The outdoor adventure clothing brand Stio has been showing up more and more at Utah ski resorts. Founder Steve ‘Sulli' Sullivan grew up in neighboring Colorado but spent a lot of time in Utah's red rock desert and snow-covered mountains. Today, he puts his passion for the mountain west into the fast-rising Stio brand. He spoke to Last Chair about his love for the outdoors and how it's embodied in his brand.
Sullivan was born in the midwest but moved to western Colorado when he was 10. His uncle loved to explore and took him on trips to nearby Moab to explore Canyonlands, getting engaged in hiking and mountain biking - exploring the mountain west landscape. He started hanging around his uncle's girlfriend's outdoor shop, getting a complete immersion in outdoor sport.
Working in ski, bike and outdoor shops growing up, at college in Durango and later in Boulder, helped develop his pathway. He put his own stamp on the business starting Cloudveil, and later Stio.
Today, Stio has a growing footprint in Utah with a concept store on Park City's historic Main Street, a partnership with Ski Utah and a thriving direct-to-consumer brand that provides him with a flow of customer feedback that fuels product development.
The Stio brand is all about outdoor empowerment. Our tagline is Let The outside In. It's all about giving people a reason to be outdoors.
His interview with Ski Utah's Last Chair podcast provides real insight into the power of the mountain west culture into a brand that is rapidly gaining popularity. Here's just a sample. Listen to Last Chair to learn more.
How did you get into the outdoor clothing business?
One of the reasons I got into the apparel business was just going through my youth, always being cold and wet and wearing some old hand-me-downs. But I really learned a lot about the climate. And I became really fascinated about textiles and what different textiles could do to add to your enjoyment and performance in the outdoors.
How do the desert and mountains in Utah combine to form such a special lifestyle?
The desert is one of the great powers. The mountains, the desert, the oceans - I'm still entranced by it. I've always thought it was a really powerful place and a place of unbelievable changes in climate. I've done a lot of skiing in Moab in the La Sal's. It can be just absolutely superb spring skiing down there. I truly love the desert. I feel like it is one of those powers in the world, like the mountains. One of the coolest things about Utah is you guys have this unbelievable topography - the state is so diverse. It's just amazing. And you have the Wasatch and the unbelievable mountains up near Salt Lake and then, you know, drive a few hours. And the next thing you know, you're in red rock country.
How would you define the mountain west culture?
There's just something different about living out here. There's something different about the people. There's something different about having to deal with the elements and the time spent outside, whether that's skiing or climbing or fly fishing or whatever it might be, kayaking, river running in the mountains. There's just a different culture out here. And it's a culture that is just so ingrained in my life and in our company. It makes a huge difference in the types of people that end up in the mountains are real. You have to deal with a lot of adverse weather and a completely different kind of change in seasons constantly. It's super ingrained in our brand because all of our employees live the outdoor lifestyle.
There's plenty more in this episode of Last Chair: The Ski Utah Podcast.
Take a listen today. Tune in to Last Chair: The Ski Utah Podcast presented by High West Distillery on your favorite podcast platform. Subscribe to get first access to every episode.
About Stio's Roots
Stio was founded to inspire connection with the outdoors through beautiful, functional products infused with mountain soul. We draw inspiration from our everyday immersion in life here in Jackson Hole: days on local rivers, trails and Teton summits. Technical performance, quality and versatility are hallmarks you'll find in every piece of apparel we make, be it intended for epic alpine pursuits or the quieter moments of mountain life.
Where to find Stio
Stio is a direct-to-consumer brand, available at www.stio.com.
You can also visit Stio's shop on Main Street in downtown Park City, Utah.
Tom Kelly: |00:00:00| And coming to us live today from the Stio world headquarters in Jackson, Wyoming, Stephen Sullivan and Sulli, thank you for joining us on Last Chair the Ski Utah podcast.
Steve Sullivan: |00:00:12| Hey, nice to be here. Super excited to chat with you today.
Tom Kelly: |00:00:16| So what have you been getting the same snow we've been getting down here?
Steve Sullivan: |00:00:21| Yeah, we've been getting absolutely pummeled for about the last two weeks. I think today is the first day that there's the sun has been out for, you know, a couple hours this morning, which is really nice to see because it's been super gray and super snowy. But the skiing has been absolutely superb.
