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Monday, July 26, 2010

Passionate Employees Differentiate Retail Experience

Apple Retail Experience where passionate employees differentiate the retail experience
The Apple Store, SoHo, learning sessions
As consumer expectations for the retail experience - and more specifically for how social it is - increase so, too, does a company's ability to attract, train and retain competent, brand enthusiastic and customer-focused employees become more critical.  Let's face it: passionate employees differentiate a retail experience.

Here are two perspectives.

First, from the perspective of an employee as described in this Fast Company article from November 2007 titled Magic Shop - Apple Employees. The author, Alex Frankel, experienced life on the retail front line at several prominent retail brands.

Only the Container Store and the Apple Store were consistent in identifying potential employees who were passionate about what they were to sell.  Apple's approach to selling consisted of "position, permission, probe."  In the author's words, "when employees become sharers of information, instead of sellers of products, customers respond."  The results at Apple: "Apple employees help sell $4,000 worth of product per square foot per month."

Highlights: Apple treats employees like adults; it teaches employees how to work together and requires that employees wear signature t-shirts and lanyards.  Employees also hand out business cards.  They enjoy working at the Apple Store.

Next, from the perspective of the retailer as described in Three Good Hires? He'll Pay More for One Who's Great from the 3/16/10 issue of The New York Times in an interview with Kip Tindell, chief executive of the Container Store.

Kip refers repeatedly to the importance of Foundation Principles for capturing the essence of the Container Store experience for employees and developing a cohesive team. "We believe in just relentlessly trying to communicate everything to every single employee at all times, and we're very open.  We share everything. We believe in total transparency."

Furthermore, "one great person would easily be as productive as three good people." They are paid 50 to 100% above the industry average. In the interview, Kip explains how destructive to the company culture and retail experience hiring people who aren't "appropriate culture fits.. We were just hiring anybody...It wasn't the same culture or the same customer service level..."

In both cases, the resulting retail experience is one that customers truly enjoy -- all because employees are passionate and genuinely care about customers.  It is differentiated.

How do you attract, train and retain talented employees so your retail experience remains truly differentiated?

PS: The Container Store Foundation Principles remind me of Zappos' Culture Book.  See Zappos: Where Happy Employees DeliverZappos Embodies Customer Service and Zappos and Service.]

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