Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev

Wish You Were Here with Shan Stout

June 19, 2023 Kosta Yepifantsev Season 3 Episode 5
Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev
Wish You Were Here with Shan Stout
Show Notes Transcript

Join Kosta and his guest: Shan Stout, Director of Tourism for the Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce.

Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev is a product of Morgan Franklin Media and recorded in Cookeville, TN.

Find out more about Visit Cookeville and Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce Tourism:
https://www.visitcookevilletn.com/

Find out more about Kosta Yepifantsev:
http://kostayepifantsev.com/

Shan Stout:

We have people even tell us they came here to try it out. And they loved it so much. They decided this is where we're going to land. So they come in and ask us for realtor advice and location advice. And so we just we answer all the questions.

Morgan Franklin:

Welcome to Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev, a podcast on parenting business and living life intentionally. We're here every week to bring you thoughtful conversation, making your own path to success,challenging the status quo, and finding all the ways we're better together. Here's your host, Kosta Yepifantsev.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Hey, y'all, this is Kosta. And today I'm here with my guest Shan stout, Director of Tourism for the Cookeville Putnam County Chamber of Commerce. SHAN for anyone that doesn't know you have a long standing familial connection to chamber work with your mother representing DeKalb. County as chamber director. How does it feel now to be directing the tourism efforts in your own community of Putnam County?

Shan Stout:

Cast? I'm going to tell you, it is a wonderful fit for me, it's no surprise but what was really unusual. I was the director of marketing for St. Thomas for a decade. And so I was in healthcare marketing for a long blip of time. And following the pandemic, I thought, Gosh, I need to market something happier. Yes. So tourism was the first thing that came to my marketing someone's spare time, what they do in their leisure time, is a beautiful thing and an easy thing to market. So I had already been so invested in that supporting my mother's career, that when I received this job, I was so thrilled, but the best thing was, I already knew all the tourism people at the state, I already knew all the tourism people across our region. So I had those resources, those connections. So it was so easy and effortless to transition, which was my concern. And I just really didn't expect that to be the powerhouse resources, just all the connections I'd already made. Thanks to what I call smother.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Is there anything kind of like unexpected that's come out of this new role? Because I mean, tourism sounds like you're advertising for the city or the county, for you know, some of the natural resources that we have around here and things like that. But is there anything unexpected that has come since you started this job?

Shan Stout:

Oh, definitely. Definitely. My job description was not thorough enough in what I was going to be doing. We not only market all of our natural resources and promote people coming into from Blind drop markets. But sports tourism is a huge bolstering effect to our commerce. I mean, we bring in literally 1000s of athletes every single weekend. And they are here. They spend their dollars spectators come in, they visit our hotels are packed. And that is a huge boost in our tourism industry that even I didn't think of before I took on this role.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

And this past weekend was the Jim bean Invitational. It

Shan Stout:

was the pro classic, absolutely

Kosta Yepifantsev:

tell talk a little bit about how that experience unfolded and how you guys kind of had to put together an incredible event in such a short period of time.

Shan Stout:

Well, sports recruitment is a big part of my role. And that means you have to talk to tournament directors, let them know why Cookeville is a good location for them to relocate because they get comfortable where they are. And even if they're unhappy, they don't want to drag you know, 234 1000 athletes to another city and relearn the process. So recruitment and retention is very important. And in this case, Hendersonville was their host city and Nashville, and they lost. They lost their space. Yeah, they're very last second, they had like 11 days to relocate My goodness. And so they said, Hey, we've had our amateur tournaments here in Cookeville, could Cookeville accommodate a pro tournament for initially 1200 athletes? And we're like, oh, my gosh, 11 days, and it's Memorial Day weekend. So I mean, I want to give a shout out to Mayor Porter, Mayor Wheaton, President Oldham at Tennessee Tech, the intramural fields, Mark Wilson, for the varsity fields, we have every single field that was booked this weekend. And if everyone had not partnered together, including the sanitation department, because they said we're gonna need 4896 Gallon Trash cans to hold bats on the pro fields. And I was like, I didn't know that was a thing. So having all those partnerships to collaborate and use their resources at the last minute is amazing. And we did it and today I got the call. They said they were so satisfied with the hospitality in Cookeville. They are moving all of their pro tournaments from Nashville Hindi Sunnyvale cross fail to Cookeville as their permanent home. And that is a it's baseball and softball, baseball and softball international as well. It is international across the United States, we had athletes flying in and from Canada and Mexico, amazed. So it was a really big deal. And we're so sorry, all the restaurants were full, that was completely our fault.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

