The Virtual CPA Success Show: Episode 59
As the whole team checks in at Nashville today for Summit's All-Team Retreat, let's talk more about retreats! In this episode, Jamie Nau, our host and Summit CPA's Director of Accounting/Virtual CFO, and Jody Grunden, our CEO and Co-founder, is back with Lillian Hocevar, our Travel Advisor, to talk about how the travel industry has changed since 2020 and what impact it has on team retreats. We also compare the retreats we had planned from Wyoming in 2020 to Las Vegas in 2021 up to this year's Nashville retreat and discuss how everything was planned and organized for everyone to have a great experience.
Jamie: Hello everybody, welcome to today's podcast. We are bringing back one of our favorite guests, Lily. Obviously, she's our favorite guest because she's so fun to talk to, but also she has a great topic to talk about. So, we're here to talk about, I can't say the word post-pandemic, because I don't think we're quite there yet, but we're here to talk about the current environment.
We're here just to talk about, obviously, the travel environment has changed. The retreat world has changed, and so we thought it'd be a good time to bring Lily in again to talk about what the changes are. So welcome to the show again Lily.
Lily: Thank you, exciting to be here. Always slightly nerve-wracking, but you know, we're good.
Jamie: It’s just because Jody’s here. He makes everyone nervous.
Lily: He likes to plant nervous seeds.
Jamie: We should definitely record that — where he makes everybody nervous. That'd be great. And then again, obviously, Jody's here once again, so welcome to the show again Jody.
Jody: Yeah, thanks Jamie. Appreciate it.
Jamie: Alright. Lily, let's start. So, let's start with the changes. I think the last time we talked was when we were in Vegas, and we were definitely in the middle of the pandemic and having a pandemic retreat. So again, I feel like we're a little bit out of ways from that. So, let's talk about what's changed since the last time we talked.
Lily: Yeah, a lot has changed in very minor ways that you may not be able to see directly up in front. One thing I'm seeing is a lot more confidence from distributed teams that still value in-person connection and are wanting to create a really memorable experience. And there's now confidence in doing that because things seem to be really steadying out.
There is a little bit more pattern from previous years that we're able to navigate as well. So that's been one. And with that confidence and more people ready to travel, comes things booking out a lot faster. I've been advising a lot, some of the teams I've been working with on planning retreats usually at minimum, we want a six-month window — if not sooner.
So really getting strategic and what your vision is for next year already when it comes to planning, And then, also costs. I think we've seen it in about every industry, and even when you're planning your leisure spring break trips, things are just more expensive and that is something everyone needs to factor into budgeting and also just being realistic with those expectations.
So really for me, it's important to monitor those trends and be able to be very transparent, cushion budgets out, so that there's flexibility in some of the spikes that we're seeing in travel.
Jody: Basically, what you're saying is that if it was $3,000 for a retreat before, it's going to probably be close to a $3,300-person retreat to get the same quality as before.
You had mentioned offline how you had a retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and we can kind of share the cost comparison. If you don't mind, could you give the audience an idea?
Lily: Yeah, and really to cost comparison comes down to the destination that you're looking for, right? Many people are searching for places that are remote, and you don't have to worry about being in cities, necessarily, and even searching out Mexico because it's an easy international destination to get to.
But touching base on a partner I've worked with, their prices have doubled over the same period of time — going from about $300 to $700 a night, same place nothing's changed. It's just a lot more sought after, and there's a lot more competition with people wanting to get into these certain places and getting the same bucket-list items checked off and just doing it right now.
Jamie: Yeah. I really wish the travel industry didn't have to deal with inflation, right? Like the one industry prices didn't go up there, but obviously, it's not the case. And I think again, to your point, especially with a lot more companies staying distributed, companies are probably looking to do these trips more now.
So, I think that's probably a big part of it is a lot of people are looking, saying, ‘okay, now that things are over let's, let's do this retreat.’
And again, let's go back to your six-month out [timeline]. So, if I come to you a month before, we’ll probably be staying in Jodie's backyard in tents. We don't want to do that.
