Training staffers to become leaders

An urban retailer hires for the long haul.

EMAIL  |   PRINT  |   SHARE  |   RSS
 
google my aol my msn my yahoo! netvibes
Paste this link into your favorite RSS desktop reader
See all CNNMoney.com RSS FEEDS (close)

villa_ceo_lutz.03.jpg
Villa CEO Jason Lutz, flanked by Philadelphia district manager Darren Walton (left) and store manager Kareem Cathey.
How are you doing financially compared to the start of the year?
  • Better
  • Worse
  • About the same
Helping businesses save cities
The government's Emerging 200 program aims to boost job growth by training inner-city entrepreneurs to expand their businesses. Here's how it's playing out in 5 cities.

(Fortune Small Business) -- When Jason Lutz graduated from college in 1995, he had big plans for Sneaker Villa, his parents' two-store sporting goods business in the suburbs of Reading, Pa. He persuaded them to open a third outpost, in Reading's gritty downtown, and stock it with hip-hop styles, not performance gear. In less than a year the downtown store had generated double the combined revenue of its sister stores.

It was the start of a massive makeover. Based in Philadelphia and rebranded Villa, the company today dominates the market for urban fashion in cities across Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Ohio. Villa's 2008 sales neared $40 million, and its 25th store opened this year.

But Lutz, 35, now CEO, says the company offers more than clothing and footwear. It also strives to strengthen the inner-city neighborhoods where it does business -- beginning in the stores.

The company employs 107 full-time and 200 part-time workers, and its staffing policy is as simple as it is ambitious: Hire local kids who understand Villa customers because they are Villa customers, teach them life skills as well as retail skills, and show them a future.

Employees who have put in a year of good performance and community service are invited to attend Villa's 12-session management-training program, which covers everything from sales strategies to building connections in a low-income neighborhood.

It combines discussions with role-playing exercises that provide hands-on practice in navigating sticky situations. Trainees learn how to settle arguments among employees, soothe unhappy customers and prevent shoplifting. The final class addresses ways to build community partnerships. Fledgling manager Scott Levesque, 30, used that lesson to approach a Salvation Army community center in Philadelphia about teaching teens job-search skills. Levesque taught the class and urged his students to apply for jobs with Villa.

In the past four years, 70 employees have completed Villa's program. As a result, 85% of store managers, including 24-year-old Kareem Cathey, have been promoted from within. Cathey took a part-time job with Villa at age 16 and became a full-time employee after graduating from high school. Now he manages a store in Philadelphia's Allegheny neighborhood. Inspired by his training, he plans to return to school to study business management and entrepreneurship.

This year Cathey joined about 40 other store managers at Villa's first financial fitness workshop. He says that although he already knew much of the subject matter -- budgeting, balancing a checkbook, setting financial goals - the class taught him how to discuss money matters with his employees.

"I can give them an advance on their paycheck when they have financial problems, but I'd rather tell them how to keep it from happening again," he explains.

That's exactly what Lutz hoped would happen.

"We can only reach so many people directly, so we try to build strong leaders at the stores who can pass their knowledge on," he says. "Our goal is to leverage the brand to create local jobs, keep local dollars close to home and help people connect with positive community resources. The shoes and clothes just provide a cool entry point."  To top of page

To write a note to the editor about this article, click here.




QMy dream is to launch my own business someday. Now that it's time to choose a major, I'm debating if I should major in entrepreneurial studies or major in engineering to acquire a set of skills first. Is majoring in entrepreneurship a good choice? More
Get Answer
- Spate, Orange, Calif.
These 10 food trends could dominate 2015 So long, kale. Here's what's expected to shake up the food industry next year. More
Beyond Russia: Geopolitical hot spots in 2015 Investors beware: These 5 global crises are likely to rattle the stock market and world economy. More
20 antique guns that fetched big bucks Morphy Auctions in Pennsylvania put nearly 1,000 old guns on the block. Here are just a few. More
Worry about the hackers you don't know 
Crime syndicates and government organizations pose a much greater cyber threat than renegade hacker groups like Anonymous. Play
GE CEO: Bringing jobs back to the U.S. 
Jeff Immelt says the U.S. is a cost competitive market for advanced manufacturing and that GE is bringing jobs back from Mexico. Play
Hamster wheel and wedgie-powered transit 
Red Bull Creation challenges hackers and engineers to invent new modes of transportation. Play

Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.