So you've worn many hats in your career from author and television host to marketing and communications and now director of tourism. How have these experiences influenced your approach to promoting tourism?

Shan Stout:

Well, I have an interesting beginning, my beginning started in publishing, and I was published at 19 years old. So I was the youngest published author and illustrator on the best sellers list. So that made me a novelty. What was it? I was in children's books. Okay. The interesting thing is I also was working for country music singer Ricky van Shelton at the time, he's way before you cost, you might look up his music.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

That's like when people talk to me about country music. And I say Kanye Twitty and they're like, No, it's not that.

Shan Stout:

Not your market, not your market. But he was the number one country music singer in the world at the time. So I compare him to like Blake Shelton up nowadays. So that put me on a speaking circuit, a book tour. And we had books in multiple languages that were hitting those bestsellers list. I mean, it was a big amount of responsibility for someone so young. So I had to learn to navigate a corporate world as basically a teenager. And those scales working with the best advertising companies consulting for the best ad agencies. It gave me a very high level view of what success is in those industries. And what failure is on both sides, then moving into healthcare years, and years later, been able to see a high level corporate marketing strategy. I was also a digital strategist for Capella. So I learned all the different ways to navigate social media, and how once you learn them, two days later, everything changes. So you have to be malleable and flexible, and navigate new opportunities to market. So I guess just flexibility and corporate awareness is what are brought to the table. The level

Kosta Yepifantsev:

of professionalism that you exhibit is its barn on its unparalleled in this area. And I think that obviously being in so many different facets and industries, you pick up on how to do those types of things, right. I am curious of all of the roles that you've had. What's the most fast pace, the one that probably consumed all of your time, it's probably not this tourism position, right?

Shan Stout:

I'll tell you sports tourism is a close second, to a book tour. Because a bookstore, you have a publicist and an editor, you have a publishing company, you have someone that is driving that tour. And so four days a week, every day, you're in a different city, you're signing books, you're speaking you're doing radio, you're doing television, and it's all like in one day. So you wake up at 330 in the morning, you hit the first television show by 430 in the morning, and then you're speaking at, you know, getting ready to be there at 7am. You're speaking at 8am Your book signing until four. And then you got oh, you know, you're out by four, but by then you just

Kosta Yepifantsev:

need a nap. Yeah. Right. So it's literally work, eat and sleep. And then you started all over

Shan Stout:

the next day. And I stopped saying, I'm so happy to be in so and so city because I would literally just forget where I was, I had no idea. You're always either tired from driving or the jetlag one or the other is going to get you but you just muscle through. So I guess my work ethic became such a thing that I didn't think about it anymore, because work became what drove me. So I'm very 24/7 and I know I probably shouldn't be that way. But that's just the way I roll.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Well, you worked on Memorial Day weekend and make this tournament. I

Shan Stout:

did I did. I did take a minute to eat a hot dog and sit by the pool with my family Monday afternoon. So that was lovely. Very good.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

I tell you what Memorial Day weekend has really thrown a lot of people off. I'm still thinking that it's like, you know, Sunday when it's actually Tuesday. So I'm gonna get back on track though. Having previously managed volunteer services across five counties in Middle Tennessee in your opinion, what role does community service play in enhancing local tourism and community development?

