It would be fair to call Chip LaCorte somewhat of a road warrior. After all, he racks up about 3,000 miles each month traveling between AT&T stores in the Georgia cities of Columbus, Macon, Warner Robins, Albany and Milledgeville.
Such is the life of an area retail sales manager of a company fast growing its Georgia footprint, adding 4G LTE in the Columbus market within the last month, with an eye toward even more expansion in the middle and southern portions of the state.
LaCorte, 33, a New Jersey native, gave up the coastal amenities offered by Charleston, S.C., to relocate to this area several weeks ago. Aside from a career opportunity, the move to Columbus puts his wife closer to family in Montgomery, Ala.
AT&T's acquisition several months ago of the former Alltel cellular service area and equipment puts LaCorte in position to manage seven stores, about 70 sales representatives and 16 managers. And he expects those numbers will grow.
"I kind of call myself the errand boy. I'm a servant leader. Whatever my team needs, I'm going to do for them to be successful," he said of his management responsibilities during a recent interview at AT&T's Columbus store on Macon Road.
The Ledger-Enquirer talked with the College of Charleston graduate about his job, expectations with new waves of technology, and the type of people he finds are perfect fits for helping a customer figure out their high-tech needs. This interview is edited a bit for length and clarity, with an expanded version at www.ledger-enquirer.com.
First off, do you really need to travel that much or can you check in with your stores and staff remotely?
I do a lot of remote visits. I do Facetime and video chat visits.
What are Facetime visits?
I use my iPad and it's actually a video chat. I'll chat on the video and have them walk me around the store and everything.
But is it important to be there, literally, in the flesh at times?
There's a lot of important aspects to being a leader, and one of the most important is trust. It's very hard to build trust without being there once a month and actually feeling that vibe. Without that touch and without that personalization, you're not going to be a true leader. I want my guys to grow and learn something and develop every day.
Not only that, when you're doing a virtual visit, a lot of the times it's just one on one, maybe the store manager or an assistant manager, whereas the sales reps out there are part of my family, too. So I need those relationships just as much for us to be successful, so that every time someone walks in that door, it's a memorable experience for them. I want extraordinary every time that somebody walks into my stores.
As a manager, do you get to interact with customers much?
I do it all the time. I enjoy it. When I do a store, 80 percent of my time is on the sales floor. If I need to be in the back, then why am I in the store? I can do that from my home or office.
As a manager, are you concentrating on sales or other things?
No. 1 is the customer experience, that we're delivering an extraordinary experience every time to every customer that walks in our door, that the person that comes in walks out with exactly what they need, and what makes their life better.
Because a lot of times they don't know what they need?
Most of the time people don't have any sort of knowledge of what exactly they need to make their life better in that aspect. So the No. 1 duty I have is to develop and grow people who can deliver that experience every time to everyone. And, obviously, we have a multi-million-dollar business that we run. It's amazing, when you see the value of each store, and if it was a standalone business, and then what the value of my area would be. There's a lot on our plate for that. It's stressful at times, yes, but other times it's really rewarding.
Do you even think about the competition? T-Mobile's CEO takes verbal jabs at you guys quite a bit. And, of course, Verizon is a big dog out there. Do you pay attention to them?
Obviously, we need to know what they're doing. That's important. No matter what business you are in, you have to know what your competition is doing (in your specific market). And most of the time for us it's going to be a nationwide thing. It's not going to change too much.
But I need to know who my competition is, yes. I need to have the knowledge, because I need to be able to speak to the points of what they do better, what we can do better, and why AT&T is a better selection for your family.
Is being a wireless store manager different from being a retail store manager?
I never worked retail, except when I was in high school. I sold real estate after college and was in real estate for almost seven years until I went to work for AT&T.
I think the biggest thing that people don't realize about what we do on a day-to-day basis, is it's not your everyday high school retail employee that's working in our stores. The majority of my sales reps have four-year degrees. Managers have four- to six-year degrees. And there's a lot of people who are highly educated, highly trained. And we take a lot of pride in what we do.
So it's being able to deliver that experience and being able to understand the technology ... like why does LTE give you 30 megabits per second, and what does that mean to the everyday mom who just wants her phone to go faster. How do you describe what we're actually doing? We've got to do that in layman terms.
As a manager, you've got to gauge talent. Is that a tough job?
I think it's extremely difficult. But I don't think it's necessarily just about gauging talent. I talk a lot about skill versus will. I don't need someone who has a ton of skill. If you have all of the will in the world, I'll teach you, and I'll put in the right situations with the right people who will teach you if I can't.
It's a lot easier, if you start breaking it down to find out, OK, who's willing to learn, not those who are the best.
Is it difficult to find those who are wiling to learn, with the economy coming out of the downtown. Where are we on that?
I wouldn't say it's difficult, because a lot of the times we don't hire those that have a cell-phone background. The majority of people I hire don't actually have a background in retail at all.
A lot of them came from what I did all through college, which is where I would prefer someone to come from, and that's food and beverage. That's because you're used to talking to anyone and everyone. You're used to delivering a great experience and working for $2.10 an hour and getting paid tips. And you know the importance of delivering a great experience.
Are smartphones the game-changer now, with their hand-held mobility, followed by tablets?
You know what. I don't even look at them as phones, tablets or anything. I look at what we have out on our sales floor as a lifestyle. It's whatever fits your lifestyle the best. ...
For me, my son's 4 and half years old. I hear about all of these 4 and 5 year olds that have phones. My son? No need for a phone at all. Give him his iPad with the LTE connection so he can watch Netflix and he can Facetime and see his grandparents all the time. He knows how to download apps and things like that, and that's his lifestyle. We also have little watches for Amber alerts, so if we can't find him, we can pull the GPS and find him right away. ...
So I look at it as the more products that we add and the more options we have, once we start asking questions to uncover someone's needs, then the better solution we have to give them.
What's the most difficult or challenging part of your job? Or is it easy?
It's not easy. There's nothing that I do that's easy. But I love it. So it's unfair to say there's a part of it that's the hardest part. My family's made a lot of sacrifice to be here. We gave up Charleston, S.C. We gave up one of the biggest destinations in the country to help further my career because of a great opportunity to kind of be in the spotlight and to shine ... But I love every single thing that I do.
What's the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Seeing the development of my people. I've had a lot of people over my six years with the company promoted and developed and grow, not just professionally, but personally as well.
And it's really figuring out what they want to do and seeing their success. There's nothing more rewarding in this world than seeing someone who works for you or who is in your organization be developed.
Finally, what are the traits or skills needed to be an effective manager?
You've got to be a leader ... You've got to know how to build relationships. You've got to be able to build that trust. And you've got to enjoy doing it. It's got to be heartfelt. You can't fake that part of who you are. You've got to truly care about your team, and you've got to show them you care ... I think that's by far the most important thing.
The bottom line is you can't do it alone?
Yeah. I can't be in seven places throughout middle and south Georgia at once. I can't be there from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. I have to trust my people as well. If they trust me, I'm leading us in the right direction.