Forty years ago, a teenage Mike Kittredge was too cash-strapped to buy his mother a Christmas present. So he melted some crayons and canning wax together and poured the mixture into an old milk carton. A neighbor saw the creation and persuaded Kittredge to sell the candle to her. With that transaction, Kittredge bought enough wax to make two more candles — one for his mom and another to sell – and Yankee Candle was born.
Based in South Deerfield, Mass., Yankee Candle calls itself “America’s favorite brand of premium scented candles.” The company also claims to be the most-recognized and best-selling candle brand. Master chandlers (candle makers) make the majority of Yankee Candle’s products in advanced manufacturing facilities in Massachusetts using high-quality essential oils and fragrance extracts. The company’s natural wax blend candles are offered in more than 150 fragrances — known for their long burning time and long-lasting scent.
The company operates 458 Yankee Candle and 27 Illuminations stores in major malls in 43 states, as well as 90,000-sq.-ft. superstores in South Deerfield and Williamsburg, Va., both offering more than 400,000 candles. Outside North America, the company sells its products primarily through its subsidiary, Yankee Candle Co. (Europe), which has an international wholesale customer network of 3,483 store locations and distributors covering 41 countries.
The company also has an expanding North American wholesale customer network that includes approximately 17,500 specialty retailers.
One key to Yankee Candle’s success is its vertically integrated business model, which enables the company to control almost every aspect of the business from product conceptualization to manufacturing, marketing and sales.
To find employees who are good fits for particular positions, Yankee Candle has been using Predictive Index from Wellesley, Mass.-based international management consulting company PI since 2002.
The assessment tools “help us to identify the optimal individuals within the hiring process as well as to create more effective teams,” says director of learning and development Dorrin Exford. She joined the company in 2000 when Yankee Candle had no formal training department for its employee base, which has since grown from 1,500 to more than 5,500.
PI works across the entire spectrum of an enterprise, from c-level to entry level, says Rooney Russell, a senior consultant with PI, “because it’s all about people. Everyone has drivers and this tool can identify those and help managers to coach and retain based on those natural behaviors.”
The benefit to users, Russell says, is that “once managers have been through PI training, they are all speaking the same language. The great thing about PI is that it is truly objective because it is based on data. Rather than trying to turn [a potential employee] into a different person, we are learning to use their natural behaviors to help them succeed and to put them in a work role where they will be positioned for success.
“The point of PI is to find out what drives a person and what they are good at and then to use that for your company’s growth and success.”
Yankee Candle has been using PI solutions when hiring for positions ranging from retail store managers and in-store selling teams to manufacturing, finance and senior leadership.
In 2006, newly-hired senior vice president of wholesale Michael Thorne wanted to adopt “customer-focused selling” for the first time in Yankee Candle’s business-to-business sales efforts. According to Exford, the entire 80-person wholesale division — merchandising, finance and planning staff, in addition to sales — was formally trained in PI’s Customer Focused Selling (CFS) methodologies to build its wholesale business.
It and the Selling Skills Assessment Tool (SSAT) “provided useful insight to understand the salesperson’s natural behavior style and to be aware of the need to adjust it according to the style and needs of internal and external customers.”
Yankee Candle began using the PI tools “to identify our star players — those who had the natural skill to sell, align behavior to build relationships easily, to analyze and ask investigative questions,” Exford says. “We benchmarked the starting place of each participant and will re-evaluate in a year. Our star players identified [today] will become our standard [for] future performance.”
In studying the behaviors of the sales team members, Yankee Candle “saw a mix of personalities, including competitive aggressive hunter salespeople, more relationship builders and maintainers and analytical problem solvers, and some people who were very thorough and by the book,” Russell says. “We looked at all their behaviors and figured out where those people work the best in the way Yankee Candle envisioned going forward.”
The SSAT tests the five steps in a consultative selling process. “Nowadays,” Russell says, “it is important to connect with the customer, build the relationship and position that relationship for long-term, sustainable results.”
Into the classroom
Based on the scores, Yankee Candle “saw where people needed improvement, [and] the great thing about skills is that they can be improved. What’s harder to change is the behavior piece, so we put people in the parts of the sales process that most closely matched their natural behaviors, then trained them in the skills they needed most.”
Then it was into the classroom for customized CFS training. In the consultative sales process, Russell says, “you have to be a partner with your prospect/client. You need to know not just what they need now, but what they need moving forward.”
The last piece was Coaching for Sales Growth: it trains the sales managers to train their own people “so that everything they learn is continuous.” Beyond the classroom training, Russell says, “you need sales managers who can be there for continuous support, training, coaching and mentoring.
“If you just know behaviors or you just use skill training, you’re not seeing the whole picture,” Russell says. “A person could ‘know’ sales skills, but if they are not naturally driven to behave that way they may never use them.”
The immediate results were impressive, Exford says. “After the first month, the revenue performance differential between our test group and the general staff increased by 40 percent.”
The tools they used included Customer-Focused Selling™, Predictive Index® and Coaching for Selling Success. These programs are offered by Predictive Results at 904-269-2299 or www.predictiveresults.com.