Tom Kelly: |00:00:40| Well, I appreciate you joining us because I understand your wife got that magical phone call this morning to go on an adventure for the day and you're sitting here in the office.
Steve Sullivan: |00:00:50| I am. She got the nod from some friends to do a heli-skiing day with High Mountain Heli-Skiing here in Jackson. So I'm sure she's having an awesome day out there.
Tom Kelly: |00:01:01| Well, it really has been great. I mean, here in Utah, we've been just getting hammered the last few weeks. It's funny, you know what? We've been getting these Friday snowfalls. So for all of those weekend warriors, which has made Saturdays, pretty challenging. But we've been getting all of these big Friday and Saturday snow dumps down here and it's just been awesome. Skiing finally after that was a little bit thin there for a while. But, boy, it ain't thin anymore here.
Steve Sullivan: |00:01:26| Yeah, I love skiing down in Utah. I've spent a lot of time in Alta and Snowbird and then also up in Park ski, a lot of backcountry up in Big Cottonwood and ski jump in Park City and Solitude and Brighton and everywhere up there. And boy, when you guys get snow, that lake effect is really something down there.
Tom Kelly: |00:01:46| It really is. We had Jim Steenburgh, who wrote the book on The Greatest Snow on Earth on the last podcast in January, and he talked a lot about that and some of the science behind that lake effect and also the science behind the topography that we have with the various canyons, which was really quite fascinating. We're going to talk about your background. We're going to talk about your brand, Stio, which is an official sponsor of Ski, Utah. I want to before we get started, before I forget, I was on your website yesterday at stio.com, that's stio.com. And I just love that glory shot you've got up there right now of the athlete model skier just totally laid out on edge. It looked like Ted Ligety there for a minute, just stretched out over the snow. And your brand just showed up so well in that shot.
Steve Sullivan: |00:02:39| Yeah, that's that. That is a great shot. I don't know if anybody carves as well as Ted, really happy for him that he retired and he's going to move on with his career. But boy, was he fun to watch for the last 15 or 20 years out there on the World Cup. But, you know, contrary to popular belief, our grooming here at Jackson Hole is actually pretty amazing. And the early morning groomers are great here. I don't think they're quite Deer Valley or Park City level, but they're pretty damn good. And we have a lot of fun getting out there and carving early mornings.
Tom Kelly: |00:03:14| Well, before we talk about the brand Stio, I want to learn a little bit more about you. And when I think about we're fortunate, you and I, to live here in the Mountain West. You grew up in the Mountain West in Colorado. You now make your home up in Jackson. But there are great characteristics of the Mountain West that really form an amazing culture. And on the podcast, we talk a lot about the amazing skiing here in Utah. But the experience when visitors come west is really an amazing thing. It's the mountains. It's the desert, an incredible landscape. You grew up in the midst of this in western Colorado. As a young boy, how did you get engaged with the mountain life?
Steve Sullivan: |00:03:58| Well, I think it all started. I moved to Colorado when I was ten years old. I actually grew up, you know, I guess my early youth was spent in the Midwest and I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. And then when I was 10, my mom was a college professor and she got a job teaching at Colorado Mesa State University in Grand Junction. And we packed up and moved out there. My uncle and a couple of my aunts had already moved out there. And I was really fortunate. I grew up with just my mom and my sister. And my dad is still in the Midwest. But my uncle was a real passionate outdoorsman. So starting at the age of ten, I started going on backpacking trips and I learned to fly fish and I learned to ski. I had been a hockey player in Michigan and when I moved out, there was no hockey. And so I had to find something to fill my time. So I started skiing, but really fortunate because my uncle loved to explore. And we being in Grand Junction, which is so close to Utah, we went, you know, I started going to Moab and Canyonlands in the, you know, early 70s and then exploring and hiking and then eventually mountain biking and doing all the rest. But I really had those formative years, you know, in an area that was really cool because Grand Junction is like kind of a cross between the desert and the mountains.
Steve Sullivan: |00:05:22| And so it got a little bit of both there and very close in proximity to a lot of unbelievable places to recreate outside. And then I also started working. My uncle's girlfriend at the time started one of the first true outdoor stores in the country. It was called Lewis and Clark. And I started working in the shop when I was about 12, mounting cross country skis, and so I got really immersed into the whole outdoor culture at a young age.
