Culture, Comms & Cocktails with Jeremy Ball from Big Lots

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Please Note: SocialChorus and Dynamic Signal merged in 2021 to form Firstup, creating the most innovative and customer-focused provider of digital employee experience cloud-based software.

On this episode of Culture, Comms & Cocktails, Chuck Gose, Head of Community and Industry Insights Firstup, is joined by Jeremy Ball, who has earned the title of VP of Internal Comms, Philanthropy and Events at Big Lots. They talk about how the communications team rose to the challenge of keeping Big Lots employees in the loop through the pandemic; how they are encouraging good mental health and how they connect their people to their strategy. 

“Our entire work comes down to sharing the strategy of the company and helping people see themselves in that strategy.”

Jeremy Ball

Jeremy shares his experience of moving to two-way, digital communications. He credits his leaders for embracing their role as content creators and he highlights how employee ‘super users’ can shape the conversation about topics like diversity, equality and inclusion.

“The old way of communicating was just to put up a poster, share a flyer, send a message, post something on the internet and just share it. And we know that that’s not how people consume information these days, right? It’s now done in shorter clips of time. It’s done in smaller bites of information. People want to like, and comment and love and forward and tag someone to say, Hey, did you see this? And so the value of that human nature is really what we’ve harnessed”

Jeremy Ball

Featured in this episode:

  • Find out what makes the communications team at Big Lots so effective.
  • Get some insight into how employees across multiple Big Lots locations and roles are kept informed, inspired and involved.
  • Learn from Jeremy’s description of how content, comments and interaction from leaders and employees is encouraged on their new digital employee experience platform.
  • Pick up some tips on how your employees can help your organization with their recruitment needs.
  • Be inspired by the impressive philanthropic achievements the Big Lots team have made for children’s charities. 

Culture, Comms and Cocktails Episode 52 Transcript

Chuck Gose: Hello Everyone. This is Culture, Comms & Cocktails. The podcast with internal comms served straight up. I’m your host, Chuck Gose, Strategy Director at SocialChorus. And on this episode of Culture Comms & Cocktails we have Jeremy Ball, VP of Internal Comms, Philanthropy and Events at Big Lots. Welcome to the podcast, Jeremy.

Jeremy Ball: Chuck, it’s good to be with you. Thank you so much. I want to tell you that I got your coffee mug of Culture, Comms & Cocktails here, but I do want to tell you it’s Culture, Comms & Cocktails. It doesn’t say coffee. So I am prepared with a bottle of champagne, so, for cocktails.

Chuck Gose: Way to stay on brand. But that is a bit of a lengthy title you have Jeremy,. Did I miss anything in that, comms, philanthropy and events?

Jeremy Ball: You know what? They keep me busy and that’s a good thing. They keep me busy.

Chuck Gose: Usually the first question I’m gonna talk about, I save till the end, but it was very timely because we were just all on a call together. And I had mentioned to you specifically how much fun it’s been the last, I think six, seven, eight months. However long it’s been working with you and the team there at Big Lots. Here’s your chance, Jeremy, to brag about the team you work with and also how that all plays into the culture at Big Lots.

Jeremy Ball: Okay, great. You know what? I love this team. We are a small team. We are scrappy. Look, we’re a discount retailer, right? So we know how to get things done on a budget. 

This team works hard, but I think what it is, is this team really respects and trusts each other. And with that, as the foundation, as people and professionals, you can achieve a lot of things. So we also have a ton of fun at work. We’re always laughing. And because we respect each other and we trust each other, you can do more of that. So it’s been fun. This team works hard. 

There are folks who come to the table with experience in this world and in this field and there, the others have very little. And so it’s been fun to teach and train and learn from each other.

Jeremy Ball: But you know, this is kind of who we are. You know, we’re a discount retailer. We talk about our mission is to help people live big and save lots. We like to use the phrase that ‘Big Lots helps you make the dollar holler!’ which is this idea of how do you stretch the dollar to make it go farther? 

And so our customers, we refer to as ‘Bigionaires’. And Bigionaires, it’s this feeling of when you shop for something at Big Lots, you’re sure to be wowed by the surprise and delight and the finds that you come across. 

So, you know, we just have this playfulness built into who we are, and no doubt that extends to my team. It’s Marcus, Joey, Katie. And just recently, we had a Mary Whitney. So excited to bring her into the fold and get her into this. And she’s got a background in comms too. So how exciting is that?