So if I come to you six months out and start talking about a retreat, where should we start? What are the things we should be thinking about? And should we have a list of locations? Do we just ask you, ‘Hey, what do you recommend?’ Where should we start when it comes to that six-month period?
Lily: Yeah. So, the planning process will really begin by me getting to know you and what you're striving and looking for, for your team. I'll give you an example; a group I'm working with right now, their team's really into Yellowstone, and they want to do some theme around like, ‘Sales Goals, Giddy up to End the Year Strong’ — those types of themes.
I take that and basically began building out destination maps to an extent. So, we look at various places that'll kind of help encapsulate that theme. When people show up, they're already feeling the theme of the retreat becoming present in where they are.
So from there, we look at the different destinations. I basically do a price breakdown on what you're looking at. If the majority of your team is on the east coast, and you guys are wanting to send everyone out to California, your airfare costs are probably going to spike a little bit more than the average airfare costs. And there's probably going to be a little bit more planning and strategy around when people are showing up, flight timing, how you want that experience to be — even from getting to the airport.
You know, if you're going across the country, you're probably having most of your team getting to the airport at 6:00 AM so that they can be to the first evening of events somewhere. So that's another thing to really think about is location in the timeframe you're working with for when people are arriving and what that experience will be — literally as they walk out their door to the airport.
So, yeah, those are two things at the very beginning— really the location and the ideation of the experience that we're trying to create. From there, basically I have a step-by-step meeting timeline where we check off things. Once we have accommodations booked, it's really digging into venues and experiences.
I have a team doing an outdoor experience with sound baths, meditation, and a really cool hike. And then we're doing this amazing picnic at an overlook in a national park so that they can really do some immersive things that allow them to connect as a team and might be different from what they normally do, and are experiential and cool, just really neat, neat things.
So, stuff like that is similar. We get to begin to get really creative with venues and experiences and different things like that. And then we all head to the retreat after pinning up more details, and I'm there the day before to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Flights come in on time. We've had hiccups in the past with just flight delays and navigating those things so that really, especially the leaders, like Jody, and I know it mentioned this on other calls, that they're able to be present and aren't worried about closing out tabs or getting everyone to the next spot or those types of things. It's just, ‘Hey, we're here. And let's enjoy ourselves.’
Jody: Yeah, I think that's super important. I mean, I can't stress anymore; we've had individuals like yourself put together these events and then we're kind of on our own, and it is a pain in the butt.
It's stressful. And it's like, why hand that to my co-administrator and have her do all that. That's not her job. That's not what she's good at. That's not what we want. Why have me do it? Why should I be doing? I should be doing other things. I should be leading the event or be part of the event, you know? You Jamie shouldn’t have to be intermixed with any of that stuff. And so, it's great to have you there.
And I would say that I wouldn't do it any other way. I think it's extremely important and you do such a great job with it that it just makes the event go really well. And if the event goes off a little bit, I never know about it because you steer it back in the right place, and that's the cool thing about it.
So, it takes really small boulders, or rocks, that you're climbing over, the big ones, and makes them really small. You ask. So that's why I appreciate, for sure, having this part of the team, and that's how we treat you. We'll run the event part of the team.
And I wouldn't do that any other way. And I think everybody at the firm treats you in the same manner, which is how we want, you know, when she'd be a vendor, but wants you to be part of the experience with us, so that the next time, you know exactly well what went right, what went wrong. You know, our team even better.
And then it should make it a lot easier just to the plan, you know, future retreats. Jamie, would you have anything to add to that or,
Jamie: No, I definitely agree. Obviously I've hung out with Lily now, probably at four or five retreats. And like you said, I think she's very perceptive about what different people like.
What the needs of the team are. And so like every time I talked to her about, okay, what's, what's the next retreat. And I tried to get the insight information. It's like, don't worry. I got you covered because she, she knows us well and knows what works well for us. And also I think she's also very good at asking the right questions.
Right. So like what, you know, she kinda mentioned The theme of the old west, because this is what we're working on, and this is what we're trying to get when you walk in. So I also think like, you know, different years are working on different things and such to try to match those up. I think having Lily involved throughout the year, just kind of checking in, Hey, how are things going?
