Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for another captivating installment of The Leader Show with Lou Carter. Today, we are joined by David Price, an Executive Vice President at PriceSmart, a public company that operates membership warehouse clubs in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.
In this highly insightful episode, Mr. Price discusses the firm’s employee-centric approach, internal growth, diversity, and a lot more. So, without any further delay, let’s find out what makes PriceSmart a Most Loved Workplace®.
Firstly, Lou and David delve into what makes PriceSmart a “Most Loved Workplace.” The former is interested in the measures that PriceSmart has taken to earn this title, and he asks David to elaborate on what an “employee-focused culture” means in his company.
In response, David explains that since the inception of the first Price company, Fed Mart, in 1954, its priority has been putting employees first. This involves offering competitive salaries and generous benefits in all markets they operate in, ensuring access to quality healthcare, and providing opportunities for employees to grow professionally as the company grows.
PriceSmart emphasizes hiring from within the company and offers competitive equity components in compensation packages for management levels. David believes that when employees are treated well and are passionate about their work, it results in well-treated customers and a positive experience for members. Maintaining this employee-first approach has been the company’s commitment since its foundation.
Next, Lou asks David about the origins of PriceSmart’s customer-centric ecosystem and what inspired his family, including his grandfather and father, to create such an environment.
David mentions that his grandfather, initially a lawyer for retail companies, believed he could better manage a retail business himself and thus founded Fed Mart. From the outset, his grandfather recognized the importance of employee growth alongside the company’s, understanding this to be key in ensuring a positive customer experience. This belief continued to guide company culture even as Price Club was established, a legacy that continues to this day in companies like Costco, which is considered a ‘cousin’ company.
Because PriceSmart operates on a membership model, ensuring the trust and satisfaction of its members is paramount. The company aims to provide a high-quality, trustable experience with competitive prices and a generous return policy. Since customers pay a membership fee even before purchasing any merchandise, PriceSmart is committed to upholding its brand value proposition to guarantee its members’ satisfaction and encourage a renewal of its membership.
Moving on, Lou discusses the correlation between an enjoyable work environment and positive customer experiences, particularly in member-based models like PriceSmart. He asks David how this concept applies to his company and what measures they take to ensure a fulfilling environment for its employees and members.
David describes PriceSmart as an operations-driven company. He emphasizes the operations team’s crucial role, who interact directly with its members daily, in providing exceptional customer service. This passionate and dedicated team serves as the heart of its operations, and all other company divisions are oriented towards supporting them and, by extension, serving its members.
Additionally, he shares that many on the team have been with the company for several decades, starting in entry-level positions and progressing into managerial roles. Price lauds the high level of commitment and passion shown by these team members, which he believes significantly contributes to the positive experience. This approach reflects PriceSmart’s dedication to a servant-oriented leadership model that prioritizes its members’ needs.
After that, Lou expresses admiration for the long-term commitment of the PriceSmart team. He then asks David about how the personal values of these employees align with PriceSmart’s vision and values, given the longevity of its tenure.
David states that the long-standing members of its team have dedicated their lives to upholding the company’s values and business model. He points out that these individuals are deeply involved with the company and actively participate in its local communities, contributing to volunteer activities that PriceSmart supports. This includes programs like its Aprender y Crecer and a school and book supply initiative for local elementary schools.
Price asserts that this engagement with the community demonstrates its commitment to the company and its members and to being good corporate citizens and stewards in its local communities. This engagement with the community further strengthens the bond between employees and the company, as they share a collective commitment to service beyond their professional duties.
Next, the speakers delve into PriceSmart’s upskilling program, as Lou wonders if they are also emerging markets for the company.
David elucidates that they’ve been operating in these markets, like Honduras, for over 20 years. Rather than directly conducting these youth workforce development programs, PriceSmart aims to find and invest in local organizations with strong community ties.
Its contribution is not only financial; it also offers internships to the young adults participating in these programs and, in some instances, hires them. It further supports small and medium-sized businesses by selling its products in its stores.
Lou likes PriceSmart’s approach to a global ‘Shark Tank,’ helping to promote and fund entrepreneurs, especially female entrepreneurs. In response, Price emphasizes that these initiatives are primarily philanthropic and aimed at investing in the community rather than for PriceSmart’s direct benefit.
