Deciding where to open a new office can be one of the more important decisions a company makes. It is expensive and will surely impact the corporate culture. Therefore, it is important to make the decision carefully and to consider multiple factors.
“When a larger company like ours is searching either nationally or geographically to open a center that will create hundreds of jobs, they are really trying to figure out where they are going to be successful,” said Niraj Shah, CEO and co-founder of Wayfair, a Fortune 500 e-commerce company that sells home furnishings, housewares and home improvement goods.
Wayfair completed a multi-city search and concluded that its new Customer Service and Operations Center will be successful in Pittsfield. The company made a significant investment in a historic building just east of downtown. It expects to hire at least 300 employees in Pittsfield within one to two years.
Pittsfield first came to Wayfair’s attention as a possible location because Niraj grew up here. He went to Pittsfield High School and had warm feelings towards the city.
“However, Pittsfield had to earn it. There were other finalists that we could have selected. We were not going to make a bad decision just because I grew up here,” Niraj said.
The City deployed its “Red Carpet Team” to work with Wayfair. The team, headed by Michael Coakley, the city’s full-time business development manager, works with companies looking to move to or expand in Pittsfield. The team includes the Mayor, local and state economic development officials, workforce development experts, and representatives from 1Berkshire and Berkshire Community College. The team can put together significant economic incentive packages using local, regional and state resources as well as reduce the time it takes for a business to open.
Wayfair’s requirements were high.
“We want to be in a place where we can be a meaningful employer so that we will become a sought-after place to work. We want to be the place where our employees want to be. We want to be able to pay a salary that will result in a good quality of life. Then, they are going to be able to do the best work possible to take care of our customers,” said Niraj.
The company starts with a detailed analysis of each possible location. The initial analysis is quantitative and includes data such as labor pool size, the number of recent high school graduates, the other types of work available nearby, the cost of living and more.
“At a minimum, it needs to be a big enough community where we can hire enough people to build a center and can have a critical mass,” Niraj said.
Once the list is narrowed down, Wayfair digs deeper to understand the location.
“We try to get a real feel for a place through a visit,” Niraj said. “It is very important to find the right communities where there are great people, people who fit your company culture, attract them, be able to pay them well enough so that they have a great quality of living and then retain them. Finding those locations is harder than you would think. You have to look hard.”
Pittsfield’s Red Carpet Team, headed by Michael Coakley, provided everything Wayfair needed to evaluate the city. They organized meetings and tours. It showed them five different possible locations that could meet their needs. It proposed economic incentives, including tax incentives approved by the state’s Economic Assistance Coordinating Council, and brought the workforce development team into early meetings.
“We really got white glove treatment,” Niraj said.
“They were all incredibly welcoming and made sure that we felt at home. I think that is unique about the Pittsfield environment. We had weekly calls with Mike and his team. He made sure that we felt very welcome,” said Derek Oliver, Wayfair’s Director of Government and Industry Affairs.
Wayfair asked the Red Carpet Team about neighborhoods, schools, restaurants, activities and more. However, the most important questions were about finding and retaining the people needed for the center.
“We look for really talented, collaborative, ambitious and friendly people. We care more about intrinsic qualities than specific job experience. When we find those folks, we find that we can teach them the aspects of our jobs, our work and our company. They can end up being incredibly successful. They then compound that success by continuing to advance at Wayfair or by moving on to other jobs in the area. We see that happen over and over again in many different locations,” Niraj said.
MassHire, the Berkshire Career Center located in Pittsfield, was an integral part of helping Wayfair to find the right people. They were proactive and reached out to Wayfair.
“I knew that they were planning to open in Pittsfield, so I made an appointment with Derek Oliver and traveled to his office at the corporate headquarters in Copley Square, Boston. We built a relationship. While they had done their homework about the workforce, they did not have the first hand experience that we have,” said Melanie Gelaznik, executive director of MassHire Berkshire Career Center.
“We had a great relationship with MassHire,” said Cindy Motaka, senior project operations manager at Wayfair, who oversaw the company’s hiring efforts in Pittsfield. “The way we really utilized our partnership with them was to get the word out about the jobs that we had and then use their space until our beautiful new space was available. They were able to help us out logistically with their wonderful facility downtown on North Street to interview candidates before our facilities were ready. We could run concurrent interviews and find people quickly. We were their two days a week, every week.”
“I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of candidates that are coming in,” she added. “They obviously did their homework before coming through our doors.”
Wayfair had its first “class” of new employees hired and working just four weeks after the jobs were posted.
“We are really excited to be in Pittsfield. The city really wanted us and welcomed us. It is great to be in a place that works so well with business,” concluded Niraj.
– by Roger Matus