Almo Corp. president and CEO Warren Chaiken came into his business by birthright yet has committed to making his employees feel he’s one of them. Chaiken’s grandfather founded the Northeast Philly-based distributor of appliances, electronics, A/V equipment, furniture, and housewares in 1946. Chaiken’s dad ran the company before he did.
Under the Chaikens’ leadership, the family-run company has grown its workforce to 600 and expanded across the country. Not only is it a Top Workplace this year for the sixth time, but Chaiken also received the Top Leadership Award for midsized companies, based on responses from Almo employees. With equal parts warehouse workers, salespeople, and corporate positions, Almo’s employee population is diverse. Chaiken’s approach to keeping them unified and satisfied: Emphasize the company’s core values and make time for facetime.
Describe your workplace culture.
Unique. Though we’re a fairly large company with locations all over the U.S., we have kept the culture that my father developed since, really, the early ’70s. Our priority is family, caring for our employees and their families, more than anything.
How do you communicate with your workers?
A year ago, we started a morning meeting we call “wake up with Warren.” Every month, I meet with different small groups. I sit down and ask if they have questions, ideas, thoughts, concerns. I’m fortunate that I basically was born into the family, but I want them to understand that I’m very concerned about them; I’m very concerned about the company. I want them to share ideas with me, and vice versa. My hope is that they understand that I’m just like them.
What have been the results of these meetings?
We’re generating ideas of how we can do things better, how different departments can work better, changing some of our standard operating procedures. Another result has been we’ve moved from a reimbursement dental program to a true dental insurance program.
What do you consider Almo’s principal values?
We’ve had a culture that my dad developed and that’s evolved, but we never put a finger on really how to describe it. So, we just launched Almo “FIIT,” to put an emphasis on the four basic values of the company:
“F” is for family. As we grow, this is really important to us. There are a lot of spouses working here. There is one entire family of six that works here. And there are a lot more families, besides the three Chaikens—four, if you include my brother-in-law. People invite their friends to come work here. Family is very important.
The first “I” is for integrity. My grandfather started this company in 1946. You don’t last as long as we do if you don’t have integrity.
The second “I” is innovation. There are a number of things that we do — our secret sauce — that allows our customers to keep buying from us and our vendors to keep supplying to us. That will not happen if we don’t continue to innovate.
The “T” is teamwork. The bigger we are, the more we have to work together. We’ve gotten people to work together with different workgroups, organized by our learning and development manager. These workgroups have cross-pollination of different age levels. Managers have told me, “I finally get to work with someone that’s a lot younger than me.” That was key, because you do have a workplace today that is, just looking around, a fair amount of younger folks, and obviously a lot of veterans that have been here through the years.
How does your new generation of workers stand out?
They want flexibility. Today, versus 25 years ago or 50 years ago, we’ve moved to more of a multi-workforce family. We have parents who get in a little bit later, because they have to drop off their kids at child care.
The other thing about the millennials overall is, they are looking to learn, to be acknowledged, and to have new opportunities. Not that the folks before them weren’t, but it’s different, because of all the different ways you can get information.
How do you recruit and retain employees?
If you look at our retention rate, it’s pretty high. We have longer-term employees, along with newer, younger employees. We don’t have that exodus of employees that you see out there. We take the time to hire people who will fit in.
What’s helped is hiring an internal recruiter. Finding a point person has allowed us to tell that person what we are looking for, and he goes out on the college circuit to find the right people for us. Having an internal recruiter also takes the burden off the hiring managers. And we’re getting a higher level of candidate than we would in the past.
How have your customers changed?
There’s an expectation of information transfer more than anything. That’s a key component: answering your phone or your email, making sure shipments get out properly and on time. We don’t have our own trucks, where we’re positioned, but typically the customer is going to get their delivery within one to two days. Our customers are not end users, they’re businesses; however, they have the same expectation. (Thanks, Amazon.)
What do the next 10 years look like for Almo?
We will be a much more mobile workforce, which can challenge you differently than what we have today. We have employees all over the country, people who work out of their homes, mostly our salesforce, along with people who will occasionally work out of their homes. The challenge when you’re not having that face-to-face is: How do you end up having conversations that are important, that get things done?
Technology is wonderful, but if it’s too much, and you don’t end up communicating the right way, things get lost. People in my building email each other all the time, even though they’re a couple of desks away from each other, instead of getting up and talking to each other. That’s something we’re working on.
What of your family legacy or philosophy do you want to preserve?
My dad always says — and he’s still very active here — that our most important assets walk out of the building every day at 5:30. And that’s our employees, hopefully not our inventory.