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Plato. Purpose. Profits.

The ancient philosopher Plato made significant contributions to humankind. His philosophical fingerprints can still be felt today in how we think about mathematics, science/nature, morals, politics and the arts.

Perhaps it’s time we add “brand strategy” to the long list of contributions Plato has made to civilization.

To explain “how great companies have great purposes,” the authors of CONSCIOUS CAPITALISM draw connections between Plato’s take on transcendental philosophy and modern-day brand strategy.

In its most simplistic form, transcendental philosophy provides a framework for understanding how we, as humankind, can live a worthwhile life.

Plato outlined three transcendental ideals to follow in order for people to make a meaningful contribution. These same ideals can be viewed from the perspective of a how a business can live the brand in a purposeful way to become profitable.

These transcendental brand strategy ideals, as outlined in CONSCIOUS CAPITALISM, are: The Good, The Truth and The Beautiful.


brand ideal # 1 | The Good

Plato believed the power of The Good happens when people are in service to others by expressing love, compassion, and empathy. Flipped to the view of business and branding, The Good is all about helping people live a better life.

The brand purpose of improving a person’s life through products and services is an everlasting ideal.

Starbucks is an example of a business that follows The Good ideal. Starbucks success is built upon its desire to inspire and nurture the human spirit through the connectedness that comes with enjoying a simple cup of coffee.

The Sleep Number brand also taps into the power of The Good by improving people’s lives through a better night’s sleep. (More importantly, there is no telling how many marriages the Sleep Number bed has saved.)

The authors specifically mention The Container Store as an enduring brand that follows The Good strategy to success because the company helps people become happier by being more organized.


brand ideal #2 | The Truth

The unrelenting pursuit of understanding and fighting for justice and truth is a noble way to for a person to live. It’s also a noble pursuit for a brand to follow to find long-lasting success.

Brands living for The Truth focus their efforts on correcting marketplace injustices.

Southwest Airlines was founded upon the principle of righting the wrongs in airline travel from making it less expensive to fly to making the in-flight experience more humane and to eliminating add-on fees.

Whole Foods Market has found long-lasting success by bringing The Truth in the form of only selling foods that are free from artificial ingredients, growth hormones, and anything else that’s fake.


brand ideal #3 | The Beauty

Lives are enriched when people pursue greatness to change the world for the better. Beauty is the by-product of such a pursuit.

When brands follow The Beauty strategy path, they embark on a never-ending journey of continuous improvement to achieve excellence. A simple way for a business to follow this pathway is to take something people perceive as good and make it better.

The authors highlight Apple as a quintessential Beauty brand because the company is focused on making “insanely great” products. Apple succeeds by taking what is already good and making it better. It made the PC computer better through its Macintosh (Mac) product platform. It made the mp3 player with its iPod lineup. Tablets existed before the iPad but the iPad greatly improved the tablet.


It’s amazing to think how brilliantly the ancient transcendental philosophy from Plato works to help focus a business on its higher purpose.

By focusing supremely on its true purpose, businesses can connect more emotionally (and rationally) with consumers, leading to being a profitable and quite possibly… a transcendent brand.

The Container Store Manifesto

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We conclude our series sharing summaries of principles The Container Store follows to achieve its long-lasting success with a manifesto.

While not written as a manifesto, these words from page 25 of UNCONTAINABLE are inspirational, aspirational and actionable. Enjoy…


The Container Store MANIFESTO

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The Container Store posting series:

  • Hiring (Oct. 13)
  • Training (Oct. 14)
  • Selling (Oct. 15)
  • Leadership (Oct. 20)
  • Vendor Relations (Oct. 21)
  • Retailing (Oct. 22)
  • Manifesto (Oct. 23)
  • The Container Store Retailing Philosophy

    We continue our series sharing summaries of principles The Container Store follows to achieve its long-lasting success. These principles are detailed in the book, UNCONTAINABLE, written by Kip Tindell (co-founder, ceo and chairman, The Container Store).


