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Nomads No More

Filed under: Best Places to Work Road Trip 2011

From Counselor’s three editors, as they hit the road for the 2011 Best Places to Work Summer Road Tour

Now that Joe, Melinda and Andy’s Excellent Adventure is over and our lives as nomads are returning to normal, I feel it’s time to reflect upon some of the highlights from the trip. Since we can’t print it all, here’s the top 10 list:

10. Awesome People. I can’t say more about the suppliers and distributors who hosted us. They were gracious, kind, nice and incredibly cool. They opened businesses for us on the weekend, gave us tours, answered our questions and fed us. Boy did they feed us. Without them this road trip would not have been nearly as awesome as it was.

9. Lost And Found. In the span of five minutes at the Hertz drop off in Dallas Andy lost, found, then lost and found again the charger for is cell phone. It was like he was having short term memory problems. And there was a bit of panic in his voice when he lost it the second time just standing there.

Melinda in Oklahoma8. Price’s Fried Chicken in Charlotte. We took a chance when we got food at a fried chicken joint we saw in a book Carole Seymour leant us. Best move we made because that chicken was crunchy on the outside and moist in the middle and not greasy at all. Although we did get crumbles all over the SUV.

7. Dinner In VA. Towards the end of our first day we were hungry and ate at a steakhouse at some random exit. Food was good but the place was a little odd. They had these three huge and weird portraits, we’re guessing the owners kids, hanging up just as you came inside the place. Then they locked us in at the end of the night.

6. The Winker. Though this guy saved my hide in the great hunt for gas, he either had a tick or he was coming on to Melinda. As he gave us directions to a gas station he kept smiling and winking at her.

5. Turkey Bowling. You can’t imagine how much fun it is to roll a frozen turkey at liter soda bottles half filled with water. This was the college creation of Stephen Tate and they now play it in the warehouse at Signet.

4. Welcome Signs. For every state except two (Arkansas, it was in the middle of a bridge, and California, we flew in) we stopped and took pictures at the welcome signs. My favorite was Tennessee. We happened upon Virginia’s cruising down the highway and I had to hang out the sunroof to get it. North Caroline was in the middle of the night and we slowed to a crawl to snap the pics.

3. Party Rock. He’s in the house tonight people. I think I’ve heard this song more than any other song my whole entire life. But it grew on me and will be in my iPod soon.

2. Hello! It seemed that every time I was driving and our Bossy Pants GPS was about to give me directions, a certain someone riding shot gun would either make or receive a phone call. Seriously, what do I have to do next? The music is loud and I can’t hear the GPS’s poor pronunciation. The funniest words she garbled Charlottestontown, Linda Vista, boulevard and Gillespie.

1. Sour Patch Kid Incident. When Andy dropped a bag of sour patch kids into his lap and the sugar poured out by his reaction you would have thought that he just dropped a beaker of angry fire ants into his lap. Oh the humanity

And that’s that. We get to spend more than eight hours in one place. It’s going to feel weird going back to the same hotel for three nights but it’s going to be good too. On a sad note, I just realized that I forgot to pop our antenna ball off the car when we dropped it off in Las Vegas. Little guy made the entire trip with us and we will miss him.

Showgirl Or Supplier Sales Rep?

Filed under: Best Places to Work Road Trip 2011

From Counselor’s Melinda Ligos, as she hits the road for the 2011 Best Places to Work Summer Road Tour

Big Surprise Greets The Road Tour Crew

Showgirl at SeaenaWe spent yesterday driving through the Mojave Desert, braving 100+ degree heat made worse when we unwisely stopped at “The Tallest Thermometer in the World,” which was unimpressive and caused Andy and Joe to sport matching, instantaneous sunburns. So when we headed to the lobby of the Palazzo Hotel on the Vegas strip this morning to meet Lisa Surber, a sales rep for Seaena, a supplier who specializes in awards, we surely wouldn’t be blamed if we spotted a mirage.

