to look at both these clubs and said wouldn’t it be more efficient, wouldn’t members be better off a lot of these people are in the same place, wouldn’t be better if we just brought them together and made them one club? And they chose Good Sam Club as the name for that. And so President’s Club was molded into Good Sam. One club with more benefits.

 

Chad Webb:

That was in the early 2000s?

 

Jason Heflin:

It was 97.

 

Mike Siemens:

Was it 97?

 

Jason Heflin:

97. Well, 97 is when the company’s-

 

Chuck Gregory:

The club merger was 2012 or ’11.

 

Jason Heflin:

97 is when I started with the company. And coincidentally, I started in the President’s Club as an intern and it was with you.

 

Mike Siemens:

There you go.

 

Jason Heflin:

You remember that vividly I’m sure.

 

Mike Siemens:

Yeah.

 

Jason Heflin:

Everything about it. Guys, this guy really wowed me. This 21-year-old kid.

 

Mike Siemens:

Nobody ever lasted a long time in there

 

Jason Heflin:

He smelled like a hangover and [inaudible 00:19:49]. No, there is a layer between us. Laurie and-

 

Mike Siemens:

Paul.

 

Jason Heflin:

Paul.

 

Mike Siemens:

Paul Forester.

 

Jason Heflin:

Yeah, I reported to them. So anyway, thanks, Mike. Thanks for my first job.

 

Mike Siemens:

You have to start somewhere.

 

Chad Webb:

The biggest mistake that’s on his list, what’s [crosstalk 00:20:06].

 

Mike Siemens:

Yeah, that was my biggest mistake. That’s a good transition.

 

Chad Webb:

Say hiring Jason.

 

Chuck Gregory:

I will say Mike, I was there 26 years and you were always that when times were bad or whatever that voice of sanity. You were always someone you could talk to just always feel good about it. So I was always glad you were there.

 

Mike Siemens:

Well, thank you. Sometimes it helped me to talk about my problems.

 

Chuck Gregory:

It was less fun when you weren’t there.

 

Jason Heflin:

And while we’re patting Mike’s back, I’ll say that there was a period there where Mike and I decided to start jogging at lunch. And this was down the road after I wasn’t a measly intern. And so we would go over to Tennis Town. We paid those guys to use their showers, which is an indoor tennis facility, and we would go jogging at lunch. And I swear, man, I bet you I don’t know how you kept doing it because I know all I did was complain. This is going on at work and this.

 

Jason Heflin:

And again, he was the voice of like, “Well, man, just roll with it and do this.” And he’d always give me a little advice but not too much. Just enough to basically just say, shut up, what are you complaining about? Come on, man. And you’re slow. Keep up. But yeah, thanks. Thanks for doing that.

 

Mike Siemens:

I think I was probably in better mental and physical shape at that time in my life.

 

Jason Heflin:

We wouldn’t do it in the coldest months but March would roll around and we’d start doing it again and that was always the hardest. But we would encourage each other to get out there and drop our winter 10 pounds or whatever it was.

 

Chad Webb:

I know you got a lot answer. What’s some stuff that you wanted to raise or talk about?

 

Mike Siemens:

Well, really I appreciate you sending over some questions because it made me reflect back on all the stuff that had gone on through the years and many of these things I’ve never really sat down and have given it considered. But looking back at this organization, looking back at Camping World and then and looking back at Good Sam, it seemed like that it was a lot of different companies over the years.

 

Mike Siemens:

Because it’s you think about well, you went and worked at one company for 32 years, it really didn’t feel like that. It felt like that it went through a lot of evolutions. And it went from a very mom-and-pop small operation to with a handful of stores to this multi-billion dollar organization. And those were two dramatically different companies to work for to everything. The way you would operate in the early days was not really the way that it would work when you became a $3 billion company.

 

Mike Siemens:

So I think that that’s one of the things that I’ve enjoyed working for all those different companies. And if I had to do it over again, it’d be great to be able to say, “Well, I’d love to go work for a mom-and-pop again,” because I really like that. Not as much the $3 billion stressful publicly traded company. That was cool to get to that point and see it but I do enjoy a more stress-free life and style and if I do do projects and work today, I hope that it’s around smaller companies and where you can still have a lot of fun.

 

Mike Siemens:

And like you guys you do a lot of things that are unique for a company your size and for companies, in general. But you guys have a great time. You have good people, they genuinely seem like they’d like to come to work every day and they’re young and it feels like the way that Camping World used to be.

