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Container Store to open first Tampa Bay near International Plaza

TAMPA — Can a few boxes change someone's life? To fans of the Container Store, absolutely.

The chain devoted to boxes and other organizational stuff opens its first store in the Tampa Bay area Saturday across from International Plaza, at 4720 W Spruce St. Loyalists can barely contain themselves.

"Is it weird that my happy place is at the Container Store?" wrote one woman on Twitter last week.

For those who scratch their head at the very idea, the big deal isn't in what the store sells, but how people use the items to get organized and improve their lives. Kip Tindell, the chairman and CEO, likes to say the products don't save space — they create time to do the things you really want to do.

Shoppers buy in to the concept, wall hook, line and sinker. And they're willing to pay a premium.

Selling containers is big business. The privately held, Dallas-based company expects to hit $900 million in sales this fiscal year and $1 billion soon after. That's a stunning figure for a small chain of 58 stores that thinks inside the box.

For the uninitiated, here's how the store makes some customers giddy one laundry hamper, garbage can and shoe box at a time.

The elfa closet system

Each store has examples of different closet designs possible through elfa, its signature custom shelving system out of Sweden. Each plan is custom-designed for the buyer's home using various shelves, drawers, hanging rods and shoe racks to maximize space and efficiency. The store models have real clothes and shoes to demonstrate how things would look and work. The designs don't come cheap. A nonwalk-in closet costs upward of $1,000. A closet the size of a bedroom can exceed $6,000. Elfa designers will walk you through a plan or you can do it yourself online. The store recommends paying a few hundred dollars for the installation, but for someone handy with tools, the system is actually pretty simple to install.

Aha moments

The store thinks of things you don't. Walk through the aisles and you're sure to find new ways to organize your stuff. For all the sporting goods packing your garage, there's a wall hook for footballs, basketballs and golf clubs. For the curling iron that might burn your counter, there's a heat-resistant silicone holder that sticks to a sink. For the guy who steals your lunch from the fridge at work, there's a refrigerator locker with a combination lock. You might stop in for a pencil case, but you leave with things you never knew existed.

Charitable spirit

The Container Store partners with charities in communities where it does business, particularly ones involving women. Locally, it's the Junior League of Tampa, a well-respected women's volunteer group that helps children and families. The charity will receive 10 percent of grand opening sales Saturday and March 17. That's of overall sales, not just the profits, as is customary for many other companies. Clearly, the store is betting many of the Junior Leaguers will become loyal shoppers.

Boxes and then some

Of course, the store is mostly about boxes. But it's also about things relating to boxes. Like stickers you put on moving boxes that identify the content's room. Or bubble wrap and tape, things you put in and around boxes. Or gift wrap, a decoration for boxes. In fact, the store has an entire aisle devoted to wrapping paper, ribbon and bows. Dollar-store stuff this is not. A roll of premium wrap made from recycled cotton goes for $9.99.

Employee-first attitude

Workers are thrilled to find you a suitable sandwich holder because they're happy to work there — and getting well compensated for it. The store founded in 1978 is known for offering higher pay than most retailers and consistently appears in Fortune magazine's annual Best 100 Companies to Work For. Only about a third of employees work full time but those who do can make more than $50,000 a year, a significant amount in an industry known for paying minimum wage or slightly better. The store enjoys very low turnover, which means employees know what they're doing and can better serve customers.

Gadgets galore

The Container Store figures that people who get excited about bags that create more room in your bags (which they sell) will also love gadgets. The store has gobs of gadgets, from a dog's water dish that folds up and wraps around a leash to a plastic packaging cutter for those impossible-to-open toys. You don't think you need a cord to organize your cords until you see one.

Principled beliefs

The Container Store operates under seven "Foundation Principles'' adopted in 1988 when the Houston store opened — and did triple the business of any other location. They focus on good communication, selection, service, price and other qualities you might expect. Others show the store's more quirky side, like selling to the "man in the desert." Whether he's looking for a shoe box or a hamper, employees equate him to the man in the desert desperately looking for water. He must have it! Along the same lines, the store sells copies of Conscious Capitalism co-authored by John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market. Mackey was college roommates with Tindell, the Container Store's chief organizer. Tindell sits on Whole Foods' board and supports the book's premise, which argues for the inherent good of both business and capitalism.

One-stop shopping

You know you're wasting time you'll never get back when you go to five stores looking for the perfect over-the-door hook for your gym clothes. Not so at the Container Store. The store has so many kinds of everything, it's hard not to find something to buy, which must be Point No. 1 on the company's business plan. Need push pins to organize your papers? The store doesn't have just clear or colored. It also has aluminum and wooden ones, and ones shaped like darts. Need a garbage can? It could come down to eeny, meeny, miny moe, just to get out of the store in a timely matter. For kicks, check out the touch-free can for $199 that opens and closes with one wave of the hand. Sanitation brilliance.

Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3110.

Container Store to open first Tampa Bay near International Plaza 03/08/13 [Last modified: Friday, March 8, 2013 10:53pm]

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