Breakfast With: Kip Tindell of The Container Store
The founder and CEO of the retail chain believes his shops sell something far more valuable than just empty boxes.
As we sit down to breakfast, Kip Tindell has food on his mind. I’ve rarely encountered this during the series of meals I’ve shared with local business leaders for this magazine. Usually, enjoyment of the morning repast is secondary, as they focus instead on enduring my onslaught of questions.
But the co-founder and CEO of The Container Store is looking forward to the offerings at Rosemont, a relatively new breakfast-and-lunch spot in Deep Ellum that’s run by the same chef behind neighboring restaurant, Local. I don’t know any of this when we settle into one of the sleek modern booths, but Tindell does, and he happily tells me about it.
“I’ve been eating better than I ever have in my life, and it’ll continue with this breakfast,” he says, smiling at the waitress as she walks back to our table to hand us some menus.
The oatmeal waffle, she explains, is being served with caramelized figs instead of peaches, which are out of season. After hearing that, I don’t even have to consider other options. I know what I’ll order.
We’re the only two customers in the place at about 9:15 a.m. on a Friday, so we certainly don’t lack for attentive service. A strange sort of appetizer/snack plate of a mix of Cheerios and granola bits is set before us. “It’s like a little chef’s tasting,” Tindell jokes.
He and his wife, Sharon (who’s Container Store’s chief merchandising officer), just returned from a trip to Europe, which began with a visit to Elfa, a Swedish maker of modular shelving. Its products were among the Container Store’s most popular items for so long, the retailer bought Elfa in 1999.
After the Tindells’ work was finished, they spent time in France, seeking out small, Michelin-star restaurants in the countryside, to enjoy great food and wine. It has become a bit of an annual ritual for the couple.
“I’ve been eating French breakfast so long, I may just go with a good, old-fashioned, traditional breakfast,” Tindell says before settling on the R Plate, which features three scrambled eggs, wilted spinach, parmesan, warm cherry tomato pan-jus, and a toasted country baguette.
He had returned from Europe the week before, but just got back to Dallas from Boulder, Colo., where he attended a meeting of the Whole Foods Market board of directors. He and Whole Foods founder John Mackey were roommates for a time while students at The University of Texas at Austin.
The two entrepreneur-CEOs have similar business philosophies. They’ve both built companies around “employee-first” cultures, in which their workers are paid better than the market average and generous benefits are provided to retain the best staff.
“If you’re lucky enough to be somebody’s employer, you have a big moral obligation to ensure they look forward to coming to work in the morning because we spend more time working than in any other endeavor,” Tindell says.
Both the Container Store and Whole Foods are also heavily involved with Conscious Capitalism, a nonprofit organization of corporate executives who encourage a more cooperative approach to business.
Still, Tindell and Mackey don’t agree on everything, particularly politics. “He doesn’t like what he refers to as ‘Obamacare.’ Actually, I’m ready for this country to quit shamefully leaving 40 million people uninsured,” Tindell says. “Can you imagine having a child and don’t have insurance? We have to fix this. We’re good enough to take care of this.”
Our plates arrive. My modestly-sized waffle is already doused with a perfect proportion of syrup and accompanied by mascarpone and the delicious figs. I finish eating quickly. Tindell mixes up his eggs with the parmesan and some of the pan-jus (which to my untrained eye looks like salsa) and digs in as well.
The Container Store must be doing something right, having grown from its original 1,600-square-foot store at Preston Road and Forest Lane in Dallas in 1978 to 57 locations nationwide today. Although the company suffered recent setbacks during the Great Recession, Tindell says it’s back to more than $700 million in annual revenue, and has grown 16 to 17 percent over the last two years, thanks to opening new stores. “Our compound annual growth rate since inception is still about 25 percent, which is just stunning,” he says.
That much from a store that sells mostly empty boxes for storing stuff?
“There’s a zen quality to being organized. It makes you feel better,” Tindell says. “When I was in college, I couldn’t study for an exam until the house was completely clean. When everything’s the way it should be, I can sit down and study. I think if you’re going to pick a commodity to sell, time’s the best one. In a way, we sell time.”