``Storage - things to put things in that help to restore order and organize our lives -- that is what we are dealing in,'' explain Garrett Boone and Kip Tindell, the two young Dallas men who opened their first Container Store 10 years ago and haven't looked back since. Their helpful concept has proved so successful that they now run six Container Stores, and their grateful and satisfied customers are legion.
Since they were early pioneers of all-storage stores, they have been credited with helping spawn an entire national container industry that now services over 700 similar stores. Many have tried to copy the Container Store in minute detail, ``but they can't duplicate our philosophy of doing business, nor the kind of customer service given by our 200 employees,'' says Mr. Boone.
The partners say they detected a tremendous need for storage containers as living spaces became smaller, possessions proliferated, and two-career families had less time to keep things tidy. ``They were resigning themselves to becoming slobs,'' says Mr. Tindell, ``but we felt we could come to their rescue and find storage objects that would make their lives easier.''
Their first job was research, as they went looking for those basic storage products that did not then exist at the consumer level. Some products they found were made only in battleship gray by industrial manufacturers.
They went to all the wholesale trade shows they could find, and wrote letters to 2,000 companies that made everything from plastic boxes to trash cans to try flushing out some likely products for home use. They also hoped to generate interest in their idea of a retail storage store that offered nothing but storage, whether it be bins, boxes, bottles, baskets, or crates, canisters, or closet accessories.
``We felt frustrated at first. We seemed to be looking for things that were not there but that should have been there,'' says Boone, ``but slowly manufacturers began to see that this was a category that had real potential. We made many suggestions to them, including new shapes and colors. The companies gradually began to come up with all kinds of practical storage products and to make them in bright colors such as yellow, red, and blue, as well as glistening white, the standard best seller.
The boom expanded, and this season, storage products became the exploding No. 1 category in the whole housewares market. ``We ourselves now offer a range of 10,000 different types of items,'' Boone says, ``and we never stop looking for new things.''
They chose the name `Container Store' because it was ``a clean word, not overused, and not normally used in a consumer context,'' Tindell explains. ``But it had magic to it because it could connote any number of images of useful products that people wanted and needed....''
The two men, who have been joined in the business by their wives, Sharon Tindell and Henrietta Boone, say their best seller is the Swedish-made Elfa system of wire baskets and metal frames, in various sizes.
Whereas the first Container Store was a small 1,600 square feet - space packed from floor to ceiling with goods - their stores now run up to 15,000 square feet, with ample aisles for customers to push shopping carts through as they shop. ``Many people come in for one item,'' says Tindell, ``but they seem to go out with loaded shopping carts after they discover so many new products to make living easier.''
``We've watched the whole storage field grow and change and become more conscious of its capacity for helping people solve problems. We ourselves are developing more and more products, because we feel like we have our finger to the customer pulse and sense what is needed,'' says Boone.
Today there are three Container Stores in Dallas, one in Arlington, Texas; one in Austin, Texas; and one in San Antonio. Another will open in Houston in August.
Will they ever ``go national''? Maybe, the partners say. We keep hearing the question, they add.