A multi-photo frame hangs on the left wall of Mark Reiss’ office. It displays three separate images of three separate young men each holding a one-word sign.
"Best Boss Ever" the signs together announce.
Leaders of LifeWay Christian Stores agreed with the employees who gave Reiss the framed images. Reiss is their pick for 2009 Store Manager of the Year. Selection of the annual award recipient is based on criteria including financial performance, customer service feedback, leadership and operational efficiency.
"I feel extremely blessed," Reiss said, noting that the recognition caught him off-guard. "Honestly, I don’t deserve it – nobody does. But it’s the Lord being faithful. To be honored in this way was definitely God showing up and being faithful to me."
Reiss joined LifeWay in 2002 as assistant manager for one of the Columbus, Ohio, stores. His family relocated four years later when Reiss accepted a promotion to store manager for the Lexington, Ky., store.
"I love this job because of the variety," Reiss said. "I love the interruptions, and I love the mystery."
The "mystery," he said, is helping customers uncover the book or CD for which they are searching when they don’t know quite enough details to locate the item on a shelf.
"Sometimes they come in and say they heard a song on the radio, but they don’t know the name of it and they don’t know the artist. I sometimes tell them, ‘Sing it to me.’"
For Reiss, the request isn’t a big deal – he has a degree in music and is serving as the interim music director and worship leader at Red House Baptist Church in Richmond, Ky. – but he admitted it is a rare customer who takes him up on the suggestion. So his next option is the Internet. "It’s like having another employee who knows everything," he joked.
Lynn Hall has worked for LifeWay for about 11 years. As the assistant manager at Reiss’ store, she has had many opportunities to watch him investigate each customer’s request until he reaches a solution. "He always puts customers’ needs very high," Hall said. "I’ve learned [from him] to always go the extra mile. Always go over and above for customers and for each other."
While he certainly values the store’s customers, Reiss said his top-priority customers are his employees. "If I treat my employees with honor and respect, they do the same for my customers," he said. "I think you need to value who you’re working with."
He said this mindset toward his employees is an idea he learned from his father, who managed a John Deere implement when Reiss was a boy. That might be the first, but it isn’t the last way Reiss’ family has impacted his management style.
"It changed my life when my oldest daughter was born," Reiss said. "I didn’t realize I had the capacity to love in that way, and it showed me a little about Christ’s love." He explained that he realized his job was to tell her about Christ and "present back to Him this gift He gave me."
The realization followed him to other aspects of his life.
"I work very hard to put in perspective the things I do that affect my walk with the Lord and the walks of people around me," Reiss explained. "People come in [the LifeWay Store] sometimes at their very worst because they’re looking for something. You have to come in here filled up or else you don’t have anything to give."
Reiss "fills up" through quiet time and music. "Music is very helpful for me to be able to express something I can’t find the words for. It cracks my heart and speaks to me."
Music and family are two things bound to come up in any conversation with Reiss, so it’s fitting that both, in a sense, accompany him to work.
On the wall directly across from the doorway of his office, a poster-sized photo of Reiss’ five children – Samantha, Hope, Emma, Grace and Isaac – greets guests.
Look more closely. The photo’s green backdrop is the yard of Reiss’ suburban Richmond, Ky., home. In the distant driveway, a camper rests, awaiting its next family-filled adventure. And, if you squint, you can just make out a small white ball of fur – that’s Scout, the Humane Society rescue.
Scattered throughout the rest of his office are other photos, several featuring Lesley, his wife of 21 years. "Lesley taught me about unconditional love and how Christ sees me," Reiss said. "It is her support that allows me to do what I do every day at LifeWay, church and home. She is my favorite person in the world."
Now, as you look at those photos, listen carefully – there is always music playing in a LifeWay Christian Store.