Interior designs Featured

7:00pm EDT January 26, 2009

Pedro A. Capó was born into the furniture business.

Before he was part owner and chief operating officer at El DoradoFurniture Corp., Capó watched his father build it from the groundup. Today, Capó and his six brothers all share in the leadership of thecompany, keeping the family element prevalent in the retail furniturestore chain.

Of course, as the company has grown to $166 million, even a furniture-first family like the Capós can’t do everything themselves.And not everyone in the world has the natural feel for the businessor cares about quality the way the family does. So as the companyhas grown to 750 employees, Capó has had to get people to takehis family business as seriously as he does. That requires not onlygetting them interested in the family business but also using astrong sense of leadership to encourage people to get behind thecompany’s belief in professionalism.

“You have to be a visionary and know where to go and how to getpeople to follow you there,” he says. “And unless you have that,you can have the best product in the world, you can have the greatest organization in the world, but you always have to know whereyou are going to be as a company tomorrow, and you have to convince and entice — not necessarily sell — entice your whole teamto follow you there. The word is basically right there, you can’t bea good leader if you ‘manage.’”

So while El Dorado Furniture makes it a point to welcome peopleto the family when they join the organization, Capó makes the distinction on the traditional family business model, demanding professionalism and passion from each employee. That can get a lot harderas a company grows, so he makes sure the company hires right, trainspeople in full detail, gives people a chance to retrain if they fail, andthen if they show they can match the family quality, Capó gives thema chance to move up the ranks.

Start with professionals

The idea of El Dorado Furniture as both a family and professional place starts at the beginning: If Capó is going to hire you,you better start off by showing you’re a pleasant person — someone he and the rest of the brothers could introduce over a nicedinner.

“We hire people that you would gladly invite them to your homefor dinner,” Capó says. “That’s basically the rule of thumb — youwant to make sure they’re pleasant people, people that are goingto respect other people as well as respect you in the process.”

But just having dinner manners doesn’t cut the mustard entirely.If you want to hire a winner, you also better look for someone whohas the professional credentials. That means you should take hisor her resume with a grain of salt.

“When you’re in the interviewing process, people will tell youanything or everything you want to hear,” Capó says. “Theresume, the same thing. Now, with the Internet, you don’t seeas much of the people physically, and they put a bunch of stuffin there that they’ve done and most of the stuff they put inthere, it’s not necessarily true.”

To vet their professionalism, Capó notes that the devil is in thedetails.

“We do an interview, and the person is called to be here at 9 inthe morning, if the person comes at 9:01, we probably would notsee him again,” he says. “If you call us and say, ‘I’m sorry I’m late’or whatever, that’s fine, I will wait for you until the end of time.When they fill out an application, there are instructions, and weactually look at everything, the way they fill out the applicationand if they give all the information, and you start to get a profileof that person. I mean sometimes people come in to us for a jobin sales and you come in in the morning with them in the elevator, and they don’t know who you are, and they don’t even say hior good morning, they don’t smile, it’s like, what are you doinghere?

“I’ve had people come in here for executive jobs in jeans and T-shirts ... and you say, ‘How do I eat this; what is going on here?’”

These simple tests, in conjunction with your normal hiring practices, act to help you flesh out someone’s attention to detail andprofessionalism, which is the first step in making a hire who willcare about your company.

Train your employees

Once you hire somebody, your training systems can really be thecatalyst for getting him or her to understand your interest in quality.

Capó’s company has El Dorado University, which is a trainingprogram where instructors from the company get qualified asdepartment experts to teach new people the ropes. Rather thanjust send a salesperson out on the floor, El Dorado Furniture givestwo to three weeks of training before a new person can even talkwith a customer. Giving extended time purely for training has distinct advantages, like the opportunity for a second look at anemployee’s professionalism and a chance to instill how importantyour standards are.

“Part of the training is the same way, if they’re supposed to comein for training at 9 o’clock and they’re not here, they get a warning:‘Tomorrow, if you come in at 9:01 and you’re not excused, pleasedon’t even show up. Because discipline is very, very important inthis business or any business,’” Capó says.