Are you guys growing right now or are you kind of taking a backseat and trying to slow down a little bit? Cause I think different retreats will echo different things there. I think that is really important, with Lily really knowing your team because that's why we get such great retreats. Everybody walks away from it and being like, wow, that was, that was seamless.
And really, it's not seamless because you see Lily running around like a chicken with her head cut off, like taking care of all this information and all the details and stuff. But like everybody that's in the retreat and in the details, like seems totally relaxed because Lily's has got it all covered. So,
Jody: yeah, it looked like if you could, I wouldn't mind you taken us from our retreat back in October, we went to Las Vegas, had a great time there. Kinda walk us through what that experience was like and what that, you know, what basically your view on that, and then kind of fast forward to your team retreat coming up here in May, in Nashville, and what that, how that's going to differ, what kind of experience that our team should expect from that.
Lily: Yeah. What's so fun? I'm going to probably backtrack a little bit here, but what's really been interesting and kind of fun working with different teams. And that's part of me navigating and understanding what your team's like. Jody, for example, has been a very big advocate. Most of the people on his team tends to like city type experiences where it's very walkable, they can get around quickly explore cool coffee shop, go to a neat show, have some nightlife nearby, whether it's Vegas and gambling a little bit, or whether it's going to upcoming Nashville and having Broadway street to follow the music and experience that type of thing where I've had some more creative agencies to be like, we want to get remote. We want to get out there. We want to do something completely different and be off the grid, radar, the whole thing. And so that's been really fun navigating to, and understanding what teams as a whole really appreciate and, and value during their experiences.
But yeah Vegas back in October, it was our second time. We had the CFOs there in the early summer time in Vegas for their experience, and then brought the entire team back to Vegas for the all team. And that was a lot of fun, especially it can get a little bit more dynamic when you're dealing with larger groups of people, right?
You go from having 15 people and there's a little bit more intricacies that you can do with 15 people. We did a private dinner in a beautiful penthouse overlooking the strip. You have to get great views of the strip when you're in Vegas. It's a non-negotiable. We had an after area for people to get together and mingle.
So it wasn't trying to find people on the Vegas strip as well. And so some of those things we then took in and duplicated them for the all team with 55 people, same having a space for people to get together after giving kind of, the director is a lead and navigating the dining experiences. We did breakouts because that was very successful at the smaller retreats as well.
And then there definitely were things we had to navigate having 55 people and that we learned from as well. We did a show with 55 people and then the venue we went to after the show was, excuse me, a little bit away from the show venues. So bringing 55 people to a very private space for a really, really cool sushi event.
We had sushi from Nobu catered in. Music going, decorations, kind of cocktail tables set up for people to mingle. But that was, it got a little tricky, getting everyone into this really exclusive space at the same time. So taking those things, what worked really well, what we love, what was the energy of the group?
And that's what's so helpful being there because I can really navigate. We need music, or we need a change of music or we need the food to come out faster or we need extra food because we might not have just enough able to navigate and learn from those things and then implement them for future experiences while trying some new stuff. So,
Jamie: I think what you do as well is when you have a group that large, you do a nice job navigating because if you have 55 people in the room, not everybody's the same. Right? So I'll use me as an example. Like when you said sushi, I was like, oh man, I'm not going to eat sushi. But again, you did a nice job having sushi, but you also had other food there.
And then, you know, there's other people that, you know, you said you had music, but you also have little games and cards and stuff like that. So people, some people are kind of quiet and they're not, they don't really know how to socialize aren't as good as socializing. So having games there makes it easy for them to jump right in and socialize while others are going to walk right in and go right to the corners talking to everybody.
So I think you do a nice job accommodating all people that are in the party because not everybody's the same. And so I think everybody that walks into that room is going to find where they feel comfortable and stay comfortable because you give them those options.
Lily: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. And yeah, I think that's one of the important things too, is creating an environment where people are able to easily connect and you're not creating any sort of awkward, silent moments of where, what should I do? Where should I go?
There's a nice flow to things. And everyone feels confident in that. I know Jody, you had mentioned about our upcoming retreat in Nashville and what'll make this so different as we kind of have the same bones to what worked, but Nashville is known for their food, their whiskey, their music, and their nightlife.