Indeed, as we rounded the lobby corner that led us to the lobby fountain, there stood in front of us a Vegas showgirl in full regalia, blue-feather headdress and all. This was no mirage, however, nor was it an ordinary showgirl. It was Surber, who immediately thrust a bag at us containing a bejeweled Elvis costume and said, “Are you guys ready to have some fun?”

Despite the fact that it was 9 a.m., we said yes, and Surber hopped into full gear. First, Joe put on his Elvis costume (Andy was very deft in volunteering Joe, which of course meant that he didn’t have to take his britches off and don the polyester spectacle), and we headed for the Palazzo’s garage, which held Surber’s Mini Cooper. We were loaded down with bags at this point (after meeting with Surber, we had to get to the airport), but Surber, despite the fact that she was in little more than a sequined bikini, happily put the car’s top down, buckled us all in, and then handed all of our luggage to us, bag by bag, while regaling us with fun facts about the small Las Vegas-based company.

Joe and SturberSeaena is like a family environment, Surber tells us. Indeed, the company’s two owners, Chris Robbins and Allison Fruetel, are engaged, and Surber’s brother also works there as a graphic designer. As she navigates her mini out of the garage and into the blazing Nevada sun, Surber tells us about the antics that she and her co-workers participate in to blow off steam and keep their creative juices flowing. One example: The company’s employees often collect gnomes and then proceed to steal them from each other, photographing their whereabouts. (One recently attended a Minnesota Vikings game.) But all of this shoptalk, while interesting, is hard to focus on as Surber expertly navigates down the strip, sparkling like a blue disco ball and waving at passersby and repeatedly yelling out to all of us, “Are y’all ready for some fun?”

We are, despite the fact that Andy and Elvis are quickly wilting in the backseat as they huddle underneath the bags, loaded down with 70 pounds of dirty clothes from our cross-country trip. So Surber pulls off at one of the top tourist attractions in town—the famed Las Vegas sign—where we prepare to take photos of one another and Big Bird, who has inexplicitly stationed himself at the front of the attraction as well.

Surber’s a great sport—she even poses with tourists who mistake her for a real showgirl—and it becomes crystal clear that this is a gal her loves her job. We’re sorry to say good-bye as she rolls the Cooper toward the airport, while telling us about an upcoming “cannonball run” style race she’s about to participate in, which will take her from Vegas to Boulder, CO.

In Vegas, with a showgirl and Elvis, the car-riding portion of our trip has come to an appropriate end. Now onto The ASI Show Chicago, along with one more stop on the Best Places to Work Road Tour in the Chicago area tomorrow.


Sunday Visit To An Innovative Supplier

Filed under: Best Places to Work Road Trip 2011

From Counselor’s Andy Cohen, as he hits the road for the 2011 Best Places to Work Summer Road Tour

Relaxed Atmosphere Leads To Success For Tri-Mountain

Tri-MountainEven on a Sunday afternoon, you can feel the vibe in the Irwindale, CA, office of Top 40 supplier Tri-Mountain. While no machines are humming and employees aren’t milling about, Glenn Oyoung, chief operating officer of the 100-employee company, is his ever-energetic self describing the culture of his family-run company. “We strive for a Trader Joe’s culture. We’re laid back, but everybody works hard and knows what’s expected of them,” Oyoung says. “It’s an entrepreneurial culture where everybody just does whatever it takes to get the job done.”

And while everybody’s getting the job done at this rapidly growing and expanding company, they also know how to have fun and joke around with each other. “It’s a casual, real environment,” Oyoung says. “You should have a good sense of humor if you’re going to work here.”

And once you work at this company, you’re like family to the owners. Daniel Tsai and his wife Rosy started the business in 1993. It now also consists of their kids, Jennifer and Danny (vice president of merchandising), and Jennifer’s husband, Glenn. “The family business nature of our company definitely helps to create a good, positive culture,” says Danny, who grew up in the business, packing boxes at an early age and then coming back after a stint with Cintas following college at University of Southern California. “We treat all of our employees like family, and I think they can feel that. It creates a loyal culture that you don’t find everywhere.”