 

Chad Webb:

I can make no promises what’s going to happen when we become a $3 billion-dollar company. It will not be [crosstalk 00:23:53]. Jason will be a jerk.

 

Jason Heflin:

I’m going to be [inaudible 00:23:56].

 

Mike Siemens:

Well, a few people left before it got to $3 billion and they were… Like Mr. Garvin, he set sail quite a bit earlier than that and I think he was fine with that. But I was very proud of the work that we did. The people that I worked with were all good, passionate, hard-working people. You work for a company that you would say you were proud of and that was cool. That was a cool thing. And I don’t know today if there are a lot of people that can say that or that they like their job. And I had good days. I had bad days, but I did have a lot more good days than bad days.

 

Chad Webb:

That’s good.

 

Jason Heflin:

The name of this podcast is the Uncommonwealth theming on Kentucky-based entrepreneurs, business owners, people who’ve run companies. Your situation is unique somewhat from some of the other people that we’ve had on the show. So you’re retired, you’ve decided to stay in Kentucky and continue doing business here. Can you tell us a little bit about… You could have gone to a warmer climate. You could have just hit the road once you retired, but you just decided to stick around.

 

Mike Siemens:

Until Thursday of this week.

 

Jason Heflin:

Oh, see you. All right. Bye.

 

Mike Siemens:

But no. No. I like Kentucky and I really like Bowling Green. It helps that my daughter’s here. My son isn’t here at the moment. But it’s an easy town to come back to later on if somebody wants to do just easy living. I love to go to Nashville. I like to go to restaurants there. I like all the fun there. But I would rather live here and go and be entertained there. It’s just easy on traffic, easy on a lot of things that are very high on the quality life scale.

Jason Heflin:

We’ve got a small office in Louisville and I’ve been going up there and getting to know that town a little better. It’s where you’re from. Do you get back up there very much?

 

Mike Siemens:

I do. I do. I get up there several times a year. And downtown to downtown has been completely transformed and even though there’s a lot going on downtown and it’s really cool. And if you haven’t been down there, I would encourage you to check it out. But it’s not as expensive and as fast-paced as say Nashville is today.

 

Jason Heflin:

What’s your favorite restaurant in Louisville right now?

 

Mike Siemens:

Oh, gosh. I love Jeff Ruby’s. It’s a traditional old steakhouse and that but the service is outstanding and I think they had probably the best steak… One of the best steaks in the country.

 

Chad Webb:

Have you ever tried Ryan’s Steakhouse?

 

Mike Siemens:

Ryan’s?

 

Chad Webb:

Ryan’s.

 

Mike Siemens:

I don’t know him.

 

Jason Heflin:

We were up there. Chad and I were up in that office this week past week and we went to Wagner’s. Was that was its called?

 

Chad Webb:

Yeah, the pharmacy [crosstalk 00:26:52] pharmacy. It was good. It was like-

 

Jason Heflin:

Diner.

 

Chad Webb:

A diner like Brennan’s, Brandeis.

 

Jason Heflin:

I could die a fan of this.

 

Mike Siemens:

There’s a lot of little small neighborhood bars and restaurants and stuff, and a lot of them have been there for forever. I like that part of it too. It’s cool. And Bardstown Road is a funky, unique place that offers a lot of restaurants and nightlife and little shops and stuff. So I get up there quite a bit. My mother is still there and a good bit of my family is still in Louisville. So that gets us up there on a more frequent basis.

 

Jason Heflin:

We went to Mussel & Burger Bar when we were up this last time and had… What was it called? It was like a duck-

 

Chad Webb:

It’s like a duck and grilled turkey.

 

Jason Heflin:

A turducken sandwich. It was really good. It’s super, super greasy. Try it the next time you’re there.

 

Mike Siemens:

I’m going to check that out.

 

Jason Heflin:

Go to the Mussel restaurant and get the turkey duck sandwich.

 

Chuck Gregory:

Please don’t get muscles.

 

Chad Webb:

Or a burger.

 

Jason Heflin:

No. That’d be weird.

 

Mike Siemens:

One of my other favorite places just to give this a plug is called Jack Fries. It’s on Bardstown Road. Sometimes it can be hard to get into, but it’s a small restaurant but the food is off the charts and great wine list. So if you get up there, check that one out.