Shan Stout:

Well, first off, I'm going to say that volunteers in any community are your salt of the earth. They are the best people because they are working hard for free giving their most valuable commodity, which is their time. So that being said, in tourism, the whole community are they're volunteering their hospitality, they're volunteering a positive attitude and a positive outlook toward community. So when people come to town, and they are from another state or another country, and you are kind to them, and you help them find where a place is, where a restaurant is where a waterfall is, they remember that it impacts them in a big way. And so that is a different type of volunteerism that people don't think about that is you volunteering your tiny bit of time to help another person. So everyone can be a volunteer, no matter how much time it takes small or big. It's all very valuable.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Do you think that Airbnb has transformed the way that we approach tourism because like, back in the day, you would go online and book a hotel and the specific market or city but now you can bring your entire family and Airbnb home and stay there for two or three weeks? You know, and you don't feel like you're in this weird hotel room the whole time? I'm just curious, you know, given that you've been doing this for a year, year and a half year and a half now, how has Airbnb, in your opinion played into tourism?

Shan Stout:

Airbnb lends a different element, it's usually experience driven. Okay. So in our area, we have 227 Airbnbs, across Putnam County. So that being said, they all have a different flavor to what they offer, we have Airbnbs that are on farms, we have Airbnbs, that our apartments above a restaurant or a coffee shop, we have Airbnbs that are literally someone's home. Sometimes when people like we had a family from Belgium, and they came and they stopped in the Visitors Bureau. And part of them were staying in Airbnb ease. And part of them were staying in hotels, because they wanted the different experience. They want to see what it's like to be a Southerner in Tennessee. And that was adorable to me. And so they were literally staying at an Airbnb on a farm that had three different tiny homes. And they wanted the whole experience. And so it really lends to a richer choice, because our hotels are nice, and they're wonderful. But also the Airbnb offers a whole different view of what it's like, you're kind of living here, so to speak, for seven to 10 days. It's just a whole a whole different view for people and

Kosta Yepifantsev:

it probably contributes to the conversion of people visiting Cookeville and then deciding, you know, this could be a place that I would want to live. And so I think tourism probably plays a big part into people's deciding to move here permanently.

Shan Stout:

Oh, definitely. Definitely. We have people even tell us they came here to try it out. And they loved it so much. They decided this is where we're gonna land. So they come in and ask us for realtor advice and location advice. And so we just we answer all the questions

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Nice. You're no stranger to the power of social media and branding. How can we utilize all the advantages of digital media to share our vision of tourism in Putnam County and the upper Cumberland?

Shan Stout:

Okay, social media is tourism's best friend. We not only do organic content, but we work with the state of Tennessee and the Department of Tourism to navigate social media in a way that we can utilize every free resource. First, were very fiscally responsible with our dollars. So we do everything that we can free, and then we start boosting and all of that and we also encourage the community to share and like and follow because if only just the community did that, it would expand our following greatly. Just this week, we had an average of 82,000 people that were actively engaged in our social media platform, which are all the app visit Cookeville through Instagram and Twitter and Facebook and Tik Tok. We've had over 312,000 views to our videos that only started in January for Tik Tok. So we have a social media influencer on our team, Tessa Davis have to give a shout out to her. I decided in the beginning of my strategy, it was better to grow your own influencer than to pay outside influencers, which has had been our previous strategy. And so Tessa said, I'm game just, you know, train me mold me whatever. And we just started starting the strategy. Yeah, and it grew and it grew and it grew

Kosta Yepifantsev:

and when you first started correct me if I'm wrong, but if somebody went to visit cook Phil's page, they were automatically sent to Gatlinburg. Yes, we years this was happening.

Shan Stout:

It was happening forever. Gatlinburg was poaching all of The Visit Cookeville sites and so say somebody would go to see and vacation.com and they would type in Cookeville. All of the ads were for severe evil, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. And so immediately I was like, this has got to Star

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Wars, right? Like step one. Yes.

Shan Stout:

So I reached out to sea and vacation and said, look, the second that their contracts expire on advertising, I want every single thing to do with Cookeville. I want to get it back. Nice. So we've done that. And so last year 638,000 People were driven to visit Cookeville. And so that's a big drop working with the state of Tennessee. So you're

Kosta Yepifantsev:

saying that you were missing out? We as a community are missing out on 600 million people? 1000? Opportunities? Yes. Wow, impressive. So of all the social media platforms that you use, though, do you think that tick tock is the most popular?