And so how can we, in a simple form, layer those experiences on with a team that's growing to make it very smooth, not chaotic, but really encapsulate in small ways the energy that Nashville creates directly into the experience for everyone. So we have some super neat things. I don't want to share too much because some stuff is a surprise, but we are layering in a lot of music and really, really cool venues as well.
So that'll be a lot of fun looking to do a scavenger hunt, even kind of like music country themed. So, yeah.
Jody: So it kind of even fast forward, even further to our director’s retreat, we have our directors and their spouses and their families for retreat. Can you kind of go to that, even that dynamic, that we're now you got kids involved versus just the, just adults.
What you'd see in a normal team retreat.
Lily: Yeah. I actually love this conversation because I just had it with another group. I'm looking at bringing families on and how to navigate that family,
Jamie: but we'll report, delay the recording of this till after the release of this.
Lily: Families can be a tricky element to bring in, but also it can be a fantastic element to celebrate the hard work of your employees and celebrate their families who maybe have had to put up with the late nights at work or, or whatever it might be.
A lot of what I've found successful, if families are going to be incorporated as bringing them on right at the get go or, or if they're not or if we're trying to keep it just employees you guys do a fantastic job of this and then making it clear when the family can show up for, or the plus one during the retreat.
So there's very definitive lines. But yeah, the directors’ family are invited, kids included. What I've found to work really well is having spaces that cater to a broad range of interests and a broad range of ages. And so while the directors are in their meetings I actually form relationships with their spouses and families so that their spouses feel comfortable texting me.
Reaching out via email for anything they need. And what I'll do is then set up activities for Jamie's wife, Adriene to do with his kids while he's in a meeting. So that could be swimming with dolphins. It could be just going to the pool and to the water slides and getting passes for that, or doing a Aqua experience where they can learn how to be Marine biologists for the day.
So then we set those up so that the families aren't sitting around twiddling their thumbs waiting for mom or dad to come out so they can do something as a family. They're enjoying their time doing something small and then. We typically leave lunches open so everyone can kind of reconvene and do what they want for lunches.
And then always a free day for something of a bigger nature of trip. We did last time was a Catamaran ride with snorkeling and we went to a private island and had lunch for everyone and did that whole thing as well. Some. Yeah, I love the ideas and families, especially celebratory. And I think when people bring it up, it can come off as a really big hurdle of how can we graph doing this while still allowing people to connect.
And I think it's one of those doable things, as long as there's kind of definitive lines of when family is coming and what the set schedule is.
Jody: And typically with our retreats, we'll have families invited them on the last day on the team retreats, CFO retreats, that sort of thing, where we have a group dinner and family members are invited to the group dinner, you know, so, you know, we might have 50 employees or team members there, and there may be a hundred people at the dinner.
And it's important to know that in advance, obviously. So we plan the right venue for the dinner, but the kind of nice thing about it is we go somewhere nice so that they can then participate maybe in that weekend. And we have some, maybe reduce rates on rooms that we can kind of pass along to them and it's kind of on their own, but they can kind of make it, they're a little mini vacations out of our team retreat because we don't, what we don't want is we don't want there to be any animosity from the family members, you know, Hey, you're going to Vegas or Nashville or Cabo or wherever you might be going.
We don't want them to feel like, you know, wow, they're having fun. I'm here with the kids or whatever. And so what the idea is there is, Hey, invite them on the last day. I'm going to show him a little bit about the company, let them show off the company a little bit. And at the same point, maybe extended a couple more days and have their own special vacation or getting away.
Lily: Yeah. For the directors’ retreats and family there, I can definitely see because I mean, there's a length of time. Those tend to be longer. But there is this connection that happens at those retreats where people, the directors really get to know each other because their families are also really getting to know each other.
And it's always so interesting seeing how people find and make friends so quickly and find their pod to hang out with and what works really well. Just the conversations even from we've had, from when we've had retreats after where the whole team is there and everything. Just the, the, what I hear shared between the directors is just, I think really unique in a sense of how the relationship from that experience deepens so much. And you can tell me if you felt differently, but it's definitely cool.
