Christopher Quinn restored trust and unleashed creativity to drive Step2 Co. to record sales

Harness your creativity

Focus groups have become a much bigger part of the way things are done at Step2 under Quinn’s leadership.

“We went from three focus groups in 2014 to 11 in 2015, so one almost every month,” Quinn says. “We had moms and kids coming in. We had that energy in the building to unlock what she’s looking for and have her be really brutal in giving us feedback in what we’re thinking about creating. We’re not asking her to be nice.”

One of the biggest mistakes leaders make in trying to connect with customers is passing off responsibility for product creation. If you’re a product company, you need to be involved because that’s where you make your money, or you miss opportunities to make money.

“I’ve never missed a line review meeting at this company,” Quinn says. “One of the things we did was we had not looked at the stickers and decals we’re using on our kitchens for a long time. It had become an afterthought. We create this inspiring kitchen then we send it to the graphics department and use this tried and true color palate that we’ve been using for 20 years and slap the stickers on.

“We had one focus group that came in and the only thing we changed was the stickers and decals. The feedback confirmed for us that the consumer in her mind almost felt that the kitchens were completely different products based on the importance of the decals. It’s looking at that level of detail.”

In 2016, stickers will not be used at all as the company has found other methods to incorporate features into Step2 products. Quinn says you can’t be afraid to make changes and you certainly can’t use cost as an excuse to not make changes to your product.

“People become so cost conscious that they stop inspiring the consumer because all they are worried about is product cost,” he says. “There’s plenty of money for us and plenty of money for the retailers if we design the product well. If we don’t design it well, then neither one of us are going to make a lot of money.”

The key to taking full advantage of the creativity within your employees is to unleash it within a structure.

“You have to give people guardrails,” Quinn says. “It’s not freedom without any sort of constraint. You give them clearly defined guardrails and then you get out of their way. I’m not a Darwinist, but at least in this example, I believe you let the best products rise to the top and then surround that product with activation and investment. Limiting the categories doesn’t have to limit creativity.”

A great first year

The privately held company recorded its highest sales in company history in 2015 at $180 million and Quinn is confident a foundation has been set to keep growing in 2016. After a year on the job, he feels like he’s found a home at Step2.

“I was really touched that the associates threw me a party for my one-year anniversary,” he says. “They had every associate come out and we had cupcakes and it was really nice. I didn’t ask them to do it or tell them when my anniversary was. They just did it.”

When you give people an opportunity to be part of your company’s growth, they’ll jump at the chance.
“I work for them; they don’t work for me,” Quinn says.

Takeaways

  • Building trust often takes time.
  • Let people do what you hired them to do.
  • Structure doesn’t have to limit creativity.

The Quinn File

NAME: Christopher Quinn
TITLE: president and CEO
COMPANY: Step2 Co.

Born: Rio de Janeiro

Education: Bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and economics, Denison University; MBA in marketing, University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

What did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to be an airplane pilot. I considered going into the U.S. Air Force, but I didn’t have the eyes to do it.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life? It would have to be my father, Paul Quinn. I come from multiple generations of business people. He has been an incredible influence. I’ve had great mentors in the business and also supervisors who haven’t been as inspiring. You have to learn from all walks of life.

If you could speak with anyone from the present or past, with whom would you want to speak with? Jesus Christ. I would be unbelievably humbled to meet him. I would ask him about how challenging the world has become and how violent a place it has become. Why do we have so much instability in the world?

Quinn on the durability of Step2 products: If somebody is selling my product at a garage sale and that product is still being used and the consumer is engaging with it, it may be missing a piece like a handle or a faucet or something, but that’s an opportunity to create a positive impression with a consumer.

We have a 1-800 number that consumers call all the time. Now we’re utilizing those connections to get new emails, to get new relationship management information so we can come back to that consumer and engage them when we come out with the best and brightest new products.