ABOUT TODAY’S GUEST | KYLE LOPES
Kyle Lopes had already achieved unprecedented success in the Cutco/Vector sales organization by becoming the first college student to reach $1 million in personal sales and get inducted into the company’s Hall of Fame. But he took that success to an even higher level this past Summer. Upon his graduation from Columbia University, Kyle became a Branch Manager with Vector, responsible for the Marin County market in the San Francisco Bay Area. In a field of over 300 Branch Managers nationwide, Kyle finished the Summer #1 in the company and annihilated the previous record for 1st-time Branch Managers, with over $600,000 in Summer sales. Kyle has now been promoted to District Manager in the San Francisco market, and looks forward to building on his legacy with Cutco/Vector.
Q&A WITH KYLE LOPES
Q: Let’s get a short history of your path in the business
- I started in 2012, in San Jose.
- You (Dan Casetta) were my trainer and manager when I started.
- I was not a good rep by any means. I wasn’t very professional and not very polished and didn’t know exactly what I was doing. This was my first true professional experience, my first real job out of school.
- I really struggled that first summer and actually for the first couple of summers, just trying to figure out what I was doing here.
- I did Cutco part-time to pay the bills while playing semi-pro hockey, and had to start from scratch in 5 different states without really knowing anybody in those states. Just developing leads, connections and customers.
- After 3 years of playing hockey, I went to a community college in San Jose (West Valley College), and became a Cutco sales professional. I sold Cutco full-time around school.
- In 2016, I was able to break the all-time record for sales by a student. I did a bit over $267,000 that year. Also, I won the Silver Cup for that year by becoming the first full-time student to be the top sales professional in my category.
- In the following year, I was able to sell $272,000 while working about 40% less. Trying to find a work-life balance was really important to me. I was able to transfer to Columbia in 2018. In the summer of 2019, before finishing my senior year, I was able to get into the Cutco/Vector Hall of Fame, which I was extremely proud of.
Q: Let’s take it forward to 2020, and you’re at Columbia. The pandemic begins 2 months or more before you graduated. You’re finishing up school virtually, but you are in New York City, the hotbed of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, considering what to do once you graduated. What went into your decision to be a branch manager?
- I think there are a lot of different things that played a factor in my decision.
- I had always wanted to be a branch manager, but the timing was never good.
- I recognized the opportunity but I didn’t have a chance to really actively prepare for the position. When I was in the stage of my life where I was able to prepare, I was living in San Jose going to community college, and I had felt I’d progressed so far within the personal sales arena in Cutco that the financial opportunity cost of taking a summer running a branch was too high for me to be comfortable with. But the itch was always there
- So, I was trying to navigate remote learning in the epicenter of the pandemic in March and April. My division manager, Dave Powders, talked to me about an opportunity to run a virtual branch office.
- At the moment, I was wracked with fear. I hadn’t been in management for 5 years, when I was an assistant manager for a little while. I was very out of tune with all the systems and programs you needed to have in place to be a successful manager.
- I didn’t have a staff. I was on the other side of the country. I was trying to buckle down final projects, papers, and exams in order to graduate with honors. As a 2nd semester senior, a lot of coming of age / rites of passage events I’d eagerly been anticipating for the last couple of years were also cancelled.
- Those were all limiting beliefs I had in regards to branching. I really didn’t feel like it was a good time. I also had spent time interviewing at other companies and going through the interview process, being extended multiple offers. I felt I’d really put myself in a great position of choice.
- I had a million reasons why now wasn’t the right time to branch. Yet, when weighing my different options, I was seeing the way the landscape was going to be changed by the pandemic, moving into the upcoming summer. It was important for me to take a step back and put aside preconceived notions about the branch opportunity.
- I asked myself, this branch opportunity is something you’ve wanted to do for a long time, if not now, when? That’s why I decided to jump in.
Q: Tell us about how things started. I want to know what it’s like being in New York City and beginning to recruit and train reps in California. What was the process was like building it?
- The first thing about it was it was daunting.
- A lot of other people had spent so much time preparing for this position. They had months to think about it and get excited and motivated.
- For me, it was very dejecting at first. I was excited to take the opportunity, but I also felt I was so far behind. What I realized in that moment was in order to run a successful organization, I needed to identify what things in today’s world, with the workforce that was going to be comprised of mostly 18 to 21 year-olds, what areas was I going to need to develop.
- The first thing, being in New York, was just sitting down and writing the various factors that contributed to a real good organization, a real good startup, which is really what this is. That was important for me to gain the game plan.
- I realized there’s a need for unwavering leadership during this time. There was a lot of doubts, fear, misinformation and conjecture. I realized this was going to be an opportunity for me to be a rock for a lot of young people, searching for this stability.
- I also realized I needed staff I could lean on. The various accolades I received through sales were typically me. I couldn’t run an office with just me. I needed to have people I could rely on. I knew I wouldn’t be able to fully maximize potential if I was going to be alone.
