When Kip Tindell and Garrett Boone founded The Container Store 25 years ago, they didn't have any formal business or management training. They wanted the philosophies by which they ran their company to be the same philosophies by which they ran their lives. So they set out to create “the best retail store in the United States” and to offer their customers the very best products available, while providing incredible customer service and fair pricing.

The key to their strategy was their employees, many of whom, at the start, were avid customers. This is a company that takes great care in hiring people who are excited about making a difference in their jobs and that is more than willing to hold a job vacant until the right person comes along.

Guiding the efforts of all employees is the company's culture. Says Barbara Anderson, the Container Store's first employee and director of company culture and education: “Every company has a culture. It comes from within and it takes time to create,” at the core of which are a few foundation principles — simple, yet powerful concepts that help shape employees' attitudes and behaviors:

Fill the other guy's basket to the brim. Making money then becomes an easy proposition. — This statement, attributed to Andrew Carnegie, has become the Golden Rule for The Container Store, guiding relationships with customers, employees, and vendors.

Intuition does not come to an unprepared mind. — Employees are expected to have an obsession with learning so that they are able and ready to apply what they know to helping customers. All full-time employees receive 235 hours of training in their first year and the opportunity to be rewarded with additional continuing education.

Create an air of excitement — This principle places responsibility for the energy of interactions with customers squarely on the shoulders of every employee. To help sustain that energy, The Container Store has many fun recognition activities and programs. There's the Gumby Award, to represent flexibility, and peer-nominated awards such as the Colorado Get Away, in which a dozen employees are selected from more than 1,000 nominations to spend a week at the founder's cabin in the mountains.

Has The Container Store's approach worked? In addition to financial success and multiple store expansion, the company has been on the top of Fortune magazine's “100 Best Companies to Work for in America” list for the past four years. Perhaps most importantly, they have found that truly motivated employees become career employees.

Bob Nelson, PhD, is president of Nelson Motivation Inc., San Diego, and a best-selling author. His latest book is The 1,001 Rewards & Recognition Fieldbook. For more info, call (800) 575-5521, visit www.nelson-motivation.com, or e-mail BobRewards@aol.com.