Our guest is Jacob Pat. Jacob is the Chief Information Officer at Champion Petfoods, where he leads the company’s disruption of the pet food manufacturing industry through innovative technology solutions.

Prior to his role at Champion, Jacob proved himself a future-focused IT leader at Canada Goose Inc., where he was initially brought on board to build the technology group in support of rapid expansion.

Join us as we explore the consumer shifts impacting the retail industry at large, the difference between millennial, Gen-Z and older consumers, and why in-store technology must be woven into the fabric of the experience.

Episode 54 of RETHINK Retail was recorded on Jan. 03, 2020.

 


Hosted by Julia Raymond
Researched, written and produced by Gabriella Bock
Edited by Trenton Waller

TRANSCRIPTION

Julia Raymond:
Hi, welcome to another episode of RETHINK Retail. Today’s guest is Jacob Pat. Jacob, it’s a pleasure to have you on the show today.

Jacob Pat:
Julia, thank you very much for having me. Looking forward to our session together.

Julia Raymond:
Absolutely. Jacob is the Chief Information Officer at Champion Petfoods, where he leads the company’s disruption of the pet food manufacturing industry through innovative tech solutions. Prior to his role at Champion, Jacob proved himself as a future-focused IT leader at Canada Goose, where he was initially brought on board to build the technology group in support of rapid expansion.

Julia Raymond:
Jacob, let’s kick it off by just hearing a bit more about yourself and your role at Champion Petfoods, and maybe Canada Goose. You have a ton of experience in C-level positions. I just want to hear kind of your journey getting there.

Jacob Pat:
Thank you. I’ve been in the technology space for about 22 years. Really worked in various industries, spanning apparel, software, health care, banking, manufacturing, consumer electronics and automotive, among a variety of other areas. It’s really given me a unique perspective in the challenges that face us today and will face us tomorrow.

Jacob Pat:
My passion has always been problem solving, and and looking at different problems in different industries and seeing how we can help move the needle forward. In my current role is Chief Information Officer at Champion Petfoods, I’m responsible to enable the right technology for our business, supporting both the consumers and our internal users. My job is to make their job easier, more enjoyable, whether it’s what they’re doing day to day or how our consumers are interacting with our business. My goal is to make sure that that is as seamless as possible.

Jacob Pat:
In my prior role at Canada Goose, I was with them for about six and a half years. Really helped drive the technology side of their business, help build up their eCommerce business, and really provide thought leadership around where technology could help scale that business to where it is today.

Julia Raymond:
Definitely. What was the experience like for you personally, just going from Canada Goose, retail focus, you said six and a half years, and then transitioning to more on the manufacturing side with Champion Petfoods?

Jacob Pat:
It was interesting. I’ve worked in a lot of different industries. One area that I had not touched was pet food, and one of the reasons I jumped on this is I’m an animal lover. I’ve had pets for most of my life, and currently I own two dogs. I thought, you know what? What better way to help disrupt an industry that’s ripe for disruption, than being a part of it from the inside. Thought it was a great opportunity to really come in and see where I can help from the perspective that I’ve had from my background.

Julia Raymond:
Sure. It sounds like you have a passion for the industry, because you have two dogs, as you said, so I have to ask, what kind of breed they are, or mutt?

Jacob Pat:
Well, the first one I would say she runs the house. She’s an eight-and a half-year-old Yorkie, so as I said, she does run the house. However, our newest pup, she’s just over two years old, she’s a German Shepherd, and the two of them have a very, very interesting relationship.

Julia Raymond:
Oh, my gosh. That is so funny. A Yorkie and a German Shepherd.

Jacob Pat:
Yeah.

Julia Raymond:
That’s awesome. I grew up with German Shepherds, so I love them, and my cousin has a Yorkie that looks like it is a puppy, but it’s like 11 years old now. It’s super cute.

Jacob Pat:
Yeah, they age well.

