Our view: The Steamboat brand
Smartwool announced new leadership at the end of last month with Jen McClaren stepping into the role of president after former company president Travis Campbell was promoted to vice president and general manager of The North Face, Americas.
It was exciting to learn that Smartwool had tapped a woman to lead the company. McClaren, who previously served as the company’s chief financial officer, becomes the first female to serve in that role since the company was purchased by VF Corp. in 2011. We think the fact that a woman will be running one of the country’s leading merino wool apparel companies is noteworthy and is a positive move for a progressive company.
The decision to promote from within is also encouraging and could be interpreted as a symbol of the company’s commitment to its Steamboat Springs roots. Outdoor retailers are a key component of Steamboat Springs’ economy, and it’s been great to see companies like Smartwool, Big Agnes, Moots and Hala Gear, which were all born here, decide to stay here and grow.
Despite being owned by an apparel giant, Smartwool’s headquarters remain located in a terminal-turned-operations hub at the Steamboat Springs Airport. More recently, the owners of homegrown Big Agnes and Honey Stinger purchased a larger building near the mountain in 2016 and now operate their business there. The move to a new location for the two companies allowed them to consolidate their operations and house their 60 employees under one roof while BAP employees remain in facilities downtown.
We celebrate the fact that a large number of outdoor companies got their start in Steamboat and still call it home, but we don’t take it for granted. We are well aware that Steamboat’s remote location can pose a logistics challenge when it comes to distribution and travel, and other outdoor gear companies, over the years, have chosen to leave the small towns where they began for bigger cities like Ogden, Utah.
But on the flip side, our mountain town is a place where young professionals want to live and work, and we think the Steamboat lifestyle is a great recruiting tool for outdoor companies seeking to hire talented employees, especially those who embrace an outdoor lifestyle.
As Len Zanni, co-owner of Big Agnes and Honey Stinger, wrote in an article that published in the Colorado Business Review this year, his companies remain anchored in the values of “being outdoors; creative, innovative thinkers; comradery driven; and committed to the adventurous lifestyle that comes along with it all.”
He said the companies’ location in Steamboat allows them to retain that focus.
“We are minutes away from endless trails and campsites that offer optimal product-testing grounds,” Zanni wrote. “Our brand needs this type of real-world application at a moment’s notice, and Steamboat Springs fits the bill.”
He also said that if you asked him to predict where the companies would be five or 10 years from now, he said he would expect that they’d still be having fun and testing product in Steamboat, which is welcome news for us.
Zanni’s words provide insight into why Steamboat has a reputation as a place where outdoor entrepreneurs thrive, and it’s important to our economic future that we remain the kind of place that companies like Smartwool and Big Agnes want to call home.
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