Tom Kelly: |00:05:51| You mentioned Moab and the desert. Most skiers think about the mountains. They think about the snow covered Wasatch Range. But when you come out here, what you discover very quickly is this diversity between the mountains and the desert. You discovered that in Moab, in Red Rock country, talk a little bit about the desert and its part in the culture of the Mountain West.
Steve Sullivan: |00:06:14| Well, I think the desert is one of you know, the great powers, you know, there's kind of the mountains and the desert and the oceans and I'm still entranced by it. I still get down and try to do a river trip in the desert every year, although with three kids and a busy work life, that doesn't always happen. But I try to make it down there. But I've always thought it was a really powerful place and a place of unbelievable changes in, you know, in climate. And so it's probably one of the reasons I got into the apparel business was just going through my youth, always being cold and wet and wearing some old hand me downs in my uncles and and and but I really learned a lot about the climate. Like, you know, I've done a lot of skiing in Moab in the La Sal's, and it can be just absolutely superb spring skiing down there. And so I truly love the desert and try to make a trip down there every year because of, you know, I feel like it is one of those powers in the world, like the mountains. And that's, you know, one of the coolest things about Utah is you guys have this unbelievable. You know, the topography of the state is so diverse. It's just amazing. And you have the Wasatch and the unbelievable mountains up near Salt Lake and then, you know, drive a few hours. And the next thing you know, you're in red rock country.
Tom Kelly: |00:07:45| It's always hard to define culture, but what are some of the attributes of culture that you feel when you're out in the desert when you're up in the mountains that really are close to your heart?
Steve Sullivan: |00:07:59| Well, I think the whole growing up in the Mountain West and living in the mountains for so long now, you know, I've been in Jackson for 31 years and I was in Colorado for 14 years before that 15 years. And there's just something different about living out here. There's something different about the people here. There's something different about having to deal with the elements and the time spent outside, whether that's, you know, skiing or climbing or fly fishing or whatever it might be, kayaking, river running in the mountains. There's just a different culture out here. And it's a culture that is just so ingrained in my life and it's so ingrained in our company. And I think it makes a huge difference in the types of people that end up in the mountains are real. You know, quite a hearty lot. I mean, you have to deal with a lot of adverse weather and a completely different kind of change in seasons constantly. And I really feel like it's super ingrained in our brand because all of our employees live the outdoor lifestyle. And so we get a tremendous amount, just direct input from our team here on almost each and everything we make. And each and every person has an opinion and is critical of the product and makes it better. And so that that's a really unique characteristic about living out here is just the diversity in climate and having good apparel, obviously, you know, makes a huge difference in your enjoyment.
Tom Kelly: |00:09:48| Let's go back to that period when you were a 12 year old mounting bindings on cross country skis for your uncle that started you down a long path in the outdoor industry, can you go back to those formative years when you were a teen and just just kind of looking at how you initially mapped out that direction for yourself?
Steve Sullivan: |00:10:09| Yeah, I don't think it was I think it was probably a subconscious thing. It wasn't like I consciously decided to go out cross-country skis. It was where I could make five bucks an hour or whatever I made. But I ended up as I moved through high school, I continued to work in outdoor stores. And then I got really into bike racing as well. So I worked on a lot of bike shops. I always seem to find myself in a product-centric environment, you know, in a retail environment like that. And one of the other places, when I moved down to I went to college down in Durango, Colorado, at Fort Lewis College, and I ended up getting a job in an outdoor store down there just because it was the easy thing for me to do, because I knew how to do it. And I just became more and moreover the years, you know, entranced with the different especially textiles. I became really fascinated about textiles and what different textiles could do to add to your enjoyment and performance in the outdoors. So after college, I moved on and moved to Boulder for a year, and I actually worked for a company called Wave Rave, which was an early snowboard apparel brand. And it got a little taste of the back end of the business and how manufacturing worked there. Then I got a quote unquote, corporate job out in San Francisco. That was a very brief stint of about a year. And my best friend from college called me and said, hey, I've got a job, a ski pass and a place to live in Jackson. What are you doing? I packed up my car two weeks later and moved here and he left about a year later. He's still my best friend, but actually lives in Colorado still. But he left about a year later and I just never did.