Chuck Gose: All of what you’ve shared comes through, and now that I hear this and ‘make the dollar holler!’, that’s going to be stuck in my head for a while, Jeremy.

Jeremy Ball: Credit to our CEO, Bruce Thorn. That was his phrase that he brought in. In fact, he had shopped at Big Lots as a kid and his Mom, and he grew up in Ohio and his Mom’s favorite store was Big Lots, no lie. And so he relates the story that when you took the job, his Mom basically said, don’t mess this up. And so he talks about how really, you know, when she would want to entertain or impress or invite the neighborhood kids over Big Lots was the place that could make that happen for their family. So he talks about, you know, Big Lots have made the dollar holler for him. That was their ability to stretch the dollar and make it go farther. So we’re proud of that.

Chuck Gose: That’s awesome. I want to transition a bit. We’re in a pandemic. We’ve been in a pandemic now for a long time. Let’s go back to 2020 when this all started. And you’ve had employees on the front lines, maybe not getting the attention a lot of times, that healthcare does. Because everybody should get attention, when they’ve gone to work like this. 

What sort of Herculean effort did it take to keep employees safe along with helping employees keep customers safe? And now with this Delta variant raging, are you battling a bit of fatigue with some employees when it comes to this?

Jeremy Ball: Great question, Chuck. First, let me just say we have the absolute best team in retail. And I don’t just mean that from a customer service standpoint, but I also mean that from a compassion standpoint. Our associates, you know, it’s not uncommon as we visit stores around the country to see our associates hugging their customers. Many of them know them by name. They have their favorites and their regulars, and those folks are coming into Big Lots and relying on Big Lots to help them, you know, as we said, make the dollar holler. 

But our associates have been just courageous, patient, forgiving. I think what makes our associates great is that we had to make a big pivot when all of this happened much like everyone has, right. But we’ve never really navigated this before and in our lifetime. And so, whoever thought we would live through something like this present day?

We immediately moved, of course, to establish health and safety guidelines that pertain specifically to this situation.

So almost overnight, we of course put practical protocols into place about social distancing and wearing masks and intensive cleaning so that we would protect both our associates and our customers. But then we took it a step farther. You know, we accelerated our BOPUS program, which is ‘buy online pickup in store’. And within three days, the entire country had that functionality turned on so that you could buy it online and then just go in and pick that up and make a quick visit. 

And then on top of that, we instituted in that same two to three, curbside pickup so that you could just roll up to the store and call in and say, Hey, I’m outside. And we, of course, would bring that to you. 

And beyond that, we made a really thoughtful effort around prioritizing mental health. And so what we wanted to do was make sure that we talked to our associates about, you know, what you’re experiencing and how do you process that this has been challenging.

It’s been a weird period of time. It’s been hard, no matter who you are. And I know that this affects everyone in different ways, but we really tried to make sure that we cared about the whole person and making sure that we talked about mental health, taking care of your mental health. We share tips for practicing good mental health. We talked about practicing gratitude and finding things to be thankful for, even in the midst of all of this, because gratitude is a great way to practice good mental health. 

So we made sure that there were resources that were available for anybody who might be struggling. And basically we just said, look, it’s okay to not be okay. And it’s okay to say I’m nervous or I’m scared, or I don’t know how to navigate this, or there’s been a significant change in my family in an employment situation, or, you know, parents suddenly schooling their children at home.

And if you have one, two, three, four, five, six kids, whatever, the number presented a whole new set of challenges. And so we just tried to provide the best support that we could in a number of different ways. 

You know, we look at three sort of key groups within our family and the Big Lots family. So we’ve got store associates, we’ve got folks who work in our distribution centers and folks who work in our corporate office. And so it was understanding what are the nuances of each of those and how do we provide support? 

So we definitely moved quickly to make sure that we provided for their safety, but we also made sure that mental health was a part of that discussion. And, my challenge to the companies would be to make sure you center mental health, talk about it. You know, we’ve got to break stigmas around mental health and not talking about those things that might be affecting our mind, which affect our heart and the way that we feel in the way that we act.

Chuck Gose: Yeah. When we, our two companies started working together, I’d realized that it had been a while since I’d stepped inside of a Big Lots. So my partner and I went. And in a weird way I felt like I was secret shopping, but I wasn’t secret shopping. But I saw the comradery amongst the team members there in the store. 