    The Container Store Retailing Philosophy

    uncontainable_150Kip Tindell shares a great story in the book about a conversation he had with retailing pioneer Stanley Marcus of Neiman-Marcus fame. They were discussing the importance of a retail business having the right mix of products, service and price.

    Kip recalls the conversation…

    I loved to talk with Stanley Marcus about selection, service, and price. Stanley always said that if you do one of these things really well, you’ll be very successful. He said if you do any two of them well, you’ll have the number one business in your niche. Then he said you can’t do all three because price is absolutely mutually exclusive to both selection and service.”

    The best products with the best service at the best possible price is nearly impossible to do.

    Zappos can lay claim to selling the best products with the best customer service but not at the lowest price.

    Costco competes brilliantly on selling products at a very low price but that comes at a cost. They do not have the best selection nor do they have the best customer service.

    The Container Store would love to, in Kip’s words, “… hit the triple crown every day—offering a well-edited, carefully curated collection of 10,000 products, free expert advice and service that customers delight in, and prices competitive with the mass merchants.” But they can’t.

    The Container Store can deliver the best products with the best customer service, but not at the best price.

    As a former retail marketer for Whole Foods and Starbucks, I know firsthand the struggles dealing with price perception issues. Whole Foods especially struggles with the perception its prices are too high. It’s true that one can buy cheaper natural/organic food elsewhere and one can buy a cheaper latte from someplace other than Starbucks. However, Whole Foods and Starbucks have found retail success by not competing on lowest prices.

    I really like Kip’s perspective on a retailer competing with higher prices. Kip writes…

    We’re not the only retailer that gets an unfair reputation when it comes to price. But it’s the retailers that focus solely on price that get the credit for great pricing. And it’s surprising to me how overcredited discounters are for pricing and how unfairly retailers who focus on service and quality are marked as overpriced.”

    The Container Store, Starbucks and Whole Foods all suffer from being known as too pricey. However, these higher prices result in better products with better customer service. If I’m starting a retail business, I’d focus on delivering better products and service. Yes, prices will be higher but the overall experience will be richer.


    The Container Store posting series:

  • Hiring (Oct. 13)
  • Training (Oct. 14)
  • Selling (Oct. 15)
  • Leadership (Oct. 20)
  • Vendor Relations (Oct. 21)
  • Retailing (Oct. 22)
  • Manifesto (Oct. 23)
  • The Container Store Vendor Relations Philosophy

    We continue our series sharing summaries of principles The Container Store follows to achieve its long-lasting success. These principles are detailed in the book, UNCONTAINABLE, written by Kip Tindell (co-founder, ceo and chairman, The Container Store).


    The Container Store Vendor Relations Philosophy

    uncontainable_150

    Kip Tindell gives credit to the strong vendor relationships The Container Store has developed as a major reason the company has thrived for three decades.

    In the early days of the company, The Container Store worked with other mom and pop shops. These small vendors were accustomed to big box retailers making demands and dictating how the vendor/retailer relationship would work. Kip recalls how these small vendors were astonished when The Container Store took a genuine interest in their success.

    The Container Store takes the time to understand the needs of it vendors and works directly with them to form a mutually beneficial relationship.

    The Elfa closet shelving system is the best-selling product at The Container Store. It’s a product Kip recalls as being very challenging to sell because it’s difficult to understand how to use it. However, once you learn how to use it, it becomes a simply elegant way to organize a closet. Other retailers refused to sell the Elfa product because it would require too much employee training. The Container Store didn’t shy away from the employee training needed and embraced the Elfa product to the degree that it is by far its most popular product.

    The Elfa brand and business would never have been realized if The Container Store didn’t develop a strong vendor/retailer relationship. This strong relationship resulted in Elfa being purchased by The Container Store in 1999.