Shan Stout:

It's the broadest reach, okay. It just is. Because when you have a hashtag that you're using, it will reach, say 1.3 billion or 2.4 billion, whereas you're in Facebook, and you're an Instagram, and it's more like 348,000, or maybe 1.1 million, but you're not seeing the billion. Yeah, you know, because it is a world platform that is growing so quickly.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Can I ask, though, in terms of AI, are you guys incorporating any type of image generation and maybe chat GPT, to write some articles like, is that something that is going to be the future of content creation, so that you don't have to have a team of 25 people, you might be able to do it with one or two,

Shan Stout:

we actually had that conversation this week, we do not use it. But that being said, I told my staff, you know, if it's taking you an hour to write a press release, go ahead and get the guts of it using chat. GBT. Yes. And then add the actual content and color like you would do quote from yourself, quote, from a genuine place, do not use a to do a quote from yourself, right? It's not going to be authentic. And I think people can eventually feel that in an article, we want to have the timesaver on the editing portion, but the authenticity, to speak from a real place where a hybrid

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Yeah, and I mean, just like when you were talking about being fiscally responsible, and making sure that you're optimizing all of the resources that you have, I think AI is a great tool, Morgan and I use it all the time to cut down on costs, you know, I mean, we'd probably have to have a six person team if it wasn't for chat GPT and some of the image generating software. And I'll tell you, I was talking to not to go off subject. But something interesting happened this past weekend, I was talking to a friend. And he's very engaged in kind of the tech realm. And he's working. He just graduated from Yale, and he's working with a individual that was in his class, who runs an IT company. He has about 7080 employees. And he said that with the help of AI, that he will be able to eliminate half of his workforce in six months, because this technology is moving so rapidly now. For example, like I've used Chad GPT and I'm just like, I can't believe that it took me this long to try it. Right. And I'll tell you like, it's it's kind of scary, though. You know, because like the things that make you special the things that make Tesla special, like the things that make Morgan special me special. You know, people always give me compliments psycho. You know, you're so articulate when you write well, I ain't as articulate as Chad GBT can tell you that. Anyway, sorry, I'm off topic. As the Director of Tourism, you undoubtedly have one of the best understandings of what makes our community so special. What, in your opinion, are some of the hidden gems that visitors and locals should know about?

Shan Stout:

Well, we hear it all the time. We have people from the community that come into the visitor shop, and they'll ask a question or a tourist comes in at the same time and they'll ask a question, then when we answer, the local person goes, oh my gosh, I didn't know that was here. What? We have that here, how many waterfalls we have over 150 waterfalls here. And we were able to then educate a local person because of the questions that a tourist will ask. And we target find job markets, but we also track them. So last fall, we received our data and it's tracked from people's cell phones, so I know creepy. Speaking of AI we also track your cell phones. We know how long you stay in here, where you're going after you leave here, how you got here by car or by plane, whatever. And we had An influx of people from West Tennessee Memphis and beyond that were just landing in Cookeville and staying seven to 10 days. Wow. And we were like, What is the deal? This doesn't normally happen this time of year. And so then we start going through the Yelp reviews and the Google reviews and we started noticing a common thread and it was calling us little Gatlinburg, small Gatlinburg, they were looking for a replacement for the Smoky Mountains. And they said, We're looking for a place that was closer than Gatlinburg to us, but had the same or similar experiences without the congestion of people. And I thought about it, I was like, Oh my gosh, we're little Gatlinburg. We have a wonderful historic downtown with all kinds of little niche shops. We also have all the waterfalls, the hiking, handicap, accessible waterfalls, which is a very rare opportunity. We have the most wonderful restaurants, great hotels, campgrounds, walking trails, beautiful parks. I was like we're fantastic. I had not seen it from a Memphis standpoint that we're saving them an additional three hour drive. And they're like, We loved it. We're coming back. This is this is the new Gatlinburg for us. And so take that Gatlinburg, because we now got our advertising back. And it's working. So

Kosta Yepifantsev:

I gotta ask, when I think of the experience that you have, it just means

Shan Stout:

I'm really old. No, no, no, but what I'm saying is is like make the movers and shakers episode of

Kosta Yepifantsev:

I mean, listen, if you're under the age of 35, which probably around there, I mean, you can definitely make movers.