First off, Big Lots has everything. That’s what my wife might say about it. But secondly, they also have a lot of team comradery. And I saw the conversations with regulars that you talked about. So even in the pandemic, I saw that coming through in that store environment. 

So I can only imagine then what it’s like when customers can go back to hugging those regulars and even each other in the store. So that was great to see. 

So now if you haven’t gotten the Big Lots in a while, go check out Big Lots in your city and your neighborhood.

Jeremy Ball: Now is your chance, make your dollar holler!

Chuck Gose: Make your dollar holler! Let’s transition to communications now, Jeremy. 

Let’s talk about prior to this year. How did Big Lots communicate with employees and keep them in the loop, knowing that, you know, a lot of these employees aren’t tied to corporate. As you said, you’ve got some retail, you’ve got some distribution center, you’ve got corporate employees there. How did you keep them in the loop? How did you keep them informed?

Jeremy Ball: Sure. Well, first off we just utilized the existing infrastructure of what we had, right? So we’ve got your traditional email, but even email has limitations, right? It’s a one-way sort of communication tool. When you think about sharing broad messages or important messages. And then that went as far as all of our store team leaders and assistant team leaders or store managers and assistant store managers. But that is only a portion of the 35 to 40,000 associates we have in store. 

So we had email, of course we utilized our company’s intranet. So we had a web-based intranet platform where information would exist if you could go, and you could consume that at your leisure. 

And then of course, we rely on our leaders to share messages and inspire their teams. So part of that is just the everyday leadership and management of the operations of what we had going on. 

And finally, we utilize Big Lots University, which is our internal talent development team. Just a really talented team of folks who are focused on, how do we help people grow within the world that they’re in or as professionals or for roles that they want to be in. And so that is a technology-based training. 

So those are really the sort of the existing systems and the pathways that we used to communicate.

Chuck Gose: And the reason we’re talking today and have gotten to know each other over the last year is earlier this year, the team there at Big Lots launched The Beat, your new digital employee experience platform out there using SocialChorus. How has this changed? 

You talked about all the things you did before, which are very common across a lot of organizations, but how has The Beat changed communication at Big Lots? I remember in a very early call, Jeremy, you talked about what an investment this was for Big Lots and the organization. And the team, not to say you put pressure on them, but you set some expectations. Like we have to get this right. So how has this changed communication? How has the team gotten this right?

Jeremy Ball: So it has really helped us in a number of ways, moving to The Beat. Which by the way, for us, the name takes on really sort of first a nod to tradition and, you know, a beat reporter and someone who’s got an assignment for either a franchise or a particular style of reporting or a particular subject matter. But then we take it a step further and we dreamed about, you know, The Beat of the music, right. And we’re all marching to The Beat. And hopefully if we’re marching to The Beat, we’re all in step. Right. So for my band geeks out there. I was a drummer, so it was always about left, right, left, right. And everybody being in step. And so The Beat is this idea that we’re all sort of marching to the same cadence and in step.

And then finally we talked about The Beat being the heartbeat, right. And how critical the heart is to our function as human beings. And it, and it makes sure that it pushes blood, it pumps blood throughout the body. And we thought, you know, The Beat is kind of like a heart and it pushes critical information all throughout our associate groups. 

I mean, we considered 60 or 75 names, but just as an ode to my team or the recognition of my team, we landed on The Beat. Which, by the way, as soon as we shared with people to get feedback, it was like, absolutely. So if that says anything about where we wanted to take this, our entire intent, and what I said to my team was we need to be informing, inspiring and involving. And all of our communications need to do those things, if not one, two of them, right?

And so, we’ve got to be able to take this tool and the investment that we’ve made and understand that, yes, there’s a piece of this that’s about culture and fun and interacting and building community among our associates. But we also have to really make sure that we harness the power of communication to drive business goals and communicate strategy. Our entire work comes down to sharing the strategy of the company and helping people see themselves in that strategy. And if you can’t do that and you can’t attach to that idea and how I fit in and how my work matters, then we’re not going to get anywhere. 

And so the challenge for the team was how do we make this work? And how do we make sure it’s a tool, not just for us as communicators to share stories every once in a while, or, you know, something to raise up recognition, but how do we use this to help people understand our strategic goals, important changes. And then the fun stuff too, the fun stuff, frankly, is what drives people to go onto The Beat and it keeps them coming back. 

