If I'm ever reincarnated as a dog, I would want to live in the corporate office of Pet Food Express, in Oakland, California. It also seems like a fun place to work for humans.
In my quest to find hidden heroes of inclusive workplace cultures, where employees love to go and customers love to do business, I discovered Pet Food Express, when I bought my last bag of food for my dog Xion.
I was astounded at how much information employees had and were willing to share about dogs, cats, and almost any other non-human inhabitant of a human's house. They also knew how to provide incredible customer service.
After my great experience at the store, I decided I needed to meet the people who owned the business, to see if they were as wonderful as the employees said. I also wanted to know if this was a company that had the same culture throughout their organization, or if it was just that one store on University Ave, in Berkeley, Ca.
I met with Mark Witriol, "Chief Dog Food Taster," and co-owner, and Terry Lim, the COO, who took me on the tour, stopping in every office to say hello to everyone's dogs. I could tell that this company lives to love their employees, and customers (human or animal.)
Walking through headquarter with Terry, I got to see the whole operation from reception to the warehouse. Everyone I met, seemed glad to be there, and comfortable interacting with their senior leaders.
Terry said, "We believe in a culture of recognition, where people know they're valued for the diverse talents, skills and experience they bring. Our employees are really the heroes in our organization"
At Pet Food Express, managers and senior leaders work on weekends. They believe that if employees are there on the weekends, they should be there too helping out.
That sounded good to me.
Terry and Mark have taken the time to know most of the names of all 500 employees, which tells me that they take the time to value each person.
I've worked in, and written about organizations, where the CEOs don't want to be bothered talking to their employees.
At Pet Food Express, all employees are product experts. They each attend extensive training in every facet of a pets' life; nutrition, behavior, stages of growth, etc.
"All our employees can articulate our corporate culture. They know they're empowered to make their own decisions. We also encourage our employees to challenge us and pushback on us, if they don't agree or have a better idea" said Mark.
"People move up in our organization when they make other people look good. We assess our managers on whether their people have moved up. Our success is based on how well we all do, not just how good one person looks."
Pet Food Express culture is based on humanization of employees and customers, as opposed to objectification. People get to know each other's stories. They support each other, and feel like they're part of a community. They develop relationships.
"Even people who have been fired, come to our holiday party."
I wanted to know if all of this "love," went beyond the stores and corporate headquarters. Were their actions after work aligned with their stated values.
Here is what I learned about Pet Food Express, and their work:
• They do love their pets. Everyone can bring their pets to work (even if they sometimes have "accidents')
• In 2010, they donated nearly $1,000,000.00 to animal rescues, shelters, K9s and schools.
• In 2010, they had a program that raised money to purchase three police dogs for the City of Oakland and furnished bulletproof vests for 86 K-9 officers and eleven heat alarms to protect them when waiting in cars .
• They provide the food for every animal at San Francisco Animal Control
• They adopted out 200 cats and kittens from the new Walnut Creek adoption center. (all were scheduled to be euthanized before coming to our store as the shelter was out of space)
• When you donate at least $250 to any Bay Area pet rescue group, Pet Food Express professionally photographs your pet, produces a 40"X60" poster, and mounts it on a wall of a Pet Food Express store. For a donation of $500 or more, you can keep the poster after it has been displayed for 12 months.
"We are selling trust, not just a bag of dog food," stated Witriol.
Simma creates workplace cultures where people love to do their best work and customers love to do business. Read the Inclusionist blog. Follow her on twitter: @theinclusionist. Subscribe to her newsletter. E-mailSimma@SimmaLieberman.com or call 510-527-0700. Simma Lieberman is the co-author of Putting Diversity to Work, how to successfully lead a diverse workforce.