Even though it provides internships and job opportunities, it encourages individuals to explore opportunities elsewhere as well. The main goal is community empowerment, regardless of whether the individuals work at PriceSmart or not.
Moving on, Carter and Price discuss how PriceSmart nurtures talent within the company by offering growth and leadership development opportunities.
The latter shares that PriceSmart prioritizes internal talent for new roles, either within the same team or across departments. It sees the value in cross-functional experiences as it can help cultivate a well-rounded skill set essential for future leadership roles. He provides examples of individuals who have ascended to senior managerial or executive positions, having started with entry-level roles.
Importantly, Price notes that beyond opening up job prospects, the company is committed to providing professional development opportunities for its employees. This encompasses both soft skills, such as leadership and communication, and technical skills, like data analytics and financial acumen.
Recognizing the increasingly complex and hybrid nature of today’s work environment, PriceSmart is also working on preparing its leaders to thrive in multiple countries, across different time zones, and in both office and remote setups.
Carter underscores how attractive this proactive development approach is, not just for existing employees but also potential recruits. Price agrees and states the importance of mapping out clear career paths for his employees.
Halfway through, Lou and David steer the discussion towards the importance of diversity at PriceSmart.
David mentions that diversity is integral to the company’s DNA due to its presence in many unique and distinct countries. From Trinidad to Guatemala to Colombia, each location brings something important to the table from the perspective of members and employees. He highlights that some of PriceSmart’s most talented employees have emerged from these diverse cultural backgrounds.
David further explains that while PriceSmart is headquartered in the United States, most of its employees (approximately 9,500 out of 10,000) work outside the US. These employees bring a mix of English and Spanish language skills, adding to the company’s cultural richness.
On that note, he mentions that ensuring all his leaders and employees possess cultural awareness is crucial. Acceptance, tolerance, and embracing various cultures are vital, not only because of their diverse workforce but also because they all work together to serve their members.
David also sheds light on the core elements of PriceSmart’s corporate culture. The three main pillars he highlights are kindness, efficiency, and a focus on member interests.
He describes PriceSmart as a “kind company” where people enjoy working and treat each other well. In addition to this positive and welcoming atmosphere, PriceSmart has a “get it done” culture that values efficiency and eschews unnecessary expenses. This reflects its warehouse business model and commitment to offering its members the best prices.
A key part of this efficiency is to be a fiduciary for the member, meaning employees are tasked with representing the member’s best interests. This means any decision made or action taken should always be in favor of the member, even if a mistake is made. The idea is to always do what is best for the member, learn from errors, and use those experiences to improve systems and processes.
Lastly, David highlights the career opportunities at PriceSmart and how interested individuals can learn more about the company. He reiterates the importance of his employees, asserting that they are PriceSmart’s most valuable asset. Plus, he notes that they aim to provide meaningful employment opportunities for growth and fulfilling work.
For those considering a career at PriceSmart, Price advises them to check out the company’s LinkedIn page and its website, www.pricesmart.com. Those from the investor community can visit www.investors.pricesmart.com. Information about the company’s philanthropic work can be found at www.pricesmart.org.
Price also mentions that PriceSmart is particularly growing in the area of technology, an area he manages. He invites interested individuals to reach out and explore opportunities online, indicating a warm welcome to potential new team members.
Lou and David go into much greater detail throughout this conversation.
Thank you for listening!
Lou Carter : It's great to be here today on The Leader Show. I'm super excited to have David Price on with us, who's an EVP at PriceSmart, and we're gonna learn a lot about him today and his company, PriceSmart, now a public company, he does work there. I've been there with his father and, and co and family, which is just phenomenal.
And he's been a great leader with having an employee-focused culture growing from within. We'll talk about diversity today and the PriceSmart corporate culture, and some of his philanthropic foundations and other aspects of this awesome Most Loved Workplace culture. David, welcome today to The Leader Show with me. [Laugh]. Great to see you.
David Price : Thanks, Lou. Yeah, thanks for having me.
LC : This will be fun to do today. First of all, congratulations on becoming a Most Loved Workplace.
