“One of the things I’m most proud of during
President & Chief Member Advocate | Nationwide Marketing Group
Champion of the Independent Retailer
If you’ve had the pleasure of attending one of Nationwide’s PrimeTime events, you’ve undoubtedly been introduced to Tom Hickman. And even if you weren’t formally introduced, you have most certainly seen Tom at the event – it’s unavoidable, as the man is everywhere. Whether delivering a keynote, heading up a session, or on the show floor taking with retailers, Hickman has been doing it all for Nationwide since 2012.
In short, Leo Durocher was wrong. Simply stated, this is a nice guy who has clearly finished first. Hickman explains that his beginnings in retail were spent helping out in any way he could in his step-parents’ family-owned appliance stores in Florida in the ’80s.
“I worked at one of the stores after school and on the weekends. I started out sweeping the warehouse, baling cardboard and unloading trucks. After several years, I moved on to driving a truck and delivering appliances. It was a great introduction to the world of independent retail,” he recalls.
Hickman adds an all-too-familiar tale regarding the business that directly connects him to his present role at Nationwide.
“My family’s business went out of business in 1991. Part of that was due to the big-box stores that opened up down the street from us. But another factor, I think, is that we weren’t a member of a buying group,” he explains. “And maybe if we had been, we would have fared better. So, my passion for independent retailers and the value that buying groups like Nationwide Marketing Group bring to the channel, that’s real. It’s earned. And it’s why I wake up and do what I do every single day.”
Hickman later moved to Miami and began working for BrandsMart USA where, as a retail salesperson, he sold computers and televisions, eventually working his way up the ladder to a manager position.
“After a few years, I had the opportunity to join Toshiba, a global leader in electronics. I started out as a trainer and then moved up to become a key account manager for the Southeast, Latin America and the Caribbean,” he explains. “Over time, I led the Toshiba business for key national accounts, including Best Buy, Target, Costco and Amazon, and then also started to call on buying groups, including Nationwide.”
This was Hickman’s initial introduction to the two men who would become mentors for him and who ultimately brought him into the Nationwide family – Robert Weisner and Les Kirk.
“Over the years, I attended PrimeTime as a vendor, spoke to members, worked the trade show floor, and I became pretty close to Robert and Les,” he said. “And while I was very happy at Toshiba, when they asked me to come lead the consumer electronics business for Nationwide, it felt like I was coming home. And I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity.”
And Hickman most certainly has no regrets about that decision, as his time with Nationwide has been fruitful – for both his many accomplishments as well as the people he has had the pleasure to work with.
“One of the things I’m most proud of during my time at Nationwide is the team that we’ve built. I used to judge success based on whether we were top in sales, or if our company was performing really, really well, but now I think that whoever builds the best team wins,” he says. “And when I look around at the team of experts that we’ve assembled to support and fight for the independent retailer, I am in awe. And I can say with confidence that I’d much rather be known for being good at picking talent than any specific business metric. Because if you pick a quality team, the success that you’ve been searching for will naturally come out.”
Influenced by Many
When it comes to the people in the industry that have influenced him the most during his career, Hickman immediately admits he’s been most fortunate in that area.“I’ve been very lucky to have a number of mentors in the industry. Number one is Randy Johnson down at BrandsMart. He’s not just a really, really bright guy and an industry icon, but he’s also my grandfather. So, I’m very fortunate. Whenever I have a problem, he’s the one I talk to.”
Hickman adds, “I also had the benefit of meeting and getting to know Lee Guttman, one of the men who actually started Nationwide back in the 1970s. I was a pretty young guy when I was calling on Nationwide, so I didn’t know him super well. But he was very influential guy and did a lot for independent retailers.”
He also credits a few close friends at Nationwide, as well as a few mentors from earlier in his career.
“And then, of course, Robert Weisner and Les Kirk from Nationwide, and Jerry Satoren and Rick Calacci, who hired me at Toshiba. Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the guy I grew up with in this business, Chris Larson. Our two decades of friendship navigating this industry have been a blessing and a constant source of growth and insight,” he adds.
Putting Dealers First
When it comes to the best advice he’s ever been given, in a career as long and successful as Hickman’s, there’s been a bunch. However, one conversation stands out.
“Right after I’d joined Nationwide, I was in Les Kirk’s office one day, trying to figure something out. And I remember asking, ‘How does this work? How does that work?’ And I’ll never forget it. He said, ‘Here’s what you need to understand. If you take care of the membership, the rest of this business takes care of itself,’” he fondly recalls. “So, continuing to just keep the membership at the front and center of all the decisions that we make – that’s been my North Star. And that’s been pretty sage advice in growing this business to where it’s at today.”
In thinking about what his legacy in this space might be, Hickman first mentions his family, saying, “My incredible wife, two amazing daughters and the rest of my family that I’m pretty passionate about. Without their support, I wouldn’t be much of anywhere.”
Regarding his career legacy, it’s the charitable work that he’s most proud to have put his fingerprints on.
“A lot of people know about Nationwide’s work with No Child Hungry, and how our network has so far provided more than 1.3 million meals to feed hungry kids around the world, and that’s something I’ve very proud to be a part of,’” he says. “Because harnessing our 5,000-plus members and 14,000 stores for the sake of business is one thing. But harnessing those people and organizations for the sake of helping others in need, it’s incredible to watch.”
A Peek at the Future
As someone who literally grew up in the CE business, Hickman is well-positioned to discuss the future it is headed into.
“Technology is going to continue to be incredibly anchored in our lives for a long time. Look at our day-to-day lives. Without technology, we wouldn’t be teaching our kids, we wouldn’t be working effectively, we wouldn’t be having the same types of interactions that we currently have. So, I know it’s going to continue to play an even more important role, not just in business, but in our daily lives,” he says.
Hickman continues, “This is a boon for independent retailers. Look at what they’ve done to help people stay connected. When big-box stores shut down, independents continued to thrive and deliver and go inside people’s homes because people needed things.”