John Steger, president and owner of Kaston Fixtures & Design Group LLC, believes his employees enjoy working at the Dallas company because they are treated fairly and with respect.
The practical jokes don't hurt, either.
“My personal motto is if we take care of our employees, they'll automatically take care of our customers,” he said in a recent phone interview.
The company ranks No. 3 on the Plastics News Best Places to Work list for 2016.
The distributor and fabricator makes retail fixtures and merchandise displays for items such as cosmetics, handbags and T-shirts. It's averaged roughly $5 million in annual sales over the past few years, Steger said.
Steger's wife, Sheryl, is part-owner and “guru of all things beautiful,” he said.
“[An] interior design professional by trade, she brings her knowledge of finishes and spatial design techniques that connect the brand, the customer and the retail environment.”
Her husband, on the other hand, is known as the office comedian.
“Yes, there are some practical jokes. We try to have an environment where everyone feels valuable, has a voice and for the most part, looks forward to coming to work,” John Steger said. “I think you could ask every single person here, and they would say they enjoy coming to work.
“We work hard, but you can inject humor into that.”
For one of his “projects,” Steger surprised the staff with a bouquet of faces.
“I took pictures — mostly of myself,” he said, laughing, “and glued them on straws. I cut them and sprayed them with some perfume.” The result was a sweet-smelling batch of two-dozen “flowers” that needed no water or fertilizer, but “did require laughter and pleasant conversation,” he said.
Steger had worked in the business for years with such companies as Hallmark, Armour and Safelite.
“But I wanted to read bedtime stories and attend all the soccer games” of his children, Kassidy and Peyton. So he set out on his own in 2002, coming up with the company name by combining those of his children.
Now Kaston employs 21 carefully selected people. Steger said he's not as involved in the hiring process as he once was, “but I think selection is key to our success.
“We don't just use the ‘teamwork' word. You actually have to be part of the team,” he said. That means getting along and agreeing to “save the drama for your mama.”
Most of his employees have been with the company “quite some time,” he said.
The firm has incentive programs for the best new idea and achieving profitability goals.
Kaston grants time off for charitable work and contributes to various causes including the Ronald McDonald House, Feed My Starving Children and the local charity Brother Bill's Holiday in Dallas, which helps underprivileged children and families. “I think we've all donated time there” and provided toys for the children, he said.
The employees choose the causes they deem worthy — including, sometimes, helping out employees themselves who face particularly difficult struggles.