The power of Pret’s people

The whole area of "brand engagement" is booming, with companies launching into big and expensive initiatives to help employees "live the brand". However, in my experience many of these are a total and utter waste of money, as they fail to address the basics of making a company a nice place to work. Many of them are more like exercises in "brandwashing".

One of the most successful companies at creating great and consistent customer service is sandwich shop chain Pret a Manger, and I wrote a little case on them for the new book, Brand Vision (out in Jan 07). This was inspired by the findings of an FT journalist who went to work at Pret to understand the secret of their success. And as you will see below, engaging people with the brand did not figure.

1. Managers are not over-qualified and embittered:

– 75% of mangers are promoted from within
– Other 25% have at least 2 years relevant experience
– Join in and help instead of ‘barking orders’

2. Staff are not ‘routinely humiliated’
– Smart uniform not polyester nightmare
– No dressing up for kiddie parties
– Most stores have no toilets, so now cleaning the loo to do

3. Staff are paid well:
– Team member: average £6.58 vs. £5.68 for competition
– Team leader: average £8.39 vs. £7.52 for competition

4. Staff have a say in who joins:
– Candidates work in store for a day and team votes whether to hire them

5. Hire nice people:
– Large number of well-educated international students

The other really important thing is that the product people are selling is 10 times better than your average fast-food of course. It reminds me of the story of a kid working at McDonald’s who when asked where he worked preferred to say his was unemployed!

Another example of this approach is US outlet The Container Store, as described on the Brand Autopsy blog, by ex-Starbucks marketer John Moore

5-minute workout: before you start a programme to "engage people with your brand", have you worked on the basics of making the place a nice one to work in, as per Pret a Manger?!

P.S. Footnote: another sign of what an amazing company Pret are. I emailed the owner/CEO, Julian Metcalfe, to tell hiim about the post. And he sent a personal reply 12 hours later thanking me. I was a loyal Pret fan before. Now I’m a stark raving Pretaholic.