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[15 comments]

The Container Store launches employee emergency fund

March 7, 2014

The Container Store Group, Inc. recently announced the launch of its Employee First Fund, designed to provide grants to employees experiencing unforeseen emergencies.

The Container Store is contributing $100,000 to kick-off the Fund, which can cover a major medical situation, a catastrophic event, or other challenges in life. Fellow employees and other "stakeholders" will have an opportunity to make donations to the fund.

The campaign is part of the company's National We Love Our Employees Day, which the retailer created five years ago. Ads regarding the launch ran in The New York Times and The Dallas Morning News, and messaging appeared on e-mails to customers, select billboards and via Facebook advertising.

Container Store spokeswoman Casey Shilling told The Dallas Morning News that the fund is set up as a 501c3 non-profit organization with a board and an anonymous grant review committee. Employees applying for a grant would go through an extensive review process. The program was modeled after similar efforts by Southwest Airlines and Brooks Brothers.

[Image: The Container Store

"We're so thrilled to launch our Employee First Fund, which exists to support our company's commitment to an employee-first culture, ensuring all employees feel well taken care of, safe, secure and warm," said Kip Tindell, chairman and CEO of The Container Store, in a statement. "It's a culture that's driven by our seven Foundation Principles and results in an environment where the lives of everyone connected to our business are enriched and brimming with opportunity — where everyone can thrive — starting with our employees first!"

Beyond a video message from its top executives describing the program, each of The Container Store's 5,000 employees received a commemorative Employee First Fund shirt along with a letter from the Mr. Tindell and Melissa Reiff, president and COO.

FINANCIALS:     [NYSE:TCS]

Discussion Questions:

What type of support structure, if at all, should retail companies have for employees facing unforeseen financial challenges? Are employee emergency assistance funds more conducive to certain types of retailers vs. others?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

How practical is it for most retail chains to set up emergency funds similar to The Container Store for their employees?

Comments:

Much has been written about "customer loyalty" and how it requires retailers to have staff that care about their customers.

True loyalty and a quality customer experience starts with caring about staff first. Employees' loyalty is earned through respect, and programs like the Emergency First Fund.

The Container Store routinely gets recognized as a retailer with quality stores and service. I have to believe Employee First Fund is yet another reason why. Kudos for thinking beyond staff as a labor cost.

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Chris Petersen, PhD, President, Integrated Marketing Solutions

It's the ultimate type of practicality, since it will engender more employee loyalty, and that is totally necessary in the post-channel age. The store has got to remain a good and strong experience. That can only happen when employees are engaged.

A great example of Conscious Capitalism in action.

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Paula Rosenblum, Managing Partner, RSR Research

If retailers don't take care of their employees why should employees take care of customers? Thus retailers should have clear commitments to taking care of employees and this extends to emergency funds. (This applies to more than retail, btw!)

One of the best illustrations of this concept comes from restauranteur Danny Meyer in his book "Setting the Table" which is really must reading for retailers and others focused on customer loyalty. Mr. Meyer is very clear that much of his success and customer loyalty comes directly from putting employees first.

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Phil Rubin, CEO, rDialogue

I love the idea but I wish they had not turned it into a publicity stunt. I hope then don't get a broken arm patting themselves on the back.

Actions always speak louder than words. Their words say we are doing something great, but their actions say, let's see how we can milk this to make us look better to our customers.

If they had just done an internal announcement with the tee shirts and the message to the employees, word would have gotten out without them having to pat themselves on the the back.

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Mel Kleiman, President, Humetrics

Just another good reason to race out and buy Container Store stock! Quite simply, they just get it. I just got off the phone with a client who doesn't get it, and they can't figure out why their staff turnover is so high!

I hate to disagree with Mel (comment above) but the Container Store has always demonstrated great actions when it comes to their staff. And, as far as using this as a marketing tool, they definitely should. It will help them attract great talent, and at the same time attract even more loyal customers who share the belief that staff aren't just pawns and an expense.

