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Williams-Sonoma CEO on continuing to pay employees amid COVID-19

October 12, 2021 00:00 AM UTC
- Updated October 12, 2021 21:55 PM UTC

Laura Alber, Williams-Sonoma CEO, discusses her decisions made amid the peak of the pandemic.

you've said that, you know when the pandemic happened and before we really knew, knew that home furnishings is gonna like, boom, as a business, as everyone is like investing in their own spaces. When the lockdowns happened, Williams Sonoma continued to pay its associates. And you said that has paid off during the great resignation. They stayed loyal. How did that connect back? Like how do you keep them motivated and and really keep that engagement there? Yeah. So, I mean, truth be told. Like, I know he said trauma earlier, I'm like, uh, blocked it out. Like my three kids childbirth. Like why do we even have more than one? Except you can't, you can't remember it. But similarly, you know, those dark days of the pandemic. I mean, I thought we were gonna go under, uh, did you guys do that like exercise? We're running the cash flow. And you're thinking, how many months would we have? Okay, let's get some more debt, Let's do that. Call my friends, banker friends, get more money collecting money. And then I'm like, okay, so let's run it with paying them and not paying them. And the truth is, it doesn't matter. I mean, you still go under if you have no revenue. I thought e commerce was gonna close, I had this, I mean, I'm a catastrophizing. So I'm like, it's all going to close. Everything is closing and you know, the paying of the people was like groundhog. So we just came out and said, look, we're all in it together, We're all going to everybody's gonna stay working. You're not coming into the stores who knows when And every two weeks we got on the call and we said two weeks and they just looked at me like ok I wish it could be longer but you know at the time two weeks is a long time. Then we get on two more weeks, two more weeks, two more weeks and lo and behold we didn't go under in fact we did quite well but there were a lot of decisions that were made that made that happen and talk about this innovation thing. So these incredible people, you know there's always complaining about bad workers, whatever people, they're so incredible, they don't want to go to unemployment. Like these are amazing store managers, they don't want to go try to beg for a job somewhere. They were so proud that they started innovating and they were like well what can I do from home or wherever. And so we connected them with design chat, you guys online design chat. So you would call a care center to say I need to buy a work at home desk and you get you know julie from the K. O. P. Store who's like oh let me tell you all about the desk, there's this one this one this one and this one and not to mention can I help you with the rest of that room? Is that going into your bedroom, the living room And they started driving as much money as some of their stores rand. I mean we're like hell is going on then? They said well you know we have all the inventory in the stories. We know you don't have enough inventory over there, we'll ship the inventory and fulfill the online orders. We all know both fists, both opus all this omni lingo. The truth is they were in the stores, they were packing up. The glass is putting in a box and shipping it locally to you, our store people because they were so proud. And so when our stores finally opened, I mean lights out was like ribbon cutting we are back. You know we are so happy and today even when I go and I'm hoping to be able to see us from our stores in D. C. They are just they're so proud and they tell the stories of innovation and they say thank you and I'm just I can't say enough about the importance of treating people to respect and sometimes taking a big risk. Yeah.