Great Retailers Work for Workers

Discussion
Jan 28, 2011
Tom Ryan

Fortune magazine recently released its annual 100 Best
Companies to Work For
list and, no surprise, Wegmans ranked number one
among retailers and number three overall.

The editors at Fortune said
Wegmans shows it cares about the well-being of its workers as much as its
customers. In 2010, 11,000 employees took part in a challenge to eat five
cups of fruit and vegetables a day and walk up to 10,000 steps a day for
eight weeks. Another 8,000 took advantage of health screenings that included
a flu shot and H1N1 vaccine — all covered by Wegmans.

The second highest
ranked retailer was Zappos, coming in at number six. The magazine said its “quirky,
happy culture remains” despite its sale
to Amazon.com. Free lunches and vending machines and a company commitment to “create
fun and a little weirdness” are among Zappos’ guiding principles.

Coming
in third among retailers was REI. Employees receive 50 to 75 percent discounts
on full-price REI branded merchandise, free skis and kayaks rentals, and an
annual gift of REI gear. After 15 years with the company, employees are entitled
to a four-week paid sabbatical, After that, they can take one every five years.

Other
retailers landing on the list included:

Stew Leonard’s (18): This family-owned supermarket doesn’t give special
treatment to relatives. The “13 third-generation members” who work
at Stew’s had to find employment with other companies after college before returning
to the family business. Their first job? Working the register.

Container Store (21): The focus here is on training. First-year, full-time
employees need to log a minimum of 263 training hours. The chain is also credited
for its comparatively high pay with full-time sales clerk salaries averaging
$44,000.

Whole Foods Market (24): Company employees get behind the chain’s goal
of  promoting healthier lifestyles. New hires get a 20 percent discount off
all items in the store and those meeting the goals of the company’s healthy-living
challenge get up to 30 percent.

Build-A-Bear Workshop (48): Part-timers get health, dental, and vision
benefits, while HQ staff enjoy on-site yoga and Zumba workout classes.

Nordstrom (74): The upscale department store, according to Fortune, “continues
to live by its one-sentence doctrine: ‘Use good judgment in all situations.'”

Aéropostale (94): With four out of five employees at the teen
apparel chain under 25, Fortune reports that the company can “harness
their energy for good with paid time off to volunteer.”

Discussion Questions: What makes a retailer “great” to work for? How much of it is attributable to pay versus perks and other factors? How are the underlying reasons changing between younger and older generations?

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12 Comments on "Great Retailers Work for Workers"


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Alison Chaltas
Guest
Alison Chaltas
10 years 3 months ago

What comes first: great retailers or great employers? The answer is that they absolutely go together. At the end of the day, people make the difference in any business but especially in retail, where the service experience is dependent on an employee cashing shoppers out quickly, rotating dairy so the products are fresh, constantly rearranging produce or apparel so it looks good, filling prescriptions swiftly and with competent advice … the list goes on. Retailers who start with a company mantra of hiring well, investing in training, and paying fairly with benefits are better positioned for long-term employee–and shopper–loyalty.

David Livingston
Guest
10 years 3 months ago
Many of these companies are privately held and operated by some very kind and giving people. They often put people before profits. They have capitalized on the short term mindset of publicly held companies. Many of these retailers are very selective in who they hire. Employees need to be hard working, good looking, and intelligent. In return these retailers are willing to pay more for these attributes. The typical big box discount store employee would probably have zero chance of ever working for one of these companies. I think it would be very unlikely to see a Wegmans cashier with purple hair and tattoos. I doubt you will see an employee chain smoking on a picnic table in front of Stew Leonards. Whether it’s older workers or younger workers, there is always a high demand for clean cut, good looking, hard working, and intelligent workers. Regardless of how bad the economy gets, the biggest complaint I get from clients is they can’t find people qualified to work retail.
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
10 years 3 months ago

People want good pay, but more than that they need to be inspired to want to go to work each day. Making retail fun for employees isn’t always easy, but the top retailers in this list found great ways to do just that. The perks and exciting atmosphere is what makes an employee feel like they are part of a team and something more than just a number at a company.

Back in the early years of the H.J Heinz Company, the company offered employees several perks including a swimming pool, free manicures for women in the canning factory, roof-top patios, music at lunch, free medical clinic onsite, and much much more.

Building a culture takes more than offering the highest pay. That is easy to match and tough to stay ahead of.