 

Jason Heflin:

Thank you to our sponsor today, Jack Fries Bardstown Road. All right. I’m not writing a jingle for it, though.

 

Mike Siemens:

There you go. So the crowd South is what year are you guys celebrating this year?

 

Chad Webb:

It’s our seventh year. And by the way, this is the point of the podcast where we start getting interviewed by the guest.

 

Jason Heflin:

It always happens.

 

Chad Webb:

It’s our seventh year. It’s our seventh year and it’ll be our seventh year in August. So things are going good. It’s fun. Your son was our first intern.

 

Jason Heflin:

Hey, there you go.

 

Chad Webb:

I know he’s still interested in… Is he still interested in music and that career path eventually?

 

Mike Siemens:

He is. He is.

 

Chad Webb:

And he’s in Denver right now?

 

Mike Siemens:

He’s in Denver. I think he wants to be in marketing, if at all possible. And music marketing was his marketing in New York and working for Sony Music and RCA. And so that part of the dream he was able to live and-

 

Chad Webb:

And he probably learned a lot from that. And it probably shapes the way that he sees the future, which is I think what a lot of times when we talk about starting out from the mailroom or starting off at the call center, you learn a lot about a company in those lower positions because you can also see what else is going on and what you aspire to inside that path. I’m sure Mitch saw a lot of that because I’m sure he was… When he did that internship, he probably had to do a bunch of menial jobs and stuff like that. But I’m certain he also saw the positive things there.

 

Jason Heflin:

He probably learned more than he did when he worked for that company that was a first-year startup and out of a 200 square foot office played Xbox about two hours a day.

 

Chad Webb:

I was going to say Mitch’s expectations are set pretty low.

 

Jason Heflin:

We probably ruined that, actually.

 

Chad Webb:

All we do is go eat tacos and play Xbox.

 

Jason Heflin:

Come in, Mitch. We need tacos. Let’s go.

 

Mike Siemens:

He got the opportunity. I know one day to deliver lunch to Art Garfunkel and I said, “So here’s the deal take your phone and put it in your top pocket like that and turn it on.” And then as you walk up, you’ll be recording him and you delivering the sandwich and all that and I think he was too scared to try to pull that one-off.

 

Chad Webb:

He would have got Art Garfunkel slapping the sandwich out of his hands. “That’s not what I ordered.”

 

Mike Siemens:

I think that though, that brings up a good point. You were asking about the advice that you give to younger people and all that that are starting out and everybody has something that they probably feel is good advice but for Mitch as well as that this is about change. And things are going to change even if he went in and landed the big job at Sony, something could come along and they could shut that division down. And he’d have to change again or they would change the roles or whatever.

 

Mike Siemens:

And I think in the companies that I’ve worked at they’re not fast-paced technology companies. The RV industry moves pretty darn slow. They still have the same awning that was put on in 1966. And it’s pretty much works the same way. So it’s not mind-bending pace of change but being able to adapt and change and get your mind around change too because it’s the only certain and it will continue to come at you. And you’ll have to deal with change over and over again.

 

Mike Siemens:

But if you can see the change coming, be open-minded to it. And then ultimately, if that’s going to happen, you have to accept it and move on, the better that you get at that. I think the better you will be able to adapt and survive in an organization. And I remember Marcus Lemonis one time saying somebody said they really didn’t like change. And he was like, “Wow, this is going to be really tough for you.”

 

Jason Heflin:

This world?

 

Mike Siemens:

Yeah. Because he’s the change master and probably saw more change under his leadership than probably any anyone else and you get used to that. You get used to the speed of it and just how broad the change is and you get behind it or you usually you have to go somewhere else.

 

Jason Heflin:

That’s a good point. I think a lot of young people have expectations and goals and they have a plan but that plan always gets derailed. You never end up where you thought you were. So being open enough to adjust that plan as you move it’s got to be a learning… It’s got to be a point where you’ve learned and start to adjust around it.

 

Mike Siemens:

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

 

Chad Webb:

Let’s look here. What else do I have? What would you say is there something you’re most proud of during your time at Camping World, Good Sam?

 

Jason Heflin:

Hiring Jason.

 

Mike Siemens:

That was key. That was pretty key.

 

Jason Heflin:

I got you.

