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My Soul-Sucking Experience Working at The Container Store (Update 1)

Stocks in this article: TCS PBPB MCD SBUX

Number two ... on something like day three of my job at The Container Store, I was loading boxes from a truck onto a dock in the downtown alleyway. I had had enough. I simply couldn't keep doing this job without these nasty urges to harm myself or another human being. So I jumped off the loading dock and ran down the alley as quickly as I could to the nearest corner where I could board the 21-Hayes back to the Haight.

That was it. I never looked back.

It's this very formula -- soul-sucking to any employee with even an ounce of autonomy -- that probably contributes to The Container Store's success. In many cases, American consumers crave familiarity. We want to know that when we walk into a McDonalds (HPQ) in San Francisco it will look the same as one in Peoria or Phoenix. But that's the kicker. They don't.

The Container Store has taken the McDonalds' concept -- carbon copied millions of times by thousands of chain stores across the world -- and taken it to an extreme.

We didn't have to merely stock the shelves the exact same way as they were stocked at that DC Metro store, we had to keep them that way. If a customer merely nudged an item out of place by a fraction of a millimeter, we had to move it back as soon as "humanly" possible while being treated like robots.

And, yeah, even in eclectic San Francisco, no earrings, no nose rings, nothing that might "distract" the customer. I'm not sure if one ever occurred, but I felt like there was mutiny coming on that front given the diverse nature of my cohort. I'm hoping things have changed, but, again, by the look of The Container Store today, I reckon they have not.

The Container Store has taken formulaic retail to the radical end of the spectrum. It makes McDonalds and Starbucks appear unkempt. As with any IPO, I would not buy this thing on day one, no matter how much it pops or drops. However, going forward, retail that sucks the life out of its employees -- even if they don't realize it's happening -- and creates fanatics in its customer base could make for strong long-term investments.

*UPDATE: If you blazed your own trail, congratulations (though if you, like most of retail, only got in at the open and at the opening price, you're up about a dime a share, as of this writing). TCS shares have basically doubled, as of midday Friday, up $17.10, or 95%, at $35.10.

But IPO hype does not make a long-term bullish case. I intend on writing more in the coming weeks on retail environments such as the one The Container Store creates, but, in this moment, it is interesting to focus on the company's aforementioned fanatic fan base. But it's not just the fanatics; TCS is also a story about consumers who, even if on some subconscious psychological level, seek normalcy and the status quo in their lives.

For instance, if you move from Manhattan to San Francisco and you're already a TCS customer, there's something to be said for, effectively, not being able to tell the NYC store apart from the SF one. It's comforting, in what might be an unfamiliar environment, to walk into a portion, even if only a small one, of your old life that appears familiar. McDonalds, Starbucks, The Container Store and so many others use this very conceptualization as a major ingredient of their success. There's more to it; This is merely the angle I find most interesting.

I know Jim Cramer will talking about TCS on TheStreet later Friday.

-- Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

Rocco Pendola is a columnist and TheStreet's Director of Social Media. Pendola makes frequent appearances on national television networks such as CNN and CNBC as well as TheStreet TV. Whenever possible, Pendola uses hockey, Springsteen or Southern California references in his work. He lives in Santa Monica.
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