Career Advice Nov 23 2011

The Retailers You Want to Work For

By damian ghigliotty's 2011 retail report cards are in and, while some companies showed improvement over last year, many of the 115 employers reviewed this year scored Cs and Ds in the eyes of their workers.

The job community site collects company and salary data, as well as ratings and reviews from anonymous workers, and releases yearly rankings based on at least 20 reviews per company. Employees rated the companies they work for on a scale from 1 to 5; the annual score for each retailer is based on the average of all ratings submitted between the beginning of Nov. 2010 and Nov. 2011.

"The biggest factors in these scores are senior leadership, career opportunities and quality of training. When you see companies doing well in those areas, they can be major cornerstones for employee satisfaction," said Samantha Zupan, public relations manager for Benefits and compensation also play an important role, she said.

According to the job site's 2011 ranking, the top retailer to work for is the Kent, Washington-based sporting and outdoor equipment chain Recreational Equipment Inc., which received an average score of 4 out of 5 based on 52 anonymous employee reviews.

REI's continual focus on work-life balance and plush benefit packages has helped the company maintain its popularity among its 9,980 employees, said Maggie Ricketts, REI's director of human resources. "It's because of this focus that we've been consistently rewarded with high engagement levels and an industry-leading retention rate of 79% in 2010 and 75% in 2009," she said.

Among the other top retail employers to work for, New York City-based apparel chain J. Crew received a score of 3.9 based on 83 reviews, while Boston-based home furnishings chain, Wayfair, received a score of 3.8 based on 37 ratings. The Issaquah, Washington-based membership warehouse chain, Costco Wholesale, also received a score of 3.8 based on 126 reviews. In addition, those three employers showed the biggest improvements over last year in the eyes of their employees.

"The biggest thing for us is in how we recruit people," said Wayfair's Chief Executive Niraj Shah. "We want people who you would love to spend time with and collaborate with, but also people who impress others with their intellect and their team-oriented nature."

But the retail industry also has its fair share of moderate to subpar employers according to their reviews on More than half of the 115 companies ranked received a score of 3 or less. The lowest scoring retail employer in 2011 was Hastings Entertainment, an Amarillo, Texas-based used books, video games, music and movies chain. Hastings received a score of 1.8 based on 36 employee reviews.

"For the past three years, the impact of the financial recession caused Hastings to implement a wage freeze for all associates, including management," the company's vice president of marketing, Kevin Ball, said in an email response. "Additionally, we have a group of stores that are underperforming. These types of actions are not always popular, particularly to those not performing to our standards."

Tied for second lowest among the 115 retailers, New York-based department store chain Century 21 Department Stores received a score of 2 based on 20 reviews, while the Maryland-based men's apparel chain Jos, A. Bank Clothiers also received a score of 2 based on 49 reviews.

"We are very committed to superlative customer service and for someone who might not have worked for an organization with that kind of rigid standard, working for our company may come as a surprise," said Robert Hensley, executive vice president of human resources, real estate and loss prevention at Jos. A. Bank. "But we do value our employee feedback."

Century 21 said that it too values the comments it gets from its staff. "We are always interested in feedback from our guests and employees as to how we can make Century 21 the employer of choice," the company's executive director, Larry Mentzer, said in an email response. "As our company continues to evolve and grow, we continually review our policies and procedures to ensure that we provide an environment that is conducive to growing our people along with our business."

In conjunction with its company report cards, released its yearly report cards for retail's top executives. Mickey Drexler, chief executive of J. Crew, received a 98% approval rating this year, while Niraj Shah, chief executive of Wayfair, received a 97% approval rating. John Marmaduke, chief executive of Hastings Entertainment, received the lowest approval rating at 9%, while R. Neal Black, chief executive of Jos. A. Bank, came in second lowest at 16%.

The report cards were based on more than 20,000 reviews. Below are the top ten retail companies to work for according to their 2011 ranking:

1. Recreational Equipment Incorporated [4 out of 5]

Sells: Sporting and outdoor equipment

Based in: Kent, Wash.

Number of employees: 9,980

Total net sales in 2010: $1.7 billion

2. J. Crew [3.9 out of 5]

Sells: Apparel and accessories

Based in: New York, N.Y.

Number of employees: 12,700

Total net sales in 2010: $1.7 billion

3. Wayfair [3.8 out of 5]

Sells: Home furniture and decorations

Based in: Boston, Mass.

Number of employees: 900

Total net sales in 2010: $383 million

4. Costco Wholesale [3.8 out of 5]

Sells: Bulk merchandise

Based in: Issaquah, Wash.

Number of employees: 164,000

Total net sales in 2011: $87 billion

"We are sometimes chastised by Wall Street for providing too good of an hourly wage and benefits package to our 110,000 U.S. employees," said Richard Galanti, chief financial officer of Costco. "But in our eyes, we've been able to treat those employees well and still grow our company over the years. Our employees are our greatest assets. They are our ambassadors on the floor dealing with customers every day."

5. Lakeshore Learning Materials [3.7 out of 5]

Sells: Educational products

Based in: Carson, Calif.

Number of employees: 1,800

Total net sales in 2010: Not available

6. Sleepy's [3.6 out of 5]

Sells: Mattresses and bed frames

Based in: Hicksville, N.Y.

Number of employees: 2,700

Total net sales in 2010: $765 million

"We're very excited to know that our employees value us as an employer, since our company's growth is dependent on them and their happiness here," said Sleepy's chief operating office Adam Blank. "But we're also disappointed that Sleepy's is not number one yet. We certainly intend to get there."

7. Nordstrom [3.5 out of 5]

Sells: Apparel and accessories

Based in: Seattle, Wash.

Number of employees: 57,000

Total net sales in 2010: $9.3 billion

"We have fantastic employees," Delena Sunday, executive vice president of Nordstrom's Human Resources and Diversity Affairs, said in an email response. "We are glad to know that they think we're doing a good job of creating a great workplace for them and we'll continue to work hard to do our best for them in the future."

8. Williams-Sonoma, Inc.'s Pottery Barn [3.4 out of 5]

Sells: Home furniture and decorations

Based in: San Francisco, Calif.

Number of employees (Williams-Sonoma): 28,000

Total net sales in 2010 (Williams-Sonoma): $3.5 billion

"We have no doubt that our success as a company is driven by our associates' passion, creativity and commitment to customer service," said Pottery Barn President Sandra Stangl in an email response. "Our associates truly care about providing the best experience for our customers, and we consistently reward their entrepreneurial spirit with growth opportunities in the Pottery Barn Brand and within the greater Williams-Sonoma, Inc. family."

9. IKEA [3.4 out of 5]

Sells: Home furniture and decorations

Based in: Delft, Netherlands

Number of employees: 12,000 in the U.S. / 127,000 globally

Total net sales in 2010: EUR 23.1 billion or $31.2 billion

"We are pleased that our co-workers believe that IKEA is one of the best retailers to work for," Tracey Kelly, a company spokesperson, said in an email response. "Our goal is to make IKEA an outstanding place to work through a spirit of openness and cooperation where co-workers can contribute to the development of our business."

10. The Buckle [3.4 out of 5]

Sells: Apparel and accessories

Based in: Kearney, Neb.

Number of employees: 7,600

Total net sales in 2010: $950 million

Write to Damian Ghigliotty at

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