- I wasn’t afraid to invest big dollars in our staff too. I knew if they felt they were being fairly compensated, they’d be more committed to our ultimate objectives.
- Another thing I considered was vision. I wanted to come up with a vision the people could rally behind and support, something I could leverage to motivate and inspire my staff.
- I also wanted to create culture. I realized there was going to be a desire, a need for interconnectedness during the pandemic. Was there an opportunity for me to leverage this business to help drive recruiting, create a space where people were excited to be a part of? So, how was I going about creating this during virtual time, thousands of miles from my team?
- I wanted people to seize the income opportunity because if they did it early on, they’re going to trust the program and trust me as a byproduct of that.
- With all that in mind, I wanted 2 main things personally.
- First, I wanted to have a right mindset. I was going to approach things with the same fervor startup founders have when they create a company from scratch. That willingness to sacrifice their personal lives. Their vision is so much greater than the instant gratification of going out that night.
- I decided from the get-go, if I’m going to branch, I’m going to do this 100%. I told Dave (Powders), I want you to treat me like a district manager. Like a fulltime year-round manager because I’m going to outwork everyone else because I was already far behind and that’s what people do with startups.
- Second, I wanted to make sure we had a foundation that was based on the idea of stakeholder capitalism instead of shareholder capitalism. What I mean by that is putting people first, making people feel like there’s a sense of greater purpose, especially in territories as affluent as I was going to be in, where many of the young people grew up with extraordinary privilege and didn’t actually need the summer money.
- In recognition of all that, it was important for me to create a staff. I reached out to a few friends I’d made working here.We got Josh Sullivan, Avery Aylsworth, and Cali Lott on board as Assistant Managers.
Q: Tell us about the first few weeks when you started building the team, recruiting and training.
- The first 2 weeks were really slow.
- I sucked at running interviews. I was terrible at helping run training. There was so much I didn’t know and much that I didn’t know I didn’t know. It was frustrating at the beginning. It was really humbling and further emphasized the importance of continuing to reach out to people. Trying to speed up my learning curve as quickly as possible. It opened up my vision of what was possible.
- It was easy to get dejected, but we started to get some people in the door, and my little brother Eric was our first rep. He’d being talking of selling Cutco for the last 8 years.
- We had success right away. One of my friends from Columbia, Dennis Franklin, was from the Bay Area and he started working with us. We used that momentum, that success, to inspire other people to join the team.
Q: When did you realize you had a real chance to be able to compete at the highest level?
- I think, it was at the end of June.
- When I started here, I was skeptical my office was going to be real good. I was put in an area that’s historically considered to be a low recruiting area. Therefore, not the greatest territory to be a manager.
- I didn’t have high expectations. My goal was do $125,000 in sales this summer, and I’ll be a happy camper. When we started seeing some early success, I was like hey, we can get lucky and do $200,000 or maybe $300,000 if we’re super lucky.
- It wasn’t until mid June when our office was at about $110,000 in sales that I took a look at the national standings. I knew Lydia Frentsos was killing it, I knew Alejandra Carrasco was killing it and some managers from the East Coast were crushing it. I saw Lydia’s office was $125,000 ahead of us. I made a note on my phone titled “Cutting The Deficit.”
- Every week, I shared where we stood with the staff. I projected our weekly and long-term goals. I tried to inspire them, motivate people to put their heads down through the vision.
- By the end of June, we were $122,000 behind. Then we started to make up some room in July and that’s where our team started to take off. After the 2nd week, we were $60,000 behind. At the end of that week we’d closed the gap to about $30,500. It was at that moment our focus turned to “Holy Moly! We might be able to do this thing!” that was a really liberating belief. It really shattered the mental ceiling we had as far as our potential.
- In July, we had a push period for the entire Western Region, we ended up beating all of the offices in our region including year-round district offices. In August, I was like, guys, we’ve got 5 weeks here! Let’s see what we can do.
- We ended up breaking the all-time record for branch offices and sold ¼ of a million dollars in sales in August. We finished the summer with 15 reps over $10,000 in sales and only 2 were over $16,000 and the highest was $32,000!
- It was a total team effort through every single week.
Q: Do you have anything else to share about how you communicated your vision with your people?
- I truly believe at the core level, tomorrow’s leaders are going to need to be excellent promoters. They need to realize that the sum of the parts in the organization equal more than the whole.
- They first need to help people set individual goals in their organizations and identify personal long term goals.
- Once there, they need to help them break down in order for people to create weekly and daily kind of action. People need to see their big goals broken down to bite-sized pieces because it’s too hard to conceptualize and motivate people with something they feel is impossible.
- When you have broken it down, they can attack each week, each day with singular focus. Often times, they will surpass even the largest goals, and in the process, they break through their personal sales because they’ve achieved something bigger than they’d thought possible.