DP : Thank you. You know, we're honored to be a part of a prestigious group, and we appreciate the recognition and of course our employees.
LC : Well, let's dive into it, you know, because, and, and right now we're at a great place that people are finishing up all their certifications. They're for the list. And, you know, it's great to see some people who, you know, are really excited about, have done a fantastic job, become certified to become a Most Loved Workplace.
So, I want to dive into those things about what you've done to really become that to achieve this. And let's first look at what you mean by how you define an employee-focused culture. Tell me more about that, David.
DP : Sure, yeah, no thanks. Listen, since the first Price company Fed Mart, the emphasis has been putting our employees first. And that means making sure we're paying competitive salaries and generous benefits in all of our markets, making sure everybody has access to healthcare, good healthcare and that our employees can grow as we grow.
Participating in professional development and our emphasis on hiring from within. But also you know, for management levels to have competitive equity components of our compensation. And we believe, I believe that when we have employees that are treated well and passionate about what they do, that we're gonna have customers that are treated well, and our members are gonna have a good experience. So for us, it's really important that we put our employees first, and it's been that way since 54 when my grandfather founded Fed Mart through today.
LC : That's so cool to hear that. You know, I hear of all these all different stories about having a really member-centric community, and with families that have gone back so far. I think of the Waltons, I think about even Home Depot and how Bernie Marcus had done that. And these ecosystems that you set up and these highly customer-centric environments, what led you and your family and your grandfather and father and you to create this kind of a really strong customer ecosystem?
Delivering Exceptional Customer Experience: Our Commitment to Quality, Trust, and Value [3:28]
DP : That's a great question. My grandfather was a lawyer before he was in retail, and he was a lawyer for retail companies. And I think at some point he decided he could do it better. And, he founded Fed Mart. And there's some wonderful memos from that period where he talks about his employees and how important it is that they are able to grow as the company grows and really participating in that and that being kind of the tip of the spear that really ensures a good customer experience. And I think the same thing was true at Price Club, and we can see it, you know, Costco is kind of born out. We say Costco's like a cousin company, right? For us and, and us club businesses, we all kind of come from that shared lineage. And people pay to shop with us, right?
So for us, it's really important that the, that the member is able to have an experience where they can trust that they're gonna have a good experience, that they're gonna have a generous return policy where they can expect that the merchandise is gonna be high quality at the most competitive prices and that they'll have a, a good experience that's gonna encourage them to renew the next year. And so that's part of the membership model. And people are paying with us you know, paying a membership fee with us before they ever spend a dollar, right on merchandise.
So, it's you know, we have to uphold our, our brand value proposition in that.
LC : I love that people pay to shop with you, right? So that means immediately that they have to love you because they want to be in this environment and employees love you. I've always heard this in healthcare environments, especially when you give employees a great experience, they give patients great experiences. How does that translate for you? Because I would assume if people want to pay to shop with you, they need to come into this great culture and environment. How do you set that up and what does it look like inside of PriceSmart so that employees really do give that kind of exceptional experience where people pay to shop with you?
DP : That's a great question. So, I describe our company as an operations-driven company. So our operations team, this is the team that works in our clubs and our warehouse clubs, and they're at the, on the front lines dealing with our members and working with our members every day. And it is the most passionate, committed group of people on this team. They're exceptional. And, I say that every other team at the company is really in a position to serve that team and to serve our members. And we're all in service to, to the members and to the business at the end of the day.
And that really, like, servant, kind of servant-oriented leadership is how we try to think about how we orient ourselves around the member. And a lot of the people on that team have been with us for 20, 30 years. I mean, they started maybe pushing carts or working in the bakery, and now our managers on that team. And the commitment, the level of commitment and the level of passion is really something that's inspiring. And it shows in the members' experience at the club at the end of the day.
LC : And I love that you used the word servant leadership and what a better place to do that than, than in a place where people pay to shop with you. And I think about that. So compassionate, committed group of people been there for 20, 30 years. They don't leave, right? They're committed to this vision of you, of this, of your company. So what, so how do their personal, how do you see a common thread for people who work there, their personal values, their personal vision, and how that connects with what PriceSmart, values and vision is? Cause you don't stay at a company for 20, 30 years unless you love it.
