BURNSVILLE (AP) -- To be a standout in the tough retail world, it's not enough to train your employees to say "Thank you, have a nice day." The employees of the better retailers will meet the needs of customers -- and have fun doing it.
At least that's the aim of the followers of Fish!, a motivational at-work philosophy that promotes four principles: Play, be there, choose your attitude and make their day. The philosophy is called Fish because it was founded on the workplace principles and culture of Seattle's Pike Place fish market.
"It's about a new way to be at work," said John Christensen, CEO of ChartHouse International Learning Corp. in Burnsville. His 33-employee company, which produces corporate training films, developed the Fish Philosophy.
In mid-October, 170 managers representing national retail and hospitality companies gathered at the "Fish camp" at Knuckleheads, a comedy club in the Mall of America. Some of the businesses hoping to revitalize and motivate their work forces included Wicks 'n' Sticks, Barnes & Noble Inc., Target Corp., Musicland Stores Corp., Michaels Stores Inc., Afton Alps, Pearle Vision, Daily Grind Coffee and Treasure Island Resort & Casino.
"It's infectious," said Sally Reynolds, director of training for Carsus Corp., a Wicks 'n' Sticks franchisee. Carsus brought its top-level management as well as its younger store managers to figure out how to make its stores more fun for employees.
And the next time you visit Wicks 'n' Sticks in Rosedale, you might notice that swing music has replaced elevator music. That's just one of the changes the crew expected to make. The other: "naked Mondays," Carsus President David Mitchell said jokingly during the brainstorming session.
An Eddie Bauer team came up with ideas such as folding competitions, joke of the day and doing the hokey pokey.
"If you're not having fun, then you really shouldn't be here." That's what James Kilibarda, general store manager for Ridgedale's Structure, a men's clothing store, said he tells his employees. He and his co-workers attended the Fish camp and took the message to Structure's corporate honchos, The Limited Inc.
Carr Hagerman, an improvisational comedian who for 15 years has played the "rat catcher" during the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, led the Fish camp. Making a point about one of the Fish principles, choosing your attitude, he asked the audience: "How many people here have worked for a jerk?" Almost all the hands shoot up. "How many people have co-workers who are jerks?" Again, hands go up. Then he asked, "How many people here are jerks?" Not a hand was raised.
Hagerman also related one of his best experiences as a customer at a "big-box retailer." A 16-year-old employee with a "tackle box" in his ear promptly asked how he could help, then literally ran down the aisles to get what Hagerman wanted. The boy was so attentive and so "there" that Hagerman thought he was on Candid Camera. Turns out, to get through the workday on his $6 an hour salary, he pretended he was a super hero. "I fly around the store and help people out," the boy told him.
The boy used all four Fish principles and didn't even know it. "Wouldn't you love to have that kind of person around?" Hagerman asked.
Christensen conceived the Fish idea while visiting Seattle in 1997 and stopping at the world famous Pike Place Market.
"I got the 'aha' the moment I saw it happening," he said. At the fish market, the fishmongers -- workers who sell fish -- are more like entertainers as they throw the fish back and forth while yelling out fish orders and attaching crabs to customers. Usually there are dozens of people standing around watching and laughing.
Make no mistake, though, "the fish guys are working for their wages," Christensen said. They wear rubber pants, deal with dead fish guts -- not to mention the smell -- and they are having a good time, he said. The philosophy can go deeper, he said.
John Yokoyama, who has owned the fish market since 1965, uses the word "love" at work. He'll say to his workers, "I love you bro," Christensen said. It makes a huge difference in their company and it has everything to do with the bottom line, he said. It increases income and reduces turnover.
"How come nobody else gets this?" Christensen said.
But it's not just about being silly. For instance, at one of those restaurants where the servers dance, it's not out of any joy for their work. It's "we've got to do the darn little song," he said.
What started out as Christensen's "aha moment" has spawned a feeding frenzy of merchandising, training videos and books.
The "Fish!" book, published in March by Hyperion, has 100,000 copies in print and is on the Wall Street Journal's business bestseller list and the bestseller list at Amazon.com. And there is fishing gear galore for Fish facilitators: videos (Fish! and Fish! Sticks), which sell for nearly $600 each, fish pens, stuffed fish, pins, T-shirts, caps, name badges, even a fish song on CD. The company says it has sold more than 100,000 "Pete the Perch" stuffed-animal fish, which at $6.50 each, is its No. 1 seller.
ChartHouse sells other training videos, such as "Freedom and Work," but its Fish! videos, first released in 1998, have been the most popular. The revenue from the videos is shared with the fish market, which also has created its own consulting business called bizFutures Consulting Team.
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