Tri-MountainTri-Mountain also takes care of the little things to celebrate employee successes and make sure everybody feels comfortable. In addition to regular company parties, speeches by management to keep everybody updated, and multiple occasions to get staffers together outside of work, Tri-Mountain also has a special bell in its customer service department that gets a lot of attention at this company. While on this Sunday visit we’re allowed to ring the rather loud bell, it’s the top customer service employees that get to ring the bell every Friday. “Two people get noticed every week and they can ring the bell as loud as they like,” Oyoung says. “It’s a little thing, but the whole company gets into it, and the people who get the honor of ringing the bell every week, get a special recognition they feel proud about.”

It’s that kind of fun atmosphere that also recognizes hard-working employees that has lead Tri-Mountain to big success recently. The company increased its sales by 20% in 2010, and is on pace to duplicate and even surpass that result this year. Plus, management is investing in the business by practically doubling the size of its product line this year by adding more than 200 new products. “We’re in an aggressive growth mode right now,” Oyoung says. “And I think our employees really enjoy being a big part of that success and that growth.”


Agency Atmosphere Rules Laid Back Company

Filed under: Best Places to Work Road Trip 2011

From Counselor’s Melinda Ligos, as she hits the road for the 2011 Best Places to Work Summer Road Tour

Fun In The Sun In So Cal

Clean Fun Promotional MarketingIt’s Saturday morning in Costa Mesa, CA, and we’ve broken in to Clean Fun Promotional Marketing, a 50-employee distributorship owned by Greg Washer that caters almost strictly to the entertainment industry. While we’ve already heard much about the culture of the company, which Washer launched 24 years ago, nothing has prepared us for what we’re about to see.

Inside the walls of the ultra-modern cavernous steel building designed by Washer himself, we find an open–floor-plan office space that resembles a set for the coolest workplace movie on earth. The two-floor space (second floor is a loft) is painted in bright red, yellow and green, with concrete flooring, a red, winding metal staircase, hip cubicles with fun, movable partitions and a conference room with floor-to-ceiling steel sliding doors that showcases every movie and record label promotional product imaginable. There’s ‘Something About Mary’ hair gel, ‘X-Men’ t-shirts, penguins of the ‘Mr. Poppers’ variety, Glee gift bags, and a host of LMFAO party rock paraphernalia, including an “Every Day I’m Funnelin’ beer bong, which is a play on words to a line in the hit song “Party Rock Anthem.”

Star Wars MasksIf one has any doubts that the environment in this ultra-cool, creative workplace is conductive to fun, one only needs to take a peek in Washer’s office, which we gladly did. It’s fashioned to look like a bar (stools included), has a refrigerator stocked with Patron and beers, and – wait for it – a steel garage door that opens to the California sunshine with the click of a remote control. We’re told that the door is open more often than not, and the area outside serves as a great spot for Gil the taco guy, who sets up shop outside whenever Washer feels like treating his employees. A Jane Fonda sweatshirt (the first promotional product Washer ever sold) hangs proudly on the wall, as do a few dozen unopened sweepstakes envelopes that proclaim Washer a winner of hundreds and thousands of dollars.

It’s clear he doesn’t need to pin his hopes on some one-in-a-million sweepstakes entry, though. Clean Fun is a winner, and we’ll be back someday when the doors are open for business. Note to Washer: Keep the Patron chilled for us.

