A Human Approach to Retail

September 19, 2016 / ACT WITH PURPOSE

A Human Approach to Retail

September 19, 2016

Mark Tomaszewicz Chief Experience Officer, Bulldog Drummond

Mark never likes to do things the same way twice. An explorer of ideas, people and experiences, he is happiest when he’s helping other see the world differently or checking out a new vantage point on his own. Purposeful wandering has led Mark to run up mountains, down random streets and on long car rides with just the right music. He is always striving to make a meaningful impact on the world while not taking himself too seriously. After a first career in corporate finance, Mark has spent the last decade focused on guiding clients through experience design, brand activation and culture cultivation as well as having a leadership position with a 15,000-person healthcare organization, Sharp HealthCare and growing the luxury retailer Pirch. 

Cognitive Empathy with Customers and Employees Transforms Traditional Retailing 

What do domestic appliances and plumbing have to do with joy? Just about everything.

At PIRCH we exist to create inspired moments of joy. We happen to do that with domestic appliances, plumbing and outdoor products. There may be some cognitive dissonance in the association, but we believe we’re proving otherwise. Especially as we present the products we sell as catalysts for moments and memories in the home, not as metal boxes intended to keep food hot or cold.

We begin the customer journey in our 25,000 square foot experiential showrooms located in luxury retail settings. The showrooms are designed to inspire guests by showcasing products they may never have seen or touched. Guests are immersed in a kinetic experience—products are activated, chefs teach, water runs and they can even take a shower—they not only get to see, hear, touch, taste and feel, but in a way can become one with the products. People flock to PIRCH not to shop, but to be engaged in a deeply human and communal experience. In a world where almost every aspect of our lives are somehow tethered to technology, high fidelity experiences that engage our senses are indeed served at a premium.

PIRCH does not manufacture products nor sell anything you can’t buy elsewhere. Therefore, our biggest competitive advantage lies in the genuine care we feel for, and provide to, our customers at every step in the journey. Since an authentic human experience can’t be manufactured, one could say our people and culture are our product.

What we have found in our journey is that people increasingly crave the intensity of real human interaction as relationships have become emotionally marginalized through technology. This has not only led to individuals having higher expectations for human experiences, but rewards for those businesses providing it to them. However, when we turn to retail, we find many brands have been headed in the opposite direction. Increasingly businesses are using technology to supplant, if not outright replace the human connection we’re seeking when we finally leave our electronic devices.

At PIRCH, the authentic human experience is grounded in empathy. We often say empathy is our business model and we strive to engender it in our team members to the benefit of our guests and customers.

The type of empathy we focus on in our work is cognitive empathy which speaks to the proverbial walk in someone else’s shoes. As we serve customers in the home building and remodel market, understanding the perspective of a homeowner, designer or contractor becomes critical to meeting their individual needs in any moment.

Through this perspective we can transform the products we sell into the impact they have in the minds of our team members.

A refrigerator isn’t just a box that keeps food cold, it’s an opportunity for a family to connect while preparing dinner with fresh food.

An oven isn’t just a tool for baking, it’s the melted chocolate on your child’s face on a rainy day.

A dryer isn’t a just a dryer, it’s the caretaker of your child’s first blanket.

These are the types of moments our team members honor, inspire and create every day through empathy, expertise and relentless effort. And we know that every moment counts; it either adds or detracts from the experience, there is no neutral.

This intense focus on human moments demonstrating care, amplifying trust and honoring our promises requires us to engender the same moments in our culture and team member experience. Our belief is that the experience of our team members has to be equal to or greater than the intended experience for guests and customers. In this way we know that they have personally felt the type of experience we are asking them to provide.

Building a vibrant, kind and high-performing culture isn’t easy. The diversity of people that leads to the richness of life is predicated on different viewpoints, decisions and reactions, which inherently breed inconsistency in a human experience. PIRCH embraces the challenge to build a cohesive culture and takes an operational approach to developing it. 

This approach, our cultural blueprint, keeps us focused on preserving the principles on which PIRCH was founded while continuing to evolve the tactics as we grow and change as an organization.