- Another way we communicated vision with our people was through recognition. We publicly recognized and promoted people doing a great job. I wanted my people to hear me all the time praising them every time they did something right and encouraging them to keep up the good work.
- I wanted, at the same time, to hold people accountable. So, I’d constantly remind people through check-ins where they stood in relation to where they wanted to be. I wanted to make sure people felt supported if they fell behind, they didn’t get discouraged or dejected.
- Lastly was setting expectations early on that everyone was going to be part of a winner.You’re going to be part of a winner. You count, you matter, you’re integral to our success. This is a lot bigger than you.
Q: What were some of the moments that stand out for you that summer?
- I remember at the beginning of the summer, I hopped on to field training appointments with one of my new reps, Elesha Pimentel. It was about 11pm my time, and she’d just started off. She was on day 5, she was like $3,000 in sales which was definitely good.
- We were dealing with these customers that were just regular people, she was just incredible. She did a great job as a brand-new rep on our team.
- A little past 12:30am my time, we finished working together and got a Cutco kitchen order of a little over $7700. Alicia made $1,300 in one single appointment and that was a major confidence booster and it carried her to further success. Now she’s our lead assistant manager in charge of our team and she’s actually running her first interview and she wants to run her own office in the future.
- Every week until the end of August, we’d sit there and be incredulous of what we’d just accomplished. It was fun to see our faces, how excited we were, how fired up we got.
- For me, it was that that filled my cup again and made me excited to do it another week. I just love knowing we were in the middle of something magical.
- The last memory would be that of my little brother Eric. He had an appointment he struggled. His confidence was very low. Ultimately, he met with the customer and sold his first ultimate set and the sale was a little over $3,000 and was our 2nd largest order behind Elesha’s order. It made me feel, I just had tears in my eyes.
Q: You talked about Elesha and about Eric, the people who made the summer amazing. Do you have other people that stand out?
- So, many people achieved a high level at a short time. We also had great conversations which are seared in my memory.
- One was Emily Singerman, it was her 2nd day of training before she started. She texted me and was like Kyle, I can’t do this. this isn’t for me. I’m too shy. I’m introverted.
- I was on the phone with her for 35 minutes. Just talking to her like hey, you feel uncomfortable, you feel this isn’t for you. You’re nervous, scared and anxious. All of those feelings are totally normal, and I felt exactly like that when I was in your shoes. Almost everybody in this training class and those who work with us have the same feelings. Because you feel like that is exactly why you should do this. You should give it a try.
- A couple of days in, she was like Kyle, I’m liking this job. It’s actually really cool!
- By the end of the summer, she was one of our top reps and sold $16,000. More than income, she gained great skills and self-confidence. She told me this is the best thing I’ve ever done!
Q: I’m interested in hearing about you. What qualities do you feel brought you, as a leader, such success in this organization?
- There are a lot of different traits that I bring to the table that can help our organization. But the one thing I do really well and what I try to do well every day is just care.
- There exists in both society and business, something that I call a purpose gap. McKinzie did a study on this and found out 72% of employees say their purpose should have more weight than profit. Only 42% of employees say their company’s purpose has an impact.
- There’s no alignment in companies between the fact they need to have more purpose in society and not achieving it. The only way to drive that purpose gap is to embed as a leader, your reflections, your explorations, have discussions.
- The first thing, I wanted to do as a leader, was to be real with people. Let them know I cared and wanted to build a baseline for their expectations of me as a leader. I wanted them to know they could hold me to the highest standards.
- I’m not going to be a one-week streak. I told all my people from the get-go, they were supported and I was along with them in every step of the way. I encouraged them and gave them permission to pester me.
- As a result, my people felt supported because they know I care.
Q: What are you most excited about the future?
- I was promoted to be a district manager and took over the San Francisco area as well.
- Hopefully, I’ll expand my influence and make an impact on even more people.
- I’m excited moving into fall and spring. Moving into the future to see people on my team grow as individuals, developing their confidence and in the process, liberate and inspire others.
- I’m also excited about continuing to grow myself as a person, as a leader, as a motivator and hopefully to use the experiences of being a district manager at a higher level.
- What you just heard was a clinic on starting up an operation and building it from scratch.
- Leaning into the challenge instead of stepping back. Approaching your business with fervor.
- Being willing to work as hard as you can as you’re getting something started.
- Building a staff and getting the right people on the bus. That’s an important key in establishing a new business.
- Communicating your vision for the team. What’s it going to mean for each individual and how they will fit. Being raw about expectations you have for your people.
- Working with your people like Kyle did. Help manage their emotions, help them to continue moving forward, overcoming obstacles so they can achieve the success they want. Giving them permission to ask for help, to open up dialogue with anyone on the team. Bringing a high level of leadership qualities of care to the team. That’s what it takes to build a great team!
Show notes for this episode provided by Brian Njenga.
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