What’s the Big Idea?
It started with furniture, Kip Tindell remembers. When the Dallas-based entrepreneur set out with his partners to launch a venture in 1978, the idea was to sell furniture. They soon realized that the world has enough Bob’s Discounts to go around, and that as small business-owners, they’d need a more unique and compelling raison d’etre to attract customers.
After two years of working without pay, Tindell and his partners arrived at the novel framework they were looking for: The Container Store, an offbeat amalgamation of organizational baubles and storage solutions. The first shops were stocked with objects like wire barrels and egg collection baskets; things you couldn’t buy elsewhere but which might one day come in handy if you needed to ferret away years worth of Newsweek or neatly display a Pez dispenser collection.
Even Tindell’s suppliers were skeptical. Who would shop at a store that sells empty boxes? Watch the interview:
Apparently, a lot of people. Tindell and his team did more than tap into customers’ inner hoarder. They recognized that in a world where things come cheap, values like simplicity, cleanliness, and time are more sought after than ever. Back then, “Businesses were interested in saving space and time, but… nobody had ever sought to bring that to individuals, to people’s homes,” says Tindell.
Their pitch? They weren’t just selling “empty boxes”: they were selling the productive potential that comes with a well-organized space. “I think people came to this little store and said, ‘This is the oddest collection of merchandise I’ve ever seen in my life,'” he adds, “and then they went and told people.”
Nothing in the store had ever been retailed before. A few months after they opened, they got a meeting with the President of Rubbermaid. Then department store magnate Stanley Marcus of Neiman Marcus came along and expressed interest in their concept.
What’s the Significance?
In many ways, Tindell and his team got lucky. Their timing couldn’t have been better. “We had no idea that people would become as time-starved and crazy and multitasking as they are today,” he says. But there was also an element of creative insight involved. The Container Store is a case study in entrepreneurial tactics: Tindell observed a niche space in the market that wasn’t being served and decided to fill it.
When you have a good idea on your hands, you can feel it, says Tindell. It keeps you up at night, and pushes you to go to work in the morning. The excitement is palpable. “If we were a rock band and we recorded a song that was a future number one hit – you know, I think those guys know it’s a hit when they record it. I think they walk out of the studio going, ‘Hey, you know, that one’s really going to be big.'”
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