DP : Totally, and it's clear they, you know, they've built their lives around working with us and delivering on our values and our business model. And one of the things that gets me really excited is each of those individuals that are leaders in our operations team, they're all generally also involved in their communities. So they're not just working at the clubs and serving our members, but they participate in, in volunteer activities that we support.
And they work with our Aprender y Crecer program, our school and book supply program that works with elementary schools around our clubs. So they're really, it's more than just the member. It's really about the community and being a good corporate citizen and corporate steward in the communities where they live.
LC : So that's a great segue into values, personal values and corporate values and how to incorporate that into everybody's lives so that it becomes more of a community. And you had mentioned some foundations that your family and you have and run the PriceSmart Foundation, also ones that provides school supplies. And this must be great for your communities, isn't it? That people see this as something that helps them, their families, their children, and they grow up with it. And tell me more about those foundations and how really helps to develop people's sense of belonging in that way.
DP : Sure. So we have two primary areas of our corporate social responsibility and our corporate philanthropy. The longest standing is Aprender y Crecer, which is a partnership between PriceSmart Inc. Price Philanthropies Foundation in this program works with the local elementary schools in the eight Spanish speaking markets where we were in 13 countries, 12 countries, one US territory. And in the eight Spanish speaking markets, we have this program that's working with elementary schools. And essentially what the program does is it distributes school supplies, books and cleaning supplies to the schools.
And then all, we have coordinators in the countries that work with the teachers to develop a learning plan to leverage those materials that they, that they get. And our members actually fundraise. We would fundraise with our members at the point of sale every holiday season, and, and they fund over half of the budget for these supplies is actually coming from the members, which is really amazing.
And so that program now is working with a hundred, over 150,000 kids about in our, in our markets. And so that's one kind of angle. And, and I've kind of put that in the bucket of early childhood education and youth development. And more recently we founded a separate corporate foundation, 5 0 1 [inaudible] called the PriceSmart Foundation that's focused on the older, let's say older kids, young adults really focused on workforce development and job readiness.
And we're doing some work with accelerated programs for women owned businesses as well. And that foundation is currently active in a few markets. It's new. So we're working in Honduras in Colombia, and we have some things we're exploring in Guatemala and then our English speaking Caribbean, as well as we're in a number of countries in the English speaking Caribbean.
So, I kind of look at it as an ecosystem kind of approach where we have the program that's working with the younger kids, and then we are tapping in as kids are getting into high school and beyond to try to make sure that folks are ready with the necessary technical skills and soft skills to find a job and to stay employed.
LC : So you have created an upskilling program, a ready now program in these environments. Tell me more about what that looks like. Cause I'm curious, are those also emerging markets for PriceSmart?
DP : Well, they're markets that we're, we've been in so for example, in Honduras, we've been there over 20 years. And the way that we approach this is actually for the youth workforce development. We're not actually running the program. In fact, what we're the, the goal, the aim is to find local organizations that are embedded in the community and the local leadership and invest in those organizations so that we're investing in that kind of fabric of local leadership.
And what we bring to the table besides funding is we're also providing opportunities for internships for the young adults that are in these programs. And then in some cases, even hiring them. Of course, that's the goal, you know, if we can find great individuals to bring onto our team, that's fantastic. And then in some cases we're when it's more of the small and medium size enterprise work, we're able to bring onboard their products and sell them in our clubs or you know, support them in selling in other locations.
LC : That's really extraordinary. So that, those foundations allow for entrepreneurs, budding entrepreneurs, women entrepreneurs to actually provide their new products to PriceSmart, which is exciting for entrepreneurs worldwide to have sounds like, you know, like a Shark Tank for for PriceSmart and giving people, but giving them the funding, which is exciting, isn't it, that you promote entrepreneurialism like that.
DP : Yeah, no, absolutely. And I think it's important to note that it's not this isn't for PriceSmart. This is for the community. And so for example and it, it be, it's philanthropic, right? So it can't be for the company. We, in the case of the workforce development, you know, we encourage the individuals to find internships elsewhere too. And, it doesn't have to be just with us. I mean, we see this as an investment in the community. And, and if it, if they end up with us, wonderful. If they don't and they find a job elsewhere, they go back to school even better. I mean, it's not, it's not really about us, it's about the community.
