Men's Warehouse Deals With Store Isolation With Pizza

When apparel chain Men's Warehouse threw a surprise pizza lunch for "employee appreciation" this past weekend, no IT people were invited. That lack of invite also extended to the retailer's E-Commerce team and, for that matter, all operations teams. And it was all by design.

Like almost all national chains, Men's Warehouse struggles with ways to bring its store personnel into the corporate culture fold. At headquarters buildings and large warehouses, there are lots of easy ways to bring people together. "We've had back-to-back barbecues" at headquarters, and distribution centers have had "prom kickoff parties and bowling nights." And the chain subsidizes corporate cafeterias, so all lunches at corporate locations are subsidized to a degree.

Logistically, though, those types of things are not that easy with about 14,000 employees spread over 1,206 stores. For bonding, videoconferences and company-wide E-mails can only take someone so far.

The chain's answer? Arrange— surreptitiously, mind you—for 5,300 pizzas to be cooked and delivered on Sat., May 14. To get the pizzas—one-third plain and two-thirds pepperoni—delivered involved a partnership with Domino's Pizza (which could handle all but 45 of the chain's stores) plus dozens of small pizzerias around the country, said Julie Panaccione, the Men's Warehouse VP for Corporate Culture and Events. For the record, one store in Ontario, Canada, was skipped due to a problem with a local pizzeria, which did promise to make the delivery at a later date.

To identify the local pizza parlor favored by those stores while still keeping the secret secret, a member of Panaccione's team called the stores and lied to them, saying that he worked for a major pizza chain and wanted to know the name of their favorite local pizza restaurant.

Every delivery was accompanied by a letter from corporate.When these types of morale-boosting events happen, a typical employee reaction can be—and often not without justification—"Instead of you doing all this work to set this up and me having to make all of this effort to enjoy it, why not just give us the money you were going to spend on us? That's the best way to boost my morale."

In this instance, though, the chain wanted to appreciate each and every store employee, but only as long as it cost $5 or less per person. At that level, the chain was quite correct. Giving an employee a bonus of $5—pre-tax, mind you—is probably going to be more insulting than encouraging. For $5, the three unexpected free slices of hot pizza (which is how much was allotted for each worker) was probably the better choice.

The total cost of the event, Panaccione said, was $70,000. That comes to about $13.21 per pizza. That's just about the regular price for that pizza from Domino's. Doesn't a 5,300-unit order merit a volume discount? Panaccione clarified that the $70K price included tips and delivery charges, plus the chain received an unspecified number of discounts and coupons for future events.

Why not simply authorize each store manager to have done this directly and save all of that coordination effort from corporate? Panaccione said that Men's Warehouse wanted to honor its store managers, too. "Each store does have a small budget, for things like getting donuts for the crew, but it's still asking someone else to do the work," she said.

Some stores were so busy with customers on that Saturday they couldn't even sample the pies until long after they were delivered. One store, she said, had the pizzas delivered at noon and they couldn't eat them until 8:00 PM. She speculated that the pies were likely refrigerated during that time—this is a clothing store, not a dorm room—and then heated in the store microwave. "Or they might have put it on the steam press," Panaccione said, quickly adding "that was a joke."

This type of tactic is unlikely to solve most of the isolation feelings coming from store employees. But it certainly is a pleasant start. By the by, wouldn't making your employees eat Domino's be typically reserved for disciplinary action?