Guest Blogger | Danielle Drake-Flam
My CCA story begins during the summer of 2018. I’d just finished up my sophomore year of college at Washington University in St. Louis and while many of my friends were cleaning out their dorm rooms and headed back to their hometowns for a summer job, I packed up two suitcases and made the three-day drive out east to Manchester, New Hampshire. It was unfamiliar territory and I didn’t know much about the flooring industry other than what my dad had taught me from his years of building houses for Habitat for Humanity.
Fortunately, the content team at CCA welcomed me with open arms and I quickly learned about CCA’s company values, their cooperative initiatives and their many brands alongside my fellow intern class.
While most of my college friends spent their internship days fetching coffee for the higher-ups or transcribing notes for client meetings, I was given my own cubicle, a phone extension, a pad of paper and told to just run with it. That summer was the peak of my independence as I grew into a full-time working adult and came into my own.
Every day was new, with exciting challenges and unexpected assignments that fell in my lap. I didn’t just find an internship –I found colleagues, friends, and a new home with substitutes for my missing pets at our bring-your-dog-to-work days.
At CCA, I wasn’t just treated as a student intern, but given the responsibilities of a full-time employee as I had access to division members, to book my own conference rooms and to edit the Carpet One BDMS Magazine.
In the years following the internship, I kept in touch with my mentors, often checking in with them for references and the occasional dinner when they were in town. Now, I’m more grateful than ever for my wonderful internship experience at CCA, as it lead me to land my dream job with my favorite cooperative.
I know I’m not alone in this sentiment, as I got a chance to sit down and talk with a few other interns who have become full-time employees at CCA.
Kaeleigh Barker just might be the original CCA intern, and her story starts with a family dinner back when she had just graduated from high school. She was complaining to her parents about there being no valuable work opportunities as a young professional when her close family friend Sally Kelly overheard.
Sally, the Vice President of Network Groups at Carpet One Floor & Home offered to put out an email to the office inquiring if anyone needed an assistant for the summer.
Who was the first to respond but CCA’s own CEO Howard Brodsky, asking if Kaeleigh could come in one afternoon.
“He didn't need filing done, he needed research,” Kaeleigh laughed. “I come in. There's no series of interview questions. He's like, I need some things answered, can you look these up? I think my mom had to take me shopping, because I didn't know what to wear to an office.”
Not only did Kaeleigh get to do research for the CEO but her research resulted in the formation of divisions such as Savings4Members and CCA For Social Good.
“Knowing that a research project or data entry or some mundane task that you might be stuck with ends up being presented to the CEO and all of the Vice Presidents are around the table made it all worth it,” Kaeleigh said. “The fact that that mundane thing that you were grueling through, ends up informing a decision that you know has impact.”
Kaeleigh spent every holiday break and every summer throughout her college years at CCA and working closely with Howard on research projects. Even after she graduated and accepted a teaching position elsewhere, she knew she eventually wanted to return to CCA.
“I think one of the great things that always pulled me back was the leadership,” Kaeleigh explained. “Howard has always set this tone of good ideas rise to the top regardless of where they're coming from. I remember that feeling of respect, that value and integrity that you wouldn't expect at such a young age. It was just such a valuable experience.”
Meredith Lemmon had a similar experience to Kaeleigh’s, knowing from the moment she stepped foot in the CCA office that it was a unique and positive place.
“I knew I wanted to work somewhere that was working towards a bigger purpose and making a difference and helping people's lives,” Meredith, now a product marketing specialist at CCA, said. “The fact that I got to work at a company that is so focused on helping entrepreneurs and small business owners was really exciting for me.”
Meredith actually started her internship with Big Brothers Big Sisters New Hampshire back in 2016 and became liason between the non-profit and CCA.
Even though she didn’t know anything about the company yet, Meredith said there was something about the people that she felt when she walked into the office that first day.
“I could envision myself there,” she said. “I remember coming into the building on the first day when I wasn't even interning with them, I could see myself incrementally wanting to be there more and more and help out as much as I could and just be around in that environment.”
For Meredith, having the chance to work with everyone in company, regardless of division, was a key part of her internship as it gave her a chance to meet people from all across the board.
“It was a good introduction,” she said. “I feel like when I interned we really had access to everyone at the company because it was such an open door policy and all of the teams are so collaborative together which I really liked.”
Nick Zuccala, a business development manager for the company shares a similar sentiment, adding that the relationships you build at CCA are lifelong connections.
“Relationships to me are everything,” Nick said. “I've really changed quite a bit. When I think about that path and everything I've done it's really the relationships with our members and our vendors that have kept it going.”
Nick started at CCA back in 2009 before CCA had an official internship program. He interned for the Bike Cooperative and BizUnite, which has since become savings4members. Nick continued to intern on and off with CCA from his junior year into grad school, before officially signing on as fulltime employee for BizUnite’s marketing department.
“I think what makes CCA really unique is just the wide array of opportunities that there are,” he explained. “Because there's anything from working with global manufacturers to negotiate deals for thousands of retailers all the way down to just basic member conversations and customer service. The co-op model in general, you can apply it to anything.”
Something Nick felt contributed to his success of landing a job were the connections he made with his colleagues.
“I kept in connection with everybody I met there on LinkedIn, of course, but I stayed in contact with my mentors as well,” Nick said. “I actually played tennis with Carl from the Bike Co-op quite a bit. I started playing tennis with him when I was an intern and we kept our tennis relationship going the whole time.”
Mentorships at CCA are a key part of the internship program. Marketing Specialist Chelsea Demers began her internship at CCA business consulting for the Flooring America division and credits her ability to rise up in the company to her strong relationship with her mentors.
“Starting out with that mentorship, I think has made me more comfortable to ask questions and want to grow within the company,” Chelsea explained. “The internship laid the base for the company culture for me. I got a taste of it and I was like, ‘you know what I love working with these people –they're great.’ And I've never left!”
At the time of her internship, the International Design Guild (IDG) was looking for a business consultant and IDG’s president approached Chelsea after hearing great referrals from her mentors.
“It was good to see that there were people in other divisions that had seen good work ethic and wanted me to move up,” Chelsea said.
Not only do the employees at CCA want you to grow into your full potential, but they are willing to make it work for you. Chelsea, who was still in her senior year of college at the time she received an offer, was given the chance to work part-time while attending school –according to her, the IDG team made the transition from part-time to full-time a smooth experience.
If there’s one piece of advice to carry away from the five of us interns, its stay in touch with your internship mentors and don’t be afraid to ask others for help –you’d be surprised at how many people want you to succeed.
Nick said it best: “Focus on your relationships and make sure they're quality and not one way. Anytime that you can do good for somebody or send them some business or give them some tips, anything you can do to basically help others is always a good thing in relationship-building I think.”