The Container Store: The Employee as an ‘Extension of the Brand’
By Gene Detroyer,
Senior Advisor, RetailWire
In the retail industry, a 100 percent plus
annual employee turnover is not uncommon. And, in these tough economic
times, that statistic doesn’t tend to be of greatest concern to operators.
More likely, they’re preoccupied with determining if they can get away
with one less person on the floor; cutting back on training; or increasing
the commission portion of the compensation.
There is one retailer, with 46 stores and
3,500 employees, which seems to have a very different philosophy. The
Container Store experiences just 10-to-15 percent annual turnover. How
does the retailer achieve a number virtually unheard of in the industry?
Perhaps the most eye-opening place to start
is on the interview process for a
“transition team.” The transition team at The Container Store
is a group of associates hired for a five-day or so tenure to transition
a store between themed selling seasons. There would typically be transition
teams before and after Christmas, Spring Cleaning, Back-to-School, etc.
At The Container Store, the selection process for this short-term associate
is more involved than what most retailers would have their full-timers go
through. It consists of two interviews: one in a group setting; and one
face-to-face lasting an hour and a half. If there is a next step, the candidate
is taken for a walk around the store with a group of other candidates and
“what if” questions largely oriented to customer interaction.
(Note: This is for associates who are being hired to change displays, fixtures
and move merchandise – not to sell product.)
is The Container Store’s director of recruiting. When asked about this
process, she said this type of attention to detail is not unusual for The
Container Store. “We believe each employee is an extension of
our brand. The staff in the office can write all day long about how
great we are, but it is our associates on the floor who communicate it
by action with the shopper.”
The evaluation process is very deep regardless
of the position. “We want to hire great people and we want to
retain great people,” said Ms. Maynard. “We have part-timers
who have been with us over 15 years.”
The evaluation process also goes both ways.
As with any screening process, The Container Store wants to be sure the
future employee is the right fit. But, The Container Store also wants
to be sure the company is the right fit for the employee. The company considers
it symbolic that their very first hire was a customer.
“This process has been an evolution,” recalls
Ms. Maynard. “When the founders started the company in 1978
they wanted to have ‘the best retail organization in the country.’ We
are certainly more sophisticated now than they were then, but even our
first hire started us in the right direction.”
Today, in fact, most employees are former
customers. Many are approached on the sales floor when they are shopping.
(“Have you ever considered…?”) The other source of talent
is online through The Container Store website, where every application
is reviewed and replied to.
When asked what mistakes other retailers
make, Ms. Maynard quickly answered,
“They are not making a commitment to time.”
(By the way, Karyn Maynard
did not come up through the Human Resource department. She came up
through the stores, like everyone else at The Container Store.)
Discussion Questions: The Container Store
seems to be an outlier when it comes to hiring in the retail industry.
Do you know of other retailers with unique hiring processes? Why
do you think many (if not most) retailers accept an annual turnover rate
of 100 percent? What does The Container Store gain from such an
extraordinarily low turnover rate?