Tom Kelly: |00:11:45| I think everybody has to go through that, getting away from it for a little bit to realize just how amazing it is to be in the mountains. That's probably what you went through in San Francisco.
Steve Sullivan: |00:11:55| Yeah, I did. I just love cities and I love to visit them, but they're not for me as far as a place to live, I need a smaller and more tight-knit community. And especially, I know, I miss the mountains like crazy. I mean, there's some great things to do in San Francisco. And there's mountains somewhat close, but they're hours away. And I needed that proximity to be able to literally walk across the street from my house. I live right up against the mountains in Wilson and I can skin up 2000 vert and ski or run in the morning. And I just need that in my life.
Tom Kelly: |00:12:33| You cannot do that in San Francisco.
Steve Sullivan: |00:12:35| No, you cannot do that in San Francisco anyway. And so then as time went on, when I moved to Jackson, I did a plethora of things. You know, I taught skiing, I I worked in restaurants and I was a bartender. But I also kind of settled back in and worked at an outdoor store here called Skinny Skis. And I met a guy and that's when we decided to start my first company, which was called Cloudveil. And we were in the wholesale business. So quite a bit different than steel and in the distribution channel. But I had found this fabric, this softshell fabric from a company called Schoeller in Switzerland. And I really felt like it wasn't being utilized in the outdoor apparel in the market at the time. And so I had some samples made up by a friend that was a seamstress and started testing the stuff. And then I convinced a buddy that we ought to give it a go. And we walked into the outdoor retailer show down in Salt Lake with 12 styles and a homemade trade show booth that we had to move in in the middle of the night so the union labor wouldn't get on us. And that started the ball rolling that that brand took off and did pretty well. And then we went through a lot of transitions with that and were bought and sold a couple of times and kind of went through, like I've always called it, the private equity hamster wheel, although I'm careful about that, because we do have a wonderful private equity partner and CEO that's been with us since the beginning, but went through a lot of transitions. I tried to buy that brand back from the company that owned it and didn't get it. And I had a little paid vacation for a year and a half. So a lot of time to think about how I wanted to do the next one. And when I started, still, the biggest thing I wanted to do was have a much more direct interaction with our customer. And in order to do that, the only way to do it was to be a direct consumer brand because it takes out, you know, the sales organization and then the retailers from the feedback loop. And so you're really just communicating directly with your customer. And I also thought that it was the future, you know, that more and more people were going to be buying through e-commerce. And this was ten years ago. So, you know, e-commerce was already around, obviously. I mean, you know, Amazon was already around and in scaling and other big e-commerce brands. But there I saw an opening because nobody was doing this in the outdoor apparel space. And so we put some financing together, a little bit more money than I started Cloudveil with about. By a factor of about 30 and we hired a nice, solid team to get the brand off the ground, and one of the things I'm almost most pleased about is, you know, our original kind of four key people are still with us and they're still helping to drive the brand. And it's been really fun as we've all kind of matured through it. And we've built a pretty sizable company now. And it continues to scale at really large rates every year. And but we've been the original gut instinct of those people was dead on. And they've all been able to scale with the business. So it's been really fun.
Tom Kelly: |00:15:49| Sulli, let's go back to those first days with Stio, and you're introducing this new direct to consumer model. I think today most of us are pretty accustomed to buying things that have sizes that have a tactile feel to them, we're accustomed to buying that online. But when you started steel, that was really pretty new to all of us as consumers. How did you address that in the early days?
Steve Sullivan: |00:16:14| Well, I think a couple of things. The first thing we did that I think was a little bit different was we launched an e-commerce platform. We put a catalog in the mail and we opened a retail store all literally within the same month. So the launch month, which was September, 10 years ago. And that, I think was different because it immediately, first of all, opening the retail store immediately kind of gave the brand legitimacy that it was a real thing. And hey, come visit our retail store in Jackson. And it was also a place where we get a lot of visitation here, obviously tourist visitation. So it was going to get in front of a lot of eyeballs. And then I think that the catalog was really important and we are a very significant. Now, it's still our largest customer acquisition tool and we now send millions of catalogs a year and having that's a tactile thing as well. You know, they talk a lot about like haptic touch and how important, you know, the way you feel something is and how important that is to your subconscious mind. And when you're making a purchasing decision and the same thing goes for a catalog like getting that physical manifestation of the brand in the mail is really important. And, you know, we're careful and we use, you know, recycled content printing and we're we're thoughtful about it and we don't oversaturate. But it is really important to the customer and in catalogs still really work. The digital experience has gotten better and better. And we're doing more work in digital than we ever have before. And we spend a tremendous amount of money on that customer acquisition channel as well. But we are I think that was that was a big difference, that coming out and saying we are going to get in the catalog business was important and part of this whole analytically driven business. And that's what we are. We're an analytically driven business and that makes outdoor clothes.
