Crate & Barrel Never Underestimates Associate Ideas

Never underestimate the creative power from your associates. That was the central message from Michael Kalck, senior director of distribution for Crate & Barrel, during his keynote address Wednesday at the Parcel Forum in Chicago.

“When you talk about leadership, it starts with trust,” Kalck said. “You can’t lead if your associates don’t trust you. You always have to be looking at a better way.”

Kalck said he prefers 1-on-1 meetings with his associates. “They know more about what’s going on in your business than your manager does. And they always will. We need to do more talking face to face.” It’s better than conference calls or emails.”

Since 1998 when Kalck began at Crate & Barrel, the company expanded to 10 distribution centers and added two brands – CB2 and Land of Nod.

“As a leader, you have to be a good teacher,” he said. “We want people to be creative and we also want to do the right thing for the environment.”

Kalck said Crate & Barrel has reduced its landfill costs by 67% in the past five years due to its commitment to the environment. Being flexible and creative are two critical issues to a well run distribution center, he added.

Between now and Christmas, Crate & Barrel will triple its business, Kalck said. To accommodate that influx of business, operations must run smoothly.

“We have the same culture in our DCs as in our stores and that helps,” he said. “You need people skills and a work ethic.”

Kalck said coaches and teachers instilled in him a solid work ethic that has guided him throughout his career. He lists six things that any good manager should do: observe, engage, plan, execute, review, and adjust.

“Determine your key performance indicators,” Kalck said. “Never underestimate the creativity of your associates. And set the standard for the rest of the industry.”

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