Our blueprint looks like this:

Codify what you believe

Attract people with those beliefs close to the surface

Show what it looks like in practice

Refresh over time

Codify what you believe

PIRCH’s purpose is to create inspired moments of joy and our belief structure is captured in our Manifesto. The Manifesto was defined along our journey as we wished to define what we believe made our organization unique and what we wanted to identify as important. It has served us well as a touchstone in scaling from 120 team members to 600 across nine cities in the U.S. conveying the values of the organization and inspiring countless guests and friends.

The Manifesto is comprised of 23 Elements of Joy. Different from most organizational values, the PIRCH Manifesto espouses decidedly human values over more traditional business directives. But, as organizations are collections of humans shouldn’t this be the norm?

The 23 Elements of Joy:

  1. Live your life now.
  2. Tomorrow is promised to no one.
  3. The only things you will regret are the things you did not do.
  4. Be real.
  5. Sometimes we are scared. It’s O.K.
  6. Tell the people you love what you appreciate about them. Speak from the heart. They might cry.
  7. Forgive.
  8. Be intentional in your living; strive to create beautiful moments.
  9. Make time for family. In the end, they are everything.
  10. Play more, think less.
  11. Slow down.
  12. Be crazy about something.
  13. Have the courage to live a life that is true to yourself, not the life others expect of you.
  14. Go on an adventure.
  15. A dream unfulfilled is a tragedy.
  16. Be yourself. You are beautiful.
  17. Honor your promises.
  18. Shared experiences are precious beyond measure.
  19. Your first decision of the day is the most important. Choose happiness.
  20. You have a great bottle of wine. Drink it.
  21. Achievement tastes most sweet when first we dare to fail.
  22. Don’t wait for a special occasion. Life is a special occasion.
  23. Live Joyfully.

Many of the Elements constellate around the idea of making every moment in our work count. Some of the Elements can be directly applied to our work–#4, #6, #7 and certainly #17. Others require interpretation to make sense in the context of what we are asking team members to do–#10 and #20.

We speak about our Manifesto as a decision-making tool, the guardrails within which we want our team members to operate, not only with guests and customers, but anyone they interact with at PIRCH including partners, friends, investors and, most certainly, their fellow colleagues.

In acting as a context for decision-making, the Manifesto provides our team members with the freedom to make the best in-the-moment decision, whatever their role may be. We cannot predict every situation a team member may find themselves in, so making a prescriptive approach to the application of our Manifesto would be impossible. But more importantly, we believe in treating team members as the intelligent adults we hire, individuals who want to work in service of others.

Along with our Manifesto we provide a simple charge to our team members. A singular concept that serves as a go-to approach in any situation. The simple charge is to make the moment you have with the individual in front of you the best part of their day. Whether in our showrooms, on job-sites, over the phone or email, we all have the ability to make every moment matter.

With our purpose, charge and Manifesto in hand we must now find people that have the awareness and tools to live them out daily. 

Attract people with our beliefs close to the surface

A common phrase used in talent acquisition for companies who value their culture and the impact it has on their business is hire people who share your values. Our Manifesto espouses decidedly human values we believe are shared by all. We believe people are fundamentally good and generally want to work in this way. However, sometimes the lead time to draw it out of them is longer than we can afford as an organization and the cost to our culture and our customers is potentially too great.

We speak in terms of the desire to hire people with our beliefs close to the surface, individuals who these beliefs serve as a true guide to their actions and approach on a daily basis. While we believe people fundamentally want to see humanity in their work experience, we know many organizations are not like ours. It is in the other organizations people can develop poor habits in how they work with others. And we know in times of stress, complexity or chaos, people revert to habit, not necessarily the individual they want to be in that moment.

Our goal is to hire individuals who are aware of the impact they have on a moment or individual and have the capabilities to manage themselves and potentially others to pro-act, act and react in ways consistent with our Manifesto.

As we attract people to PIRCH, we are always mindful of alignment with our culture, a culture focused on kindness and performance. Our employment ads and descriptions serve as a first filter. Candidates are either attracted to apply or choose not to, realizing that PIRCH isn’t the place for them.

Our interview process is still a work in progress as we find the right way to test for success in the role along with alignment to how we work. Hiring for alignment is front of mind for our People team along with hiring managers. We have chosen not to move forward with many candidates who may have been able to perform the tasks of the role, but would not have been successful in contributing to the organization in the PIRCH way.

