Janet Wincko takes furniture very seriously. “We are not just a company that wants to sell a table and move on to the next customer. We are helping our customers make memories,” she says of her employer, City Furniture, a furniture retailer with a chain of fifteen stores and eleven Ashley Furniture HomeStore showrooms throughout southern Florida. “It’s not just about sitting at the dining room table eating,” she adds. “It’s about Thanksgiving dinner—sitting around the table laughing, having fun, and making memories.”
Wincko should know: she now leads human resources at the family-owned company where she’s made her career. She joined the company shortly before graduating from Florida Atlantic University in 1989. Her commitment speaks to the company’s dynamism. Founded in 1971 as Waterbed City, the company has undergone multiple transitions, not least of which was its expansion to City Furniture in 1994.
The latest change to City Furniture involved transforming the product line, business model, delivery model, and associate mix, according to Wincko. “It was a massive undertaking,” she says. “And I wanted to be part of this really cool transformation.” Several years later, the company expanded into manufacturing with its own exclusive line of furniture, case goods, and mattresses through its proprietary brand Kevin Charles.
The company has always had a larger purpose in mind. “When we talk to applicants, we say that our purpose at City Furniture is to enrich people’s lives and make the world a better place,” Wincko says. Human resources, she adds, is intimately involved in building a company that exemplifies this enormous commitment while also keeping an eye on strategic objectives. “It all starts with hiring the right people who will do the right things for the customers and will truly invest in our purpose,” Wincko says.
Paired with this selective process is a thoughtfully designed onboarding program. “Onboarding is truly our first opportunity to make a lasting impression and make sure that our people understand who we are, what we do, and why it matters,” says Wincko, who points out that this integration process is vital to retention. “If people don’t feel welcome from the very beginning, you are at risk of losing them right away.”
City Furniture regularly evaluates and adjusts the process. “We are constantly asking what messages we are sending to associates, how we are ensuring that they fit in and feel comfortable here, and that they are accepted into our organization appropriately,” Wincko says.
“Onboarding is truly our first opportunity to make a lasting impression and make sure that our people understand who we are, what we do, and why it matters.”
City Furniture is also committed to offering its 1,300 employees rich opportunities for professional growth and personal development. In 2014, the company began partnering with People First International and offering the People First twenty-four-hour leadership development course. The approach, developed by leadership and personal development consultant Jack Lannom, takes as its premise the idea that “the personal drives the professional”—that employees are human beings, not assets.
Wincko explains: “Before you get into the doing of leadership, People First really says, ‘But what do you believe as a leader? Do you believe that people generally want to do a good job? That they want to have a relationship with you? That they should be recognized and celebrated?’”
Over the past fifteen months, 250 City Furniture leaders from the president and senior level managers to entry level management have completed the People First program. “It is eye-opening,” Wincko says. “It is transformational. People First—what our associates need and want—drives a lot of our decision making: not what does the process say, but what do the numbers say? We don’t make decisions in those respects at the sacrifice of not being respectful and not being truthful with our associates.”
The company is now looking to find ways to wrap the program principles into associate training. “At some point everybody in our organization will be exposed to People First at some level,” Wincko says.
Even after forty-four years, City Furniture continues to evolve, and there’s always plenty for Wincko to do. “We are focusing on different talent management initiatives,” she says. “A lot of organizations, including us, are moving away from the old traditional performance review. We are shifting to focus on individual development programs that allow us to support associates’ goals.”
Wincko is also working on an internal mobility program that offers City Furniture associates clear information about what they need to do to advance in the company. In 2016 and 2017, the company will be expanding into the Orlando area, with several showrooms and a small distribution center. “Orlando is a big market,” Wincko says, adding that human resources will be play an essential role in the expansion effort.
At City Furniture, where a table is more than just a table, human resources is more, too. “Really, my job is to be kind of the culture-keeper,” Wincko says. And after twenty-five years at the company, it’s a responsibility that she’s got down pat.