Happy Hour For The Crew In Dallas

Filed under: Best Places to Work Road Trip 2011

From Counselor’s Melinda Ligos, as she hits the road for the 2011 Best Places to Work Summer Road Tour

Happy Hour At A Dallas Distributorship

Bob Lilly PromotionsThe clock is edging toward 4 p.m on a Friday as we roll into Bob Lilly Promotions, and it’s obvious that the employees there are ready to call it a day. No, they’re not powering down their computers or hopping to their cars. They’re setting up a happy hour in one of the spaces of their sleek headquarters, which resembles a chic ad agency more than a promo products distributorship. The walls are lined with rows of promotional products—many sporting the logos of big brands like Hennessy—encased in glass, and flat screen TVs seem to be in every room.

Vice President of Sales Tommy Lewis’ elevator pitch is further evidence that this isn’t a typical promotional product company: “We sell measurable programs to help big companies grow bigger,” Lewis says, ticking off a list of clients in the adult beverage and oil and gas industries. More than 50% of the firm’s business comes from what Lewis calls “agency-style pitches.”

While Bob Lilly, a former middle linebacker for Texas Christian University (dad Bob senior played tight end for the Dallas Cowboys) who owns the company along with his wife Julie, is happy to sit down and talk to us, employees, vendors and clients are ducking in to find out where the drinks are being served. A Gemline rep tiptoes by and looks at Lilly expectantly, while Lilly points to the adjacent space with a smile. “It’s over there,” he says, motioning to an area where a growing cluster of people is knocking down ice cold Shiner Bocks and Blue Moons while the sun bakes the Dallas freeway just outside.

Dallas CowboysIf there’s any workplace in which the old “work hard, play hard” cliché fits, it’s here at Bob Lilly, where it’s clear that Bob and co. take their business, and their partying, equally seriously.

While some distributorships stuck their heads in the sand during the recession, Lilly says his company “hit the gas peddle,” hiring new employees and offering incentives like Rolexes to salespeople who had $100,000+ months.

All of the company’s salespeople, including Lilly and Lewis, make it a point to go on a minimum of 15 in-person sales calls per week, and all of these efforts seem to be paying off. After business dipped 40% in 2009, Lilly saw 55% growth last year, and is on pace for another 50% year over year gain in 2011.

Which today, at least, is as good an excuse as any for Lilly and his employees to pop a few cold ones. As we head out, he even hands us a few road sodas and eagerly joins his crew. It’s clear that today’s party is about to get into full swing.


Sunday In Brea, CA

Filed under: Best Places to Work Road Trip 2011

From Counselor’s Andy Cohen, as he hits the road for the 2011 Best Places to Work Summer Road Tour

Little Things Reap Big Rewards For Pacific Western Sales

Ask Lyndsey Tidwell what makes his company tick, and he has a ready answer – even for visitors who popped into his office on a Sunday morning. “The little things add up to a lot here,” says Tidwell, who is the co-owner of supplier firm Pacific Western Sales, along with his father-in-law Tom Clements. “We really value our employees and recognize that without them, we can’t go anywhere. That’s why we make sure to do the little things that they notice.”

Like the simple gesture of moving a time clock. Tidwell had heard complaints from his customer service employees that they had to punch into a time clock downstairs in the warehouse. A very simple thing had caused angst among his work force, so Tidwell bought an additional digital time clock last year and placed it in the customer service department where it was easily accessible. “It seems small, but it’s big to them,” Tidwell told us while touring around his company that includes an 80,000 square foot warehouse in Brea, CA. “I want them to feel wanted, so you have to make sure they don’t have anything that makes them upset.”

Pacific Western Sales

Tidwell and Kaili Yang, the company’s west coast sales manager, have opened the doors of Pacific Western Sales for us on a Sunday, and it’s clear that they have a great workplace – even if nobody’s currently present on this Sunday morning. The 100-person company throws birthday parties once a month and hosts quarterly luncheons where employees are acknowledged for great work and management can provide updates. “It’s vital for us to find time to talk about where we are as a company and where we’re headed,” Tidwell says. “I think you have to keep people informed if you want them to feel a part of something bigger than just their day-to-day jobs.”

