SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 17, 2012

A place to buy a place for everything

The Container Store opens Saturday in Peabody

BY ETHAN FORMAN STAFF WRITER
The Salem News

---- — You may not find a more well-organized place to shop than The Container Store, but it can also be a little daunting. Dedicated to helping customers organize their lives, the store sells some 10,000 items.

North Shore shoppers can peruse them for the first time when the store has its grand opening on Saturday at the Northshore Mall.

The new store — a gleaming, 24,000-square-footer with floor-to-ceiling front windows — is the retailer’s 58th store in the nation, the third in Massachusetts. (The other Bay State stores are in Natick and Chestnut Hill.) It sits at the front corner of the Northshore Mall, where Bugaboo Creek once stood, along Route 114.

The store sells 120 kinds of food storage items made of plastic and glass, 80 styles of hangers, 40 types of laundry hampers, a multitude of closet and office shelving systems, and more containers — bins, baskets, boxes, jars, tins and cans — than you can count.

“By organizing your life, you are going to save a lot of time and space, and that is what we aim to do — save customers time and space,” general manager Claire Byers said.

The 34-year-old, Dallas-based retailer specializes in stuff to keep your stuff.

“It’s essentially housewares; it’s storage and organization,” said CEO and founder Kip Tindell.

The store was one of the first to offer containers as a category, creating a niche devoted solely to organization. Tindell’s wife, Sharon, works as the retailer’s chief merchandising officer.

“We are a solutions-based form of retail,” Tindell said, “rather than an items-based form.”

The chain expects to chalk up $750 million in sales this fiscal year, Tindell said. While most department stores and other retailers sell storage containers and solutions, The Container Store does not have a real head-to-head competitor, in part because it is such a service- and employee-intensive business, Tindell said, as employees must find just the right item to solve a customer’s storage problem.

The retailer is privately held, with a compounded annual growth rate of 24 percent since the first store opened in Dallas in 1978.

In 2007, Tindell led the process to sell a majority stake in the company to the Los Angeles-based Leonard Green & Partners, according to a company statement.

The 10,000 items The Container Store sells are meant to help people feel less fragmented.

“We kind of give you the gift of organization,” Tindell said. “In this day and age, we have to be organized to get done half of what we want to do.” About 85 percent of The Container Store’s customers are women. It tends to attract those with high incomes.

“The busier she is,” Tindell said of the company’s loyal customers, “the better the customer she is for The Container Store.”

In a sense, the store is not selling sleek shelving systems, drawers for your socks and tie racks that slide out from the shelf; it’s selling exuberance.

“It feels great to have a perfectly organized closet or garage,” Tindell said.

The store places an emphasis on customer service. Normally, retailers train their employees for eight to 10 hours, but The Container Store salesperson receives 272 hours of training.

“We are fanatics on customer service,” Tindell said. The reason is getting someone organized and helping them find the right toy box or system for a kids’ play area is “a creative process.” The company has made Fortune magazine’s list of “100 Best Companies to Work For” 13 years in a row.

The Container Store takes its time opening stores, with the idea of perfecting the ones it has instead of going for growth. It opens about six a year, Tindell said. Despite the sluggish economy, the retailer has seen a year-to-date sales growth rate of 19 percent. Tindell also has his ear to the ground when it comes to retailing as vice chairman of the National Retail Federation. He says The Container Store’s growth rate is about double that of other retailers.

“Our stores are doing better than they ever have,” he said.

While The Container Store is new to the North Shore, professional organizer Nancy Black, the owner of Organization Plus in Beverly, knows it well.

“I’ve known about The Container Store for years because I learned about it through the National Association of Professional Organizers,” Black said.

She has been buying products from the Newton and Natick stores for several years, “because they have biggest selection of organizing products anywhere,” she said.

“The store is huge,” she said. “It can be overwhelming to people, which is why I’m going to be offering field trips to The Container Store.”

Black said it’s best she work with a customer in the store to get the right items.

The question is, why does one have to be organized in the first place?

“If you are organized,” Black replies, “you have less stress in your life.”

There is another reason to shop the grand opening: Tindell said 10 percent of the sales on this opening weekend are being donated to the Boston Children’s Museum.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.