- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2004

Kevin Postell can hardly contain himself. In fact, Mr. Postell’s energy and excitement is contagious at the new Container Store in the District, where he is training to be a full-time salesman.

On this day, dozens of new employees, workers from other local stores and store trainers from across the country are getting ready for the March 6 grand opening of the new Container Store on Wisconsin Avenue in Northwest.

The crew has been working diligently to organize the space in the former Hechinger building. Organizing is the company’s specialty. The Container Store sells all types of merchandise for storage and organization to help simplify a customer’s life.

It’s 7 a.m. About 20 workers —in colorful company shirts with the “Contain Yourself” catch phrase emblazoned on their backs — have formed a huddle amid the half-empty shelves, stacks of merchandise and cardboard boxes. During the early morning ritual, the group welcomes newcomers and praises employees for a job well done the previous day. There are claps and cheers before the group breaks to begin their day.

Mr. Postell, with a handful of other employees, will be unloading merchandise from a tractor-trailer parked at the store’s loading dock in the back. All week, trucks full of merchandise — from trash cans, laundry baskets and food and spice containers to desktop accessories, drawer organizers and gift wrap — have been arriving at the store.

This day’s truck is full of storage merchandise such as trunks, plastic boxes, crates and stackable bins and baskets.

About 7:15 a.m, Mr. Postell, 40, starts the hour-long process of unloading the merchandise. He moves fast with his colleagues, making jokes. Boxes from different manufacturers are put onto crates for easy drop-off at the front of the store.

At one point a 10-person-deep line forms to unload bags full of stackable plastic baskets. The workers lightly throw each bag to the colleague next to them, quickly getting the merchandise cleared out of the back room. The energy is high. A backup occurs unexpectedly and laughter ensues.

By 8:15 a.m. the truck is empty. One employee makes the announcement — yelling it from the back of the store — to let everyone else know. More cheers follow.

Mr. Postell’s next task is to continue training on the cash registers.

He already has a firm grasp on his job because he started working at the company’s Arlington store in November as a seasonal employee. He joined the staff with plans to move to the District’s new store when it opened this year.

Mr. Postell is a self-proclaimed “avid” Container Store customer — even before he got a job there. He says he has something from the Container Store in every part of his house.

“Storage and organization is ongoing,” Mr. Postell said. “That’s why we will always have people here.”

Mr. Postell, a former architect and construction project manager, took a break from the corporate world about a year ago. He bought two Jazzercise franchises and teaches a couple of the dance fitness classes during the week.

He said that because he always had a positive shopping experience at the Container Store, he looked into a job there. The District’s store was ideal for the D.C. resident.

Mr. Postell said he immediately formed relationships with employees at the Arlington store and could tell the same energy and enthusiasm was already building at the D.C. store.

“I absolutely love working here,” Mr. Postell said. “I never thought I would ever say that about a retail experience.”

He is now preparing to be a full-time employee. That includes 240 hours of training during his first year, said Mary Burke, store manager.

At the register, Mr. Postell is going through a role-playing exercise with Lauren Segal, an employee from a Container Store in Atlanta. She is the customer playing out scenarios he may encounter with real shoppers.

Before long, Mr. Postell joins other full-time trainees for a four-hour lesson on the Container Store’s best-selling product called Elfa, which is a customized organization and storage system that includes ventilated shelves and drawers.

The employees are learning how to work best with customers who are looking to reorganize their closets or get rid of clutter in any part of their home or office.

“We have to know everything about it to sell it,” Mr. Postell says.

Joe Ferreira, a Container Store sales trainer from Houston, is leading them in another role-playing exercise. He teaches them the right questions to ask curious customers.

After collecting information from Mr. Ferreira’s character, the group begins to draw a plan showing how a messy closet might be transformed once the Elfa system was installed. Mr. Postell’s architecture background comes in handy as he draws precise lines outlining a closet.

The group moves to a computer to learn the company’s newest tool that would eliminate the hand drawings and easily figure out dimensions and measurements.

Mr. Ferreira — no longer playing the part of a customer — shows the trainees the new computer program. They respond with energetic “oohs” and “aahs.”

“If we’re this excited, think about how the customer will feel,” Mr. Postell says.

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