And so it’s that hook to get them into this system and use it. And then they’re also learning at the same time. And they’re reading information about the strategy, which is critical. It’s important. That’s why we did this, was to create that community and create a two-way communication with our associates. So it’s been a lot of fun.

Chuck Gose: You shared earlier about your CEO’s story with the company, which is a great, a phenomenal story. But thinking about his involvement and the rest of the leaders there at Big Lots, how has The Beat changed their view on employee communication and what does their involvement look like so far with The Beat?

Jeremy Ball: Sure. So first I’ll give them credit because there’s always been a value placed on associate communication and driving culture and helping people feel engaged. And so there’s never been a doubt about that. I think this tool and doing this in the design and in the way that we did it was to help make them essentially content creators, and to be able to publish their own content. 

So we all know that as we go through life, you know, these things right here, our mobile devices are, the vast majority of people have them in their hands, right? And we know that about our associate segment as well. And so for them, it’s being able to, in a way, I love the value of humanizing people. So, you know, it’s easy for us to look at executives, and think, oh, it’s them. And I’m over here doing this job, and it’s not as important. And that’s absolutely not true. 

But what this tool does is it allows those executives and those leaders at all levels within the company to publish content, share their thoughts. If they’re out on a store visit, if they just got done with a big meeting or they’re shooting a commercial, or they’re working on a PSA for philanthropy, or they’re doing something, you know, with our creative team on launching new products. Whatever the case may be, it allows them at the touch of a button to push that content and share those important moments with everyone. And so what it did was it took what was already an existing value for wanting to communicate and share information. And it just really, I think, amplified what was happening, but it also, for them now creates a two-way communication because now it’s a back and forth, right?

The old way of communicating was just to put up a poster, share a flyer, send a message, post something on the internet and just share it. And we know that that’s not how people consume information these days, right? It’s now done in shorter clips of time. It’s done in smaller bites of information. People want to like, and comment and love and forward and tag someone to say, Hey, did you see this? And so the value of that human nature is really what we’ve harnessed in creating this tool for our company, or leveraging this tool for our company. 

And then for leaders, it’s been about really just being able to share so much more of what’s going on. So they become content creators. And now they’re coming to us with ideas. You know, we’re proactive about a lot of that and saying, Hey, this is what I want from you. And here’s my expectation. And how can we help you boost the signal on the things that you’re doing and, you know, finding a way to be a valuable partner to the rest of the business. But it’s also about really empowering them to share what’s on their mind and what they want to share about the business.

Chuck Gose: I think that’s a dream scenario, Jeremy, for a lot of communicators when they’ve got leaders who want to be content creators out there. But for some, it scares them, the thing about employees as content creators. In your case, a lot of the people are in the distribution center or at the retail stores, how has Big Lots leveraging employee generated content and employee voice in The Beat?

Jeremy Ball: Yeah. So Chuck, I think regardless of where people work or what sort of segment of our family they fall into. There’s 40,000 associates, right? And so suddenly you’ve got 40,000 people paying attention. In fact, it’s not quite 40,000 for us. I mean, we’re at maybe 60% of our total population is now using this app or finding information on the web-based application. But to get, to have all those people suddenly have access to sharing information can be very scary and, and rightly so. 

But I think what we did was, number one, we took great leadership advice from SocialChorus, which was to make sure that you set an expectation of the kind of communication that you expect and that you want to see. So that informed how we built our strategy around how we engage. So if we want people to send us their content, whether it’s cultural and it should be fun, or it has to do with product launches or has to do with strategy. Typically when we ask for that content, we are going out with some sort of promotion contest way to engage in soliciting. And we’re very specific about what we’re asking for. 

So when folks are contributing their own content, we set an example of what we’re looking for and we tell them what we want to see. And that’s exactly what we get. We did not start with just opening the floodgates and saying, Hey, you now suddenly have a new social media platform that you can, you know, make your own and post whatever you want. That’s not what this is. It is a business communication tool. And so that was our expectation. And what’s been beautiful about that. And by the way, we do have a separate channel set up. You know, we talk about our associates being value creators. It’s, it’s our job for all of us to create value for the customer.