 

Mike Siemens:

It’s hard to pick any one thing out but I do look back on the area that I think I had the most impact was the club and the club business and the membership. And I think it was brilliant for the company to come up with that so many years ago and looking at how the company move forward. I think that was absolutely critical because they were able to capture every customer that came in the door by name, and then later on email and phone number and all the transactional data in that.

 

Mike Siemens:

And when it became very difficult to identify RVers because the Department of Motor Vehicles did not give out names and addresses of people that bought our RVs, you had to go and gather up that information somewhere. So Camping World and Good Sam were in the enviable position of having had membership, where you had all that data and it became hard for people to get in. It was a good barrier to entry, so to speak. And I was proud to have worked in that area and managed that and continue to grow it till the time that I left.

 

Chad Webb:

So what did you see that list grow to in your time there?

 

Mike Siemens:

We were just short of 2 million members. And then when you start thinking about that 2 million members then put the math to that on 25 to $30 a year in fees and stuff. So it was a huge financial contributor. And it was probably one of the best biggest assets the company had was that list. They had a lot of names and addresses outside of the membership. But the membership really was the crown jewel of their marketing program. And they could market to those people much differently than anyone else because they knew where they live.

 

Mike Siemens:

They knew where they were traveling, they knew what they bought, they knew where they were… They just knew so much about the folks there that I think it really aided in the growth of the company and all the other parts of the business.

 

Jason Heflin:

And being a lifestyle brand that you were also able to use that list for upselling ancillary services and insurances and so forth. So I know that compounded the numbers that you were already making through the membership.

 

Mike Siemens:

Yes. Yeah, yeah. And you know what, a lot of this it allowed them to connect with each other. Because you had people with like interests and stuff in certain areas then club groups were formed and tour people rally together and went on rallies and events and tours and that. So there was a lot of social aspect of that came out of membership and club. Very proud of that.

 

Jason Heflin:

Do you see any companies that excite you may be in the retail space or were similar to Camping World or even in the outdoor space that are doing things that you see similarities to what you were doing back in the day?

 

Mike Siemens:

I’m sitting here as you ask the question trying to think of one and no one really pops in my head.

 

Jason Heflin:

It wasn’t a unicorn. It wasn’t the only company out there doing interesting things or doing unique things. But for the RV industry, it was revolutionary.

 

Mike Siemens:

I think Harley Davidson has done and did a great job through the years of creating a lifestyle maybe where there wasn’t really one. They brought a lot of those people together and sold a lot of product and a ton of wearables if you think about it. And not just trying to force product on people, people seeking it out, and trying to find it and getting it. And if you’re a Harley owner, you probably have 50 different things from t-shirts to jackets and hats and whatnot that have that logo on it. That’s pretty powerful.

 

Jason Heflin:

They really work that brand. I always think of Yeti. Everybody’s wearing this apparel stickers, whatever those things are. It’s a cooler. Growing up, I would not have had an igloo or Coleman.

 

Chuck Gregory:

That’s what’s crazy about especially the Good Sam Club is that they’re self-forming. The company’s not doing like pushing them to hey, go form your own little groups and have your little rallies. It’s just naturally occurring. That doesn’t happen very often.

 

Mike Siemens:

You’re right about that. And maybe that’s the best kind is once… It’s good for the company may be to facilitate certain things. But when people come together on their own with their own agenda and there’s self-manage things tend to work a little better than some jughead like myself in the middle of it trying to create rules and Good Sam has managed to do that for since the mid-80s. Maybe even longer than that as I sit here and think about it. Because they had groups and informal groups that probably predate when they came up with the little smiling Halo man.

 

Chuck Gregory:

I think so.

 

Jason Heflin:

The brand took a life of its own and the members began owning the brand more than the brand owned itself and that’s great. When we talk to companies about rebranding, we ask them what their brand is and sometimes people will define their brand as what they believe it to be. But it’s really, the best thing to do is to look at your consumer, your customer, and say, “What do you think it is? What is it to you?” And those important things are the things you can really draw from rather than what you want it to be. Because it takes a life of its own once it’s out in the world. Just like a kid can’t control those little things.

 

Chad Webb:

Thanks, Jason.

 

Jason Heflin:

You’re welcome, Chad. You’re welcome, Chad. What’s the next question?

 

Chad Webb:

Oh, the next question? Yes, yes, yes. Well, we’re coming to the end here, but I don’t want to miss anything that you have because you look like you took a lot of notes. What else did you have, Mike?