Julia Raymond:
Yeah. They do, they really do. I have a dog of my own now, but she’s a mutt. I actually got her from someone on Craigslist years ago. I love her, though. She’s a black lab mix.

Jacob Pat:
Oh, awesome.

Julia Raymond:
Yeah, the pets are amazing, and it’s interesting to see the trends that are going on with some of the pet health apps and things like that. Before we get too off track, I wanted to kind of bring us back to the fact that we’re at the start of a new decade, and it seems like the perfect time to get opinions from senior leaders like yourself on what are the big things that are happening? We have a lot of retail events coming up where people will be talking about the new tech. What are some of the changes or challenges that got us here, from your opinion?

Jacob Pat:
I think being, you’ve been in the retail space for quite some time, and a lot of the audience that are listening are in the retail space. I’ve heard this phrase over and over, and where it’s just that retail is dead. I personally do not believe retail is dead. Retail I think is going through a massive change, driven by the consumer. The consumer is really shifting and really setting new standards to what they want and what a retail experience should look like.

Jacob Pat:
The biggest changes over this past decade has been driven from them. They’ve kind of taken the bull by the horns and said, “Okay, here’s what our expectations are,” and we can chalk up a lot of the reasons as to why certain malls or certain stores are not doing well, but ultimately the consumer’s not coming there. They’re still buying, so it’s not like buying has gone down, so they’re finding other channels to do this. The question comes back is, what are they looking for and what are we missing?

Jacob Pat:
The one interesting thing in this, and I was also going to touch on this a little bit more later is, the expectations are different from region to region. As we get into the whole globalization of even the retail space, what consumers experience, whether it’s in Asia or whether it’s in Europe or whether it’s in the Americas is very different. A lot of people are not aware of that, but people that do travel quite a bit, they look at those experiences, like wow. You get a wow experience in the brand in one region and you get a so-so experience with the same brand in another region, because of the end consumer.

Jacob Pat:
When I look at what can we do? When we look at the start of this next decade, we’ve been using a lot of buzz words and a lot of different coin terms. Okay, we went through the omni channel phase and we want to do endless aisle and we want to do all this. Ultimately it comes back to one simple thing, and its consumer, especially if you look at ourselves as consumers. It’s how to do we make the ability for them to acquire these products or services as easy as possible?

Jacob Pat:
For that, I’m going to go back to a very interesting baseline, and the baseline I’m going to go back to is both Amazon and Google. They’ve disrupted their own marketplaces in their own ways, but because those two brands are so infused in a lot of the things that we do every day, so whether that’s how we shop, how we search, how we look for things. They’re so part of the things that we don’t even think about. When we look at the experience they provide, and how easy it is to do things within those platforms, that kind of experience is being translated across to other areas, so the expectation as it comes to retail is, but why can’t it be that easy? Why do I have to talk the four people to do something? Why do I have to look through this many different inventories to find things? Why shouldn’t it just be that easy, frictionless experience, whether in-store or whether I’m online.

Jacob Pat:
That’s where I think things are going. It’s people’s expectations of making it easy for them to interact, to purchase goods, to transact with services, are changing. It is being driven by some of the bigger tech organizations like Amazon and Google because they’re making it easier and easier for us to do things, so the question comes, “Well, if they can make it easier, why can’t you?”

Julia Raymond:
When it comes to your specific category, is there anything that poses unique challenges from an IT perspective? I know Amazon has tons of data services and they’re a leader in that area, so how can other brands keep up, so to speak?

Jacob Pat:
I think the one thing that Amazon does really well is their marketplace, so everyone looks at them as Amazon is my biggest competitor. I’ll discount that, because Amazon is a platform where people will buy things, and they’ll buy certain things where you don’t really care about [inaudible 00:08:51]. Like, when you’re buying detergent, you don’t necessarily care about the experience. You’re going to go buy detergent because you need detergent. Whether somebody gives you the best experience or the worst experience might make a bit of a difference, but it’s not going to change whether you buy brand X over brand Y.