So how do we do that? Well, there are 40,000 people, and that means there’s 40,000 plus ideas of what it means to create value. What I might say might be different from what my colleague and benefit says or, or what my colleague and marketing says, what my colleague and finance says, right? Or what someone who is loading a trailer at one of our distribution centers says, or maybe what someone who is handling the checkout process at the cash register might say, right? And so we have that channel opened up, it’s called the value creators. And that’s a place where folks can all the time, anytime 24 7 submit ideas, ask questions. And that is monitored by a small team of people who are there to engage with our associates to make sure that their voices are heard, that we’re responding, that we’re frankly, harvesting ideas and quickly sending them to a team of people who review those ideas and see if they have any weight.

So we didn’t just open the flood gates. We started off by saying, here’s what we’re going to do. This is what we’re going to expect. Yes. There’s fun. Yes. There’s strategy, right? There’s all these different ways to communicate. And so our team actively finds ways to engage people. So it’s never just, people are sitting idle and wondering what to do. 

And I’ll tell you that since we launched this back in February of all the, I can’t even tell you how many thousands of posts I didn’t look today that have gone up in comments and everything else. We’ve had maybe three comments that were probably questionable or encroached on the boundary of our policies. So, you know, and we just simply said to the person, Hey, this isn’t okay to post or Hey, rethink your posts. And most of them were kind of surprised like, oh, oh, I didn’t even think of it that way. Or, oh, I hadn’t considered, you know, they weren’t blatantly flagrant or, you know, threatening or anything like that. 

So we too had some reservations. We too said, let’s do this right. I had questions from a lot of people. I’m really grateful to our CEO who had launched an app like this at another company. And so he had great experience with it and saying, look, this is absolutely the right thing to do for the company. There’s value here. Let me tell you how this is going to take off like crazy. 

So it did help get a lot of people on board that we had that type of leadership embracing it from the beginning, but we’ve also proven ourselves because we have mined money-saving ideas. We have gotten feedback on ways to improve customer service, ways to simplify the checkout process, ways to improve the different offerings we have at checkout. And so this isn’t just a way for us to, you know, simply have fun and be a distraction, not at all. This is about strategy and it’s about driving the business, which culture is an important piece of that. So this has been really positive for us and our leaders have seen that. And I’m thankful to say they support and in their part of it.

Chuck Gose: Yeah. I thought that was a great couple of examples you shared about the comments that you said sort of encroached on, you know, maybe this wasn’t the right tone. I think that’s a great way to view it as an educational opportunity, not as a penalization opportunity. 

When you think about the last year, a lot of us have been on an educational journey when it comes to diversity, inclusion and equality. I know I have, as I work to be a better ally out there, and you talk about all those varieties of voices that exist across those tens of thousands of Big Lots of employees in there. Big Lots is going to have a very diverse workforce just by the nature of where you are and who you are as an organization. I’m really curious, with the focus on diversity inclusion equality the last year, how is this being celebrated in The Beat?

Jeremy Ball: So let me just give a shout out to Sarai Exil on our team, who is a great leader. Who’s tasked with helping our company stand up all of the meaningful work that’s being done in the diversity equity and inclusion space. We took her into the fold, in our group, as we dreamed about how we would stand up this platform and what kind of content we wanted to push from day one. 

Sarai is a super user. She’s very proactive. We’ve got a fantastic strategy calendar. That’s laid out with her and the work that’s being done on strategy and our BRGs and our business resource groups and our diversity equity inclusion council. And it’s, it’s been wonderful, you know, every single month, there’s some sort of diversity moment and it’s about teaching and sharing. 

And so instead of just posting something and telling people, well, this is, you know, here’s an educational piece. What we do is we try to connect that to our people. And so what we’re doing is we find ways to organically connect those moments to people who represent those moments or are attached to those moments, or have a particular affinity to those. And so instead of just posting something about, for instance, Juneteenth, instead we asked one of our associates who raised her hand and said, you know what, I want to celebrate Juneteenth. And I want people to know from my perspective, what that means for me as a black person and what that means for me as a black person in America and why that’s important to her. And so she was the person who wrote that post and we shared it in The Beat. And so that goes to all of our associates. 

And it’s been such a great experience because there’s some folks who say, I didn’t even know this holiday existed. And other people will say, oh my gosh, we celebrate this holiday every year. Thank you for putting a spotlight on this. There are other folks who ask questions because they just don’t know. And so it is an opportunity to learn. And then on occasion, you know, you might have somebody who kind of questions, you know, why we’re celebrating things, or why is it important for us to bring a spotlight on this? And so we take the time to educate, right? And we say, here’s why it’s important to our company because we believe that every difference does make a difference. And if we can respect and show compassion for each other, we can all get a lot more done. 