    Most of the products sold in The Container Store are either proprietary or exclusive. This truly requires a strong vendor/retailer relationship where The Container Store needs to understand how these vendors define success so that everyone wins.

    With its runaway success, The Container Store saw lots of competitors trying to mimic it business. Local, regional and national chains have all tried to replicate The Container Store business model. None have been able to find the same success and most of these competitors have ceased to exist.

    Why didn’t these competitors successfully knockoff The Container Store?

    Kip Tindell rightfully believes, “You can copy a company two-dimensionally, but you can’t copy its heart and soul. That, to me, is the key. No one wants to build a business that’s so hiring- and training- and people-intensive. That’s usually the last thing people want to deal with in business.


    The Container Store posting series:

  • Hiring (Oct. 13)
  • Training (Oct. 14)
  • Selling (Oct. 15)
  • Leadership (Oct. 20)
  • Vendor Relations (Oct. 21)
  • Retailing (Oct. 22)
  • Manifesto (Oct. 23)
  • We continue our series sharing summaries of principles The Container Store follows to achieve its long-lasting success. These principles are detailed in the book, UNCONTAINABLE, written by Kip Tindell (co-founder, ceo and chairman, The Container Store).


    The Container Store Leadership Philosophy

    uncontainable_150The company culture at The Container Store is based upon communicating everything with everyone. Employees, according to Kip Tindell, feel included when everything is communicated with them. Kip delivers the same updates to the company’s board of directors as he does to employees. The only topic that’s off limits are salaries, everything else is discussable.

    Kip compares a business to a football team. Players on the football team need to know the score and need to know what the other players are doing, why they are doing it and where they are doing it. If one player doesn’t know what the other players are doing, a football team is sure to lose.

    Same goes for a business and at The Container Store, the leadership mindset is one of sharing as much information as possible to all levels of employees. Sales numbers and goals are shared every day with all employees for their store and for other stores in the region.

    Melissa Reiff (president, The Container Store) sums up the importance of communication to employees this way, “We must practice consistent, reliable, predictable, effective, thoughtful, compassionate, and even, yes, courteous communication every single day to successfully sustain, develop, and grow our business.”

    Instead of operating on a “need to know” basis, The Container Store follows a “must know” communication philosophy with employees. The company knows its employees will benefit from having more information because it will help them to do a better job, become a better employee and lead The Container Store to future success.


    The Container Store posting series:

  • Hiring (Oct. 13)
  • Training (Oct. 14)
  • Selling (Oct. 15)
  • Leadership (Oct. 20)
  • Vendor Relations (Oct. 21)
  • Retailing (Oct. 22)
  • Manifesto (Oct. 23)
  • We continue our series sharing summaries of principles The Container Store follows to achieve its long-lasting success. These principles are detailed in the book, UNCONTAINABLE, written by Kip Tindell (co-founder, ceo and chairman, The Container Store).


    The Container Store Selling Philosophy

    At The Container Store, we don’t immediately try to sell something to a customer; we can’t, because we don’t know enough about her yet. We simply start a conversation first, to open the door a bit, and earn her trust so we can begin exploring how to help her.” – Kip Tindell, The Container Store

    uncontainable_150The selling philosophy at The Container Store is known inside the company as “Man in the Desert Selling.” This sales approach involves uncovering customer needs and they use an analogy of a man in the desert to explain it.

    A “Man in the Desert” obviously needs water. But that’s not all he needs. Most retailers stop with solving the obvious customer need. Just like a Man in the Desert needs things beyond water like, shade, shoes, sunglasses, clothing, etc., customers have other needs than their obvious need. The Container Store trains its employees to uncover unmet and unknown customer needs.

    The Container Store employees are trained to (a) make an Approach, (b) establish a Connection and (c) close the Sale.

    As the earlier quote from Kip Tindell says, employees at The Container Store open the door to a potential sale by initiating a conversation with a customer. Instead of using throwaway lines like, “Can I help you?” employees are taught to use an Approach that is more conversational. Such as, “That’s a nice coat you have on.” Or, employees will see a customer holding a product and react by saying, “Let’s take this out of the box and I’ll show you how it works.”

