A manager at The Container Store across from NorthPark Center spends two hours with a customer, helping her design a one-of-a-kind storage system to accommodate her Imelda Marcos-like high-heel shoe collection.
Garrett Boone hears about the manager’s enterprise and, during the hurly-burly of a typical day as chairman and co-founder of The Container Store, finds time to write the employee a thank-you note.
“We are a values-driven company,” Boone says simply. “It’s easy to manage when you have great people.”
His words and action are typical of a man whose youthful exuberance belies his 60 years and who, in the last half of those years, has created a retail enterprise that went from one Preston and Forest shop (the original store location now houses a Wendy’s) to 27 stores nationwide.
Today, the company grosses around $300 million a year and has one of the lowest turnover rates among its personnel in the industry (around 25 percent, compared with an industry average that approaches around 75-80 percent annually). It has also topped Fortune magazine’s list of ‘The 100 Best Companies to Work For’ three consecutive years (No. 1 in 2000 and 2001 and No. 2 this year). To hear sales associate Karyn Maynard tell it, it’s no wonder why.
“Garrett is an incredible salesman. He exemplifies everything we talk about here at TCS,” Maynard says. “He wants to be out there on the sales floor. He’ll put on an apron and wears his ‘Garrett’ nametag. He’ll do a carryout for a customer. We’ll ask him to clean the floor if he comes in.
“It sets a great example for everyone at the store. Our customers never see a hierarchy.”
The Container Store’s successful trajectory started back in 1976 when, with the encouragement of wife Cecelia, Boone left his job in 1976 at Storehouse furniture. Before that, he had worked as a paint department manager at Montgomery Ward after earning an undergraduate degree at Rice University and a master’s in history at UT Austin.
He had a vague plan to forge a business of his own that would build on his passion for design and woodworking. With friends Kip Tindell, co-founder of The Container Store, and architect John Mullam, he began studying a comprehensive manufacturers’ directory for inspiration.
“We went through Thomas’ Registry with the idea that maybe there were some neat commercial products out there that we could put in this store,” Boone says. “We really didn’t want to create a store that was just a rehash of some other store.”
Over two years, the three came up with various ideas, only to discard them when they didn’t seem logical or original enough. Then, almost on the verge of giving up, Boone attended a home show in Dallas in January 1978. At the show, he spied the now-ubiquitous Skandia shelving, samples of which he and Tindell had featured at Storehouse but, due to poor marketing, were difficult to sell. On his way home, with visions of Elfa, Skandia, commercial-parts bins and dairy crates dancing in his head, Boone realized that he had an innovative retail concept: All of these items were in the category of things that could help people organize their lives.
With this streamlined concept, the three friends put together a business plan and finally opened their first store in 1978.
“We decided we would create this store as the ultimate resource of things to help people organize the stuff in their lives. It was fun thinking of how we could create a store that revolved around providing solutions for people,” Boone says.
Retail legend Stanley Marcus took notice. He made a point of visiting the fledgling emporium and served as a mentor to Boone.
“From the very beginning, he took time to come in and see us,” Boone says. “He wrote us notes, encouraged us.”
Boone’s life away from shelving systems and storage doodads provides insight into the hands-on, feel-good corporate culture at The Container Store.
In May 2001, the Dallas Morning News named this dad to 23-year-old Aimee, 20-year-old Katherine and 18-year-old Guthrie as “The Father of the Year” at an awards luncheon that was begun in 1976 by Sylvan Landeau. The award honors fathers for their contributions to family life, and the luncheon raises money for approximately 30 charities related to children’s causes in Dallas-Fort Worth.
And, though his children are mostly grown, Boone remains active in education issues. Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Moses recently asked Boone to sit in on the district’s audit committee meetings as a business representative, and he’s also a member of the Carrolton-Farmers Branch Independent School District Foundation. Additionally, he’s involved with the Metropolitan YMCA and Senior Citizens of Greater Dallas.
His business savvy has been appreciated at DISD, where, during fiscal nipping and tucking, Boone rallied against pay cuts based on a fundamental premise that scores points with TCS employees: Well-paid employees who feel appreciated will go that extra mile and miss fewer days. This, he said, would ultimately end up saving the DISD money.
Call him eccentric and old-fashioned – case in point, he recently dressed as Albert Einstein at the opening of a New Jersey store to illustrate a TCS principle based on Einstein’s account of how he came upon the theory of relativity: “Inspiration does not come to the unprepared mind” but the combination of Boone’s quirky intellect and easygoing-but-impeccable manner have worked for him and his employees for almost 25 years now.
“I have stayed with the company largely because of Garrett’s incredible leadership style,” says Barbara Anderson, director of company culture and education and herself a Preston Hollow resident for 29 years.
“The way he communicates his dreams, goals and expectations…you want those to be yours, too.”
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