Jacob Pat:
However, when you buy other things, things that we use every day, whether it’s electronics, whether it’s clothing, whether it’s other things, or whether it’s services, anything that has a bit of where you do have an experience tied to it, Amazon’s goal today is not to enhance that experience, but brands and manufacturers do have the ability to enhance that experience. Whether it’s in the industry of pet food or any of those other related industries, they have the ability to control that end-user experience, and that’s something that I feel is significantly missing in a lot of verticals, not just in the pet food space.

Julia Raymond:
From your take, you think Amazon is not focused as much on some of the things that brands are, and that’s where they can shine?

Jacob Pat:
A hundred percent. Amazon is one of your fastest way to get to purchase, find what you’re looking for, get to purchase, and off you go. Now, if you’re looking to learn about things, I mean, sure, you can go through reading some reviews and everything else, but if you want to curate more of a more, let’s call it white-glove service, to let’s call it more higher-end products, or even to take a regular product and provide it a premium experience, you have the ability to do so because the consumer today is almost expecting that.

Jacob Pat:
If you were to give a consumer a premium experience, so let’s say, a simple thing. Let me pick a very simple industry, which is not even related to any of this, buying tires. We all buy them all the time.

Julia Raymond:
Oh, so fun! Yeah.

Jacob Pat:
It sounds a fun industry, right? You think about this. I’m in Canada, and not all provinces have legislated [inaudible 00:10:50] tires, but if you need to go look for winter tires, it should be a pretty easy experience, right? You know what car you have, you should be able to go get the winter tires and off you go. It’s a lot harder experience than you think. You may have to go back to the dealer. They may be out of stock. Then you have to wait for this.

Jacob Pat:
You’re like, “Okay, wait a second. It’s just tires. I just need four tires, they sold me my car, how hard is this?” That is a great opportunity. One of the things is you have a lot of these wholesalers online that sell you the tires. The problem is, they’re missing the last mile, which is, well, where do you go to get them installed? You’re going to get them shipped to your house, but you’re going to have to take them somewhere. It’s all about that experience.

Jacob Pat:
If somebody were to close that whole ecosystem, and say, “Hey Jacob, I’ve realized winter is two months away. We got some great tires here for you. We can book an appointment for you in November. Here are the tires we’re recommending, pick one, and we’ll take care of everything when you get there.” That’s an experience. Taking something as simple as tires, you can get to a very positive experience. That creates a positive relationship with the consumer, who’s like, “Oh, okay, this is great.”

Jacob Pat:
That leaves a pretty lasting environment, except for the fact that a lot of people put things off, and this is a personal opinion, but I think a lot of people do put things off because they don’t like the experience. We talk about all these things. We were just earlier talking about, right now there seems to be a bit of a virus going around here, and one of the biggest things is [inaudible 00:12:21] walk-in clinics.

Julia Raymond:
Yeah.

Jacob Pat:
Why aren’t the walk-in clinics experience, where you can register online and get pinged when you need to go? Most people have a mobile phone today, so you come in, sign up, and when you’re ready, just get paged up, instead of waiting in a room with a hundred sick people.

Jacob Pat:
It all comes back to the experience. I think that’s the kind of expectation that’s also touching retail, which is the consumer’s expectations have changed so much, and I don’t want to get off topic, but it’s that whole experience concept that could be redone in any industry to make that experience better for the consumer.

Julia Raymond:
I love those two examples you gave with the tires and the walk-in clinic, because Jacob, you and I, if we could quit our jobs today, and we can go start a business where we bring the tires to your house, and we install them on your car, and then we leave.

Jacob Pat:
Yeah, there you go.

Julia Raymond:
Wow.

Jacob Pat:
You heard it here, on this show, folks.

Julia Raymond:
That’s right. He’s a business idea for our listeners. These also are great examples when it comes to experience, because that’s what everyone’s talking about in retail, is experiences, conducted experiences, blending of the great words physical and digital, but from a tech perspective, what are the big things that you’re excited about in this next decade?