So it’s great and frankly, the approach that we take on things that, not in a negative way, but learning opportunities. We say, you know, if you want people to do better, you have to give them a chance to do better. And so we don’t take a hard line approach on any of this. Of course, if there were to be something really awful, we would, but really what we do is we reach out and it’s a simple phone call to say, Hey, have you thought about this? Maybe you perceive this way. You know, and it’s usually like, oh, I’ll get that corrected. But anyway, the DEI piece of this has been such a great opportunity, not only for the visibility of it, but meaningful learning, celebrating each other. And so that, I think all of that adds up.

Chuck Gose: And one of the benefits I get out of working with organizations like Big Lots is I get to learn more about your business and what your organization is focused on. And I know there’s been conversations where seasonal hiring with the holidays coming up with the holiday season ahead. Getting new employees, and we’ve read articles everywhere about businesses and a crunch to hire people. And it’s having trouble with hiring. And I know the team is working on how The Beat can help support recruiting new employees to Big Lots. So talk about how The Beat is supporting that.

Jeremy Ball: Sure. So first we just take a look at the people who are already in the Big Lots family, right? And those are the greatest billboards and ambassadors that we have. And so The Beat helps us put information into their hands. And so now we have that immediate way to get their attention to say, Hey, we’re looking for more people like you who want to serve the customer. 

We always talk about being the best run store in town, the fastest growing store in town and the friendliest store in town. And so those are the three things that we focus on. And so from a strategy standpoint, our goal is to help make recruiters out of those folks that say, Hey, tell your friends and family, if you enjoy working for Big Lots, tell more people to come and join us. Right? And so that’s been a very positive thing for us because this becomes a tool for not only building the community that exists, but bringing new people to the fold. 

And so our partners in marketing and within the HR recruiting world talent acquisition, they’re our partners in helping build campaigns and making sure that our own people understand, you know, if we have a referral bonus program that’s going on, especially in our distribution centers and in the stores what are those incentives and what are those things that are the extras about working for Big Lots that makes it the place that it is?

Chuck Gose: Well, let’s wrap up the business portion of the podcast with this really cool initiative I saw that Big Lots was a part of called On Our Sleeves. And I really liked that philanthropy is called out in your title, I made fun of it earlier, but I like that philanthropy is caught out in your title. We’ll share with listeners about what this On Our Sleeves effort is.

Jeremy Ball: Great. Chuck On Our Sleeves is the national movement for children’s mental health. And so we have an existing partnership with Nationwide Children’s Hospital. They’re based in Columbus, Ohio, they serve kids and families in all 50 states, including families that come from over 40 foreign countries. And really it’s our way of addressing a pandemic of its own. That is just sort of hiding in plain sight. 

Mental health is something that this country has not done a good job of talking about or addressing. It’s very taboo. So our job, our partnership with Nationwide Children’s and the On Our Sleeves movement is the idea that kids don’t wear their emotions on their sleeves. And so it’s our job as adults and as leaders to start a conversation around children’s mental health with kids, right? Ask them how they’re feeling. What made you happy today? What made you sad today? What obstacle did you overcome? Right. Resiliency, things of that nature. 

One in five kids faces some sort of mental health challenge or malady, and many of those will go undiagnosed and untreated. Part of that is because there are not enough providers in this country to serve kids, the number of kids, and then adults. And imagine if you’re sick as a kid, and it’s never addressed how that might snowball and be even worse as an adult, right? And so this movement is about educating people and empowering advocates so that you can promote first off mental wellness, secondly, that you can identify if a child needs help. And third, what do you do if a child does need help, how do you identify resources? Or where can you send them for help? 

And so that’s what our partnership with Nationwide Children’s Hospital is about. We made a gift back in 2015, a commitment of $50 million, which created a Big Lots Behavioral Health Pavilion at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the Big Lots behavioral health program. And it’s our way of investing back into the community as a part of the Big Lots foundation and talking about mental health and mental wellness, and the fact that it’s okay to say you’re not okay, but what we want to do is also swim upstream. 