Jamie: I definitely agree. And I, I think back to when I was at Grant Thornton, you know, there was a manager I worked with quite a bit and we were really close friends and our wives were really close friends because we did stuff together.
And like, if there was ever a party, we always carpooled together. We, you know, because we're in the same city that happened. And I think because of the director's retreat, the same thing has happened. You know, we recently went to Palm Springs for an event for a speaking engagement. And the director I was going with was like, Hey, bring your wife, our wives know each other.
They can hang out. And they had, they had a great time and it was exactly like, it was Grant Thorton, even though we live, you know, I haven't been further than a thousand miles away from each other. And it's like, you know, it's our wives still hanging out and still get to know each other. And it's like, oh yeah, I'd love to see Alison and hanging out with her and so like, it just makes it easier to kind of like you were in an actual office where like they're used to hanging out with each other. And that, that came from the bombers retreat because they hung out there, kids that are similar ages and whenever we're there at waterslides, we ended up waiting in the same lines and just got to know each other.
And so that, that's just kinda how. Because, you know, do you have those things in common that you just get to know each other? And they have seen each other a couple of times since, and that definitely is true.
Jody: Yeah, I think it really bonds the whole directors and that's really the biggest part of it, right? Cause you don't, when you're working remote, you don't get that bonding relationship. You can see what you're saying. You can, you can see the visual cues, all that kind of stuff, but really when you, when you're hanging out with their spouses, you're getting to know them even better and, and their spouse is getting to know us better.
I think it's huge. I think it's, I wouldn't go back and do it any differently. I think it was just one of those dumb muck things that we did to celebrate something and it was like, wow, this is something special. It does cost a lot, but I think it's definitely worth the investment.
Jamie: So that's what I was going to bring back to you, Jody. And then the last question to you is just kind of bring it full circle. So the first thing Lily mentioned was that the cost has gone up and you know, everything's more expensive. So you as a business owner and you, as someone who needs to build a team, would you do things differently?
When the cost went up, how did you start thinking about the retreats differently?
Jody: Oh, actually, I didn't kind of funny to say that I didn't look at him any differently. You know, we're, we're looking to stay with budgets. The budgets went up a little bit, you know, the overall experience is going to be, you know, it has to be what it needs to be.
You know, he can't, can't skimp on the experience and that's so important to me, you know, when we get out of the corporate world where it's just all profit, you know, dollars and cents, for the most part, we, the experience is what I think bonds teams, it keeps them together, makes them work harder and you know, all that kind of good stuff.
And so I wouldn't change that, change that at all, actually. We even added another retreat. You know, we added our Potter retreats, which is going to be more of a working retreat, you know, six months from our team retreat. So our team you're going to get together in a working type environment for a week.
Not a full week, but you know, let's say three or four days you know, really work hard during that time there. And then, you know, get to share some time in the evenings bay, over dinners and stuff like that. They can, you know, get a chance to bond with each other. Again, we think that, I think it's super important that I want.
No, I, I tip like, filled about that six month is when, you know, people are kind of yearning for that experience that, you know, getting a chance to get out, hanging out with their buddies at work, you know, that type of thing. And I think if we have it every six months, it's super important.
So that's why we added, you know, you know, basically too many retreats for the most part. And so I guess dance to that question, I guess we doubled down on it. Jamie, we did the opposite, which you're thinking of counting for. We kind of pull back, maybe it's like they're so important and they're so important to have done the right way because of what you don't want to do.
You don't, you don't want to waste 150,000 hours. Let's put it, you know, put it simple, you know, 50 people times through your hand is $150,000. You don't want to waste it. You wanna get the most out of it. It's a heck of a lot cheaper doing these retreats and continually trying to find and recruit new talent over and over and over again because they don't have that connected feeling that they thought they're going to have in a remote environment.
And so here's what we can do is we can prove that connectivity to, you know, a remote environment and make it work really effectively. And that's the importance, I believe of the retreats.
Lily: Yeah. And then there is the, it's been, the conversation with cost is also been really interesting because I've had it multiple times and some ways to navigate it as well as And we, you guys haven't shifted in this, just like Jody said, but is also looking at dates that are during the week. So if you're looking at venues and hotel pricing, and anyone can probably tell you this is that your higher rates start going up Thursday night.