Shan Stout:

But that's okay, a lot more this is going so

Kosta Yepifantsev:

you have all of this experience, you know, to for example, to know that you can geo locate people to be able to use the information that's provided to craft a strategy, right to open up visit Cookeville and realize that it's all going to Gatlinburg, like the things that you're talking about are high level, they're in almost like C suite type of decision making. You could probably work at a corporation making hundreds and hundreds of 1000s of dollars. Why did you decide to work for the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce?

Shan Stout:

That is an excellent question I have done in the corporate world. And I've worked in the boardroom and I have been on the eighth floor and the whole nine yards. It is wonderful. It is challenging, and I like the drive and the motivation of it. But I am more small town in my roots. Yeah. I was born in DeKalb. County, but I grew up in Atlanta. So I grew up in a massive city went to an inner city school, just a lot of opportunities, a lot of high end educational opportunities. But that being said, we moved back my senior year of high school, oh, culture shock two years. I pouted for two years, I'm not going to pretend that I had a good attitude about it. CASA, I hated small town life. I hate other more cows than people. I just didn't appreciate it. But after two years, I kind of settled down and started to see the benefits. And it just kind of changed me so that after I'd done the corporate life and all of that I was like, I want to find something that drives me in a very personal way. And there is no better job. I mean, this job suits me in a way that I can't even describe. Well,

Kosta Yepifantsev:

we're so lucky to have you. And hopefully Amy listens to this a few times. realize how lucky she is to have you in the position that you're in. I want to talk about your show Wish you were here. This programming is different from most travel style shows in that it was created for both locals and tourists. How did that come to be? And what should viewers now?

Shan Stout:

Well, this was a collaboration between the upper Cumberland development district and WC te and upper Cumberland tourism. They received grant dollars from the state. And it was an innovative idea to promote upper Cumberland tourism, but it is reaching the local community and also driving markets to visit the upper Cumberland. So I call it adventure hosting. Because that's what did it for me when they were saying here's because I posted a lot of things with PBS. And I've done things throughout the years where I was a host and a chair. But the fact that you're going to these places and you're going to actually experience and do the thing that a tourist would do, sometimes poorly. Which just makes me the brunt of the joke at the end of the day but it's a lot of fun. It's just so wonderful. Caitlin stately is the what we call the studio host She's the host anchor. She lands in one spot and then drives the footage out to us. And so myself along with Rafferty, Clary and Matt Bale, we all take different segments and go out and do all the things. And season two is, I think, halfway through now, and hopefully there'll be a season three. But we're just loving it. And it airs across all Tennessee PBS stations in parts of Kentucky. So it's growing,

Kosta Yepifantsev:

has it drove tourism? Have you been able to quantify if the if people like, you know, come to cook phones have watched the show, and I wanted to check out the upcoming

Shan Stout:

season one, we didn't hear a lot of that. But when we would be out filming, people would be like, Oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh, I know who you are. And we were at Rock Island filming at the waterfalls there. And we had a family from New York, they were like 11 of them. And the mother comes over. And once we finish the segment, she goes, I'm so sorry. I don't mean to interrupt. And I thought they were gonna be like, What are you doing here? You know, because we get that a lot. She goes, I know who you are. We are here at this very place. Because we watched you on television amazing, said we can't believe that we're here at this very moment. And so they were over the top. And so their daughter was doing some sort of TiC tock video, she just cannot feel you cannot feel me. So it's things like that. But Season Two has been completely different because now we've grown an audience, and people will see us out and about. And so if I go to Lowe's, I was picking out flowers for my garden. And they said, Oh, Ma, I can't believe you're here. You know, and they tell us about what they love. You know, we saw you at Cumberland caverns. Were you really scared? Or were you just making that up as like, oh, no, I was legitimately afraid I was. I was trapped in that tiny little cave formation called the birth canal. Who wouldn't be scared?