And so right now, two things are happening. One, we ask our customer to get behind this effort. We are raising money at the point of sale twice a year. Our customers are incredibly generous. In the last five years, six years, we’ve raised more than 25, almost $30 million at the point of sale for children’s mental health. This is something no one else was doing. This was something that was a sort of a clean space. No one was there. No one wanted to talk about it because mental health is so stigmatized in America. And we said, it’s not okay.

And somebody has to step up and start this conversation. So we did that. So first is the point of sale piece. The second is we have the million classroom project happening right now, and you can find all this on, onoursleeves.org. That’s onoursleeves.org. And the million classroom project is about getting three mental health resources into 1 million classrooms across this country. So that educators and parents can understand how to recognize when there is a problem. How to start these conversations, so it doesn’t become a problem. And what those resources are state by state city by city, so that folks can get the help that they need if their child has a mental health challenge. And so our goal is to get these resources into a million classrooms. We’re well on our way. And we hope to do that just in the next few months.

And so we’ve got a number of partners who have signed on. Lionel Richie was the most recent partner, a great musician, and there’s a number of others, but this is something that we care about deeply. It’s something that our associates care about. You know, this goes back to our mission. We talk about when we do well in business, we do good in our communities. And so we want to be good doers, and this is a way that we can be good doers, right? And this is important. It’s important to our associates. They love it. Our customers are so generous and this really helps us fulfill our mission, which is to help people live big and save lots. And this is a part of that living big, living a healthy life. So we’re really proud of this partnership. We’re proud of the Big Lots foundation and the partnership with Nationwide Children’s Hospital. 

Chuck Gose: Jeremy, I don’t even work for Big Lots, and I’m proud of the work this organization is doing. I don’t know that I could love that any more than I do. Like that’s truly remarkable that shows the heart and compassion at Big Lots as an organization and the customer community supporting it as well. So I, I’m almost flabbergasted hearing you talk through that. I knew it was cool when I read about it. Now, I want to figure out how I can get behind it.

Jeremy Ball: It’s onoursleeves.org. That’s the first place.

Chuck Gose: Onoursleeves.org That’ll work, everybody, go check it out

Jeremy Ball: Right on. And then our next point of sale campaign is coming up. So if you’re in store, which I know you will be because you love Big Lots they have everything. You said it. When you’re in store next time, our next campaign, I believe, kicks off in November and it’ll be in store again for a period of five or six weeks. And you can get right at the register one to $5 and you can pick the other button. Chuck, you can give us a thousand dollars, whatever you want to do.

Chuck Gose: Well, we’re pretty bothered here at Culture Comms & Cocktails, Jeremy, I don’t know if it’s that much, but it, it truly has been, you know, when we think about working together for the last eight months, it has been an honor and a privilege to work with you and Joey and Marcus and the rest of the Big Lots team. I’m excited to see where The Beat has come from, where it is going. Everybody else at SocialChorus gets tired of me talking about what your team is doing. And I don’t care that if they do get tired about it, cause it just, I just keep hearing great story after great story. 

But the podcast is called culture comms and cocktails. Jeremy, you mentioned you had the coffee mug, but you did show up, but it was a bottle of Prosecco that you might’ve had. So listeners know I’m a huge cocktail fan, the snobbier the better Jeremy. So what is your go-to cocktail or favorite cocktail out there?

Jeremy Ball: You know, what you asked is that the perfect time, because it’s summertime and I love fresh air. I love being outside and there’s so much delight in sitting back and relaxing on an evening and breathing in the fresh air. And I love a Saint Germain cocktail, and this is the classic Saint Germain by name, which is elderflower liqueur right? It’s got Prosecco or champagne, and then it’s got sparkling water and then a lemon twist. And I like mine on the rocks in a rocks glass. You could also have it as a martini, but I love it because it’s light, it’s crisp. It’s got a slight bit of sweetness to it, but it’s cut with the prosecco or the champagne and just makes for a really great drink to enjoy on a summer evening. So that’s my favorite.

Chuck Gose: You did not disappoint on the cocktail recommendation, Jeremy.

Thank you so much for all the work you do there at Big Lots, for being a SocialChorus customer. And then thanks again for being on the podcast. 

Jeremy Ball: It’s my pleasure. Thank you. 

Chuck Gose: If you enjoyed what you heard from this episode and want to check out others, find Culture, Comms & Cocktails on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you like to listen. And when you do hit that subscribe button, so you don’t miss any future episodes. 

This has been Culture, Comms & Cocktails, internal comms served straight up. Thanks for listening.

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