Alan Hutcheson, who helped open Arizona's first Sharper Image store - and helped close it when the specialty retailer slid into bankruptcy earlier this year - was selling the virtues of double cabinet shelves from The Container Store for stacking cookware.
He was pitching the product to the very people who sell it - and those who hope to soon. That is, managers of the first Arizona Container Store and job applicants who want to work there.
It was all part of an intense and lengthy interview process de rigueur for the dozens of positions at the 23,000-square-foot store slated to open Sept. 13 at the shopping center at Scottsdale Road and Mayo Boulevard in northeast Phoenix anchored by Whole Foods.
The Container Store sells just about anything you could want or use to stash or organize anything in your home or office. It even offers design services to help you figure out how to use the 10,000 or so products it sells.
For nine years, the retailer has been listed among Fortune magazine's 100 Best Companies to Work For, said spokeswoman Audrey Robertson.
The Container Store is the 20th-best employer this year, because, among other things, it pays "50 percent to 100 percent higher than the retail average" even for entry-level positions, Fortune said in its analysis.
Maybe that's why the company received 40,000 job applications for its 43 stores last year.
And why the recruitment process is so rigorous.
The Container Store needs 65 people for the East Valley store, said Karyn Maynard, recruiting director. About 12 of those positions are full time, and seven of those spots have been filled. The rest of the jobs are part time, some shifts geared toward people who have children in school and want to be home when the kids are, or people who have other jobs and want to work early mornings or evenings, Maynard said.
So far, more than 800 people have applied for the spots. Only about 5 percent of them will be hired, if the local experience fits the pattern, Maynard said, so it's not too late for procrastinators to fill out an online application.
The group interview is the third step in the process, Maynard said.
It involves role playing, selling, teamwork and homework. The homework - find a Container Store solution to a problem in your home and sell it - resulted in Hutcheson pitching the store's shelves to house his wife's new pots and pans.
Applicants invited to participate in a group session have already completed detailed applications and 15- to 20-minute phone interviews.
If they pass muster in the group interview, which Maynard said is geared to gauge how well they work in a team environment, they get called back for one to five more one-on-one interviews.
If an applicant eventually gets a job offer, it's a celebratory experience, Maynard said.
After leaping that many hurdles, it should be a celebration for anybody who crosses the finish line.
But it's not surprising so many people want to give The Container Store process a go, since retail jobs are shrinking as the recession worsens, said Ellen Davis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation.
Companies like Sharper Image have folded.
Disney Stores and Linens 'n Things have scaled back the number of stores and jobs, and look for Mervyns, which just announced its bankruptcy filing Tuesday, to do the same.
"The retail industry has had a tough year," Davis said. "Retailers have to make hard decisions when price is the most important factor for customers, and traffic is light."
Davis said she doesn't have recent figures for retail jobs, but she acknowledges layoffs are happening across the industry. The Container Store's expansion instead of contraction is welcome news, she said.
"When a new retailer, especially one with such a good reputation, comes into town, it will be well-received," she said.