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Ron Johnson, Jeff Raider And Susan Tynan Talk Retail Sector

CNBC transcript: CNBC’s Courtney Reagan interviews Ron Johnson, Jeff Raider and Susan Tynan from The CNBC Evolve Conference In NYC Today

Jeff Raider
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WHEN: Today, Wednesday, June 19th

Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC interview with Ron Johnson, ENJOY CEO, former Apple Retail SVP, and former JCPenney CEO; Jeff Raider, Harry’s Co-Founder and Co-CEO, and Warby Parker Co-founder; and Susan Tynan, Framebridge Founder and CEO, live from the CNBC Evolve conference in New York City on Wednesday, June 19th.

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COURTNEY REAGAN:  Thank you so much, Tyler, for that nice introduction.  He talked a lot about the consumers, so I would actually like to start there, if we could, with just each of your overall view of the U.S. consumer today, both from an economic and financial standpoint and also perhaps what you think the consumer is really looking for or really needs. So just kind of kick us off in looking at this consumer environment together and through the lens, as you see it. Ron, go ahead and get starred.

RON JOHNSON:  Thanks for having me. Thanks for – I get water, it’s good to be over here.

COURTNEY REAGAN:  Yeah.

RON JOHNSON:  Yeah, I think the consumers are actually very well off.  We are at a -- pretty close to full employment economy.  Yes, some have more and others have less, but most people are feeling pretty good about their ability to find work, if they can’t get a job, they can work in the mobile economy, they can supplement their income.  I think they're in a good place, and I think they will be for quite a while.  I think they're looking for a combination of convenience and experience. There are times they optimize for convenience, and that's the deliver and the buy online.  There are times they optimize for experience, like going to an Apple store.  Right? But they can be very nuanced in their expectations, and they respond clearly to innovative new business models:  The tolerance for a bad store, the tolerance for a bad online experience has gone to zero, and so you got to be great every time.  The consumers won with this kind of revolution.

COURTNEY REAGAN:  And Susan, Tyler said consumer spending is largely responsible for about 70 percent of what we look at in our U.S. GDP.  How do you think the consumers are right now, healthy, strong, responding to your business?

SUSAN TYNAN:  Absolutely.  I think it's amazing that certain -- whatever else is going on in the country, that consumers keep shopping, which is great.  We see consumers really driven by ease, and that is absolutely making sure that every touch point is seamless and consistent and absolutely consumers having no tolerance for any inconsistencies across platforms.  Also, consumers are expecting the same level of service across companies, right?  Certainly, it doesn't matter what stage company you are, they are expecting greatness.  And then, certainly we see a lot of interesting things about how the consumers really inform through social proof and can learn so much from others, rather than the trusted sources --it’s through the crowd and their friends.

JEFF RAIDER:  I think I would agree with what both Ron and Susan said.  The other thing I might add is I think it's better to be a consumer today in lots of categories where maybe it wasn't great to be a consumer ten years ago.  I think it's been driven by the fact that people who were consumers say, hey, I don't want this to be the way it was anymore, and have built businesses to innovate on behalf of people. And so, I hope with Warby Parker and Harry's that we've been able to make the eyewear purchase experience better for some people and the experience getting men's personal care products better for some people and that, in turn, has compelled competition to act in a way that we hope is also more consumer centric, which then creates a better experience across those sort of categories for folks.  I think that happens in lots of places.  Ten years ago, I would have to wait outside for a cab in the rain.  This morning, instead, I pressed a button and a car showed up and I came down here.  So it's just much better, I think, in a bunch of places to be consumers, and I think it's incumbent on companies and brands.  And people out there who, you know, who will start companies or brands in the future to continue to innovate on behalf of those.

COURTNEY REAGAN:  So consumers are in a good place, right now, it sounds like financially, from all of your viewpoints.  But we've also had more choice than we've ever had before, I would argue, both in the products we can get and how we end up getting them. So we will go backwards down the line and start with you, Jeff.  Why is Harry's, for instance, a better razor?  Why is that something that has cut through the traditional way of men's care?

JEFF RAIDER:  So I think we think about Harry's as kind of meeting what we felt was an unmet need in the world for ourselves, as consumers first, and then hopefully for lots of other people.