Consider the cost of hiring and training a new employee. Then calculate your turnover rate. Take 70% – 80% of that cost and you have a rough budget for building perks and exciting programs into your company.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
10 years 3 months ago

I buy what Alison writes above, and I also believe that employees also revel when people say “Oh, you work for a great company!” … and customers revel when they hear someone say, “you shop at a great store.” That makes one’s sense of pride silently soar. Everyone enjoys being associated with a widely respected winner.

And why do people say it is a “great company?” Because it does or allows for those things that make the majority of both employees and customers in the store’s area feel happy to be involved, whether it’s because of concern for the well being of its employees, discounts, a happy environment, or whatever. That’s what Wegmans has accomplished for its employees and customer families most everywhere it has stores. Bottom line: You must be sincerely responsive to the wants and needs of all of your stakeholders.

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
10 years 3 months ago

Someone once said to me that “a company value is only truly a value if the company is willing to pay for it.” Nowhere is this more true than in being a great employer.

So many companies tout themselves as employee centric but it’s nothing more than meaningless rhetoric. Great companies actually do great things for people. Things that cost them time, money, and attention. They don’t just say they care–they show they care. It’s not a mantra, it’s an action.

And a company has to be willing to sustain these beliefs through the toughest of times. If you throw your people under the bus at the first sign of trouble, you’re not a great place to work and probably never were.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
10 years 3 months ago

Caring for your workers is always evident to your customers in better service and overall store atmosphere. You can hear staffers greeting customers as well as fellow staffers. You can hear how upset customers are handled. You can observe a sense of urgency to their job. You can see a willingness for workers to go beyond the normal and do whatever it takes to make a customer happy because they have been trained and given the freedom to make these decisions.

The retailers mentioned have a long-term commitment to making their workers more than satisfied and to making customer satisfaction a priority as a result.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

I am familiar with many of the companies in the Top 25. The one that comes to mind immediately is The Container Store. They have never lost the focus of where they stand and what they want to accomplish. Training is critical because they want the new employee to grasp their culture from the start. Also, they are well compensated because, along with the training, they want to minimize turnover. They have no intention of having a “store on every corner.” That takes away from their uniqueness. The Container Store has been on this list for many years. They have a culture to be admired.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
10 years 3 months ago

Caring for your employees starts with the hiring process. Those employers who care enough to take the time and go to the trouble to find great potential are always rewarded with above average performance. This is difficult and does take time and does cost money, but an investment on the hiring side usually yields employees who care about their job, are proud of their employer and absolutely love the other employees they associate with after they are hired.

I once knew a manager in a fast food chain and he stated on more than one occasion that you couldn’t cure a bad attitude. Furthermore, he said you could spot a bad attitude in the first five minutes of an interview. When your employees have a good attitude they fix what is wrong and make your company better and more profitable. When this savings is reinvested in the employee, you compound your success.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Most of the responses here seem addressing the behind-the-counter help, and my experience there is limited to a single Christmas many years ago (when the dictionary didn’t yet say “service: n. obs.”); but of course you can work for a retailer in other capacities, and regardless, I think the main thing an employer can offer–unmentioned here perhaps because it’s implicit–is a solvent, well-run company. Few things make for a worse work environment than wondering if your job will still exist when you get there in the morning…or even if there will be a “there” to get to.

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
10 years 3 months ago

A lot of great retailer examples cited here. Still, whether it’s free lunches, a 4-week paid sabbatical or company-paid health screenings, the key across all the examples is that it’s a company showing it genuinely cares about its employees. That isn’t something we see a lot across any industry, and the examples here clearly indicate that pay is not the key to happiness. Seems the old chestnut “a happy employee is a productive employee” still holds plenty of truth.

It’s also worthy to note that in retail it definitely helps to find employees who are passionate about the brand, its products and interacting with people.

Mark Burr
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

I think if you looked very deeply into these organizations, as well as, the others, you would find a common factor. It’s been said that ‘people don’t work for companies, they work for managers’. Likewise, they don’t leave companies, they leave managers.

All of these companies have similarities (as well as, uniqueness) in overall culture. The foot soldiers are their managers. While all may be focused on hiring, training, and maintaining quality associates, they come and go, no matter what your rate of retention, faster than managers. The companies are likely laser focused at that level in their organization.

Interestingly, the retailers named run across the spectrum of levels of potential pay. So, throw that out as the determining factor. My guess, is that it’s managers, managers, and managers. But, that’s just my guess.

Fabien Tiburce
Guest
Fabien Tiburce
10 years 3 months ago

Happy employees tend to make happy customers. Happy employees also stay longer which lowers turnover and reduces ramp-up and training costs. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s good business. Congrats to the companies listed.

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