MSNBC Profiles Bookstore With an Emphasis on Job Fulfillment

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An October 10 airing of MSNBC’s Your Business profiled Jonah and Ellen Zimilies, owners of Words bookstore in Maplewood, New Jersey. In the segment, which can be viewed on MSNBC’s Open Forum website, the couple, who bought the already established business, explain how they instituted a “change of management” style that emphasized capitalizing on staff skills or “job crafting.” The Zimilieses also cast Words as a place that welcomed and also offered a vocational training program to kids with special needs.

The Zimilieses did not have a bookselling background when they bought the store and relied on experienced staff to help them run the business. Although their interest in “job crafting” often meant shifting and, sometimes increasing responsibility for all Words booksellers, staff members responded positively.

“It’s changing the job to fit the people, rather than the people to fit the job,” Jonah Zimilies told Your Business. He acknowledged that the strategy “can’t always work 100 percent.”

The Zimilieses considered that if staffers could focus on “what they’re good at and what they like,” it would be good for them, and good for the business.

Your Business reported that the Jonah Zimilies worked individually with staff to “determine their likes and dislikes, and did his best to play to their strengths.”

Staffer Karilyn Simpson, who took on scheduling and “tech stuff,” and whose responsibilities increased, appreciated the new division of tasks according to skills and preference. “I’m a lot more invested now,” she said.

The Zimilieses added another facet to the store. The couple, who have a son with autism, wanted to make Words welcoming to people with special needs. A customer interviewed by Your Business said that she often brought her son, who is on the autism spectrum, to Words. “It’s just very comforting for me,” she said. “I feel at home when I come here.” 

Along with a mission that is inclusive and welcoming, the booksellers created a training program for kids with special needs, so they can “develop skills that they can use in everyday life.” The goal was to provide the young adults with the chance to acquire their first job experience, and obtain a job reference. The mother of one child participating in the program said that providing such a “stepping-stone to the real world is wonderful and is invaluable.”