COURTNEY REAGAN:  What was the unmet need?

JEFF RAIDER:  Sort of, the impetus on Harry’s was my co- founder, Andy, walked into a drugstore in California, I think six years ago, waited for ten minutes for someone to unlock the case where the razors were being held, paid $25 for four razor blades and some shaving cream.  And I don’t think it was the $25 that bothered him, it was the fact that he knew he was being taken advantage of, and then he walked out, looking at the package, there was a picture of a razor blade flying over the moon.  He was like, I have no idea why this is the way it is. So he called me and said, Hey, I just had this experience, and it didn't feel good.  Do you think you could take some of what you guys did at Warby Parker and do it better here? And that was the impetus, there was a sort of a broken experience for him as a customer driven by big brands who are effectively taking advantage of him, a purchase experience that wasn't optimized for his needs; and we thought we could make that better, for ourselves first and then hopefully for, you know, millions of other people. So I guess that is sort of what I mean by "unmet need."  When we started Warby Parker, we had no idea why glasses should cost as much as an iPhone.  It's just -- one was a very new, highly complicated technology; one is a technology that’s been around for thousands of years.  That just didn't make sense to us.  And so, we felt like there was opportunity, again, to do something different or better for people. So I guess that -- I think companies that truly understand how they can create positive utility for people and brands that can create positive utility for people, are brands that I think are going to be enduring and exist.  And I think that's not only incumbent on brands to do that from day one, but to continue to innovate and evolve, as they get to know their customers and their customers evolve.  That's why I think direct-to-consumer is so valuable and retail too, where you just get to know people.

COURTNEY REAGAN:  Susan, obviously you looked at the framing business, and you thought this is an antiquated way of doing things, it’s too expensive, it takes too long, there's too many choices.  And that, I assume, is the need you're trying to meet with Framebridge.  But you are also not alone.  There are other competitors trying to do what you're trying to do.  So why is what Framebridge does, better than the rest?

SUSAN TYNAN:  Sure.  Very similarly, Framebridge started with a personal experience of mine going to a frame store, four national parks posters, had a very uncomfortable experience, felt like I was being not sold and wound up paying $400 each to frame a set of posters.  And thought, this is strange.  People have things that matter to them.  People would actually do this more often if someone made it easier and more affordable.  But really it was, even more so than the price, it was the feeling you were being taken advantage of and, really, almost the disrespect for the special things that you had come with. So Framebridge really set out to disrupt the experience.  Certainly, there are things in the value chain we changed in order to deliver a better, but we set out to make the consumer experience better.  So it's clear up front pricing; framing in days, not weeks; comes to your door ready to hang; beautiful selection of styles.  I think what makes us different from anyone else who tried to do it, we actually create all of our own manufacturing.  So we're actually producing, and that allows us to get better and better, to know our customers, to control the quality, obviously, of each piece, which matters to people.

COURTNEY REAGAN:  And you manufacture in the United States?

SUSAN TYNAN:  We do, in Kentucky.

COURTNEY REAGAN:  So that also probably also helps with speed, getting close to the consumer, as well.

SUSAN TYNAN:  Absolutely.  So we designed everything to make sure we could deliver the service we intended to. I think the one other thing of note for our category and approaching consumers is the traditional category had sort of assumed new -- younger customers wouldn't be interested in the category.  What we saw was younger customers are content creators, love experiences, value authenticity.  Like everything that actually is custom framing special things, so of course they would love it; they just didn't love the way it was delivered to them.

COURTNEY REAGAN:  Ron, with Enjoy, which is the company that you're running now, you tried to create almost a new silo; there's a store purchase experience, there’s an online purchase experience and delivery.  You're trying to add a personal element to bridge the two.  Talk to us through what Enjoy does and why it's different from anything else out there.

