Employees are quitting at record rates, according to a recent U.S. Labor Department report, but Lamps Plus employees are staying the longest in its product category. Employees of the designer, manufacturer and retailer of portable lighting, fixture lighting and home décor products have an average tenure of eight years, based on LinkedIn data. So how is Lamps Plus engendering this type of loyalty among its employees?
In this interview with Total Retail, Dennis Swanson, founder and CEO of Lamps Plus, details why the company's employees are committed to their jobs, including a combination of growth opportunities, engaging work, collaboration, training and work/life balance.
Total Retail: You built a long-standing career in retail. Where did it all start?
Dennis Swanson: After graduating from Rice University with a bachelor’s degree in architecture and completing a MBA at UCLA, I started a small lamp manufacturing company in the San Fernando Valley, near Los Angeles. My architecture background helped me develop the designs to sell lamps at a competitive price. There was extra room in the building so we added a factory outlet to sell lamps directly to customers. Selling the products I manufactured was how my retail journey began.
TR: Tell me about Lamps Plus. When was it founded? Could you tell us a little bit of the brand's story?
DS: I founded Lamps Plus in 1976 with my wife, Manja Swanson, who is now our chief creative officer. By the time we launched our website in 1998, we had more than 20 stores in five states. Now, 20 years later, we have over three dozen stores in seven states.
We've become the largest specialty lighting company in the United States with our thriving e-commerce site and stores. But Lamps Plus is not only a retailer — we’ve always manufactured our own products. Today, we create both lighting and home furnishings. This allows us to offer exclusive designs at great prices while also keeping up with the latest trends. And we keep growing. We have a professional trade program for designers and builders, and a hospitality division that provides lighting for the hotel and resort industry.
TR: A quick search on LinkedIn shows that your employees have an average tenure of eight years, which is a lower turnover rate compared to other top retailers. Does this apply to retail employees as well as corporate?
DS: The data for average employee tenure applies to all employees currently on LinkedIn, so it includes employees at our stores, Los Angeles headquarters and California warehouse. Compared with other home furnishing retailers, our average tenure is higher.
TR: To what do you attribute this employee longevity?
DS: There are three key factors we’ve identified for why employee tenures are longer at Lamps Plus: leadership stability, training and opportunity.
Our employees are excited to work here because the company founder is the leader. That stability creates longevity in employee retention, especially at the senior level. When senior executives stay, their reports tend to stay, so it filters throughout our workforce. Because this is a family-owned company, we take a family approach to how we treat our employees, and they respond well to seeing that we value them.
We also continuously provide employees with opportunities to expand their knowledge and skill depth. From lighting and home furnishing courses to sales training, we know that when employees become lighting experts, customers benefit from that expertise.
Finally, we give our employees the opportunity to grow within our company. No matter what the employee’s title or experience level, it’s important that they have the ability to learn professional skills and grow. Some of our top executives and retail managers began as sales associates or in entry-level corporate positions. Also, there have been times when an employee hasn't worked out in a particular role but we knew that they have something to offer so we tried to move them into another role that leverages their talents and helps them become more successful and passionate about the company.
TR: As CEO, what do you do personally to promote employee retention? What's your leadership style?
DS: Leading the company I founded means consistency through good times and bad. While goals expand and evolve, the company philosophy remains the same. I'm intimately involved day-to-day, and have been for the entire 42 years. With our structure, decisions can be made relatively quickly — ideas are presented and either pursued, delayed or declined. Employees at corporate, our stores and distribution center see and interact directly with me or other senior executives.
My leadership style is that I’m involved with aspects of the business, but I trust my employees to succeed on their own in their roles. A typical day for me is spent meeting with employees throughout the company both one-on-one and in groups to gain input and share direction on almost all aspects of the business. It’s important to me to be involved, but to also empower employees. A focus on transparency and accessibility helps employees understand priorities and direction.
TR: What do you look for in talent? Do you have any hiring best practices you can share?
DS: We’re always thinking first about our current employees and how to further their job growth. But we're also continuously looking for great new talent, just in the same way that we're always looking for the next great retail or interior design trend or product. It’s important to find candidates that work well within your corporate culture, have an interest in your industry and are committed to improvement. You do your best to hire the best people, but it doesn't stop there. Fostering talent is an ongoing process.
TR: Employee loyalty oftentimes translates into customer loyalty. Would you say that's the case at Lamps Plus?
DS: Employee loyalty definitely correlates with customer loyalty. Our customers keep coming back to our brick-and-mortar stores as they build lasting relationships with their lighting consultants, from whom they know they'll get great lighting and product advice for their homes. For our customer service department, our employees continue to gain knowledge from working with us over time and become better resources in helping customers. Employee longevity means that customers know they will easily find their trusted consultant, or an equally skilled professional, whenever they need help.
TR: What are some strategies companies can put into place to decrease their employee turnover rates?
DS: Collaboration and communication of goals improve both employee morale and loyalty. Employees thrive with direction and opportunities to complete objectives.
Consistently reviewing trends and technologies to stay ahead of the curve is also important. Employees respond well to keeping up with the industry and professional trends because they want work that's evolving, engaging and challenging. Make sure you provide this approach regardless of an employee's division or function. We encourage employees to excel at their positions, but also are open to them showing their skills in other areas.
Finally, there's a lot of talk about work-life balance, and that should be a high priority for companies. Employees should be expected to work hard during a set schedule, whether in an office or store, but also have the ability to enjoy time away from work. We're a family-owned business, so we want employees to enjoy time with theirs.
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