Show what it looks like in practice 

Once we hire new team members into the organization our focus shifts to helping them understand what the Manifesto looks like in practice in their interactions with guests, customers, partners and each other. We do this primarily through a learning experience called Elements. 

Elements is a multi-day interactive experience at PIRCH headquarters in San Diego. Each group consists of up to 32 team members from various roles and locations who all come together in advance of a new store opening. In any one group there can be store leadership, project managers, sales advisors, installers and team members from our corporate side. While we could host this learning experience anywhere, the incredible benefit of bringing team members to our headquarters is the ability to experience our culture firsthand, demonstrated by the 90 team members working in corporate functions and at our local showroom.

The approach we take with the Elements learning experience is to first help individuals understand our organization, what we’re trying to accomplish and how we’re doing it through our Manifesto on a personal level. Then they learn how it applies within our organization and outwardly to our guests and customers.

The learning experience intertwines both headwork and heartwork as we tie the principles of the Manifesto to the growth of our business and the experience of our customers. This interactive experience is full of storytelling, learning excursions and discussion, and is designed to make the Manifesto real and set clear expectations for our new team members.

We have learned that the Elements learning experience also serves another purpose, providing proof points to team members who want to believe, but have been disappointed by former employers. The experience demonstrates that PIRCH is true to the promises made in the recruiting process about who we are and how we care for team members. And, Elements is capped by an intimate experience with our executive leaders, allowing all team members to feel firsthand that the leaders of the business are committed to operating in this way.

Refresh it over time

Beyond Elements, the work doesn’t get any easier. Drift naturally occurs as team members settle back into the day-to-day tasks and goals of their roles. They want to live and work according to our principles, but at times they get caught up. This is natural, but also something we work on to lessen its impact.

To keep our Manifesto front of mind, our leaders are of incredible importance. We have nearly twenty locations, some over 3,000 miles away from our headquarters. Because of this, the culture of any location is what the leaders and team members make it.

Leaders role modeling our culture with the ability to inspire and practice compassionate accountability while driving results and a customer experience that is second to none becomes of critical importance and something we are striving to develop every day.

Another tool we use is storytelling. Stories are not only engaging, but remind people what the PIRCH way looks like in action. Each week we share new stories such as a customer appreciating the tremendous communication of our team throughout their order, a chef creating a lifelong memory for his granddaughter or an install team taking time help a stranded motorist change a tire. The stories are a replication of our experience across locations that allow them to be relevant anywhere.

Opportunities to refresh are plentiful from the smallest word choices to the grandest recognition. We also focus on structured listening, internal communications and daily inspiration.

In refreshing the tenets of our Manifesto we are mindful that virtually no artifact, story, program or communication, once launched, will always have the same impact. The ways in which you refresh your values need to be changed over time to engage the hearts and minds of team members in different ways to make them both new and relevant.

While we have much work to do, we are confident that we are on the right path and have a way forward to build a culture that translates directly into the human experience we provide.

Through it all, we strive to remember Element #11, Slow down. Our organization moves fast, but we encourage our team members to pause and appreciate each moment and enjoy the journey. We all joined this effort to be successful across both purpose and profit metrics as an organization and individuals. And while there is still much to improve and create, we have accomplished some magnificent things.

As PIRCH grows, we know our organization is not the same as it was a year or even a month ago. But we are confident that our foundation is strong and the humanity we have brought back to work and retail is a here to stay.


This article was co-authored by Jim Stuart and Mark Tomaszewicz.

This article originally appeared in Developing Leaders Quarterly Issue 23: 2016.

Mark Tomaszewicz Chief Experience Officer, Bulldog Drummond

Mark never likes to do things the same way twice. An explorer of ideas, people and experiences, he is happiest when he’s helping other see the world differently or checking out a new vantage point on his own. Purposeful wandering has led Mark to run up mountains, down random streets and on long car rides with just the right music. He is always striving to make a meaningful impact on the world while not taking himself too seriously. After a first career in corporate finance, Mark has spent the last decade focused on guiding clients through experience design, brand activation and culture cultivation as well as having a leadership position with a 15,000-person healthcare organization, Sharp HealthCare and growing the luxury retailer Pirch. 

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