Bertha Pottery Barn

A Successful Retail Example of Putting People First

I was working for Pottery Barn when we celebrated the work anniversary of a woman named Bertha, the longest-tenured employee of the company. Pottery Barn was founded in New York City in 1950. They had one store on the Lower West Side on 23rd Street and 10th Avenue.

Williams-Sonoma purchased the company in 1986, and grew the business from that one store to over 200 in several countries, generating over $2 billion in annual sales. Bertha had been at that one store since it opened; she had worked for the brand longer than most of the execs had been out of school. On the occasion of her 25th work anniversary, we flew her out from New York to San Francisco, along with her daughter, and had a lunch for them at the corporate offices. We gave her a great gift (an expensive clock), plus a lifetime employee discount for any of the brands the company owned.

And then there were speeches—about growth and development, loyalty, all the things that happen to you in life. You see, several years earlier, Bertha had had cancer. She was out of work for more than two years while she battled this horrible disease. After a while, her insurance had run out. But the company made the individual decision to cover the medical costs and give her back her job when she returned. As the details of this story were told to the group seated there for a company lunch, there was not a dry eye in the house. Believe me, no one was at the back of the room sniggering.

This was about an authentic and honest relationship among the members of this community, who shared not only the success of the company but each other’s personal stories. (In the scheme of things, this event for Bertha did not cost much; and the value to the community was—of course—priceless).

Excerpted from The Five Laws of Retail.

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