Kip Tindell's Uncontainable Secrets for Building a Business
Selling empty boxes may not sound like a lucrative business opportunity, but Kip Tindell, CEO of The Container Store, knows firsthand that the value of a product is much greater than its worth. With more than 5,000 employees across its 67 locations, The Container Store has seen long-term success thanks to what Tindell calls "its yummy culture." In his new book, Uncontainable, Tindell reveals the business philosophy behind his brainchild and provides tips for starting—and running—a thriving company. He shared his insight with Associate Editor Maria Minsker.
CRM: The Container Store has been around for more than 30 years. What made you want to write this book now?
Tindell: Over the years, many people have asked me, "Kip, when are you going to write a book?" I'm always flattered that people find our story inspiring enough to suggest such a thing, but I've always resisted the idea. I've never been the kind of person who helps a little old lady across the street and then shouts about it from the rooftops. But...I've gained some perspective and have come to realize that we're not helping anybody by keeping our business strategy—our magic, our yummy recipe—a secret. Our employees wanted me to do it. They are so proud of our culture and our story. We hope that Uncontainable will inspire other businesses and show them that it's possible and joyful to create a business where everyone associated with it thrives.
CRM: What makes The Container Store unique? To what do you attribute its success?
Tindell: We created a segment of the housewares industry—storage and organization—when we opened our first store in Dallas in 1978. Since then, we've been working to delight and inspire our customers with a differentiated, high-service shopping experience. We sell solutions, not products. We sell space, but more importantly time. It's about the promise of an organized life. But it's our employee-first culture that fuels all of that. Treating your employees with affection and respect is not only the right thing to do, it also happens to be the fastest road to success.
CRM: What's the significance of having Foundation Principles rather than strict rules or guidelines at the heart of your business?
Tindell: At The Container Store, every step we take is a reflection of our Foundation Principles. We realized we're not smart enough to teach each and every employee how to act in every situation. Retail is far, far too situational to force employees to stick to inflexible rules and policies. So instead of our using a telephone-book–sized procedural manual, our Foundation Principles keep us on track, focused, and energized, and they provide the kind of guidance that our employees respond to, and then let them go to work. And with that—magically—employee decisions made in our Miami store happen exactly the way they do in our Minneapolis store. This liberates the creative genius of each individual employee, which results in better service, products, sales, and earnings, and, of course, a higher quality of workplace. And when that takes place, success happens naturally.
CRM: What advice do you have for companies just starting to build their brands?
Tindell: I think building a brand is all about differentiation and transcending value for your customers. What I mean by that is that the value of any product you buy should transcend the actual price you pay at the register. Think about some of your favorite things: your favorite pair of shoes, your very favorite tie, your absolutely favorite car among all the cars you've ever owned. I mean, those are not just worth what you paid for them. The merchant has succeeded in transcending value for you. I think it's the highest art form of the merchant.
CRM: What other companies embody your advice? What brands do you consider role models?
Tindell: Raj Sisodia, who is on our board, now a marketing professor at Babson College, cowrote a book called Firms of Endearment. [Sisodia] and his colleagues showed that enlightened companies—companies [that] embody the tenets of Conscious Capitalism, such as Google, JetBlue, Whole Foods, Costco, Panera, and Patagonia, [which] follow the stakeholder model and bring qualities like love, joy, authenticity, and empathy into their business—far outperform the S&P 500 over a 10-year period. It's ironic, really—not making profit your number-one goal actually makes you more profitable. Seeing all these companies thrive by doing the right thing inspires other entrepreneurs to run their businesses in a conscious way.
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