And employees here definitely have that feeling. “We really focus on the little things to make sure we bring people together and create a community in the office,” says Yang. “There’s a good feeling of togetherness, and it’s exciting that we all know we’re a part of a growing company.”

Indeed, Pacific Western has so far in 2011 experienced a 40% growth rate over 2010, and Tidwell says the company is investing in new products and an office expansion that will allow it to accommodate new hires for the remainder of 2011. The reason for the success? Tidwell attributes it to his employees. “It’s the positive attitude of our people,” he says. “Our culture shows that people will do anything to get the job done. When you have a happy workplace, it all works well.”

Games People Play

Filed under: Best Places to Work Road Trip 2011

From Counselor’s Joe Haley, as he hits the road for the 2011 Best Places to Work Summer Road Tour

So, what does one, well in our case, three, do while gallavanting all over the country in a rented car with a pushy GPS system to pass the time? Well, we played games. No, not things like road side bingo, or the alphabet game – you know, the one where you have to find a word that begins with every letter of the alphabet in order? Rather, we play games made up by our very own Quiz Master – Melinda.

Our first game was trivia in nature. There were three categories and Andy and I were asked questions in each: TV trivia, ASI trivia and celebrity trivia. This game was quickly cancelled. Not because the questions were too tough, but because our Quiz Master didn’t know the answers to the questions she was asking. When giving a hint to a Disney Channel program she said, “this person has her own Internet TV show.” Naturally the answer was iCarly. The problem, though, is that show is on Nickelodeon. When we challenged the answer she stood firm until Andy Googled it and found out that it was in fact on Nick, as were three other “Disney” shows she gave us.

Game number two in this slightly demented version of Cash Cab was Are You Smarter Than A 6th Grader. While there were no smarmy and smug 11-year olds to challenge us, we played nonetheless. Melinda crafted questions based on the homework she had helped her oldest daughter with this past school year. And ya know what, Andy is not smarter than a 6th grader. He answered one measly question about the Mayans building the pyramids in South America but that was about it. My winning question was to name the three ships that sailed to the new world. (The next day while talking about our game, Melinda mentioned that she thought it was great that I knew the names of the ships that accompanied the Mayflower. Huh, what?)

We also played a straight up celebrity trivia game, which I again won. Andy struggled with naming at least six Julia Roberts movies. He kept confusing her with Geena Davis. No she was not in Thelma and Louise. No she was not in League Of Their Own. Come on man. I knew just enough celebrity trivia – it’s from watching E! News with my wife – to cruise to victory.

Our final game consisted of dumb luck. Kinda like that card game where you draw one card and hold it to your forehead for everyone to see and then you gauge their reaction and make a wager. Growing up we called it “A**hole.” Any idiot could win, which is precisely what Andy did in the song game. We each picked a popular song that had been playing continuously for the last three days. I had that Party Rock number. Every time your song came on the radio, the others paid you a dollar. After round one I was in the lead. Sweet! But we switched songs on Friday and Andy went with an Adele (no clue!) ditty, even though he hates her more than he hates our Bossy Pants GPS. I had Chris Brown and our Quiz Master went with that Lady Gaga song that sounds like those other Lady Gaga songs. Anyway, Melinda and I owe Andy a few bucks. I’m happy for him, as he won the equivalent of a participation medal for T-ball.  

However, in the end I am winning the majority of the games we play. I’m a veritable Ken Jennings. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for the next leg of our journey.

PS. I wrote this on the plane to San Diego. I think we’re a little punch drunk from all the driving, as Andy and I twice during the flight went to the cockpit to ask the pilots if they wanted us to take over and fly next. Melinda needed a potty stop.