Tom Kelly: |00:18:11| You know, I love what you're saying about the catalog. And I have this philosophy and my early days I worked in newspapers and newspapers are really becoming a thing of the past. But what I've seen is that high-quality print journalists, Mountain Gazette that's coming back out, Skiers Journal, your catalog. And folks, if you've not seen the Stio catalog, it is truly amazing. But I think high-quality print, particularly if it's done in a sensitive manner, is really popular and it does give you that kind of tactile feel you might not be able to get if you couldn't go into a shop.
Steve Sullivan: |00:18:46| Yeah, I couldn't agree more, and I think I was one of the first subscribers when the Mountain Gazette came back out and I'm a huge fan of that magazine and was always a huge fan of it. And I think you're right. And we also try to make our catalogs. They're not just products. You know, we tell stories in the books and we try to give a sense of place to the customers so they understand the and use and there's a lot of work that goes into that. We do all of our creative in-house. So we have a complete graphic team in-house. And I think that was also important to be able to control the message more carefully and address our consumer population. So.
Tom Kelly: |00:19:31| We talked a lot about the culture of the Mountain West, when you look at the Stio brand, what are some of the defining elements to you? What are the messages that you tell people about steel and what it represents?
Steve Sullivan: |00:19:46| Well, you know, the brand is all about kind of outdoor empowerment. And to me and, you know, our tagline is let the outside in. And that tagline really sums it up for me. It's all about giving people a reason to be outdoors. And obviously, I mean, you know, nobody could have predicted a pandemic in their business model. But I think one of the great things that's happened with us is that we've seen a groundswell over the last year of people really returning to outdoor activities. And and and so if there's anything good that comes from this pandemic, which there's not a lot of good, there have been a lot of people that have lost their lives and their family members and or been, you know, terribly sick. But for the folks that are still here with us, they've made a migration again to being outside. And I think that is one really cool part of the pandemic, if there is any cool part, is that it's getting people back outdoors and active and participating in the outdoor activities they used to love or they continue to love. So I'm super, super stoked about it.
Tom Kelly: |00:21:37| Sulli, I had a chance the other day to visit your Park City store, which you opened on Main Street just a few years ago, in fact, I think you did a lot of the interior work on it. It's a beautiful small boutique shop on historic Main Street. And when you walk in the door, you are immediately immersed in colors. It was the first time I'd had a really up close personal visit with the brand. But it really struck me coming in the door that this is a vibrant outdoor brand.
Steve Sullivan: |00:22:06| Yeah, we actually spend a tremendous amount of time on color. We have a color consultant that we've worked with for 10 years and we put a lot of focus on really clear, clean, bright, crisp kind of color. And it has become a hallmark of the brand especially. That's really relevant, I think, in our outerwear collections and also, you know, throughout the collections. But it is a real focus for us. And when we decided to open down in Park City, Park City was always on our radar. It's a very you know, I consider it a sister community to Jackson. It's a wonderful community of really talented outdoor athletes and phenomenal skiing, phenomenal, phenomenal mountain biking and trail running there.
Steve Sullivan: |00:22:55| And so to me, it was the most natural next step for Stio. You know, we have a real focus on kind of being in either mountain or gateway communities with our retail. And our next store will be opening in Boulder, Colorado, this spring. And so it's been really fun to get to know that community and be part of that community. And we've had a wonderful reception down there and have really built a nice customer base down there. But the store was really fun to put together, you know, a little 1400's mining cabin, you know, super funky. I don't think there's a square-level thing in the whole building. And so I was down there for the last couple of weeks push to get the store open. We worked with some wonderful local contractors. And but, you know, I was there with the tool belt on, you know, and trying to get after it and help where I could. It was a lot of fun.