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Kevin Graff, President, Graff Retail

Retail companies should act strictly in their own best interest. Their loyalty is first to ownership, second to customers and third to employees. We all know that employees can have a dramatic impact on both owners valuation and customer satisfaction, so my statement is not to say employees are not of value, but rather that employee benefits must be balanced with the health of the organization.

If an employer wishes to establish a fund whereby employees can contribute to help out fellow employees experiencing a hardship, that would be great. If the employer wishes to match to any degree the employee contributions to this fund, that would be great. However, no one beyond ownership has any right to demand that any employer do this as the cost of administration and any employer contribution will come out of the owners' pockets.

If the employees wish to band together to do this on their own, I think it would be grand, but I don't think that has ever happened in the history of mankind (not without government or other outside agents involved).

Ed Dennis, Sales, Dennis Enterprises

I love what The Container Store is doing - and does. They are a socially responsible company and it doesn't surprise me that they have created this program. This is the type of program that an association creates for their members. It will be interesting to see how the employees help fund the money needed to get it started. I have a vision of a young person getting their start at TCS, moving on to eventually become a very successful business person. Then coming back to TCS with a large donation; a way of "giving back."

Love the program. Another reason why The Container Store is one of the best places to work.

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Shep Hyken, Chief Amazement Officer, Shepard Presentations, LLC

Kudos to The Container Store for doing it right time after time. I don't have anything to add to what has already been said but...I wanted to add my 2 cents!

Lee Kent, Brings Retail Executives Together to Meet.Learn.Profit, RetailConnections

I have known of and been involved with The Container Store for many years now. My only regret is that I was not smart enough to go to work for them. They believe in their employees and make it a point to keep them involved.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

Just more affirmation of why The Container Store is tops (no container pun intended) when it comes to nurturing their employees and creating an employee-first mentality.

Unfortunately, these types of events do happen - great to see a company helping to allay some larger concerns for its employees. Kudos.

Darryl Feldman, Manager, Business Development & Strategy, Vignette

This sounded great - well, potentially great - until I watched the video and learned that this is apparently to be funded by (employee) donations and "voluntary" payroll deductions. If I have that right - and perhaps I'm misunderstanding it - then my applause will be considerably muted.

'notcom'

Kudos to any retailer, or business for that matter, that finds ways to deliver value to their employees as well as customers. Employees will quickly indicate if it is real value by voting with their own dollars. It would seem that the message and value could have been significantly amplified if The Container Store had committed to matching contributions.

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Verlin Youd, Principal, VPY LLC

This is consistent with the manner in which The Container Store has always operated, and represents their company values perfectly. Should all retailers do this? Only if it is consistent with their true values. I'm sorry to say that for many retailers it would not be seen as authentic by their employees. But for those that truly believe in humanity and valuing each other, it is perfect. Way to go Container Store! Kinda makes you want to go redo your closets to support them, doesn't it?

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Mike Osorio, Senior VP Organizational Change Management, DFS Group

As Cavett Robert once said, "people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." When it comes to providing emotional and financial support for employees, an employee emergency assistance fund is an excellent way to demonstrate it.

It would be conducive for the type of retailers who want to build long-time employee allegiance. Not much wrong with that approach.

Tom Borg, Business Expert, Tom Borg Consulting, LLC

Kudos to The Container Store for a great program! Not only is this beneficial for their employee retention, but it's great PR for them.

To address the question of what kind of support structure retail companies should implement for their employees, as with many things, it depends. The important thing is to recognize that people are the lifeblood of the business, and the company that invests in and truly cares about its people is likely to be rewarded with their loyalty. There is no obligation for any employer to financially support their employees, but to the extent that they do, it is an expression of their caring for their employees. I think the best way to administer this kind of plan is to fund it, and put a team or board of employees in charge of it - they are likely to make more objective decisions about what constitutes real need.

I think the other question here is how often employees are going to need this kind of support. If not very often, then there are other mutually beneficial ways to demonstrate employee appreciation that may prove to be a better investment. For instance, employers can show personal thanks by taking an employee out to one-on-one lunches, or publicly recognizing them in an internal company newsletter. Personal demonstrations of acknowledgement and recognition are generally very effective means of keeping employees motivated and engaged.

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Alexander Rink, CEO, 360pi

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