Under the Microscope: The Un-Contained Culture of the Container Store

Karyn Maynard

At the Container Store, it’s not rare for a customer to apply for a job. The Container Store's loyal fans are so passionate about the brand they wan to join it. So what’s the secret of the company that was ranked by Fortune as the number one "Best Company to Work For in America" and remains a local on the list? The Container Store’s director of recruiting, Karyn Maynard, gets candid with Human Resources IQ about the recipe for un-contained success.

What is the culture of The Container Store?

We have been at the top of Fortune magazine's list for the past nine years. This is based largely off of employee surveys that gauge the trust and pride employees have in the organization. The culture of The Container Store is built on a tremendous amount of communication.

What’s happening in today’s economy or labor market that makes it necessary for the recruiting department to develop a marketing strategy to attract talent?

Six or seven years ago we began to include recruiting as part of marketing. We wanted to evaluate what we were seeing in today's market. With changes in technology, people want clear, consistent messages and strong and constant communication at all levels and all ages. With a consistent message we can be nimble and adjust.

Employees who know what is going on in the company and who have an understanding of short-term and long-term goals are much more loyal. We have been doing that for 30 years and that is why we have low turnover and employees feel empowered.

The Container Store uses a marketing-centric focus on recruiting. How does this work?

Our focus at The Container Store is a whole-brained approach to business. A part of that is making sure that every department understands what is going on in the company. This includes open communication.

Marketing plays a huge role in communication within the company and externally to our customers. As you look at how we talk to our customers (advertising, marketing, our brand, products and things you naturally think of), our employees are an extension of that.

The marketing focus helps in the long term with recruiting. We know that a vast majority of our staff were customers first. We provide a consistent message. People really love consistency in company messages. This includes a streamlined message across our catalogues, products and the message communicated to employees in the interviewing process. We want a clear marketing message at every level in order to deliver on the brand promise we make to our customers.

We feel that recruiting great employees is a function of marketing for consistency of branding.

What are some common recruiting mistakes most companies make?

What I hear most from applicants is so many companies do not follow through with the message they give in the interviewing process. Applicants want to find someone who will follow through with the company. We have low turnover and this is due to a lot of referrals and delivering on brand promise.

Explain what a "career product" is and how it attracts top talent?

When we are looking at people coming in for careers, part time and full time, I think the biggest difference is The Container Store’s focus on career pathing.

There is constant, consistent communication with management on growth opportunities. Rather than follow one career path, the company works to leverage employees’ talents for new and different roles, as well as giving them as much exposure as possible to other positions and responsibilities in the company to ensure they’re challenged. They can't say they want to start in the store and be a buyer tomorrow...but they are considered for these positions.

We are organized in a very unique way. In training we report up through marketing but we have people who fulfill the human resources function including benefits, payroll team, loss prevention and risk management.

We receive 40,000 applications a year, and last year we had about 34 percent employee referrals. Every application is reviewed by a human set of eyes. Managers are responsible for hiring. The big picture for leading into the process of career pathing is the responsibility of the manager.

If an employee says he wants to be the greatest person on the sales floor in the company, he has to ask his manager how he will get there. Onboarding, training and recruiting are a collaboration we started about six years ago. We basically have mini human resources departments in each of our stores. We challenge each of our 4,000 employees to be recruiters and refer us to great people. We ask them to help find and bring great people to the company.

What is The Container Store’s career product message?

When looking at opportunities at The Container Store, we highlight the fact that the company is built on a foundation of communication and opportunities for employees to grow their careers. We provide tremendous education and training opportunities and the opportunity to work in an exciting and growing environment—and also a privately-held, financially-strong company.

Interview by Blake Landau, editor