LC : What a great way to fund the community and help them to develop and grow. What a great way to put it, to give it back. And in a pro in the proper way. It's, and yeah, I can see that being just wonderful. Let's, so let's talk about these two other con concepts growing from within and diversity of your workforce. So how do you, how, if I'm an employee of PriceSmart, how can I grow from within? What’s available to me to grow from within?
Nurturing Talent and Cultivating Leadership: Our Commitment to Employee Growth and Development [13:16]
Great question. We always try to look within first for talent for roles either within a team or even in between teams. Being able to move talented and up and coming individuals between departments in the company is important for us and helps grow a skillset in an individual that really prepares them for leadership later in their careers.
So, there's some great examples I can think of at our company, of individuals that have grown into senior managers or executive roles that have worked in various departments and, and started at the entry level. So, you know, I think we have like the mechanical components of making sure that individuals know about an opportunity, but I think philosophically it's important to me that our employees know that we wanna see them grow and we wanna see them go after those opportunities.
And a part of that is also providing the professional development opportunities for individuals, not only the job prospects, but the skills, right? And so that's something we're exploring more and more around both soft skills and technical skills, be it data analytics and, and kind of data fluency or maybe finance skills or the soft skills to be able to be successful at managing in an in a challenging environment. Probably more challenging than ever in terms of, you know, being in multiple countries, multiple time zones and hybrid workforce that's working both in office and, and remote. So, you know, making sure that we're investing in our leaders to have the right skills and mindset to be successful.
LC : So it sounds like if I'm a leader, employee at PriceSmart, I can expect to have some development, competency development, soft skills, technical skill development. So I'm really making a career out of my work with you, and that's quite attractive for any new recruiter or employees inside your company.
DP : That's the idea. And I, I think for the new areas, you know, it's incumbent upon leadership on us to make sure that we're helping map out those career paths for folks so that they can grow with us.
LC : That's outstanding. Diversity, how, why is it important to you and how does that manifest inside of your company?
DP : Sure, so diversity at PriceSmart is like a part of our DNA because we're in so many countries that are, some of them are small, but they're each different and unique and bring something very important to the table for us from both the member perspective and the employee perspective. So, you know, everything from the culture in Trinidad, where, by the way, some of our most talented people have come out of Trinidad to Guatemala, which is a very different culture which is another wonderful location with talented people.
And then Columbia, which is a very sophisticated and large market. So it's a, we're a little different in that while we were headquartered in the US 95% of our work, so we have 10,000 about employees, 10,000 employees, and 9,500 of them, more or less are outside of the us working in both English and Spanish. So making sure that our leadership is, and our employees have kind of the cultural awareness to be not only accepting and tolerant, but really like embracing of the various cultures that are at the company is really important because we're all working together towards a common goal of serving our members.
LC : I've heard of so many different ways to allow people or enable people and give them experiences with other cultures and everything from immersing them in the culture to giving experiences to more in, to, to become that culture, right, so that they're actually living within it and they're within the structure of it and appreciating others in that way. There's so many different methods. Do you have one in particular for how people grow with a cultural awareness that you've seen beyond working in those cultures that you've seen manifest or grow for with, for developing diversity in your workforce?
That's a good question. We, you know, along with this kind of idea of making sure individuals can cycle through departments, we also do a lot of moving people around geographically. And I think seeing some of that cross pollination for individuals is really powerful. Having folks that are maybe from one country and then working in another I think that's an important piece of the recipe of success for us for sure. And beyond that, you know, it's some of the simple things like, you know, acknowledging and recognizing holidays in certain countries and, and celebrating those corporate wide because they're all different and there's lots of holidays all the time, [laugh], right? And they're all on a different calendar. And some of those little things go a long way too.
LC : Lot of part. That's a good point about immersion, right. In people's cultures to experience that in holidays and, and family experiences as well. And so let's go back to the culture. Let's go back to the culture, because that's sort of, that's one of the things I know we wanted to bring out today, which is, what is the PriceSmart corporate culture? What does it look like, the values or the competencies when somebody comes in or you're telling them, Hey, you'd be great to work with us. What is that culture? What would you say to them?
