Joel Anderson managed to cram everything into his Honda Civic station wagon, but Janet Macy couldn't quite manage. To get all her loot home in one trip, she had to take the exercise machine out of its box. On their first day at American Harvest, the two new employees reported to the warehouse -- as their 158 coworkers had done when they started at the company -- and were directed to a large pile of boxes and told, "This is for you." "This" meant one of each American Harvest product -- the company makes food dehydrators, Jet-Stream ovens, double-loaf bread makers, fancy glass cooking pots, and Fast Track exercise machines. Retail value: $1,000.
According to human-resources vice-president Jim Dornbush, the $120-million manufacturer of housewares and consumer and fitness products has been giving away its products to employees for two years. "It creates good morale," says Dornbush. "We produce quality stuff, so people like getting it for free." But the 20-year-old company benefits as well. Firsthand product knowledge helps employees -- especially those in sales and customer service -- do their jobs more effectively. The company distributes all its new products to employees, along with a questionnaire that asks for product suggestions or improvements. So, says Dornbush, "employees become beta testers for us -- they're our best source of information."
Janet Macy loves her new appliances, but because she ran into a minor problem while assembling the Jet-Stream oven, she'll suggest an addition to the manual's troubleshooting section. "If I had the problem, customers may too," she says.* * *