I’ve known of Patagonia, the outdoor outfitter for over 20 years, when I worked my way through college at a ski store that sold the Patagonia brand.
The stuff they made was [and is] legendary for its quality. The fact that a portion of sales goes to environmental causes was history in the making for a retail supplier.
Recently, an article ran in the New York Times called Working Life (High and Low). The article featured two very different companies and their cultures and how they treat employees. The article is adapted from “The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker,” by Steven Greenhouse, a reporter for The New York Times.
Patagonia operates like so many people in other parts of the world – they work to live. Contrast most of us here in the U.S. where we live to work.
Patagonia knows that the better they treat their employees, the happier and more productive the employees are going to be. Mid-day surfing and biking, child care on site so parents can have lunch with their kids, lunchtime yoga and pilates sessions and two-month paid internships with environment organizations each year are just part of the perks.
Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard, “Has a simple philosophy that he says ensures that employees don’t abuse their flextime. ‘Hire the people you trust, people who are passionate about their job, passionate about what they’re doing. Just leave them alone, and they’ll get the job done.'”
THE REAL WORLD RETAILING TAKEAWAY
People are your greatest asset and the only true differentiator in retail today.
We all know how rare it is to walk into a store and have an attentive employee who is smart and helpful.
But those experiences that we remember are usually pervasive throughout the store because it’s part of the DNA of the store.
Disney’s theme parks offer a similar experience because new employees get indoctrinated into the Disney philosophy. Doing things any way other than what’s acceptable under the Disney philosophy is met with disdain. While not as friendly as Patagonia, it does preserve the Disney experience because the employees who work at the parks are so passionate about the brand. And that’s what the company does have in common with Patagonia.
It’s especially difficult for small retailers to provide the perks of a bigger company (Patagonia is a $275MM company with 1,300 workers). But we can do our part. All employees in retail really want is a place they like to work and the people are the number one reason they like their job.
The creation of a specific type of culture has to come from the top. The leader always sets the tone which can positively impact the organization. And then they hire the right people – The type of people Yvon Chouinard at Patagonia would hire.
Enthusiasm is contagious and sometimes the leader just needs to offer more insight into the business so employees truly feel like they’re part of the team. That alone can make employees more productive and happier.
So lead with enthusiasm. Show employees they’re special – take an employee out to lunch one day to pick their brain about what’s working and not working, then do something about it. Take the entire crew out to dinner one night to thank them. Take an employee to a trade show or out for an hour or two to check out the competition. While you may not be able to allow employees to take off for two hours to go surfing in the middle of the day, these types of things will go a long way to connecting with your team and give them more perks than they can at just about any other retailer.