Who Says a Store Can’t Change Your Life?®
1978. Jimmy Carter was President of the United States. The Bee Gees topped the charts with “Stayin’ Alive.” The Dallas Cowboys defeated the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. And on July 1 of that year, The Container Store opened its doors in a small, 1,600 square foot retail space in Dallas. Kip Tindell (Chairman and CEO), Garrett Boone (Chairman Emeritus), and Architect John Mullen opened a retail store offering an exceptional and eclectic mix of products devoted to helping people simplify their lives. In doing so, they originated a completely new category of retailing, that of storage and organization. Initial cash capital was provided by Garrett, his father, and John Mullen, who were founding directors, officers and shareholders of the company.
The first store was filled with products that consumers couldn’t find in any other retail environment. They were things like commercial parts bins, wire drawers, mailboxes and popcorn tins, burger baskets, milk crates and wire leaf burners. The product collection was quite unusual, but when used in a home or office, the solutions would save customers space and, ultimately, time. “A store that sells empty boxes?” they would ask…many seriously doubted The Container Store would ever make it.
Today, with locations from coast to coast, our stores average 25,000 square feet and showcase more than 10,000 innovative products to help customers save space and, ultimately, save them time. The store layout is divided into lifestyle sections marked with brightly colored banners such as Closet, Kitchen, Office and Laundry. Wherever you look in the store, there’s always someone in a blue apron who’s ready to help solve everything from the tiniest of storage problems to the most intimidating organizational challenges. Customers receive unparalleled service, along with fresh ideas and a very interactive shopping experience.
What we stand for
Not only was The Container Store built on great products, but it was structured around some very basic and fundamental values and business philosophies about treating employees, customers and vendors with respect and dignity - we call them our Foundation PrinciplesTM.
They were formalized in 1988, when we opened our Houston store (our first outside of Dallas). That store made us take a look at our business a little harder. From the day we opened the doors, we did three times more business than we had ever experienced at any of our other stores, which became quite overwhelming to our employees. We already had a 10-year-old company with strong values and culture; however, communicating this to an entire store of new employees, most who never had been exposed to our stores or our way of doing business, was quite a challenge.
Kip (Chairman & CEO) struggled with how to clearly communicate our culture so that all the employees in the Houston store would act and make decisions using the same set of values and knowledge as the employees in the rest of the company.
So Kip referred back to a file he had started many years ago called his “philosophy epistle file” where he’d put various anecdotes, musings and philosophical phrases that he admired. During his time in school, the things in the file were on a philosophical level and as he started college, they took more of a business slant. He chose many examples to communicate the message that no matter how big the company became, our guiding principles and values would stay the same and over the years these were condensed into our Foundation Principles™.
By understanding and supporting these principles and philosophical guidelines, we can all respond in unison to similar circumstances. In other words, we act as a unit, all working in the same direction toward the same goal. Retail is far, far too situational to attempt to achieve a concerted effort through inflexible rules and policies.
So, instead of using the typical phone-book-sized retail procedural manual to guide our decision making, we use these Foundation Principles™ to keep us on track, focused and fulfilled as employees. With this combination of values-driven business philosophies and a one-of-a-kind product selection, The Container Store’s goal is to become the best retail store in America.
Putting Our Employees First
Businesses are comprised of an interdependent set of stakeholders — employees, customers, vendors, the community and shareholders. At The Container Store, we firmly believe our employee is the #1 stakeholder. In doing so, employees take better care of customers and ultimately the shareholders experience greater benefit from this approach to business than if the company focuses myopically on the shareholders alone. It’s a departure from what most other companies practice, yet it’s been at the heart of The Container Store’s success since 1978. It’s because of this employee-first culture that FORTUNE magazine has recognized our special company on its annual list of “100 Best Companies to Work For” for the past 11 years.
It all starts with hiring great people! One of our Foundation Principles™ is that one great employee is equal to three good employees (in terms of business productivity), so why not hire only GREAT employees? Most business people and many retailers have long ago given up on that concept. They just don’t really believe it’s possible to get great people to work on a retail sales floor.
A company must be extraordinarily dedicated to its human resource endeavor, because it takes astronomically more time and effort to attract, hire and retain great people. They’re more challenging to get. They’re more challenging to keep. But the pay off they’ll provide a company is enormous.
After you hire GREAT employees, you have to train them well. The Container Store offers more than 263 hours of formal training for full-time employees in their first year with us — compared to the industry average of about eight hours. One of our Foundation Principles™ is, “Intuition doesn’t come to an unprepared mind, you must train before it happens.” Our commitment to providing our salespeople with everything they need to be successful on the salesfloor provides value to employees and customers.
And don’t forget the FUN! Fun is part of the job at The Container Store. Our Air of Excitement Foundation Principle™ is found throughout our stores, home office and distribution center. From our service award celebrations for employees to our annual chili cook off, life’s too short to not have fun. “Fun”
is an important part of our culture, our customer service and our work environment. It’s all of this and more that allows The Container Store to enjoy a less than 10% annual turnover compared to retail industry averages of 100% and more.
Since we opened our first store more than 30 years ago in Dallas, we have proudly supported our stores’ local communities. Ranging from product donations to employee volunteer time, we know the importance of being a good corporate neighbor. Today, The Container Store continues to give back to the community with a focus on supporting non-profits that promote women’s and children’s well-being and health.
The company provides donations, gift cards and storage and organization makeovers to a variety of local nonprofit organizations to support auctions, raffles and other community events that benefit the causes our customers are passionate about. Additionally, The Container Store has provided makeovers for non-profit facilities utilizing the company’s best-selling product, elfa® which is the foundation of every well-organized space. In addition to the generous product donations and organized community programs, The Container Store’s employees participate in company-sponsored volunteer opportunities such as fund-raising events for Susan G. Komen and the American Heart Association.
And in order to connect with local customers from the moment the doors of a new store opens in a market, we are also happy to donate 10 percent of all sales from each new store during its grand opening weekend to a local nonprofit partner. This partner’s supporter base mirrors The Container Store’s customer base, and we rely on them to help us get the buzz out in the community that The Container Store is coming to town. Over the years, we have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars and even more in product to our grand opening nonprofit partners and work to continue our support of these special organizations’ efforts even beyond grand opening weekend.
Employee first mentality. Customers and the store were treated with pride because we were treated right.
Not enough companies like TCS
Advice to Management
keep it up
I applied through a recruiter. The process took 2 weeks. I interviewed at Container Store (Schaumburg, IL) in April 2017.
I was called in for a group interview to learn more about the positions available and speak to a hiring manager. We were set up in the middle of the sales floor in rolling chairs facing each other. We were made to watch two videos. One was to explain their "man in the desert" selling philosophy and the other showed how trucks are unloaded and merchandise was stocked. The manager asked us for input on how we felt about what we saw and just kept saying "seems like you hit on all the points" while reading from a packet the entire time. After the videos we were asked to discuss our "homework" and there were almost no questions asked. We were then asked to fill out an availability sheet and asked to turn them in, told we would be contacted within a week for next steps, and then we were sent on our way. I received an email 4 days later stating that they had "chosen candidates that were a better fit for the position", except I didn't interview for a position. This whole thing felt like a checkbox that the store management team had been directed to complete by corporate management. I was offended and felt like they wasted my time and demeaned the entire group by putting them on the sales floor in front of customers and showed them remedial videos and ignored their feedback.