Friday's a little bit more Saturday's a little bit more. And then sometimes you run into minimums where it's like, we can't have 55 people checking out on a Saturday because we're not going to have people actually book those rooms to stay with us one night. So some of the stuff I've looked at with other groups have been why don't we look at flying in on a Monday, checking out on a Thursday and that can help shave down.
Even if it's just $50, a person, a hundred dollars a person, you know, that stuff adds up in a bigger budget too. But that's been an interesting way of navigating the market more or less.
Jamie: I think the point too is people like Lily are really good at is having those conversations. Right. So she talked about the days of the week, but also, you know, you talked about the Yellowstone experience.
Like maybe having Kevin Costner show up isn't that important. Maybe you can find another way to make it important and to make it just make it fun. So I think like, you know, really it is like, yeah, our retreats are pretty awesome and we do a lot of cool things and we stay in places that I probably would never stay on my own, but even if we went somewhere a little bit cheaper and a little bit You know, just somewhere different and unique.
And it was a little, it was quite a bit cheaper. I think the experiences you're still having with the people that are still there. And so I think just don't, don't pass up on a retreat just because of cost, because it's really about people and I, to Jody's point, every time they come back from retreat, I feel like we get like injected with fuel.
Like the whole team is like coming back and working super hard and like working together more. And it's like a really good thing for the team. And so, I mean, the cost is definitely worth it from what I see for my position. Great. So I think we've we've filled out the time here and I definitely enjoy talking with you again, Lily about this, and I'm, I'm excited for the two retreats upcoming.
I can't wait to get out there and I'm hanging out with the team again, so excited for that. But any final thoughts? I'll start with you, Lily.
Lily: No, I love what I do and I think that shows the creative process and doing it, the ability to connect. And that's what I valued with you all so much more than anything is once you take off doing one retreat together, I get to know some everyone so well, and even working with, in fact, I had a director reach out to me earlier this week to help plan a leisure trip for them. And our call took 20 minutes. Cause I already knew so many answers because we've spent so much time together and Yeah, I value working with you all and just the ongoing working together makes this stuff so much fun because then we get to do some really cool nitty-gritty work at the same time.
Jamie: Great final thoughts. How about you Jody?
Jody: So, no, I guess you've planned retreats from, you know, just small directors where one or two people are going up and we had like a mini vacation. If you wanna call that a retreat to two really large retreats Yeah, I think all of them, you know, all of them have their own place.
Right? So you can, if it's a 400 person retreat, you're going to have different nuances with that than a 40 person retreat or 15 person retreat. And, and for me, if I were to sit here and say, Hey, Jody, put together a 40 person retreat I probably couldn't do it, but I definitely couldn't do it. If he said put the other 400 person retreat, I have no clue where to start there.
And I think that's important having somebody like yourself, handling that as opposed to me, I'm an accountant. I'm not, not, I don't do that. That's not what I do. I don't know where, you know, different places are. I don't know where the right place to go. As you know, I just know what I see on TV or heard on the radio, or, you know, a friend say, you know, a friend of our friend, whereas, but when you bring someone like yourself on, you can kind of take all those and say, now here's what you need to do based on what you've told me.
And it makes a lot of sense and narrows decision-making down a lot. It makes it much easier on us to you know, to make that decision Lily, you know, for those, we obviously know how to get ahold of you but how would somebody listening to this today, how would they reach out if they're interested in talking to you a bit more?
Lily: Yeah. I know Jamiel Lincoln, but my email address is the best spot. And then I take phone calls. As much as I travel to discover new places for the people I work with, I am by a desk, a lot, curating, and so I'm very accessible from my phone. And so you can post my phone number in there as well.
So email, phone numbers. Perfect.
Jamie: Great. We'll make sure that's in the show notes. So, and then the YouTube notes below as well. So yeah, definitely appreciate both of you guys. And like I said, I can't wait for Nashville. And then I know you didn't give away the director's retreat location yet, but I will get it out.
Jamie: Awesome. Can't wait.
Lily: Thank you.
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