Tom Kelly: |00:23:50| You really summed it up. There are no levels anywhere near Main Street and some of those 19th century.
Steve Sullivan: |00:23:56| There are not I mean, you could literally put a golf ball on the floor and it would shoot across the floor. But it's such a cool town. That whole downtown area is just such a cool, historic little section of the mountain world.
Tom Kelly: |00:24:13| Yeah, it really is. I was fortunate to land here back in the late 80s, so I didn't see it in its early, early days, but I saw it in a different phase than it is today. But you've invested in Utah, you've formed a partnership with Ski, Utah to get your brand out there. What was it with Ski Utah, that attracted you to become a partner and to utilize that platform to get the steel message out?
Steve Sullivan: |00:24:38| Obviously, you know, Utah and Colorado are kind of the two kingpins of the ski world. There are more ski areas in Utah at times fifty than there are in Wyoming, for example, obviously. And so it seemed like a really natural partnership with our store down there. We really feel like Utah has adopted the brand really well. And we also feel like, you know, it's just great it's a great place for us to be marketing with so many people visiting Utah to ski and to recreate, you know, whether they're there in the summer to mountain bike and fish. And you guys have superb fishing down there as well. So it's it, it just seemed like a really natural extension. Ski Utah is also a great organization and super well-run. And so it seemed like a very natural partnership.
Tom Kelly: |00:25:28| Can you give us a little bit of a walk through of your brand, the types of clothing pieces that you have right now, and maybe thoughts you have on new additions to the line in the future?
Steve Sullivan: |00:25:39| Yeah, sure. We make a pretty full range of outerwear and lifestyle sportswear. Kind of the genesis of the brand was, you know, I wanted this to encompass the totality of the mountain life. So something that you could wear to work and then something you could wear when you were on the mountain. And that has held true. So we make everything from organic cotton shirting and panning to technical sportswear for, you know, water sports, whether it's river or kayaking or fishing or whatever it might be in the summer hiking. We have a pretty broad range. We have over 250 styles in the line. We have some really, really cool new stuff in the pipeline. I'm probably sworn to a little bit of secrecy, but we will be expanding our collections. One of the big expansions we made this year is. We've got much deeper into our bag program, so we do a really nice collection of lifestyle duffels and totes, and this spring we've introduced a new, very lightweight program that actually stuffs into these little pockets. So it's very transportable when you're traveling. We're hopeful everybody gets back to traveling. And so that's one of the fun new extensions this year. And then we've pretty dramatically expanded our lifestyle sportswear collection for the spring summer months as well. The other big recent news for us is this. Last fall, we introduced GoreTex outerwear. So we spent about four years working on a program with GoreTex to develop a partnership there and a couple of years in development on the apparel. And we're really excited with that new relationship with GoreTex.
Tom Kelly: |00:27:28| I was going to ask about that. And one of the things that struck me is that you have a real diversity of waterproof, breathable fabrics that you're using. Is that a strategic move to have different offerings?
Steve Sullivan: |00:27:41| Yeah, it's a little bit of the good, better, best philosophy. So we make in trying to address different price tiering within the apparel. But we use a lot of different textiles. We use a lot of textiles from Toray, which is probably the largest provider of waterproof, breathable textiles in the world, and a huge company based in Japan that's been providing outdoor apparel, textiles for 40 years. And we use a lot of their fabrics for different things. We have a new stretch fleece program that's made out of their textile that's just beautiful. So that a little bit of it is just the tiering within the collections. And we actually use, you know, for different GoreTex fabrics right now. So some of it goes to the application that you're trying to build the apparel for and some of that goes to the price tag.
Tom Kelly: |00:28:33| You have a great team and you have always had good people alongside of you. What are the things, though, that you really like to get your hands on with the company even today?
Steve Sullivan: |00:28:43| Well, we named our former chief marketing officer, Noah Waterhouse, became our president two years ago. And that, quite frankly, was just a realization that Noah is an absolutely wonderful operator of a business. He's incredibly bright and much more methodical than I am as far as his approach to, you know, structuring goals and objectives. And so it seemed really natural for him to migrate over, to run the day to day operations. And that does free me up a little bit. And I still spend a lot of my time on general operations working with him, obviously, because I'm the CEO. But I spend a ton of time now and have really dive back into product development, which is one of my strengths. And then I also just hired a great new VP of marketing who actually lives in Park City. His name is Evan Torrance, wonderful guy. And he's already off to the races. But I also have a lot of input into the marketing and the campaigns we do. I still review every catalog.
