Since I have dual citizenship, I’m often asked who the Americans are most like: the Germans or the French? My answers vary widely! It’s more complicated than this, but in terms of organization and being on time, Germans and Americans are very similar. A good example of how much Americans love organization would be the American company Container Store.
Container Store: An American Company That Could be German
Not long ago, I went with my husband to Container Store. There’s one thing you absolutely must know: Container Store was my favorite store when I first moved to the US. I found everything there that I had previously found at IKEA, only it was of higher quality and looked better, even if it was more expensive. I’m of the opinion that Container Store, a 100% American company, could pass for a German company. You can find everything you need there for tidying up and organizing. There are cardboard boxes, paper board boxes, plastic boxes, and metal boxes. You can find bins for the kitchen, bathroom, or office that are functional or decorative. Waste bins come in extra-large, large, and medium. Small and extra-small are also available, of course. There are shelves and shelving systems. Really, it doesn’t get any more German than this. And indeed, it was because of the shelving systems that we went to Container Store. Two hours and a few hundred dollars later, we had bought an entire system of shelves, baskets, shoe racks, and broom hangers, along with installation service, all for our pantry.
Who or What is Container Store?
As I mentioned, Container Store is an American company that deals in selling individually assembled cabinets and shelving systems. Founded in Texas in 1978, the company is still in the hands of the co-founders, even though their share of the company is smaller after going public in 2013. 5,000 employees in 70 locations brought in a total revenue of about $750 million in 2014. Container Store sells 271 different storage containers for food, 77 different kinds of clothes hangers, and no less than 57 items to manage power cords. Don’t worry, I didn’t tally those numbers up myself. They can all be found in the news. Doesn’t that sound spectacularly German?
Container Store is the sole retailer in the US that carries storage systems by Elfa, a Swedish company. Elfa’s genius solutions for storage space could also be taken for German. It seems Sweden has managed to find me here in the US, even if I don’t go to IKEA! Elfa’s product line includes removable baskets, steel and wood shelving systems, and mass-produced sliding doors. How awesome is that? Elfa shelving systems, in addition to being the top-selling item at Container Store, are also very profitable. Yeah, I can believe that.
Container Store – More expensive, but better than IKEA
The construction of our 5 square meter (16 ft2) pantry cost about $1,000, including $200 for installation. The store provided us with the best, most individualized consultation. After a thorough discussion, the consultant put everything together in a plan. While he worked on it, we went through the store, armed with an electronic buzzer, just like the one from VaPiano that vibrates when the pizza is ready. 30 minutes later we had concrete suggestions. After some discussion, the plans for the pantry were ready, along with an estimate. In less than a week it was installed. For what it’s worth, I should mention we entered the store late Sunday afternoon and the installation was finished the following Saturday.
Insights from Bloomberg BusinessWeek
Funnily enough, shortly after our successful shopping that Saturday, Container Store made it to the cover of Bloomberg BusinessWeek. It’s a friendly company, from my perspective living on the East Coast. Kip Tindell, the CEO, is a neatfreak and exceptionally great manager. He guides his company according to the “Foundation Principles”, a trademarked name: pay the employees well, treat them with respect, consider customers and suppliers like family, and have fun.
Container Store’s employees earn an average of $48,000 a year, which is double the average within the industry. They tend to stay with the firm longer than the industry average and the turnover rate is only 10%. Salary raises of 8% are not an uncommon thing. Container Store also values the quality of its employees’ work. Every new employee goes through 263 hours of training in their first year!
As German as this company may be, there are unfortunately no Container Stores in Germany yet. The 10,000 items found in a store have an average price of $8. Not everything is an Elfa shelving system. CEO Tindell sums it up: “We’re selling empty boxes.” You can get empty boxes anywhere, not just at IKEA. But 50% of the boxes at Container Store can only be found there.
The chain store has its best chances in the high-end market. Along with storage systems, Container Store also sells seasonal items to appeal to a wider target group. The typical Container Store customer in the US is a woman with a college degree and an average household income of $110,000. She spends about $60 per visit. 30% of the customers visit four times a year and represent 83% of the total revenue. Works for me, but then I am definitely a neatfreak.