    After the Approach, employees make a Connection by asking helpful questions, such as: What space needs organizing in your house? How big is the space? Who in the family uses the space?

    According to Kip Tindell, “… the Sale comes when we devise a solution that makes the customer excited about conquering a problem in a way she probably never would have imagined on her own (after all, she’s not the storage and organization expert—we are).”


    The Container Store posting series:

  • Hiring (Oct. 13)
  • Training (Oct. 14)
  • Selling (Oct. 15)
  • Leadership (Oct. 20)
  • Vendor Relations (Oct. 21)
  • Retailing (Oct. 22)
  • Manifesto (Oct. 23)
  • We continue our series sharing summaries of principles The Container Store follows to achieve its long-lasting success. These principles are detailed in the book, UNCONTAINABLE, written by Kip Tindell (co-founder, ceo and chairman, The Container Store).


    The Container Store Employee Training Philosophy

    uncontainable_150The Container Store trusts its employees to make meaningful connections with customers and to share their organizational expertise at every opportunity with customers. This trust comes from knowing they’ve hired great employees and trained them well.

    Astonishingly, full-time employees at The Container Store receive close to 300 hours of paid training in their first year. Read that again… nearly 300 hours of paid training. Not 30 hours, but 300 hours. Part-time employees get almost 200 hours of training and no employee gets put on the sales floor without first receiving 40 hours of training.

    That’s a major commitment to training. A commitment very few retailers have the courage to do.

    The Container Store training philosophy is about building an employee’s intuition muscles.

    Kip Tindell explains it this way, “We want our employees to use their intuition—their wonderful life experience—to anticipate the needs of our customers and to recommend the appropriate solutions.

    All the training employees receive prepares their mind to handle most any situation at the store level. It also prepares employees with product knowledge and organization expertise that helps them to explain to customers some of the complicated products The Container Store sells.

    As it relates to training employees, Kip Tindell stresses its importance by saying…

    One reason training is more important at The Container Store than at other retailers is because our motto is ‘We sell the hard stuff.’ We actually tell our buyers to look for products that are hard to sell. Why? Because we know other retailers won’t touch those products, giving us an exclusive and yet another reason for customers to shop with us.

    Let’s revisit the nearly 300 hours of training full-time employees receive at The Container Store. How can a retailer justify such an outrageous expense?

    For The Container Store, training employees so well results in a turnover rate of less than 10%, which saves the company millions of dollars in recruiting, interviewing, hiring and training people. And since they sell complicated products, vendors can trust employees at The Container Store to tell the story and purpose behind each of the products sold in the store.


    The Container Store posting series:

  • Hiring (Oct. 13)
  • Training (Oct. 14)
  • Selling (Oct. 15)
  • Leadership (Oct. 20)
  • Vendor Relations (Oct. 21)
  • Retailing (Oct. 22)
  • Manifesto (Oct. 23)
  • uncontainable_150One of the most successful retail businesses that grew from a single shop into a much loved and highly profitable multi-unit concept is The Container Store.

    The business began in 1978 by selling all sorts of boxes, bins and doodads to help people organize all their stuff. Today, they have grown to 60 locations all over the United States with revenues around $750 million.

    The Container Store is a classic category killer concept that has carved a niche in the retail world by following seven foundation principles. Kip Tindell, co-founder and ceo of The Container Store, has finally published a book detailing the principles behind the success of The Container Store.

    Over the next two weeks, the Brand Autopsy blog will be sharing summaries of each principle The Container Store follows to achieve its long-lasting success. We’ll address important retail business matters from hiring to training to leadership to vendor relations.

