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July 18, 2022

Sonesh Shah of Dremel: How To Drive Growth, Create Community, and Develop a Future-Led Commerce Plan

Written by: Satta Sarmah Hightower
“[As a leader], you have to see what's coming around the corner … there's stuff you have to be aware of now because in the next three to four months — not [even] three to four years — these trends will start to take shape.”— Sonesh Shah, Global President of Dremel

In the three-plus years since the “Unpacking the Digital Shelf” podcast launched, the world has markedly changed for brands.

From the expanding digital shelf and ever-evolving consumer behavior to the rise of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and Web3, brands now operate in a landscape where the rules seemingly change every day. 

Sonesh Shah, global president of Dremel, a multinational tool brand and subsidiary of Bosch, has seen it all. Shah, who was the very first guest on “Unpacking the Digital Shelf” back in 2019, recently returned to the podcast to celebrate its 150th episode, “A FutureCast on D2C, Community, Web3, Leadership.”

During his latest appearance, Shah shared his insights on developing a future-led commerce plan, what he thinks is next for brands, and key lessons he’s learned about leadership — especially over the last two years.

Creating a Culture of Experimentation

Shah has spent the last decade of his career at Bosch, ascending the leadership ranks from an analyst to director of digital before assuming his most recent role as global president of Dremel in 2020.

When Shah first appeared on the podcast in 2019, he had the rare distinction of likely being one of the few ecommerce leaders who was in charge of both digital and brand marketing. 

That experience undoubtedly served him well during the pandemic, when most brands were forced to adapt their usual commerce plans and work across silos to improve performance and meet customers’ needs.

Shah says one of the things that has driven his success — and success for Bosch — is that the company has created a culture of experimentation. 

Bosch designs itself around four key elements: 

  • Volatility;
  • Uncertainty; 
  • Complexity; and 
  • Ambiguity.

“The question was, how do we manage in that world?” Shah says. “So, organizationally, in the past we've been very top down. We've been extremely planning-driven and we've really transformed around that, around smaller iterations of everything we do.”

The Benefits of Embracing Experimentation 

Agility has become a core competency of the business, Shah says, adding that embracing experimentation has allowed Bosch to:

  • Foster more transparency within its organization; 
  • Enable leaders to be more open with their teams when things aren’t going well; and 
  • Effectively navigate change

All of this improves execution and drives better performance. 

“I promise you, being in this company and watching it transform has changed our opinion of how we work and how we deal with each other. And it has helped us tremendously in these last few years,” Shah says. 

Preparing for What Comes Next

Bosch is a very forward-looking and forward-thinking company, attributes Shah also brings to his leadership role at Dremel. 

One of the trends reshaping Dremel’s business is the huge shift toward a younger do-it-yourself (DIY) generation. The pandemic has accelerated this trend, causing Dremel to increase its focus on digitally oriented millennial and Generation Z users. 

Shah says the company sees a once-in-a-generation opportunity to remake the DIY and home improvement market and better serve these consumers — a segment Dremel refers to as “the new DIY.” 

Catering to the New DIYers

YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok are currently the go-to channels for this demographic, as they use these social platforms to learn how to do home improvement tasks like replacing a bathroom vanity, hanging floating shelves, or putting up drywall. 

Dremel sees an opportunity to build digital services for these DIYers to help them navigate their projects. 

“Every reason why someone goes to YouTube as a DIYer, we think could be a service in itself,” Shah says, giving the example of connecting DIYers with pros who can help them troubleshoot issues in real-time or a community of like-minded people who can answer their DIY questions. 

Cultivating a Sense of Community 

“I think, on a broader scale, community will be the buzzword for these next seven to 10 years.” — Sonesh Shah, Global President of Dremel 

 

Creating a sense of community will be key for brands to deliver better digital experiences, optimize their commerce plans, and achieve ecommerce success, Shah says. 

Brands have typically focused on audience — a term that feels very transactional. However, placing a greater emphasis on community can help brands cultivate deeper, more impactful customer relationships.

“We've changed that vernacular to ‘community’ for a reason. Because this idea that it's not just us telling everyone something, but rather that they can do things without us is really an important element,” Shah says, adding that community is probably “one of the most untapped, yet powerful forces in commerce moving forward.”

How To Cultivate a Sense of Community

Dremel is focused on defining what community means to its own brand and how to expand its relationships with customers. 

Shah says there are so many opportunities for the company to engage customers related to product development and product insights — as well as opportunities for Dremel to help customers monetize their DIY skills, since many creatives use the company’s products.

This is where the rise of digital assets like NFTs and decentralized architectures like Web 3.0 may serve Dremel and other forward-looking brands well.

How NFTs and Web3 Will Reshape Future Commerce Plans

Community and digital assets will be deeply intertwined for many brands going forward, according to Shah. “Just about every single digital asset out there involves a deeper level of community than many people realize,” he says. 

As brands sell more digital products along with physical goods, the balance of their portfolios also will begin to shift, with digital consuming a larger share. 

“That's a really interesting way to start thinking about your general assortment questions or your general, ‘How do I increase profitability, or how do I increase sales, or what new markets can I enter?’” Shah says. 

NFTs in Practice

Some brands are already starting to ponder these questions and jump into the NFT arena. Acura, for example, relaunched its Integra model and offered an Integra NFT to the first 500 people who pre-ordered the vehicle. The carmaker has also created an immersive virtual showroom within the metaverse to complement the offering. 

Other companies, like the clothing brand The Hundreds, have used NFTs to create a sense of community arounds their products. The brand created 25,000 unique NFTs and launched a private community where customers had to purchase an NFT to receive exclusive access to upcoming products. 

As NFTs increase in popularity and the internet becomes more decentralized, we may see more brands transforming traditionally physical and tactile buying experiences into immersive digital experiences that open them up to new customers and help them boost engagement and profits.

What Leadership Means Today

Many of Shah’s insights have been shaped by his years of experience at Bosch, but they’ve also been forged by his leadership experience during one of the most trying and unprecedented times for the retail industry. 

Shah says he sees leadership in a much different way than he did just a few years ago. He’s realized that “you can't lead others unless you are right yourself.” To put it simply, leadership isn’t just about Xs and Os, but about something far more existential. 

Over the last two years, nearly every leader and their team has experienced the stress of a constantly changing business environment and the convergence of work life and home life, which has placed a greater emphasis on employee mental health.

Managing an enterprise in this ever-changing environment has built fortitude and resilience for many leaders, including Shah. It’s also imbued him with a new perspective on how to effectively lead through change, which might just serve as a lesson for other ecommerce leaders.

“I never, ever thought that a core part of my ability to lead outside is for me to lead myself inside,” Shah says. “That seems quite obvious, but that's been a massive aha moment for me.”

For more of Sonesh Shah’s insights on leadership, innovation, and creating community, check out this episode of “Unpacking the Digital Shelf.” 

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