RON JOHNSON:  Yeah, great.  Enjoy is inventing the mobile retail store.  And it is built off a very simple idea.  Online commerce is 25 years old.  Stores have been around for thousands of years.  The Apple store, Regent Street, has had the same landlord for a thousand years.  We are in the early days of online shopping.  In the physical world, the last mile for a brand, if it’s a premium brand you have a premium last mile.  If you have a commodity product you have a convenient last mile.  Think a Target versus the Apple store.  Well, it didn't make sense to me, having worked at Apple for a dozen years, why Apple would have the same last mile online; as one of your products, as pizza, as Amazon.  So how do you reinvent the last mile for a premium brand for a customer that wants to start digitally? So we bring the store through your door for free, on demand, and we do that for big companies like AT&T in the U.S., smaller companies like Sonos, British telecom in the U.K., we're adding a partner a year.  But we're basically inventing this new channel called the mobile store.  Our employees are all full time, they are all trained on the products, they are in a vehicle that has all the inventory that that brand carries.  It can look just like Uber on demand.  We can be there in 20 minutes.  And we will come but we will then go through the door, and spend all the time you want setting up your product.  We bring all the accessories you might buy, so you're having a retail experience in our home. So I'm just trying to figure out in the future, as more and more goes digital.  More and more we want delivery.  How do you deliver a digital experience for a premium product?  The beauty of that is there is a lot of money that goes in the last mile.  Every product you buy, 20 to 50 percent of the price goes to the last mile.  You think of a department store, it's 50-point markup.  50 percent would support that department store economic model.  Best Buy takes 20 points to open the doors.  So their margin has to be well over 20 to make money.  That's a lot of value.  And so for online, how do you take some of that and invest in a better customer experience?  That's what we're doing.

COURTNEY REAGAN:  Each of your companies is at a bit of a different stage of the life cycle.  Jeff, you have been acquired by Edgewell, and that follows the acquisition of Dollar Shave club by Unilever.  How will you continue to innovate and evolve Harry’s, in a company like Edgewell?  Are they going to give you the space to do what you do and continue to move the ball forward for Harry's, under a company that's a legacy company in consumer products?

JEFF RAIDER:  Yeah.  Well, I think a couple of things.  First, one of the reasons that we got really excited about the combination with Edgewell, was that my co-founder, Andy and I, actually get to run the entire U.S. business for the combined company, which I think is a big leap of faith for them to sort of trust us, and something that's incredibly exciting for us.  As we think about the opportunity that we have there, and they have a bunch of brands that have been around for a long time, have lots of great bones, but I think the opportunity to probably infuse slightly more modern belief system into some of them, enables them to connect with customers in a different way than they have.  I think that's something that we have sort of proven we have been able to do at Harry’s.  We obviously understand the category that we play in pretty well and who the consumers are and so we are super-excited about that opportunity, as a starting point.  A new challenge but one that we're excited for. The second thing is, if you we think about our ambitions for Harry's, you know, there to continue to try to deliver a better experience for our customers and there's a few things that really matter there.  First and foremost, we have to continue to invest in product.  Razors are like knives that you take to your face, are actually knives that you take to your face.  And Edgewell has incredible IP portfolio that we think we can leverage in Harry’s to continue to make our products better, which is what our customers want from us. We bought a factory when we were less than a year old because this mattered to us.  We Invested tens of millions of dollars to continue to improve our products, this is just another step on that journey and a really important accelerant. The other thing that we want to do is be able to deliver our products and experiences to people outside of the U.S.  The way that the market exists in the U.S, all the pain points that I mentioned exist in other places too, and it's hard and expensive, and probably Ron knows it better than anybody, to expand businesses globally and Edgewell has a really robust global infrastructure. And so, if we think about our utility function of Harry's as how many more people we can reach and how much better we can make their experience, I actually think this puts us a step forward in a pretty important way.

COURTNEY REAGAN:  You get the capital and the deep pockets of a big company, but hopefully they give you the space to innovate and continue to do what you do, both with Harry’s and with some of the other brands under Edgewell.

JEFF RAIDER:  That's right. And that was incredibly important to us as we started talking to them.  The only reason that that transaction ended up happening is because my co- founder, Andy, spent a lot of time with their teams, specifically their CEO, and really tried to lay out a joint vision for what we thought the company could be.  We're still really early in the journey, but it’s been exciting to start to kind of get our hands dirty and think about how to make that happen.

COURTNEY REAGAN:  A topic that comes up all the time in retail is the utility of the store.  Is the store an asset, is it a liability?  In many of these digital businesses that start DTC, are eventually moving into a physical format, at least in some way.  Ron, you're using vehicles.  Susan, you’ve experimented with stores and you have had some success there.  What is the plan going forward, what have you seen so far and do you believe that in order to be successful in retail you have to be good at both?