    Let’s start with The Container Store hiring philosophy…

    1 Great Person equals 3 Good People

    Finding great employees isn’t easy for any business. It helps to have the reputation The Container Store has to attract great employees. Many people want to work there, but less than 3.0% of the people who apply to become front-line employees at The Container Store get hired. Once hired, people rarely leave. The Container Store enjoys an unheard of store-level employee turnover rate of less than 10%.

    One of the long-standing hiring principles practiced by The Container Store is 1=3. As in, one great employee will do the work of three good people.

    The company is very selective in whom they choose to hire. They strive to hire only GREAT employees and they pay them well. The typical full-time frontline salesperson at the Container Store makes nearly $50,000 a year, that’s about double the industry average. Payroll as a percentage of sales at the store level is 11.5%. That’s high, much higher than most retailers would dare to do.

    Kip Tindell explains why paying employees more works…

    Our approach to payroll is easy to justify because we are convinced that our 1=3 approach really works. Our employee wins, because she is making far more than anyone else than another company is likely to pay her for that position. The Container Store wins, because it gets three times the productivity at only 50 to 100 percent more the cost. And the customer wins because they have this superb salesperson who actually cares about working in the store.”

    The Container Store believes it can pay its employees twice as much and still come out ahead because one great employee is as productive as three good employees.

    It’s not easy to get hired by The Container Store. The interview process is time-consuming. It begins with an online application. A phone interview is next for those that make the initial cut. From there, candidates are given a homework assignment and brought in for a group interview. Then, a variety of one-on-one personal interviews take place. This entire process takes time but The Container Stores takes this time in order to find GREAT employees.

    Hiring the right employees and paying them well is at the center of The Container Store’s success. Kip Tindell believes, “When you surround yourself with hugely talented, passionate, dedicated, and genuinely kind people, you will succeed in whatever you do—there’s no doubt in my mind about that.


    The Container Store posting series:

  • Hiring (Oct. 13)
  • Training (Oct. 14)
  • Selling (Oct. 15)
  • Leadership (Oct. 20)
  • Vendor Relations (Oct. 21)
  • Retailing (Oct. 22)
  • Manifesto (Oct. 23)
  • see update below…

    I know Starbucks Coffee is now just Starbucks.
    I know Starbucks sells more than just coffee.
    I know Starbucks wants to promote Fizzio.
    I know Starbucks wants to also promote Oprah Chai.


    What I don’t know is why a core product is missing from Starbucks new menu boards.


    Something_is_wrong

    Company culture and brand heritage still matter.

    Psst, Starbucks… by not saying you sell your core product of brewed coffee on the menu, it says something.


    UPDATE (Wed. Jun 26 @ 3:25pm eastern):
    I just heard from a reliable source inside Starbucks that an “error in the menu art” occurred and the omission of brewed coffee was “not deliberate.”

    Whoa! That’s a spendy error.

    New menu boards with “Brewed Coffee” options will be sent to all Fizzio stores, which include locations in Hawaii, Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Nevada and Utah.


    UPDATE (Thur. July 10 @ 4:30pm eastern):
    Here is the updated menu board that rightly lists BREWED COFFEE.

    Updated_SBUX_menu

    Anatomy of a Starbucks Customer Experience Program

    BrandAutopsy_ArcheologyDig

    Brand Autopsy Archeology Week continues…

    The blog archeologists dug deep to unearth a primitive post from before the Brand Autopsy blog existed.

    In December of 2003, I joined Paul Williams as guest bloggers for the Fast Company blog called FC NOW. At the time Paul was a customer care manager with Starbucks and I was the national marketing director for Whole Foods Market. We found the weeklong blogging experience to be not only fun but also invigorating. So fun and invigorating, that we started the Brand Autopsy blog the following week.

    FCnow_

    (The FC NOW blog is long defunct but the posts remain buried deep in the Fast Company website. You can access my posts here and Paul’s posts here.)