 

Mike Siemens:

Well, you asked me about how was retirement?

 

Chad Webb:

Yeah. That was-

 

Chuck Gregory:

I have a retirement question too. I was going to wait till we got to it.

 

Chad Webb:

We’re all super excited about retirement. How’s yours going?

 

Mike Siemens:

I’ve not been disappointed with retirement. It’s everything that I thought that it was going to be and then some. But to be honest, I still get up and I do stuff every day and I work. And I do take on some projects and so I feel like I’m tasked with a few things. Not a lot of stuff that I absolutely have to do like this minute or I don’t have to get on conference calls very often. I try to avoid conference calls these days.

 

Mike Siemens:

But I will say this, it’s the flexibility of being able to work and do things when you want to do it and not when you don’t want to. I think is the best part about what I would call retirement. It’s just flexibility and lack of just stress. There is stress and work and I don’t care what job you have but some are worse than others but I do find that my stress level these days is quite a bit lower than it used to be. And I really enjoy that. So I highly recommend retirement and if you have the means.

 

Jason Heflin:

Are the early bird specials as great as I hear?

 

Mike Siemens:

They are. If you get wired into that stuff. I know what’s going on a Monday night now and where to get the best deals. But you know what, I do think that the thing about retirement is it’ll also allows you to do things that maybe you couldn’t do before or maybe didn’t do before. I never took longer vacations and when you go and take six weeks and go somewhere, you really get to see an area.

 

Mike Siemens:

You really get to experience what that area is about and all the things to see and do and when you leave there, you really feel like that you’ve checked it out versus the rush to get there and then you get there and you spend a week. And then next thing you know you’re in the car headed home thinking “Man, it took me three days to unwind and I enjoyed four days.”

 

Chad Webb:

And a lot of days your back to work on like you know how it is. Everyone knows how it is. Everyone usually takes week vacations, but you’re down there, the first couple days are exciting then you’ve got the middle day. And then it’s like, “Oh, gosh, I got to start taking that drop back from Florida in two days.” And then on the drive back if it’s Saturday or Sunday, you’re thinking about Monday going into work.

 

Chad Webb:

So that’s a good point. It would be nice to spend the amount of time where you feel like you’ve embedded yourself in a even if in the United States an area of the country that really it’s like, okay, well now I know where the grocery is or I know where the sports bar is that I like to go to things like that. With retirement, do you think it’s important to… Because some people are fine with just sitting on the couch and watching TV or just fiddling around not doing much.

 

Chad Webb:

It seems like that’s a quick way to get like your mind just wandering and just really not… Are you finding that? Have you had any days where you’re just like, I got to get up and do something or I can’t do this. I can’t sit on this couch for the next six hours.

 

Mike Siemens:

I don’t find myself drawn to the couch for six hours. I usually have stuff that I want to do. But I could see where that could happen if someone… Maybe if they didn’t have a routine or something that would get them up and get them out. And so far, I haven’t had that.

 

Chad Webb:

Sure.

 

Mike Siemens:

If I do start hitting the couch for that longer period, I’m going to call you guys to come and get me.

 

Chuck Gregory:

We had some puzzles we were going to do.

 

Mike Siemens:

Surely there’s something better that I could do with my time but the good news is if you want to do six hours on the couch, you’ve got that at least on from time to time.

 

Chad Webb:

I think there’s times where I think about like if I worry about retirement in terms of I know that I’m no good on my own. I know that me left to my own devices is just a recipe for laziness and being slothful and all that stuff.

 

Chuck Gregory:

You want to have like something to do like a reason to get up and go outside and feel needed.

 

Chad Webb:

Yeah, feel needed. I think there’s that around a purpose still, which I think is maybe where you find yourself still being open to do things like this or open to consult as needed and stuff like that.

 

Mike Siemens:

I think there were a few things that I put in place before I left before I went out to the door at Camping World. And so they were I don’t want to say trial balloons, but started buying investment property and started doing a little bit of work there. And when you have a demanding full-time job, it’s hard to spend a lot of time outside of work in your social with your family and whatnot.

 

Mike Siemens:

So I had those things in place and it had started to grow the number of properties that I picked up. And I knew that was going to be like a I don’t want to call it a pastime but it was an investment and it was a form of I enjoy doing some of that work in renovation and clean up and all that. So put that in place knowing that well that’s something that I could do. And then you can always hire that stuff out if you get tired of it or you simply don’t want to do it. At least it’s an investment. It’s not a motorcycle.