Steve Sullivan: |00:29:48| I still look through a lot of the creative in the business and offer my suggestions, help with photo selection, whatever it might be. So marketing and product are kind of where I have a little more attention when I'm not doing, you know, some of the CEO stuff like corporate governance and some of the other fun, fun things you get to do when you're CEO.
Tom Kelly: |00:30:11| Let's highlight fun there.
Steve Sullivan: |00:30:12| Yeah. Yeah. I hope that was a little tongue in cheek. And then obviously we have an outstanding CFO as well. But I still, you know, review all the budgets annually and dive in with those guys on that stuff.
Tom Kelly: |00:30:26| Sulli, one of the principles behind your direct to consumer approach was being able to get direct feedback from your consumers. How do you process that and how does that feedback eventually make it into new products or product updates?
Steve Sullivan: |00:30:41| Well, it really does make it one of the ways we get a lot of direct feedback. I get plenty of direct feedback myself. You know, people can find you these days on LinkedIn or Facebook or whatever it might be. And so I and I always respond. And I think people are a little shocked that I respond. But I still care about what everybody thinks about the product, you know, whether it's my wife or whether it's somebody I've never met that lives in, you know, Woodstock, Vermont. I did get a comment from a customer from Woodstock this year. And so, I think we process it in a very proactive way. One of the ways we get a lot of feedback is through our returns, you know, when we have stuff returned, whether it's a fit issue for the customer or whether they didn't like the color or whatever it might be, we actually. We have a system that we process all that returns data and we bring it to our product team and so our product team can, you know, and we're a little more nimble than we would be if we were in the wholesale business, because we can course correct a little faster. So if we're seeing a consistent fit issue, for example, in a women's pant, we will immediately address that. It used to be that we didn't get a lot of that information for several months after the season. But now we've got it dialed in quite a bit more through working with a new system on our website. And so we can get more direct and more rapid feedback. And we do a monthly kind of returns analysis. And then we just listen to our customers. Are we use a system for our customer service agents that they can log product information on and product comment on and all that informs all that informs the end result. And then obviously, our three retail stores soon to be for those guys pick up a ton of product information and they also log it. So we use a variety of different ways of inbound communication to inform the future of the product range as we wrap things up.
Tom Kelly: |00:32:54| Sulli, I want to go back to our earlier discussion about the Mountain West. And we've learned your history in the outdoor industry and what you did in building the branded steel. But as you look back and reflect across your life, what is the outdoor business brought to you personally and what life lessons have you learned from that engagement with the outdoors?
Steve Sullivan: |00:33:15| Well, I mean, it's my whole world. I literally wake up almost every morning and knock on wood for how fortunate I've been to be able to have my passion translate into a business, you know, my life passions are asking and climbing and cycling and fly fishing.
Steve Sullivan: |00:33:35| And I love the outdoors. And so being able to wake up every day and be part of the outdoor industry is just such a cool thing. And I think, you know, it's really cool how lessons in the outdoors translate into business. You know, whether that's, you know, you're on a climb and you have to you have to really understand teamwork in stressful environments like that, whether you're backcountry skiing, some steep line that everybody needs to have exit strategies and and watch each other's back and go one by one so that you're you're being careful, you know, especially in the avalanche season we're having this year. You know, those are all lessons we take into business. And the cool thing about being in the outdoor business is all the people that work for me do the same things I do and they're all in the outdoors. And so, you know, being able to kind of apply the lessons we've learned in the outdoors to a business structure is really cool. And I always was a big admirer of Peter Metcalf, who started Black Diamond and who's a good friend now. And although I haven't seen him in a while, but he lives down your way. And, you know, he always was a big believer in those lessons learned in the outdoors and how they applied to business. And I really took that to heart.