Jacob Pat:
I think the biggest thing is how quickly the landscape in tech is changing. There’s been a lot of chat on AI, machine learning, augmented reality, and I think a lot of people have a hard time grasping all the different terminologies. I think a lot of people just blend everything in a blender together and say, “Oh, it’s that new stuff.” The new stuff could be whether it be machine learning, AI, AR, augmented reality, and I see the next where tech can really leap frog, let’s call it this next decade, is taking some of these platforms, like augmented reality or machine learning or AI, and using it in a way that can enhance the experience, without actually hindering it.

Jacob Pat:
What I mean by that is, it’s important to note that, let’s stop using tech for the sake of tech. It’s not cool just to say you’ve got AI or machine learning or augmented reality. What’s really cool is if you have that, and you don’t have to say it, but the people experience it, right? That changes the game. Let’s say, for example, we talk about a shopping experience where let’s go back into the retail space for a second. You’re looking at picking up a particular clothing outfit, and you start that journey, whether it’s through Instagram, through the web, through some channel that’s digital, through your phone or at home on a laptop.

Jacob Pat:
You go through that experience, and then why should that person now go to the store? Because the store should be a connected experience because there’s things in the store that you can do that you can’t necessarily do in front of your digital device. What if you can actually enter the store through your digital device? What if the digital device creates an AR segment which you can walk into, which could be your closest retail store of the brand you’re looking at, interact with the salesperson that’s on the other side of that, and being able to help you. Maybe you try something on through an AR lens, look at a couple of things.

Jacob Pat:
There are so many areas that you can use this with. Like, you can use this with glasses, with outfits, with any number of outerwear. A lot of this comes back where you can add value by bringing technology and infusing it seamlessly on the other side, where A, you don’t have to be gifted to use these tools. Anyone should be able to pick them up and be able to interact with that easily. Second, you’re making the experience enjoyable because you’re actually adding value to that person who’s interacting with you.

Jacob Pat:
Whether it’s you’re talking to a sales rep on the other side through an AR window, and they were like, “Oh, by the way, you’re trying these glasses on, that’s great. Here are three other glasses for your face that will look really great,” and then just drag it on to you, and just making your whole search and filter process so much easier. Those are experiences you’re going to remember, and I see tech playing a bigger part in that, and it sounds so futuristic. I don’t think this is too far away, because as you look at the retail landscape around the globe, there are some regions that are doing some very interesting things.

Jacob Pat:
One of the areas I’ll touch on briefly is China. In China there’s a lot of stores where you can actually buy using your face. Again, we’re using biometrics, and yes, it opens up a whole different set of issues.

Julia Raymond:
Security.

Jacob Pat:
Privacy, security, and all of those things, and I get it. I think we also have to be mindful. We’re stepping into a day and age where we got to find the right balance. If you talk to some of the millennial generation, they’re willing to sell absolutely everything they have on themselves if it can make their life better. If you can give them a positive experience, they’re like, “Okay. That’s great.”

Julia Raymond:
Yeah. Great.

Jacob Pat:
That comes back to creating that- I think anyone would actually probably give you the same sales pitch, if you can provide enough value in return, right? Personalized search results are not exactly the pinnacle of what we should have today. It’s more about trying to get to that next level, where you’re adding value to the person’s journey. For example, if you look in the, let’s call it in the pet food space, it’s an interesting thing that I was learning is there’s not anyone that really walks with you through the journey of the pet.

Jacob Pat:
The pet, whether you get a pet as an adopted pet, as a puppy or a kitten, and you’re going through this journey, and the journey of this pet, it’s different because everyone has a different lifestyle, the pets have a different path that they go through. Well, who’s interacting with you during that process? Is somebody telling you to change your feed when your pets change from puppy to young adults, and adult to senior? What if your own lifestyle changes? If you have to travel more? Are there other services that are being offered to you such as daycare and other services that can help benefit you?

Jacob Pat:
Things like that, I see tech being more involved in understanding us better, being more predictive, and adding value when it counts, if that makes sense.