SUSAN TYNAN:  Yes.  So, we launched our first stores, this quarter actually, and have been really excited by the results.  Customers are coming to us, with now 50 percent more than they were before.

COURTNEY REAGAN:  50 percent more --

SUSAN TYNAN:  -- items, so the basket size is a lot larger.  But that is really just because people had started to hear about the brand and just wanted a touch point.  Either one question or they wanted to see one material or they just wanted the ease of walking by and dropping something off.  Because we actually physically take people's art.  And so we have seen great success.  We have these small footprint stores.  I told Ron we didn't need to sell anything, we felt so proud on our first day when someone said, I get it, it's like an Apple store for custom frames.  I was like, well, we're done.  This is great. But truly, people wanted a beautiful design experience, but they wanted it to be friction-free and easy.  So we certainly see that as part of our growth moving forward.  I think like most other direct-to-consumer brands, retail is not only a sales channel, but a billboard.  And so that's how we're looking at it, certainly for its impact on sales in the whole region and customer happiness, repeat sales and new sales.  So yes, we see it as part of our growth moving forward, but certainly in a new way, certainly in no way as a distinct sales channel, very much just as an integrated part of the experience.

COURTNEY REAGAN:  What about the physical experience, Ron, for your company?  You're taking the physical experience into someone’s home, in many cases.  What are the challenges there?  And is there apprehensiveness on the part of consumers?  When you say, you're going to come into my house and you’re going to set up this technology for me, I don't even know you.  I mean, is that a hurdle?

RON JOHNSON:  It's been a real hurdle.  We have been at it for four years now, but 91 percent of the time people invite us into their home and we spend on average 30, 35 minutes with every customer.  And our NPS since we launched is in the 90s --

COURTNEY REAGAN:  And NPS is net promoter score?

RON JOHNSON:  Net promoter score.  So customers love it, it’s just a new experience.  Like the first time I take an Uber I thought, I'm going to get in someone's car?  And then I had the experience, it was clean, painless, it was sufficient.  I did it over and over again, you know, all these new things take time to perfect.  But the challenges with retail, it's not very personal. You think of going to the Apple store, they're crowded, sometimes it's hard to get help.  It takes time.  You are going through something technically quite challenging and there’s lots of people around.  I think if you can move that dreamed Apple experience into someone's home, unhurried, where they live their life, where all their devices are, you can clearly deliver a better experience.  If you think about it, Apple is famous for ease of use.  I mean, nobody’s prized ease of use and technology more than Apple.  Yet I had the benefit of watching the stores, the busiest part of the store is getting help.  So if an Apple customer needs help, think of everybody else.  We don't want to do this anymore. When I was younger, we wanted to figure out the technology and setup.  Now we just want it to work.  We want it all to connect.  So there's this kind of myth of the ease of technology, it’s really not easy for most people.  And today to get the most out of it, you need people to give you tips and tricks and all that.  So it's a challenge to be in the home, but on the other hand it's kind of the sweet spot if you're trying to deliver amazing.

COURTNEY REAGAN:  Jeff, there's a lot of discussion about direct-to-consumer companies and the ability to access consumer data.  Things that direct-to-consumer companies have that traditional retailers don't.  Traditional retailer, a Target, doesn't know who I am when I walk in the store, they don't have a history of my purchasing.  But many of these direct-to-,consumer companies do.  But now you are part of Edgewell, which I'm sure they're hungry to understand that customer data.  But there also has to be a balance not taking advantage of it and privacy. How are you looking at consumer data, using it for good and helping Edgewell to understand what you can do with that?

JEFF RAIDER:  Yeah, I think first and foremost our deal is not closed yet.  We are still in antitrust and due process --

COURTNEY REAGAN:  True.  That’s a good point.

