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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.”

 


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