Julia Raymond:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Adding value when it counts and being an experience anyone could pick up their phone or whatever device and interact with easily.

Jacob Pat:
Yeah, and maybe it’s not the phone. Maybe it’s something else, but I mean, right now, that is the closest thing that we’ve got that we all hold near and dear to.

Julia Raymond:
Right, and you mentioned some human elements. You said having a salesperson virtually connected with you, and then also having people, maybe it’s [inaudible 00:19:26] it’s a person recommending services and feed change specific to the pet industry, like you said. We see it with Warby Parker, with their glasses try-on app, and some cool things. Do you think we’re going to be there yet with things like clothing?

Jacob Pat:
I think so, because here’s the thing. I’ll go through maybe some fads, right? We had the magic mirror. The reason it didn’t really take of was it was a bit of a nuisance, right? It was very impersonal, very cold. It looked cool when it came, so people wanted to try it, but the value proposition wasn’t there. Then you went into the other side of it where you had some chatbots that trying to become personal stylists and were trying to help you with certain things.

Jacob Pat:
Imagine a world where if somebody got to know you through a digital lens and said, “You know what, Julia? Based on your style, here’s what we think that you’d look good in.” But, instead of actually just sending you the recommendation, pulling you into their AR experience and saying, “Julia, you’re going to try on this outfits for us, take a look at it yourself.”

Jacob Pat:
Then you’re able to interact with that person. You’re like, “No, I don’t like this.” Maybe it should be a different color, and there’s now a relationship. Because I think the part that’s missing in all this, is the relationship part. When we talk about experiences, we keep saying experiences, but a lot of experiences come back to a human element. That’s what’s missing in some of these pieces, so if you can close that loop off and say, you know what, if there is a human that’s interacting with at some level, and using technology to remove some of these barriers, why not?

Jacob Pat:
Where I want you to take you’re, maybe imagination to here for a second is, we talked of the globalization of brands and businesses. One of the things that we struggle with today is, well, we need to have a store in every country. Great. What if you don’t? What if you just need to have it, let’s say we have a store in London, England, and it’s a great new store for fashion. What prevents somebody from here going there through an AR lens, and experiencing what that store would look like without having to fly there? You still have an in-store experience, you still get to look at what that looks like. You get a feel for the brand, and you know what? Maybe that goes on your bucket list as a place you absolutely need to go when you travel down that way.

Jacob Pat:
This definitely will change the game of retail a little bit, in terms of what that experience is, but the human element I believe is a part that we need to figure out how to close the loop on.

Julia Raymond:
Certainly. I love the imagination and some of the examples you’re giving, because it probably will become a reality within this next decade, as we’re talking about the future. I know you talked on this a little bit earlier, but what are some of the differences from your experience and like APAC or China, specifically, when it comes to connected experiences in retail versus maybe North America or Europe?

Jacob Pat:
In North America we use this term called omnichannel and the term omnichannel over the last decade, it’s gotten quite a bit of popularity, and it was to kind of give the consumer a similar experience in whatever channel you interact with them on. In Asia, you had the online to offline, or O2O, or offline to online experience. A lot of it [inaudible 00:22:47] back is whether you’re online, we’re trying to bring you offline into the store. Or if you’re offline, we’re trying to bring you online.

Jacob Pat:
They had a very different way of looking at things. Also, when you look at the different markets, I think one of the biggest things is, Asia has created this platform, where basically, they’ve got more of a connected payment ecosystem. They also have a more robust chat system. One of the biggest things for them is, they’ve started to close the line on what if it’s just easier to provide services through a single platform for anything that you’d like? Using their payment platform as their one base, and they use We Chat for a lot of their services. We don’t have anything like that here. I know we’re trying to do those, but if you think about this, in the Asian market, they use We Chat for almost everything, whether it’s buying plane tickets, train tickets, show tickets, whatever they need to be paying and transact and do business with.

