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Last Update: Thursday July 29, 2021

Key Idea: Treat Employees Like Family

We found this artwork on the wall in the owners' office.  We're sure that there's a new family tree being created to include employees who have joined the company since the 20th anniversary.

Key Question:


Owning a business can be like having an extended family and this works in the owner's favor.

Q: How did we learn about Carol's feelings for her employees?

She showed us The Orange Tree Imports Family Tree that holds the names of 120 people. These are the people who have worked at the store during its 20 years, and Carol stays in touch with all of them even after they leave the store.

It is one of the reasons people want to work at Orange Tree and it is the reason they stay. Retail jobs simply don’t pay enough to attract great people with cold hard cash. This employee compensation package includes the good feeling from being part of the Orange Tree family.

Think about it

Do you treat employees like members of your family? Do they feel you will help them solve personal problems? Do they feel you care about them as a whole person, not just about what they can do for your company?

Clip from: Orange Tree Imports with Carol Schroeder

Madison, Wisconsin:  Meet a guru of specialty retail, Carol "Orange" Schroeder (just above). She is the author of the book, Specialty Shop Retailing,  and she truly walks her talk. With her husband, Dean, they started their business, Orange Tree Imports, soon after graduating from college. That was 1975.

Today Orange is a master retailer and a quiet hero in her community. She was an early leader in the movement to revitalize the old downtown. Soon after buying the building on Monroe Street, Orange organized a neighborhood business association to do joint marketing-and-promotion to change the orientation of their old shopping district to be a vital area for specialty shops and restaurants. That worked miracles. Monroe Street now draws people from well beyond the neighborhood, even Wisconsin!

Go to all the key ideas and video of this episode...

Orange Tree Imports

Carol Schroeder, Founder

1721 Monroe Street
Madison, WI 53711

Visit our web site:

Office: 608-255-8211

Business Classification:
Specialty Retail

Year Founded: 1975

Treat Employees Like Family

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Frequently, the employees get together and learn about new products so they can help customers make the best buying decisions.

DEAN SCHROEDER (Orange Tree Imports): Each one of these is individually hand-balanced at the factory. That's how it can spin so fast and be totally stable on the counter. Would anybody like to come up and try this? It helps if you're going to demonstrate it for a customer.

CAROL: Yeah. And who wants to win this?

Unidentified Employee #1: No.

Unidentified Employee #2: No.

Unidentified Employee #3: No. No.

Unidentified Employee #4: Nobody here.

CAROL: OK, why don't you hold it? Now we know we're doing it fairly. OK. And today's lucky winner is Karen.

KAREN: Thank you.

CAROL: Congratulations.

HATTIE: Have you tried the raspberry fudge sauce?

Unidentified Employee #5: This one I haven't tried, but we do try to open up everything at some point so that we can taste it and that way we can recommend it to customers. If they come in and ask, `What's a good salsa?' we can tell them how hot it is, how sweet it is.

HATTIE: So I guess in 20-plus years you've had a lot of marriages, divorces, babies born, all that, among the staff.

CAROL: We've had 120 employees over those 21 years, and we're still in touch with almost all of them. We have staff reunions about every five years. (Voiceover) We have a whole family tree of employees who've worked here over the years and have either graduated from the university and moved on or gone on to other jobs.

HATTIE: Orange, you are what I would call an unconventional person. You probably do some things in unusual ways. What would some of those things be?

CAROL: Well, one of the things, for instance, is that we don't have an office. Neither Dean nor I has a desk. And we try and be in contact with our customers, so we have a little table that we work at out in the customer assistance area. It's a compromise, but it means that we're available to customers that want to ask us questions.

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