Lessons from the Container Store
Dealing daily with the world of investing, I’m usually up to my neck in unknowns at best, chaos at worst. Perhaps because of this, I like things to be tidy. Note, this is a preference—not always a reality. I say this in case any of you have seen my desk.
That said, one of my favorite stores is the Container Store. I’ve done business with them for about two decades now, and have had a wonderful time doing so. Those two decades built up a lot of goodwill—goodwill that recently faced a bit of a challenge.
Now, I still like the company, love roaming its isles, and it regularly makes the list of best places to work. So in reality, the following experience I will share is unusual. Once you read it, you may tell me to get a life. But I share it with you not to knock the store (I still do highly recommend it), but as a lesson to business owners and managers of the fragility of the business relationship.
I was heading down to the Metroplex to pick up a friend (otherwise known as my wife) from the airport, when I noticed I was near one of the stores. I thought I’d stop by to pick up three drawers I needed to complete my closet makeover.
There are 12 different sized drawers in three different styles to choose from. You can imagine my sadness to find that every one of the 36 different combinations of sizes and styles were there in abundance…except the one I was looking for.
The obviously new employee offered a few “suggestions,” but given that I had an airport pickup to make, I didn’t want to run around Fort Worth and Dallas, even though it was “only a 25 minute drive to the next store.” Besides, there was no guarantee the other store would have even one of the three drawers I wanted.
As the distribution center didn’t have the drawers, I was told they couldn’t order any for me. That wouldn’t have helped anyway as I couldn’t just stop by in a couple days since I live two hours away. That was fine, the employee said, I could just stop back later next week to see if they got any in (again, not a great option I told her, since I will probably still live two hours away).
Up to now, while disappointed, nothing was getting under my skin. I don’t expect every store to stock everything I want anytime I come in. What did peeve me a bit is that they actually did have the drawers I wanted. In fact I could see six of them sitting there. It’s just that they wouldn’t sell them to me.
Those six drawers were scattered among some of the displays they had showing how the Elfa system fit together. However, I was assured that they could not sell any of the items that were on display. Now, I can see this if it left the display looking empty or if disassembly was required. But these were drawers. They slide out. They are interchangeable with other drawers. There were several dozen possible combinations they could have done that would look pretty and leave three of the drawers available for me to purchase.
So I left. I left peeved. I left swearing that I’d never return.
Oh, I went back. I do love shopping there, these things happen, and I’ve learned that forgiveness is good for both the forgiver and the forgiven. But let’s look at how this affected their future relationship with me:
If I find myself near one of their stores and remember an item I’d like to buy, there is now a better chance that I’ll drive past rather than waste 20 minutes going in only to find that what I wanted wasn’t there. Good for my time management, bad for them.
Or, I might shop at their online center instead. That would eliminate my “oh, look at that, I can really use that” types of purchases I make at their store. Good for me, bad for them.
Or, next time I’m organizing some part of my life, instead of investing in a super cool storage system sold by the Container Store, why not instead buy a cool (albeit not super cool) one sold locally at Walmart, or Lowe’s? After all, I’d keep more money in my town. And while it might not be exactly what I wanted, it would get the job done. Good for my town, bad for them.
Or, I might figure out another way to configure my closet system to eliminate the need for the drawers I was looking for. Good enough for me, bad for them.
Will my lost sales bankrupt the company? No. In fact, it may make sense for them to not use up sales time to rearrange display just to satisfy one customer. That day it also made sense for the trainer to help the customer ready to spend a few thousand, and leave the potential small sale (me) to the trainee.
This article isn’t to get them or you to necessarily change how you do business. Rather it is to get you to think like a customer. Make conscious decisions as to whether or not to bend to meet a client’s needs.
But don’t let this incident shift you too far in another direction. You must also still think like an owner and ensure that the bending does not end up breaking something instead.
This article was published under the title "Stores, employees should think like customers"
in the Wichita Falls Times Record News July 2011 Biz to Biz.
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