'Intertwined' with Steamboat

New SmartWool president presides over 25 percent growth rate

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    SmartWool President and General Manager Mark Bryden poses among mannequins in the company's offices at the Steamboat Springs Airport on Tuesday.

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    Members of SmartWool's operations and supply chain team. Front row: from left, Trish Foster, Hanni Schwanke, Susan Cunningham; back row: from left, Blane Joyner, John Munshaw, Riley Siddoway, Geoff Beltzhoover.

    — It's hard to mistake the buoyancy that pervades the SmartWool offices this spring. Maybe it has something to do with the max bonuses received by the company's employees after a robust 2006.

    SmartWool, the merino wool sock and apparel company, notched 25 percent growth in revenues in 2006 from about $42 million in 2005.

    The double-digit growth for the Steamboat-based company comes even as employees and members of the management team adapt to a new corporate culture. SmartWool was acquired in December 2005 by outdoor industry giant and perennial Fortune 500 dweller The Timberland Company for $82 million.

    "We're very fortunate at SmartWool that our compensation package has been folded into the Timberland" system, SmartWool President and General Manager Mark Bryden said. "Everyone received the maximum available in the bonus program this year, but that's not the primary motivating factor. Our employees are passionate about living in Steamboat, and they're passionate about our brand."

    Bryden was named interim president after Chip Coe retired last September. Bryden's new status (he was previously vice president of operations) was made permanent in late February.

    If the local economic development community feared Timberland would move SmartWool's professional jobs out of the Yampa Valley, the events of the past 16 months suggest the company is more rooted here than ever.

    "Our heritage - who we are and what we're about as a company - are intertwined with this location," Bryden said.

    Recently promoted Marketing Director Gardner Flanigan agreed.

    "It's the heart and soul of the brand," he said. "I think it's important that it's (in) Steamboat Springs."

    The Yampa Valley and Steamboat Springs aren't just integral to the SmartWool brand, Bryden said. The mountain lifestyle is a key

    recruiting tool for serious young professionals who seek career advancement but also want to pursue the outdoor lifestyle implied in the company's core product line.

    "We get people who have passion and desire because they want to be here and they're looking to make the next big step," Bryden said.

    The company hired nine new employees in 2006 and expects to hire more in 2007. SmartWool currently employs 63 people with 52 living and working in Steamboat.

    "It's pretty clear we're going to need additional talent to support the continued growth," Bryden said. "When Timberland was looking at us they asked, 'Can you continue to get the staffing and talent you require?' and I said, 'Absolutely, no question.'"

    Bryden is optimistic SmartWool will be able to make some of its 2007 hires from the Yampa Valley's resident population. During the past few years, SmartWool has recruited young talent from well-established national companies.

    Vice President of Sales Mark Satkiewicz came to SmartWool from Nike's Beaverton, Ore., campus where he was a senior sales executive and was responsible for Nike's portfolio with shoe retailing giant, Footlocker.

    Other key recruits have come from such diverse companies as Deloitte and Touche, Cadbury Adams, Burton, Pearl Izumi and Cole Haan.

    The recent reassignments of SmartWool execs Carol Davidson and Flanigan embody SmartWool's plan to promote homegrown talent and recruit industry expertise while creating new opportunities for the employees who report to the two execs.

    Davidson, who has been with the company for two years, previously oversaw creativity for accounts such as North Face and Holland America Line for advertising agency DDB Seattle, is SmartWool's new creative director. One of her initiatives will be to expand SmartWool's presence in large fashion specialty stores such as Neiman Marcus and Nordstroms.

    Flanigan, who has been with SmartWool for a decade, most recently as communications manager, is the new marketing director with global responsibilities.

    Davidson said by restructuring the roles of herself and Flanigan, Bryden deliberately created more career paths for the employees who report to them.

    "Mark is very good with organizational structure and achieving the right balance," Davidson said. "We have such amazing people here at all levels. By creating two director level positions in the marketing department he created more room for (employee) growth."

    Flanigan said he relishes growing with the company.

    "There have been a couple of big changes, but it keeps getting better and better," he said.

    Flanigan is thrilled with the opportunity to become involved in marketing SmartWool on a global basis.

    "Our international business doubled each of the last two years," he said. "This is the part of the acquisition where (Timberland) can influence our business."

    At the time of the SmartWool acquisition by Timberland, industry analysts reported Timberland anticipated the acquisition would add 2 or 3 cents to its earnings per share in 2006.

    Timberland's fourth-quarter net income for 2006 fell to $38.3 million from $46.9 million for the same period in 2005.

    The company credited new brands such as SmartWool and Timberland PRO series with offsetting sales declines in traditional strongholds such as boots and children's lines.

    Bryden cautions against exaggerating the impact SmartWool has on Timberland's overall performance.

    "We represent less than 5 percent of Timberland's business even this year, which is going to be a record-selling year for us," he said.

    The growth in SmartWool's sales are partially attributable to Timberland's global distribution network, Bryden said, and the role it plays is expected to grow in the future. However, much of the growth in 2006 can be attributed to increasing sales generated by the company's existing group of wholesale customers.

    Bryden credits SmartWool's employees with driving 25 percent growth.

    "Our U.S. team, based largely in Steamboat Springs, is bright, highly talented and they are doing this," he said.

    A key piece of SmartWool's platform, he said, is to "innovate always."

    "We have some innovations we're working on for the spring of '08," Bryden said, "but it's a secret."

    If SmartWool's new president and general manager succeeds in growing his company this year at the rate it did in 2006, it will have achieved revenues in the high $60 millions, and everyone at the innovative company with offices in the former Steamboat Springs Airport terminal will see a nice bonus check late in the winter of 2008.

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