At The Container Store, a new fund to help employees in need

Company: Container Store.

Location: Five stores in the D.C. area.

Employees: 289 locally; 5,000 worldwide.

The Container Store likes to think of itself as an “employees first” company. Taking good care of its staff, the theory goes, will ultimately translate into a better experience for customers.

As part of its efforts to build an employee-centered culture, the Coppell, Tex.-based retailer in February launched its Employee First Fund, which is meant to help workers facing unexpected emergencies. For example, someone might apply to receive funds to help pay for medical bills associated with cancer or to get help after a flood or tornado destroys a home.

The company contributed $100,000 to start the fund and may contribute more money in the future. It has also invited employees to add to the fund, either through payroll deductions or one-time contributions.

“We’ve had a resounding response from employees,” said Audrey Robertson, the store’s vice president of cultural programs, community relations and social media.

For example, Robertson said she’s already seen a company vice president contribute by routing an honorarium she received for giving a speech directly to the Employee First Fund.

To receive the funds, employees fill out an online application explaining their circumstances. Someone will conduct an initial review of that paperwork before sending it on to a committee of Container Store employees. The committee is comprised of employees from across the company — the stores, distribution centers and corporate office. That group then reviews the application to determine whether it is worthy of a grant and, if so, how much money should be issued.

Robertson said the Container Store turned to other businesses for ideas as they moved to get the fund off the ground.

“We’re very close with Southwest Airlines, Brooks Brothers,” Robertson said. “They both have these in place. They were wonderful resources as we looked to get ours established.”

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economics news.
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