Chip Conley may have called it a PEAK moment. This was a literal peak moment in the Colorado Rockies with some fellow employees of The Container Store.
I had begun with The Container Store as a merchandise processor. I loved the store and wanted a discount on its unique products. I joined seasonally to fill a need on the truck team. It soon became much more. The Container Store leadership took a different approach to business than I had ever seen. Its Foundation Principles being a major part of that.
I began to restrict my availability at Marshall Field’s and stopped substitute teaching. I no longer had availability for the weekend retreats I was leading at Camp Joy. After 2 months, I was asked to take on a Full-Time role. This decision was difficult. I had a degree in Anthropology and I was looking into grad schools for Social Work. A career in retail was not exactly on the 5 year plan.
As a matter of sense and finance, I took the job – the pay was good, had crazy hours and I worked in a mall everyday. I LOVED it. It is a hard thing to explain what it means to be surrounded by motivated and inspiring people. We have people working on the sales floor part-time who would not consider any other kind of retail job, but The Container Store attracts them. The hiring philosophy is called 1=3. One great person is equal to three good. Hire truly great people and pay them better than anyone else and they will give you three times the productivity. In one day on the sales floor I would talk to a lawyer, interior designer, ex-cia, psychiatrist, & college med student. These were just a few employees! By being surrounded by better people, it made me want to be better. It was a beautiful dance in which mentor became mentee and vice versa. I found that The Container Store culture fit my own values well. I was ready to let this company take me wherever it could.
In the late spring of that first year with the company, there was a contest to nominate your fellow employees for being a true 1=3 employee. 8 winners from the stores & 4 winners from the offices and distribution center would be selected to travel for a 4 day vacation in Estes Park Colorado with founders: Kip & Sharon Tindell, and Garrett Boone.
I sat down dutifully and wrote up 40 nominations. I thought my entire store was fantastic. I knew that we seemed like a silo out in Ohio. There was no other store for more than 6 hours distance. We only had 28 stores in the whole company at the time. I wanted everyone to know how I felt working with such a great team.
A few weeks later, I was standing in my guest bedroom ironing my shirt for the day, and the phone rang.
“Hello, Daniel! This is Garrett”
“Garrett Boone, from The Container Store. I wanted to call and congratulate you. You were selected as one of the 8 people in the company to come with me & Kip for the 1=3 trip.”
I was shocked. I did not believe that they would select someone who had been with the company only 7 months to go on this trip. The Container Store is known for the incredibly low turnover and high tenure. I immediately called my General Manager, Kalyn, and told her the news. She already knew. In just 7 months with this company, they had charmed me into a committed employee. I was blown away by the potential of all that The Container Store could do for me. They were sending me to Colorado with the founders! I just got off the phone with the CEO!
A couple months later, I left for Colorado. I met these incredibly dedicated individuals from all parts of the country who had worked for the company for years. We were staying in a large four bedroom cabin in a YMCA resort. Garrett was active in the YMCA and had donated the money for this cabin to be built. At the table that first night, we were sitting on the second floor deck of the house. It overlooked the mountain range and nearby forests. The sky turned dark as dusk approached and we carried on our conversation late into that first evening. Eventually, we went around the table and said how long we were with the company. I was the only one on the trip with less than 3 years of tenure. The trip was filled with planned activities and great meals. We moved like a herd around the trails and fishing holes.
On the last night, we were all getting repacked for the next day’s afternoon flights, and Garrett stopped in the room I was sharing with two others (He had been staying with two other coworkers in the room down the hall).
“I was wondering if any of you want to join me tomorrow morning. I know of a pretty cool hike that will take us to the top of a nearby peak. We have to leave pretty early.”
Of the twelve people there, only another young employee, Steve, and I decided to go. I knew this was an incredible opportunity to spend some quality time with Garrett. I wasn’t going to miss it. Steve and I decided to sleep on the floor of the cabin outside the room so as not to wake up our fellow bunkmate when we got up in the morning.
At five am we woke up to our 6’4” founder towering over us wearing hi-tech pants and a wide brimmed canvas hat: “C’mon boys the hike gets harder when its hotter.” He was ready.
I am not quite sure where or how we got to the trail head. I remember being in and out of sleep on the drive. I thought, “Where is he taking me?” This thought repeated like a mantra over the course of the three hour hike. The trail we walked was a series of switchbacks which turned the relatively shallow ascent into a greater challenge.
The tall man in front of me was experienced. He knew this trail, as he did many others. He had been here before.
We were the first to climb the trail this morning. We encountered mostly friendly wildlife and not so friendly spider webs crossing our path. I must have been wearing the wrong shoes for the hike because my feet began to blister.
After meandering through the woods and climbing in altitude, the tree line broke and it was barely light out. I had anticipated a sprawling view as some reward for our efforts. Instead, we were greeted by dense fog. I could see only my arms outstretched in front of me. Garrett, our leader, who had forged onward through this intense hike, unexpectedly lay down. He placed his hat behind his head and sprawled out along the rocky peak we found ourselves on.
I was not in a place to question him. As Steve and I found our places nearby to stretch out, Garrett simply said, “maybe a quick nap will burn off the fog.”
It wasn’t hard to fall asleep. It was quiet and the breeze made the heat comfortable. I do not know how long we napped. When I woke up, it was a new day. I had lain down in a fog and woke up on top of a mountain. I lay down tired and weary of the thought of the climb back down.
The fog was now gone. We were surrounded by peaks. Some were capped with snow, others were tree lined and some were like crags that had screeched out of the Continental Divide yesterday.
As I was scanning my new sun-drenched view of the landscape, I saw the tall man, Garrett Boone, standing near the edge. He almost appeared to be a part of the mountain, as if he belonged there –he had always been there. This was my peak moment. Garrett had been the first one up that mountain. I wanted to be the last one down.
This moment changed my perspective. I had been in the frame of mind “what can The Container Store do for me?” Now, as I saw Garrett standing on the edge of the horizon, I thought, “what can I do for The Container Store?”
When I arrived at the peak, I was tired from the early morning journey and weary at the thought of the descent. Once that light broke, I completely forgot about distance to the bottom. The descent was no longer the challenge.
Throughout my career I have visited that figurative peak many times; often trying to take the journey with those who are able. I still wonder where I can take Garrett’s vision. Life on the peak is not static. There are people that have come and gone. The seasons have been beautiful and harsh. Being on the top, above the tree line, exposes you to nature.
Fairly often, the fog comes back. If you are patient, however, the sun always comes out. I look around every once in a while, stay centered, and make sure Garrett is still there. He is the vision.
Two things remain constant. First, the mountain is always here. Secondly, the choice is yours. Sometimes you need to climb a mountain and sometimes you may need to take a nap. Wake up every day and choose a vision. If you sleep in, you will wake up late and Garrett may be gone. When your vision is lost and the fog hangs around, the only way out is down.