Tom Kelly: |00:34:51| Yeah, Peter's been an amazing asset here in Utah. I was with the U.S. Ski Team about the same time and we had just moved to Utah in the late 80s and he was moving his company to Utah. So we talked a little bit back then. And it's been amazing to watch how he grew his company here and what he brought to our landscape here in Utah.
Tom Kelly: |00:35:11| Sulli, it's been great to talk to you. We're going to wrap things up now with a little section that I call fresh tracks. A few relatively simple questions to let us learn a little bit more about you. And I'm going to start out with one that you kind of just answered a little bit. But if you were to pick another outdoor activity that you really love outside of skiing, what would that be?
Steve Sullivan: |00:35:34| I think number two these days would probably be mountain biking and gravel biking. But fly fishing has been a huge part of my life for many years. And so that's probably my number two activity. I'm a skier and a fly fisherman at heart.
Tom Kelly: |00:35:51| Are you doing much snow biking, fat biking?
Steve Sullivan: |00:35:54| I am. I've just recently got into that. I've had a fat bike for quite a while that I, you know, used to ride on the bike path once in a while to work. And now they're grooming mountain bike trails here. And it is an absolute riot. It's so smooth. That's the one thing I really like about it compared to mountain biking, you know, the trails get so smooth in the winter and it has become a really growing new category here in Jackson and around the intermountain west. Super fun.
Tom Kelly: |00:36:23| Yeah, it really is. You see him around here in Utah as well. It's quite an amazing activity. OK, let's take it back to skiing. When you get down here to Utah, which I know is reasonably often, do you have a favorite skier you like to go to?
Steve Sullivan: |00:36:38| Well, I've started skiing at Park City a lot more because it's really close. I can walk down the street from our shopping, go get some laps. But you know what? I think my favorite ski area in Utah is Snowbasin. I just love Snowbasin. My daughter, in fact, I'm going to be down there this weekend for a ski race with my daughter. And I've been looking forward to that for a month because I just think it's a tremendous ski area. It's not very crowded. The terrain is awesome. And, you know, I don't think they, you know, if I had to pick, like, the perfect powder ski area, I would probably say Alta. But I really like the terrain and the diversity at Snowbasin.
Tom Kelly: |00:37:17| Yeah, it's really quite an amazing place. By the way, I did a podcast a few weeks ago with Travis Seeholzer from Beaver Mountain, which actually isn't all that far from you. So you might want to check that out sometime if you haven't already. Yeah, that'd be cool. So we haven't really talked too much about some of the crazy outdoor activities that you do and how you skin up mountains in the morning and so forth. But if you were to cite one really crazy outdoor accomplishment that you have to your credit, what would that be?
Steve Sullivan: |00:37:46| Well, I used to climb a lot. And so, you know, I climbed Denali in 1995. That was a pretty crazy one. I skied the Haute Route a few years ago with all my college buddies, which was great. But one of the craziest things I've done recently is I did a race last year down in Aspen called The Power of Four, which is a ski mountaineering race over all the peaks. And Aspen, a buddy of mine coming into it. And boy, did I have to get some miles in last. Last winter, up snow came to, you know, just to get the legs ready for that, but that was really fun.
Tom Kelly: |00:38:20| Cool, since this is a Ski Utah podcast and we're very proud of our High West whiskey, which is distilled right here in the state of Utah. Might you have a favorite High West whiskey brand?
Steve Sullivan: |00:38:34| I do. I like the American Prairie. I think its the best. I like Campfire as well, but I really like that American Prairie.
Tom Kelly: |00:38:41| Yeah, I'm a big Campfire fan. So last question in one word, Sulli, what does outdoor recreation mean to you?
Steve Sullivan: |00:38:50| In one word?
Tom Kelly: |00:38:52| In one word.
Steve Sullivan: |00:38:53| Well, it is. It's my life, I guess, you know. I don't know if I can sum that up in one word.
Tom Kelly: |00:39:02| Well, let's just say life.
Steve Sullivan: |00:39:04| Life. Yeah, that's that's good enough.
Tom Kelly: |00:39:07| Steve Sullivan, thank you for joining us here on the Last Chair podcast. It's been a pleasure to get to know you a little bit better. And I encourage everybody to pick up a catalog or if you're in Utah, get over to Park City and see the store on Main Street. Sulli, thank you so much.
Steve Sullivan: |00:39:21| Awesome to be with you, Tom.
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