JEFF RAIDER:  -- so, the amount we can actually share is limited.  Especially when it would come to anything like consumer data, which obviously we treat incredibly carefully and a lot.  I think a lot -- I guess maybe a couple points I can make.  I think you're right, direct-to-consumer is amazing because you have all the data.  And for us, as a business, that you know, is kind of a replenishment business where people buy the first time, come back and order over and over again, to be able to understand the full cycle of customer interactions with us as a brand is super helpful. So one way that that manifests itself is based on a bunch of information that we can collect on people where they come from, what they click on, on our site, what they order, where they live, we can start to build an algorithm on who that person is and then try to predict what other products they might want from us and when they would want them.  And then we try to talk to them at those moments.  And so we say, hey -- and we literally are like open.  We’ve got these fancy algorithms, we hope they are okay.  We think you may want some more razor blades right now.  Do you?  And if you do, here’s a really easy way to get them. That creates a much better engagement with the customer than just us randomly emailing them about stuff.  I think that's an example where we can use data, ideally create a better experience, a more seamless convenience to reach people. The one thing I’d say though, you know now we sell Harry's, not only online, but we sell in stores.  And we did that because we got to know our customer well and we realize that they want that.  And I think that, while we don't now have that perfect data flow, we can still leverage a lot of what we can learn in direct to consumer, to think about, sort of who that customer is and how we can influence them in other environments.  Ultimately what we found and I -- you know, Susan talked about her own stores, we sell at other people's stores, because it hasn’t made sense to have a standalone Harry’s store, but what we found is you've got to be where your customer wants you to be.  And that, the customer also is not differentiating between whether they're buying us from Harry's.com or Target or Walmart or J. Crew; or wherever, they just want us to be available where they are.  And they're happy to buy us in all these places and you have to take the most data you can to try to serve them the best that you can, wherever they want to be served.

COURTNEY REAGAN:  Ron, If I can jump over to you.  I want to know what your thoughts are on using data to make business decisions because I feel like you are a, sort of a gut instinct kind of leader.  You've made a lot of comments in the past about Apple stores and how you just decide if we are going to do this, we are going to go big, we are going to do it at once.  So J.C. Penney, famously, we know you didn't really test, you went out with everything all at once.  You didn't look at the data, you admitted you didn't look at the customer couponing data.  Perhaps that was a mistake in hindsight.  Has your outlook on looking at data versus leading with instinct changed over the years?  Has that evolved for you?

RON JOHNSON:  Yeah, it has, there’s no doubt.  Like at Penney’s, we went way too fast.  I think our instincts were right.  We would of benefitted from, a little more time to think through how to message, how to do things.  I learned a lot through that experience.  And data is really available today.  When I started my career, there was none.  I started out in the back of house at a Mervyn's store.  Saks would get all these receipts and mail them from the store to the headquarters, once a month, and they processed them to learn what they sold.  You know, so I started when there was zero data.  Now data is ubiquitous, it's available right now for everything.  So as one of the more mature people, I had to learn how to transition from being a completely intuitive merchant to being someone who can understand intuition and incorporate data in the right way. Obviously, all innovation requires intuition.  It’s an intuition that, you know, buying glasses is broke, getting a razor is broke.  That's intuition.  Then you say I’m going to solve that problem and how to use data to do that.  Does that make sense?  So I become much more -- embrace data in different ways than I did in the past.  But in the past you really had no choice.  You know, over in the Apple store, it was a strategic imperative.  We couldn't grow without that.  We were a little co- brand.  And if you're going to do something you got to do it or you'll never attract great people to join you in the journey.  There is some critical mass you need to make a move, in a big company, and then there's how do you balance all of your intuition, your data.  So I’ve become much more data interested, data enthusiastic, than I was when I was younger.

COURTNEY REAGAN:  Got it.  I have one more question for Susan, but I want the audience to begin to think of their questions, we have time for that. Susan, when you think about our path for growth, what does it look like?  Are you going to look into perhaps shop in shops for Framebridge in other physical retailers, beyond just these standalone stores that you’ve started to open?

SUSAN TYNAN:  So it’s interesting, Ron, the problem you are solving is real.  We have a -- our sales process is relatively high touch.  I think we've translated really successfully online.  But customers want design advice from us or have questions about our products.  So we’d have to carefully do a shop in shop experience.  It's certainly possible.  But it really requires training and design expertise, so it's something that we would consider, but I think we feel much more secure in the path of wanting our own stores and understanding how those experiences interact with our digital products.  Preferred path.

