The crew knew its visit to SanMar would be different than the rest a few hours before we were slated to visit when a specific email came through. The subject line: Lunch Options – Your Order? It continued in the body of the email: “Today is sushi day in the SanMar Cafe, which means yummy food, but longer lines.”
Were we going to a gourmet restaurant for lunch or just visiting one of the largest supplier companies in the ad specialty market? Well, the answer is kind of both, because SanMar has one of the most impressive corporate cafeterias you’ll ever see. On this day, there was sushi ranging from citrus salmon, spicy crab and albacore rolls to tuna, salmon and inari nigiri. And, catering to the non-sushi eaters on staff, there’s also a grill complete with sandwiches (hot and cold), burgers, an array of delectable side dishes, and a complete salad and soup bar with more options than people could possibly sample.
The cafeteria, where the food is highly subsidized by SanMar for its employees, so ultimately, they’re just paying for the cost of the food’s ingredients (averaging around $5 per meal), is a centerpiece of the company’s headquarters in Issaquah, WA, just outside of Seattle. “We put a lot of thought and effort and investment into the cafeteria, so it would be a place where people wanted to spend time and enjoy eating,” said Marty Lott, founder of SanMar, while partaking in some of the café’s sushi offerings on this Monday afternoon. “It has real chefs cooking real meals, not just churning out mass quantities of food. Seattle is a hot area for workers these days, so we have to compete with other big companies for talent. This cafeteria is one way to do that.”
But SanMar, which has about 500 employees in its headquarters office and about 3,000 throughout the country, has many other attractive characteristics to job candidates. The family-oriented company has a gym on-site (complete with locker rooms), hosts many fundraising and charitable events throughout the year, and offers its customer service people a telecommuting program that allows them to work from home if they choose.
“The flexible workplace has been really successful for us,” says Jeremy Lott, president of SanMar and Marty’s son. “There are about 350 total telecommuters, and it has allowed to identify and hire some really great people that otherwise wouldn’t be able to work for us in our offices simply because of proximity. We didn’t want that to be a reason that we couldn’t hire a good person.”
And, when somebody begins working for SanMar, they tend to stay. The company’s retention rate is in the high-90s, and it has never had a layoff – ever! – in its history. “We work hard at retaining employees and being a great workplace,” says Jeremy Lott, who personally meets with every new hire when they start working at SanMar. “We’re a growing company, so there is opportunity for advancement, and it’s a comfortable place to work. We’re a large company, but we care a lot about our people. They see that and I think they stay because of that.”