Jacob Pat:
The concept of commerce has changed, even the paradigm of how commerce is done. It’s not with a payment terminal system. It’s not with multiple apps. It’s like, here’s one app, and here are all these different connectivity points. Now, that comes with its own set of issues, because then it becomes you have one dominant player that kind of runs the entire market.

Julia Raymond:
Almost like a monopoly of a tech tool.

Jacob Pat:
Exactly, and then that opens doors up, but I’m sure there are different ways to dice that in a way where it becomes a little bit more controlled by multiple parties, right? There are different ways to look at that model, but ultimately, a lot of it comes back to how easy they’ve made it for people who they could have leapfrogged us in some areas as it came to the shopping experience, because they couldn’t build out a lot of the infrastructure that we have in North America, so they leapfrogged us in that way.

Jacob Pat:
Then, you look at other places, like Europe, or just smaller countries for instance, where they were able to do other things like, last-mile services that are a little bit more robust and more curated than we had because we’ve got in North America larger land masses and larger geographies to work with. There are different things, and I think what will ultimately change this, and it’s interesting when we talk about retail because up until even last year you heard that 3D printing was going to change everything.

Julia Raymond:
Oh, my gosh, yeah. I almost forgot about 3D printing for a second.

Jacob Pat:
There you go. Isn’t it funny, because oh, it’s going to change the shopping experience, people are just not going to go to stores, they’re just going to print it at home, and that’s it. That’s not it. 3D printing has a ton of value in a lot of places, but one of the reasons why it hasn’t taken off yet, is the experience to get it done, how it works, all the pieces, it’s a lot more difficult than it has to be. People that do it, and do it often, they’re like, this is easy, but it’s not something that everyone can pick up.

Jacob Pat:
When you look at this, when I talk about experiences around the globe, I think it’s good to look around the globe, like places like Asia, and I would also say anywhere there are emerging markets, to see how they’re solving problems that may potentially be even applicable to us here. Because although we may not be in the same state of an emerging market in the Americas, there’s things that we can take from these emerging markets to better the experience, because, for them, they don’t have the luxury of some of a, let’s call it, experiences, that we have here on our side.

Julia Raymond:
Yes, and I love the examples you gave, and it’s definitely interesting when we talk on this macro level about the differences in retail across different areas of the world. It seems like you have a lot of experience there. I know we’re getting to the end of our chat, but I wanted to ask you about, you’re based in Canada, and you’re with Canada Goose for over six years, six and a half, I believe you said, and you lead the new innovative store that opened just a month or two ago in Toronto.

Jacob Pat:
Yeah, no, it was one of the last projects that I had started and handed off to another peer executive before I left in April, but the vision for it I think should be synonymous with really anyone else looking to create that next experience. The challenge was really to create a store, or more of an experience, that didn’t have inventory but allowed people to feel the brand. I think, for anyone that hasn’t had an opportunity to visit the Sherwig Garden store for Canada Goose, they hundred percent should. It really gives you a very different experience of what the art of the possible is.

Jacob Pat:
I worked with quite a few agencies back then to kind of get everything done. It’s interesting because regardless of how mature a brand or a product may be, it’s interesting to understand how different an experience can make that. One of the biggest things is when you make high-end parkas that are the best in the world, it’s very interesting to forget that that still has an experience around it. That experience is, especially for not everyone has the luxury of visiting the arctic, or going to some of the coldest places on earth.

Jacob Pat:
This store doesn’t take you to the absolute coldest places on earth, but it definitely gets you into a place that allows you to feel what that would feel like. I think, when you look at all this, ultimately, it’s really touching on one thing, which is experience. It’s people will become more connected to brands and services as people get more connected to the experiences that those brands and services entail.

Julia Raymond:
Absolutely. Jacob, thank you so much, Chief Information Officer of Champion Pet Foods. It was so great having you on the show, and hearing, I mean, I could talk to you all day long, and just pick your brain about all of the futurous things that we’ve been talking about today, so thank you so much.

Jacob Pat:
Thank you very much. It was a pleasure being on the show.