Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Container Store: Smiles = Reputation

My copy of this weeks Newsweek had the interesting piece, Everyday Brilliance, about a company focused on doing it right. The Container Store has it nailed. Great merchandising, enthusiastic employees, and low turnover.

I love reading about "an employee-training program so intensive, the salespeople in effect, become the packaging." To many customers, frontline personnel are the business. Smiling personnel inspire customers to remember, return, and recommend.

THE CONTAINER STORE: On my latest shopping trip to the Container Store, the manager tried to recruit me. "Our best customers make our best employees," he smiled, slipping me a
card with the motto HIRING NEAT PEOPLE! Now wouldn't that be a bit of heaven, I mused, spending days in this clean, well-lighted place, dispensing hope in the form of robust plastic storage crates, linen-wrapped file boxes, sheer mesh baskets that glide into sturdy racks with the whispered promise: I will help you fight back the inevitable chaos of your life.
I could get into that, I thought, falling hard for the philosophy of the company's 37 stores devoted to storage and organization. Founder and CEO Kip Tindell calls it an "Air of Excitement: Three steps in the door and you can tell whether or not a retail company has it." Well, yes. Three steps in his doors and something inevitably hits you: unlike those overmerchandised mega-stores that come across so adorably on TV, people are smiling here.

If there's a design formula at the Container Store, it is to connect the customer directly with the merchandise. So they ripped the packaging off the products—revealing their essence—and created a prettier image of control and order. "But these products do not sell themselves," says Tindell. "They are too multifunctional." So he designed, too, an employee-training program so intensive, the salespeople, in effect, become the packaging: enthusiastic, informed and deeply familiar with the product line (their 40 percent discount encourages such familiarity—that offer's looking even better).
Tindell is the guru-in-chief, fond of motivational training concepts like "The power of the wake," by which he means being mindful of the effect you have on others. All full-time employees get immersion training, "240 hours, compared to the in-dustry average of eight," he adds proudly. He's rewarded with loyalty and low turnover. "This is solutions-based retail," he explains. "We have to transcend value by adding emotional response."
Sharon Tindell, who began with her husband in 1978 when they opened their first store in Dallas, and whose design sensibility touches every product, says it best: "We call it getting the customer to dance."
—Dorothy Kalins

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