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Alright, two quick questions. One, if you could bring a dream tourist attraction to Putnam County, what would it be?

Shan Stout:

Oh, Dream tourist attraction. Well, on the sports tourism side, we need a multi purpose sports facility. Okay, we need something that can handle our senior adult pickleball tournaments. We need something that can handle our indoor basketball, we need something that just can do everything, volleyball, ping pong. I mean, all the things

Kosta Yepifantsev:

that was actually going to tie into my second question, can we get an ice rink?

Shan Stout:

I would love it. I would love it. I mean, please, we would be able to do every kind of sports. If we can just get ice.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Yeah, like a multipurpose facility that has volleyball courts and has basketball courts and has on like one or two sheets of ice. Ma'am. I'm

Shan Stout:

literally on a committee right now that tries to navigate that conversation. And we've been doing that for several months trying to figure out private public funding all of that we actually have land that can be used for it. It's just a matter of figuring out how to get a multimillion dollar facility paid for

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Yeah, I would kill for an ice rink. I mean, I grew up playing hockey, I love to ice skate. Right. And so like just having the place where I can take my kids, you know, even if they didn't play hockey just to ice skate. They could figure skating, you know? Okay, it would be it would be amazing. Yeah. Well, the governor has just bought, I think the majority share in the national predators, former governor. And so you know, I know that the predators are going to have to partner with any venture that has to do with ice. And so maybe you know, he might be open. I'm sure he likes the upper criminal in a lot.

Shan Stout:

I'm all for it. Costa. Good. Good.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Before we wrap up, I want to talk about one of your hobbies, visiting general stores across the state of Tennessee. Would you mind sharing what makes these stores so special to you? And where should we visit our next staycation?

Shan Stout:

Okay, I've got the answer for that. Now, there are general stores across the southeastern United States everywhere. And they're all very, very different. Some have been restored, some had been updated. Some are like you've stepped back in time, and they've not changed anything since 1815. But these stores all have such a history. And they're so very rare. And they were the lifeline for every community. I mean, that was the store. I mean, we have multiple choices now. And it's you know, it's not even like that was there Walmart, it was there everything. And it was their social clubs. So I recommend if you're going to start your journey in general stores, you need to go to Jackson County and visit Granville, Tennessee, the TV set and general store is wonderful. It has a great history. And every Saturday night they have the Sutton old time music hour, which is a radio show that airs across 60 radio stations across the world. So they have visitors from Switzerland and Iceland and Brazil. I mean, like everywhere, because people have been following them through the radio show and they make plans to attend. So that's also driving tourism.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

So we always like to end the show on a high note. Who is someone that makes you better when you're together.

Shan Stout:

This is an easy one because it is my husband. We are an odd little mix. He is what I call the farmer in overalls. And he is so honest with me and we enjoy spending time together. We like the same things. And we're both old souls so he makes me want to be a better person and he actually brings out the best side of me.

Morgan Franklin:

Thank you for joining us on this episode of Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev. If you've enjoyed listening and you want to hear more, make sure you subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you find your podcasts.Leave us a review or better yet,share this episode with a friend. Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev is a Kosta Yepifantsev Production.Today's episode was written and produced by Morgan Franklin post production mixing and editing by Mike Franklin. Want to know more about Kosta visit us at kostayepifantsev.com We're better together. We'd like to remind our listeners that the views and opinions expressed during this episode are those of the individual speakers and do not necessarily represent or reflect the official policy or position of this show its producers or any related entities or advertisers. While our discussions may touch on various topics of interest,please note that the content is intended to inspire thought provoking dialogue and should not be used for a substitute for professional advice.Specifically, nothing heard on this podcast should be construed as financial, legal,medical or any other kind of professional advice. We encourage our listeners to consult with a professional in these areas for guidance tailored to their specific circumstances.