COURTNEY REAGAN:  I am going to go ahead and open it up for questions, if we have any.  If not, I certainly have a number of more.  Maybe in the front row.  Thank you.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi, John Heller from as S’well Bottle.  Jeff, when we just talked about gaining critical mass to the brand.  And, you and Andy thought about going from a DTC brand to a retailer like Target, how do you think about gaining critical mass as a brand in order to be successful in that kind of retail environment?

JEFF RAIDER:  So, I guess two things were helpful there.  One is we launched at Target a few years after we launched on DTC, so at that point we’d reached millions of people.  We knew our customer really well and realized that there was a bunch of people who we were talking to, who were coming to the site and interested in Harry’s but just didn't want to buy online.  They preferred to find us on their Sunday family shopping trip at Target.  We were not available for them in the way they wanted to be.  I think that was helpful insight and perspective.  There was a bunch of people out there who wanted Harry’s that we could access if we went to another place, like Target. And then I think then when we went to Target, we had a bunch of insights about who the customer was that were targeting and how to serve them differently.  The two big things were, they didn't really consider shave.  There was nothing new, they were walking by the aisle.  So we put giant orange razors on the end caps to say, hey, there's something new and exciting here; you should check it out.  Then they got down the aisle and they were super confused; they didn’t know the difference between Gillette Fusion ProShield Chill and Gillette Fusion ProGlide Power.  And why the prices were different and the colors were different.  So we were like, we are just going to be simple and straightforward in Harry's. One razor, one razor blade, one shave gel and we will be disruptive in our simplicity which is how we’ve been successful online.  So I think it was a combination of knowing there was a customer that wanted us, and having a perspective, I think to Ron’s point, an instinct on how we could better serve them that led us to launch there and ultimately drove some of the impact that we’ve been able to have in that environment.

COURTNEY REAGAN:  Any other questions?  No.  I'll finish with a quick question, then, for each of you. We will just start with Ron because you're sitting right here closest to me. How do you balance growing but maintaining an eye on at least a path to profitability; and is Enjoy profitable right now?

RON JOHNSON:  Not yet but we expect to be profitable in 2020, next year.  Which is great.  I just don't believe in these business models that are about growth without profitability.  It's unfair in how they’re disrupting traditional businesses, in my opinion, and it's just not -- it's just not sustainable.  When we hit a period where the capital -- or the economy turns, those businesses are at great risk. So I think you have got to figure out how you get to profitability.  It’s really important.  But the most important thing is to get to great.  Like any business, the first thing, no matter what scale, get to great.  Once you get to great you can scale and you’ll get all the resources to scale.  But focus on getting to great as the first priority.

COURTNEY REAGAN:  Susan, how about you, balancing growth and profitability?

SUSAN TYNAN:  I love that.  Yes, I think an important part of the financial story of our business is by aggregating this demand we could do it in more efficient way.  And so we just have to be proving, continuously, that we get stronger with scale, unlike some of the business models that do not.  And we do, and we're on that path.  So as long as we stay on it, we feel comfortable.

COURTNEY REAGAN:  Are you profitable yet?

SUSAN TYNAN:  We are not yet.

COURTNEY REAGAN:  Jeff, how about you?

JEFF RAIDER:  We have had to make public disclosures now.  We have talked about the fact that Harry's is break-even this year.  If you think sort of about what drives profitability, it’s do you have good product economics, fundamentally.  And then, how much are you investing to scale your infrastructure to drive growth.  And those are good conversations I think, to think about strategically and I think it depends a lot on the competitive dynamics in your market, the opportunities that you see, your own orientation as a founder, like what do you want.  Your board if you have a board, I imagine most companies will have boards and how they think about growth.  Capital availability.  There's like a hundred decisions. I think the way we always thought about it at Harry's, is we just had different curves -- we could grow a lot and we would have to invest a lot behind that growth.  We could grow more slowly and get to this place, the ultimate place a little bit more slowly but do so in a way that would be more profitable in the interim.  And we would always have really helpful and thoughtful conversations so you can lay out the different dynamics.  I think all those factors that I mentioned, are the factors that helped to make the decisions around the growth versus profitability tradeoffs.

COURTNEY REAGAN:  I want to thank everyone for joining us here today.  I could talk about this for hours and hours.  By my time clock says zero-zero so I think I am done now.  But thank you so much Jeff, Susan, and Ron for being here with us today.