    One of the Fast Company writers asked us to share how to create a great customer experience. In response, Paul and I blogged the following…


    first published on December 10, 2003

    Anatomy of a Starbucks Customer Experience Program

    The following story is real. It was implemented in the Summer of 2001 in all North American Starbucks stores and was widely credited [internally] as a hallmark customer interaction program.

    Here is the story of Blended Beverage BINGO as told by the two guys who created it:

    John Moore (JM): When I was a serving as the Field Marketing Integration Manager at Starbucks in 2001, I was asked to develop ideas for a store level incentive contest. On occasion, Starbucks will use incentive contests to help goose sales. In the past, all incentive contests have been sales-based. This incentive contest was to be implemented in the summer of 2001 and the goal was to ultimately drive sales of blended beverages (Frappuccinos). Knowing that creativity was needed to help solve for this, I called Paul to help me brainstorm ideas around how to create a dynamic incentive program.

    Paul Williams (PW): When John and I talked about this opportunity we kept mentioning how important sampling is to selling beverages. Sampling of products is encouraged at Starbucks and is a major reason why the company has been so successful. Our stores sample many times throughout the day and whenever a new product is launched, you can bet that Starbucks stores will be sampling it heavy.

    JM: I remembered seeing a report that estimated for every five samples we would sample to customers, it would stimulate a purchase — a conversion rate impressive for any retailer.

    PW: Customers will experience two types of sampling at Starbucks — passive sampling and active sampling. Passive sampling happens when customers help themselves to a sample of a product that is sitting on a table or near the main register. Active sampling occurs when a store partner (employee) serves a customer by physically handling them a sample and engaging them in a conversation. Active sampling is by far and away the best way to connect with customers and to drive sales of a product.

    JM: Right then we knew that we had to create an incentive contest that encouraged store partners to engage in active sampling.

    PW: As we were brainstorming, we started talking about how much fun we had playing timeless childhood board games like Candyland, LIFE, Connect Four, and Mousetrap. The kitschier the game, the better. We thought it would be great to connect with store partners by turning the incentive contest into a board game — like the ones we used to play as kids. I mentioned that I had recently played BINGO with some friends and that is where we had our EUREKA moment.

    JM: Paul suggested we model the incentive contest around BINGO. We wouldn’t use numbers. Instead, we would replace the numbers with a fun activity that would ask a store partner to interact with a customer all the while sampling them a beverage.

    PW: For example, we created activities like: Sample a Mocha Frappuccino to a customer working on a laptop; sample Tazoberry to a customer wearing a red article of clothing; teach a customer to order their favorite blended beverage using the “Starbucks drink language.” For the center squares, we got really wacky with one that asked store partners to get five customers and two partners to form a “conga” line in-store.

    Bingo_Card_520

    JM: Not only was this program fun for store partners, it was fun for customers. I remember one store sent us their completed BINGO card and a laminated poster that featured photos of their store partners and customers doing all 25 activities on the BINGO card.
    Bingo_175
    PW: The end result was sales of blended beverages increased and the morale of store partners increased as well. Just last week, I was at a meeting where someone mentioned this tactic from 2 years ago! Time and time again, Blended Beverage BINGO has been mentioned as one of the most successful ways we helped partners deliver great customer experiences.
    Now that you know the story, let’s dig a little deeper to better understand how the tactic of Blended Beverage BINGO created great customer experiences and ultimately drove sales.

    First, it created a fun, interesting way to reward our customers and store partners all the while enhancing the Starbucks culture.

    Second, BINGO was all about improving the customer service experience. This program encouraged meaningful interaction between store partners and their customers — it created dialogue, offered our customers a special treat and delight, and provided store partners the chance to step out from behind the bar and interact with their customers.

    Third, the BINGO game was about community. Stores had to make these activities relevant to their customers on that particular day. Partners needed to think about who would fit the requirements for the sampling activity and then interact with them.

    And fourth, the BINGO game was an innovative way to enhance sales and drive profit. By making sampling fun and top-of-mind for store partners, Starbucks was able to drive incremental sales and profit.