 

Chad Webb:

Sure.

 

Mike Siemens:

And say, “Well, I’m going to sell it and get rid of it.” This would at least hopefully be an appreciating asset and something that also requires a little bit of time.

 

Chad Webb:

I think I would hire out all my investment work to you. Mike wants to go change a toilet. I’ll let him do that.

 

Mike Siemens:

I think if I could do it over again then I think I would have become a plumber. My grandfather was a plumber. And now look I think that might be my next gig. I sure use a lot of plumbers in the rental business. That’s probably the number one, plumbing.

 

Chad Webb:

I’ve had two calls on the little small apartment that I had that they flushed Barbies down the toilet.

 

Mike Siemens:

I’ve had a few little-

 

Chad Webb:

Knickknacks?

 

Mike Siemens:

… things that have happened. Things that went down that weren’t supposed to go down.

 

Chad Webb:

I just think it’s weird because I was like I get that it’s a rental but I’m like, “Why do I have to pay that you shoved a Barbie down there? What did you think was going to happen?” But it’s what you do with rental.

 

Mike Siemens:

Well, in the RV business you have gray water and then you have brown water or black water. I think black water is the technical term but I don’t do black water. I do want the RV but-

 

Jason Heflin:

I will unplug your sink but your toilet-

 

Mike Siemens:

If there’s a problem there, I get the professionals in right away. They have the tools and they’ve got the… It’s one of those things that I don’t want to do a lot of experimenting with.

 

Jason Heflin:

Note to self. Mike, since you’re from Kentucky, and this is about people from Kentucky. What’s your favorite bourbon?

 

Mike Siemens:

Yes.

 

Jason Heflin:

What’s your least favorite? You come from a family who owns liquor stores. So you probably have familiarity with the good and the bad.

 

Mike Siemens:

I do really like a lot of bourbons and probably my go-to is Maker’s Mark just like every day sipping bourbon. But I’ll have 10 or 15 different Bourbons at house all the time of stuff that I try and that other people like. I know they like and they come over. You got to have their bourbon too. And so typically when I’m drinking with buddies or whatnot, I’ll drink different bourbons just to have that variety of taste in that.

 

Mike Siemens:

A little known fact the neighborhood that I talked about in the beginning where the all the kids ran and played. It was near Seventh Street Road in Louisville, which is where a lot of the distillery had their barrel houses in that. And so when we walked down the railroad tracks from the neighborhood, the barrel houses were there and we used to throw rocks at the side of the metal buildings till the guys would come out and chase us away.

 

Mike Siemens:

But that one of the barrel houses that was there was that is it Stitzel-Weller, the people that have Pappy Van Winkle. So that bourbon, one of the premier bargains in the country was it all goes back to my early years, my elementary school years and it was probably a lot closer to my house than I even realized at that time.

 

Jason Heflin:

Did you actually ever break a window out?

 

Mike Siemens:

I don’t think we broke any windows.

 

Jason Heflin:

I think you’ve admitted to crimes so far in this podcast.

 

Chuck Gregory:

Since Mike said he keeps bourbons at his house for his friends. We really should tell him our favorites instead [crosstalk 00:48:28].

 

Jason Heflin:

This podcast travels so we may shoot we may record the next one in your den.

 

Mike Siemens:

I’ll keep it in your locker over there.

 

Jason Heflin:

Thanks, man.

 

Chad Webb:

Well, Mike, thanks for your time. I think we’ll finish. We appreciate you coming in and letting us hear about all the stuff an old-timer gets to tell us.

 

Mike Siemens:

Hey, I will be here anytime. I enjoy coming out. And congratulations on seven years. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long but you guys are on your way.

 

Chad Webb:

Thank you.

 

Mike Siemens:

I’m proud of you.

 

Chad Webb:

I appreciate it, man. Thank you.

 

Jason Heflin:

Thanks, Mike. I appreciate all your advice and mentorship through the years.

 

Chad Webb:

All right, cool, guys.

 

Mike Siemens:

Thanks, guys.

 

Jason Heflin:

Thanks.

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By Chad Webb

Chad Webb (who is 40) is one of CrowdSouth’s Partners and brings years (not quite 40) of experience managing multi-million dollar website projects to your business. He loves hoodies, puffy vests, jeans and flip flops.

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