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Stio is named a ‘best place’ to work

November 22, 2018

A mix of satisfying work, good pay and benefits, time off and, finally, just some spoiling, are what make a good job.

One of the places mentioned in Outside magazine’s annual survey of good places to work is Stio, the Jackson sports and casual wear clothing company owned by Stephen Sullivan.

Stio, after trying to earn its way onto the list for three years, made it this time around and won a mention in Outside’s November issue

Sullivan, called “Sulli” by employees, said the honor was worth going for and reflects his belief that if the employees aren’t happy then the customers can’t be.

“People make the business,” Sullivan said last week. “If you have great people, you have a great business. If you have OK people you have an OK business.”

He said Stio “spends a lot of time on people” and finding the right ones: “We can’t just pull any person off the street and plug them into a seat.”

Stio Brand Director Liz Barrett said focusing on people allows management “to create a positive workplace that can retain and attract the talent it needs to continue to grow.”

Outside ranked the top 50 firms that entered and gave another 50 honorable mentions. Stio was one of the honorables, and the only Wyoming firm listed. The judging was based on benefits, policies and a survey of employees about why they like working where they do.

Stio has about 60 employees, 45 of them full time. About 40 work in the company’s headquarters on High School Road, where the firm moved in 2 1/2 years ago with 14 people. That location in the Flat Creek Business Center houses the product development, marketing and sales staff. About 20 people work in Stio’s shops in Jackson and Teton Village. Stio products are also carried by about 20 “partners” around the country, but Sullivan said 90 percent of the business is via ecommerce. Stio publishes eight catalogs a year, sending 3.2 million this year and aiming for 5 million in the year to come.

Sullivan started Stio in 2011 and had its first product on the market the next year. Three employees he started with are still with him: Chief Marketing Officer Noah Waterhouse, Chief Operating Officer Maura Marshall and Chief Product Officer Kelly Hill. Mike Morrison, now chief financial officer, joined soon after. All four have worked their way to some ownership, and Sullivan said there are also silent partners who financed the startup.

The company is privately held and isn’t giving away financial information, but Sullivan said it is “growing a lot,” with compounded annual growth of 65 percent.

The attraction of working at Stio is partly the situation: mountain living, an outdoors ethos, and a devotion to a balance of work and play, Sullivan said.

Susan MacDonald, the senior digital marketing manager, agreed that “it’s great to work for a company that not only empowers and inspires its customers to get outside in the gear they create, but also encourages its employees to do so as well.”

But people also want the traditional job stuff. So Stio has a full medical plan, offers unlimited vacation time after two years, added a 401(k) program in recent years and pays close attention to what people might make in big companies that do similar business, places like Columbia, Nike, Under Armour.

“It’s likely people could find higher compensation for the same role working in those companies,” Sullivan said, “but we’re competitive, within 5 to 10 percent.”

On the less tangible bennies side Stio shares some of the same things mentioned by many other Outside nominees. One is a liberal dog policy.

“On an average day there’s between six and nine dogs in the office,” Sullivan said. Digital marketer MacDonald loves that “I can bring my dog, Clyde, to work.”

The firm also adheres to an old ski resort policy that’s become less prevalent in recent years: the “powder clause.”

“Any morning there’s more than 11 inches of new snow we tell everybody they shouldn’t be at work that day,” Sullivan said. “It’s part of the corporate culture.”

That kind of outlook, Barrett said, is “the real reason we’re all here.”

Company hiring procedure also notes that while many people dream of a job in a resort town, it doesn’t suit everyone.

“When we recruit out of town,” Sullivan said, “the first two questions are ‘You do understand the housing situation here?’ and ‘Do you want to live in a mountain community?’”

One example of Stio’s success in finding people in a tight job market is new hire Emma Beecher, who joined as a product marketing coordinator in March. The 25-year-old New Yorker had worked at Morgan Stanley before coming to ski and scout the mountain town situation. She had lived in Maine and was a ski racer in New Jersey, which she acknowledged doesn’t go far in impressing people in Jackson Hole.

She decided to stay and got a job at Teton Village Sports. An ex-roommate in New York has a cousin working at Stio, and Beecher heard about a job.

It worked.

“I feel very spoiled” by the job, she said. “Stio has definitely given me the means to stay here. I’m able to envision a longer time in Jackson.”

Besides bragging rights from being named to the Outside list, Sullivan said it’s good for the company to have an independent survey of what employees think.

The Outside survey “is a great gauge of your employees, your business’ health,” he said. “It’s a broad-based anonymous survey of how you’re doing.”

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