DP : Sure. So one of the first things I say about PriceSmart when I'm describing our company is that it's a kind company. I'd say we have a kind culture. Most everybody loves working with us and working here and they're decent to each other, you know, and I think that that's an important aspect of the culture, not the only aspect, but it's an important aspect.
The other piece is kind of a get it done culture kind of a down to earth, you know, it's a warehouse business, right? So I think this idea of being efficient and not spending on excesses and because every, every dollar that we spend on something that's not necessary for us is a dollar that we're not able to put back into our pricing for our members. And I think that kind of focus on efficiency and productivity in the interest, in the best interest of the member is a really important aspect.
And with that I'd say my dad, my grandfather always described the role of the employee is to be a fiduciary for the member. So a representative of the member's best interest. And I think, you know, we try to be that for our employees, but you know, we're all challenged to, or we push our employees to think about, Hey, if you're gonna do something, do it in favor of the member. We say, if you're gonna make a mistake, make it in favor of the member.
LC : Yeah, that's interesting. So that you're, that you can push mistakes even as long as it helps and serves the member itself and hurt.
DP : Well, you… People make mistakes [laugh], right? So of course mistakes happen and we have to think, you know, and it comes up, it comes up, what's the right decision? And if it's not in favor of the member, it's likely not the right decision.
And sometimes the right decision isn't always the decision that is correct, right? Do the right thing isn't necessarily correct because you're doing it in service to somebody. And that's okay, we learn from that and then perhaps even change processes and systems based upon doing the right thing.
DP : Exactly.
LC : This is good, good stuff. Kind, culture, getting it done. The connection to efficiency and the word price, that's an interesting one, isn't it? The word, the name, the price itself is that there's an efficiency to price and there's a kindness to price and there's something about execution to price as well as not just an economic concept, a business concept, and a competency-driven concept. And you brought that out a bit. Cuz Price is about value.
DP : That's right.
LC : It's about value and how do we give that value to our customer? How do we embody that value as employees? And it sounds like that's a part of your culture.
DP : Yeah, it has to be. And that's a, you know, a large part of our mission is delivering high quality products at the lowest possible prices without compromising on our values.
LC : Delivering high quality pro products. That's outstanding. So, this is great. It's great to have David Price with us here today on The Leader Show on Newsweek. He's a Most Loved Workplace. And David, tell us some final parting thoughts that you want to tell, to people who are considering coming to work for you or who are, and then after that, people who are working for you, thoughts to them.
DP : Sure. So our most valuable asset it's our people without a doubt. And when I think about the, what we're trying to do here, in addition to delivering a good service and value to our members, it's really trying to employ people in a way that's meaningful and that gives them an opportunity to grow an opportunity to have a meaningful career in fulfilling work where they really believe in what they're doing. You know, and I think for me, that's what makes me excited to come to work in the morning is to work with a team that's passionate about what they're doing that cares for our business, that cares for our members and cares for their communities, right? And so that's something, it's easy to get behind. And so it keeps me motivated and I know it keeps our employees motivated and I'm really grateful to them for that.
LC : Outstanding. So that's to people who are coming as well as people who are there at PriceSmart today. So what is their parting thoughts, what, how do people find out about you, go to you and work for you? Are you a career page on PriceSmart? How do they find you? On Most Loved Workplaces as well, of course, but, you know, and also PriceSmart, though, go ahead.
DP : Sure. No, great question. We're kind of an odd duck we're hard to find in the US because, you know, our physical locations are in Latin America, the Caribbean and Columbia. However, we're active on LinkedIn. We have pricesmart.com, investors.pricesmart.com, if you're from that community or you can check out pricesmart.org for some of our philanthropic information.
We're growing, we're a growing team especially in the area of technology, one of the areas that I, that I manage. And so if you're interested in us, please reach out and, and check us out online and we'd love to have you on the team.
LC : Thank you. David Price here today, EVP of PriceSmart. Great to have you here with us today. Thank you so much.
DP : Thank you very much, Lou. Thank you for having me.