From the start, Washington, D.C.-based fashion retailer Tuckernuck has done things differently.
Its co-founders Jocelyn Gailliot, Madeline Grayson and September Votta were tired of buying clothes from cookie-cutter, big brand retailers — the “J. Crews” of the fashion world that seemed to dress everyone “in the same thing from head to toe.” So in 2011, they decided to do something about it.
“We just wanted to create a brand that was easily shoppable,” Gailliot, who worked in investment banking and private equity before founding Tuckernuck, says. “You could go on the site and discover tons of different brands, small as well as big established ones. And it was a brand that was really aspirational but attainable. It was friendly. It wasn’t a place that was intimidating.”
Eager to go all in, the trio joined the incubator 500 Startups, now 500 Global. The women moved across the country and shared a bedroom in Mountain View, California for six months. There, donning white denim and blue and white stripes, they stood out as “anomalies” among mostly tech founders.
But it was the push Tuckernuck needed to get started. The co-founders recruited creative director Sophia Newbold, invested in a camera to shoot their products, gave Shopify a go (“this new website that people hadn’t really used before” at the time) and launched their company with just $500, moving back to D.C. to open their first office above Gailliot and Grayson’s parents’ garage.
In the years since, Tuckernuck’s team has expanded from its original three to a “small but mighty” 78 as the company continues to grow and put D.C. on the fashion map. Tuckernuck developed an in-house fashion label and transitioned from strictly direct-to-consumer to include a brick-and-mortar store in D.C. — with plans to expand.
Image credit: Courtesy of Tuckernuck
But one of Tuckernuck’s most impressive accomplishments to date is something many companies consistently struggle with: retention. Twenty-five percent of Tuckernuck’s employees recently celebrated their fifth anniversary with the company, which has retained nearly 100% of its employees over the past few years. The company saw 100% retention in 2020 and 2021 and 98% retention in 2022.
That’s no small feat considering how much the pandemic and subsequent Great Resignation have shaken up the workforce. Last year, Gartner predicted that U.S. total annual employee turnover would likely jump by nearly 20% over prepandemic levels — with an expected 37.4 million people quitting.
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Entrepreneur sat down with Gailliot to learn how the company kept its employees invested from the beginning — and still does.
Look for the smart, creative, scrappy hire
In Tuckernuck’s early days, Gailliot says the company prioritized hires who were smart, creative and “would be okay with working above a garage.”
“Those early stages were very vulnerable,” Gailliot explains, “so in the beginning, you’re just looking for people who believe in your vision and in you as a leadership team and just want to be a part of it. And a lot of times, that’s your friends.”
One of Tuckernuck’s earliest hires, Emily Hayes, was a friend of Gailliot and Grayson’s younger brother; she was “willing to babysit [Gailliot’s] newborn” and tackle a range of office and customer experience essentials — and now runs all operations for the company.
“Every person we brought on was because they were a great culture fit,” Gailliot says. “They believed in the vision, and they were scrappy. That entrepreneurial spirit is core to our business.”
Today, Gailliot considers all of Tuckernuck’s employees “100% family.”
“We’ve all become so close,” she says. “Our creative director married my brother’s business partner; that hire Emily Hayes married my sister’s brother-in-law. We’ve all grown up together, and to this day, we’re very conscientious when we make those hires: Is this someone who will stay up late with us and [be willing to] hit the road and go on trunk shows and carry things around?“
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Get serious about professional development
Tuckernuck wants its employees to grow and excel professionally, Gailliot says.
The retail industry is interesting because it touches “every part of business,” Gailliot explains — from marketing to operations, logistics, product design, digital technology, digital customer positions and more. As a result, every employee should recognize how crucial he or she is to the company’s success.
Being “very transparent” with numbers and statistics is an essential part of that, ensuring everyone is on the same page. “We believe that everyone, from the new hire to the more executive hire, should know all about what these sales targets, goals and metrics are, and they need to know the bigger picture so that they can be better professionally,” Gailliot says.
Accordingly, Gailliot and her co-founders believe that the benefits of so much transparency outweigh any potential pitfalls.
“I know at times it could be a risk to provide that much information to everyone on the team,” she admits, “but we think that it’s also what keeps everyone feeling motivated and feeling like whether it’s a small or a big role they play, it’s an important role — always.”
Related: 5 Ways to Build a Culture of Transparency | Entrepreneur
Keep lines of communication open — and listen to the people you hire
Tuckernuck’s leaders strive to be mentors to their employees — and don’t ever want them to feel like they’re “hiding in a glass tower.”
“We really are all about being a team,” Gailliot says. “We’re really collaborative, and they see the dirty things behind the scenes.”
And a lot has unfolded behind the scenes since the company’s founding; Gailliot has become a mother of five, and Grayson and Votta have five children between them too. Balancing work and motherhood isn’t “always pretty,” Gailliot says, but she and her co-founders are proud to model that dynamic — to prove it’s possible to have a fulfilling personal and professional life.
On the other side of the coin, Tuckernuck wants to learn from its employees as well. One sure way to do that? Making sure to listen to them.
“We constantly ask questions,” Gailliot explains. “I’ve been in industries before where it’s very much: ‘This is the role you play at these different hierarchical levels.’ And for us, it’s always been: ‘You’re on the team — you have amazing ideas to contribute, and we want to hear them.’ And we really do.”
Related: The Most Successful People in the World Ask Questions Constantly
Find the fun
Alongside its commitment to hiring for culture fit, prioritizing professional development and emphasizing open communication, Tuckernuck has a motto that keeps its employees coming back for more: “Find the fun.”
Finding that fun was especially important to Gailliot, who “didn’t take a vacation for two years” during her time in finance. “We want to make sure that what we’re doing is fun,” Gailliot explains. “It’s hard work; everyone puts in a lot of hours, but it’s really fulfilling, and we try to always be able to laugh at things.”
Related: Want to Be Successful? Have Fun. Seriously. | Entrepreneur
That levity is woven into a culture of honesty, opportunity and kindness, Gailliot says, which often surprises people who join the company — whether they have a background in fashion or not. “We have a lot of people coming to us because they’re leaving other industries where they may not be feeling as excited,” Gailliot explains. “And when they’re leaving, this is one of the industries or one of the brands that they’re feeling a connection with and wanting to be a part of.”
Over the past year alone, Tuckernuck’s employee base has more than doubled, and though the smaller, close-knit team that could “finish each other’s sentences” has grown considerably, the company’s stellar retention rate speaks to its strategic hiring and consistent values.