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For this latest installment of Retail Voices, we sat down with Joe Milone, who heads up product development in our Akron, OH facility. He’s been around since OnQ’s early days, and has played a big role in helping to grow the company to what it is today.
Before we move on, a quick note about the team in Ohio: At OnQ, we talk a lot about our ability to deploy “at scale.” It’s really just a fancy way of saying we have the internal capabilities to easily ramp-up production to handle any deployment. During our busiest times of the year, we have a steady stream of trucks leaving our Ohio warehouse, fanning them out to hundreds of stores across the country. The only way we’re able to manage that workload “at scale” is because we have an amazing team in place that’s expertly skilled at production and pack-out. Joe’s leadership over the years has been essential to OnQ’s growth, and the team he assembled in Ohio is absolutely top-notch.
Now, without further ado, on to the questions!
Your OnQ roots run pretty deep. How and when did you first get connected with the company?
It’s true that my OnQ roots run deep. But my connection to Paul predates my involvement here at OnQ by a long shot. I first met Paul right around the 2000/2001 timeframe. I was working at a company called ImageWorks at the time and Paul was working at Logitech. I was the project manager working on the Logitech Office Depot account. But it wasn’t until I joined Darko that I started working with him more closely. Darko was building displays for OnQ, and I was the project manager for the OnQ account, which pulled me into the design and engineering process for OnQ’s projects, and that’s how I started working with Paul more regularly. But that was many years before we worked together at OnQ.
So in a way, Paul was your client long before you came to work at OnQ?
That’s right. Paul was my client when he was at Logitech. After he left Logitech to start OnQ, he began to run a lot of his client work through Darko, just as I started working at Darko. We got to know each other pretty well over that period of about 13 years. I learned his work style, and he seemed to appreciate how I approached my work. Having that long-standing work relationship built-in made it easy for me to come to work for OnQ when the opportunity finally presented itself.
When did you finally join OnQ?
If you can believe it, I didn’t join OnQ until Thanksgiving 2013. I was at a career crossroads at the time. In fact, I was looking pretty seriously at joining a company that would have moved me back to the Winston-Salem area of North Carolina. Paul caught wind of my plans and reached out to me to understand why I wanted to make a change. I think he realized that nearly every display Darko produced for OnQ ran through me, and that I had a lot of institutional knowledge I learned over the years as a supplier to OnQ. Plus, at that point he and I had worked together for many years – so I think we were both interested in figuring out if there was a way we could continue working together. Once we agreed on that, it wasn’t long until I agreed to join OnQ.
Was it strange to finally be working alongside Paul when you’d grown accustomed to how you worked together previously?
Not really. Things didn’t actually change that much. I was still working a couple thousands of miles away, working with many of the same clients. If anything, I’d say the workflow smoothed out just a bit. Right around the time I joined, Paul also hired Steve Penny to help manage projects as they came in. Having Steve and myself join right around the same time meant we instantly had a lot of technical and production bench strength at both our Ohio and California facilities. It was exciting to be part of OnQ at such a transformative time.
How has your role changed over the years?
I was originally hired-on to OnQ as Operations Manager. As the company grew and my role evolved, I was promoted to Director of Project Management and more recently my role has evolved to encompass more of our prototyping and product development. Although, the core of what I do is still very much the same: I’m a problem solver.
You seem to have a knack for doing your job really well. What’s your secret?
I’m able to retain a high level of details about projects we’ve done over the years. For example, I can recall from memory the specific build lists of just about any project we’ve ever done. Given the technical nature of our business, I think my mind is wired in a way that suits this job really well.
What do you like most about your role at OnQ?
It’s an exciting time to be in retail. We have many long-standing clients, and many of them are moving into new product categories. This keeps us on our toes because the work is always changing, always evolving. It’s exciting to play a role in helping those companies change the way they present themselves to customers. To be their partner in how they grow their business is really gratifying.