Day Four: Welcome Sight On A Hot Day

Filed under: Best Places to Work Road Trip 2011

From Counselor’s Andy Cohen, as he hits the road for the 2011 Best Places to Work Summer Road Tour

Let The Frozen Margaritas Flow

Eric GrossmanAs we near the Metropak offices in Richardson, TX, we pass a sign on the road that smacks us in the face as soon as we get out of the car: 105 degrees. Yes, it’s a hot Texas day, but the Metropak folks sure know how to beat the heat. They do it with frozen margaritas, of course. We’re greeted with three of them, made fresh just then in the company’s margarita machine, as we walk in the door. Also practically in the doorway are the company’s employees, sitting at a long table all eating the fajitas, beans, nachos, guacamole and queso that the company whipped up this morning. Beyond the staffers sit a pool table and foosball table that people can partake in during breaks and at random times during the day. And, these special touches are in addition to the workout room on site that employees can feel free to use. “We like to provide a relaxed atmosphere around here,” says Eric Grossman, the owner and president of the 45-person company, which manufactures and prints millions and millions of bags in its 65,000 square foot facility. “I’m a relaxed guy and I think people appreciate working in an environment that doesn’t take itself too seriously.”

But Grossman and Edward Hanson, the executive vice president of the company who has known Grossman since they were in the third grade together, also work hard at recognizing the efforts of their employees. Grossman, who’s dressed in a bright Hawaiian shirt and often brings his yellow lab Cody to work and Edward, who quickly throws on a Roud Tour tee the moment we walk in the door, thank their employees on this day and honor the winner of the highly coveted employee of the quarter award – who receives $500, a prime parking space, and a trophy. “Thank you,” Hanson says to all his employees. “You all make this a great place to work. It’s fun and energetic and you make it that way.”

Indeed, Metropak wants to put all of its employees on a level playing field, going so far as beginning a renovation to the offices this year that will result in every person in the company working in cubicles – including Grossman and Hanson. “You miss things when you’re in an office,” Grossman says. “I want to be a part of the action like everybody else.” 

And that’s exactly the way Grossman and Hanson want it. “We treat our people well because they deserve it,” Grossman says. “They know as long as they do as their supposed to do, then we take care of them.”

Grossman Speaks with Counselor

But Grossman also makes a point to thank his employees throughout the year, throwing a legendary Christmas part at his house every December. Amid a big party, every employee leaves the event with a gift. Not just any small gift, these end-of-year prizes range from flat screen TVs and Blu-Ray players to household appliances of every shape and size. “It’s a really fun event,” says one employee, who’s just finishing her fajita-and-margarita lunch. “The Christmas party here shows how much Metropak treats us like a family.”



Road Tour Visits Unique Memphis Distributor

Filed under: Best Places to Work Road Trip 2011

From Counselor’s Andy Cohen, as he hits the road for the 2011 Best Places to Work Summer Road Tour

Memphis BBQ, Turkey Bowling, Oh My

SignetWalking into the Signet offices in Memphis, TN, it may seem like a traditional distributor company. The front of the office is lined with pictures and awards, which lead you into a showroom that features apparel, pens, mugs, desk accessories and an item from just about every product category in the ad specialty market. But don’t let those common touches fool you. This is definitely a different distributor operation – all the way down to its 50,000 square foot warehouse that contains pallets of inventory that the company uses to fulfill company store programs that it runs for its many Fortune 500 clients.

David and Elizabeth Tate, the husband-and-wife team that head the 49-person company, greet us at the door with true Memphis hospitality, even immediately putting on the Road Trip t-shirts we hand them. “We’re so glad you could come today,” says David, who began the company with Elizabeth’s mother and stepfather in 1976. “You just have to try some authentic Memphis BBQ. Doesn’t matter what other barbecue you’ve ever eaten before. This is better.”

He’s not wrong. The Tates, along with their son Stephen, who is a marketing specialist and head of video production for the company, lead us into a conference room where a spread of pulled pork, smoked sausages, barbecue nachos, and two different types of ribs (dry-rubbed and wet-rubbed) are laid out for us to try. The spread of barbecue is incredible and us Northerners dig in with Memphis gusto along with our hosts. While Stephen hands out wet-naps for us to use at the end of our meal, David and Elizabeth discuss what makes their company tick. “It’s very simple,” Elizabeth says. “We treat our employees the way we treat our customers.”