El Dorado Furniture is also constantly circling back withemployees to make sure they’re on top of the concepts they shouldknow. The company regularly sends leaders into stores just tocheck in on front-line employees. Capó also sits down with hisquota-based salespeople every two weeks to show people howthey are doing. Anyone who isn’t making the mark is sent back toa more expedited retraining session. Capó lays out an example of what the company does with salespeoplethat are coming up short: “We go throughthe entire process of the sale and say,‘Where are they, what are their faults?’because there is something that they’redoing wrong, and we say let’s look at thatand do a particular retraining on that particular subject, — and of course, we do arefresher on everything else,” he says.

That retraining session is not availableover and over again. If someone can’t do itin sales after the retraining session, Capóoffers the employee the opportunity totransition to another position — providedthe person is a good employee overall.

“We have some people that we know thatthey’re not going to make it in sales, butthey’re very good at everything else thatthey do — their paperwork, attendance,their personality, taking care of the customer issues and so forth,” he says. “So wegive them an opportunity, if we have anopening, to work in another department.”

If the problems a person goes to retraining for are about areas of professionalism,there is no such grace after a first coachingsession.

“Now, if the person is off in other areas,where they don’t have good attendance orthey don’t have good productivity, we dogive them the coaching, we train themagain, but from there, they are basically outthe door,” Capó says.

By giving the extra training and givingpeople the warning of being put throughretraining, Capó says you draw a clear linein the sand about expectations.

“We tell them, ‘If you keep doing thisthing, you’re never going to make it, soeither you try to make an effort or if youhave a problem, let us know, and let’s dealwith it and move on,” he says.

That personal attention doesn’t fix everyproblem, but Capó says it rehabilitates manyand even helps a few people realize they areexpected to and can do much more.

“I would say that probably about 60 percent of them [become good employees],”he says. “They might not become a super-star, but they actually get back on trackand see this is for real. And believe it or not,a lot of people don’t know their potential— there are people who have a lot of talent, but they’re missing that spark thatmakes everything else evolve.”

Develop leaders

Capó’s interest in retraining employeeshits on another family element that’s prevalent at El Dorado Furniture: The companylikes to raise its own leaders.

“We’d rather have somebody inside thatknows the culture of the company andknows their way around the company,” hesays. “And when you hire somebody, evenif it’s a cleaning person, you say, ‘Could thisperson eventually be a supervisor, be aleader someday or be in charge of their particular area?’”

If you want to do that, you have to bethinking of someone’s potential and his orher interests right from the beginning.

“When they come for an interview ... theinterviewer would talk to the person a bitdeeper and say, ‘You know, how do you feelabout or what do you think about thisother position?’” Capó says.

This conversation is logged down in theperson’s original HR file to ensure that ElDorado Furniture’s leadership team isaware of the initial prospects of the newhire. That heightened awareness doesn’tstop after someone is hired.

“All of our leaders are constantly beingtrained and being told that part of theirresponsibility is to search for those peoplewho have a passion for whatever they aredoing and to let human resources know, sowhen the next available position comes up,you can go to those people, depending onthe job and the responsibility,” he says.

Once you start a culture where you arelooking first to promote within, it starts tofeed on itself.

“Now, to be honest, it’s a very difficulttask for them to do,” he says. “Let’s say it’sa sales leader in a particular store, and theyhave a great, great receptionist, she’s thebest, but she’s doing a hell of a job in there.Now sometimes, they try not to tell youthat they have a great person because theydon’t want to replace them, but they knowbetter. Probably all of them right now,especially the leaders in the stores, startedworking as a receptionist or in customerservice or as a salesperson, then becameleaders in the organization. They know thatthey were there one day.”

And for the rare person who might not beable to be that charitable, Capó makes surethere are other avenues in place for helpingpeople move up. Aside from counting onthe appearance of senior leaders in thestores, he says you should create systemsfor people to clearly spell out their interestin advancing their career.

“If someone’s really a shooting star, theywill shine so much that somebody else willnotice them,” he says. “The other thing isthat every single employee has a right tosend in for information or a document wehave available that says I request to workin this particular department — and thatdoesn’t mean that I’m going to give it tothem — but they always have that on file.Once you get that, we keep that on file andsay, ‘OK, we got this from you, what makesyou think you can be here instead?’ andthey tell you, ‘I can do this and that,’ and sothere is a mechanism there. If the leaderdoesn’t want to give them up, eventuallythere will be a way around it either by theemployee or by someone else.”

HOW TO REACH: El Dorado Furniture Corp.,www.eldoradofurniture.com