Andy CohenIndeed, an all-company monthly meeting gives the owners a chance to reinforce the company’s missions, discuss goals, provide data on how the business is doing (very well by the way, as it has recovered from the downturn and has begun to return to the growth it has been accustomed to over the past four decades), and celebrate individual employee successes. “We work hard on these meetings, preparing for a good week to 10 days beforehand,” David says. “We know it’s important to celebrate, recognize people and the good work they do, and inform our people on where we’ve been and where we’re going. We know that if you involve your people every step of the way, then you’ll be creating a great corporate culture.”

And for Signet that culture is also based in fun. The company – and its executives – sure know how to let loose. On this 100-degree Memphis day, they’ve broken out a favorite company event for us to take part in – frozen turkey bowling. Two lanes have been set up in the warehouse, complete with water-filled two-liter soda bottles acting as pins. We’re handed frozen turkey breasts and told to knock down as many pins as we could. While only one of us – hello, Melinda! – could actually compete with our Signet counterparts, the game provided a good glimpse into a corporate culture that’s based in serious work and serious fun. “We work hard, but it’s still work,” David Tate says. “You have to be able to have some fun, recognize your people, and get out of the way sometimes so they can do their thing. That’s what we do.”


Day Three: Arkansas Supplier Shines For Employees

Filed under: Best Places to Work Road Trip 2011

From Counselor’s Andy Cohen, as he hits the road for the 2011 Best Places to Work Summer Road Tour

An Arkansas Gem At The End Of The Day

Hanging At Outdoor CapThe sun is going down in Bentonville, AR, when we head into supplier firm Outdoor Cap, which is just a stone’s throw away from Wal-Mart’s headquarters. Thankfully, Chris McConnell, executive vice president of sales and marketing, and Janet Franklin, marketing director, have kept the lights on for us for a quick tour. The nearly 250-employee company serves many markets—promotional products, team sports, retailers, and outdoor sports company’s like Bass Pro Shops—but its employees all seem to share two core values.

#1: “Everyone is empowered to do whatever it takes to make the customer happy,” says McConnell, as he briskly walks through the company’s customer service area, a maze of cubicles where, on a busy week, staffers answer an average of 5,000 calls per week, 97% within three rings. “I’m always telling them, ‘It’s very unlikely that you can do something to bankrupt the company.’” McConnell says. Reps are coached to listen to a customer, he says, and when they mention important events, like a child’s wedding, the rep sends a card or otherwise commemorate the event. “They can do that on their own,” he says. “They don’t need us to tell them what to do.

Andy's Giant Hat#2: While Outdoor Cap has to compete with Fortune 500 companies (many of the biggies are here, thanks to Wal-Mart) for employees, one selling point, according to Franklin, is its strong commitment to volunteerism. The company has a number of committees and groups that employees can join (all voluntary), including a Corporate Citizenship Committee, which decides on worthy volunteer and fundraising projects to get involved in. An example: When one of Outdoor Cap’s former graphic designers lost both of his legs in the Iraq War, the committee went into overdrive, raising more than $7,000 (all from employee donations) to give to the man’s family to help cover medical costs – plus, the company matched the donation to double the effort.

This spirit of caring is evident throughout the company. In a warehouse, a heart-shaped sign encourages employees to volunteer; in another part of the building, a poster showcases the company’s recent Habitat for Humanity efforts, in which more than 20 employees helped build a house in a nearby town.

And McConnell is happy to get in on the act. He recently donned a dress and cooked up hamburgers for employees after losing a bet with a fellow employee centered around the amount of Outdoor Cap staffers each could get to donate blood in a local drive. “Fun perks, money and benefits only go so far,” he says. “We try to let people here know we care. I think that’s why people stay.” 

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