Storm Creek is on a quest for better. It seeks better because, as the Eagan, Minnesota, supplier’s self-described manifesto declares, everyone deserves better.
By: Jen McCall, Sage Blog, Supplier Spotlight
Building a Quality Business
Storm Creek’s quest began with a man determined to provide the promotional products space with quality outdoor apparel that was approachable yet rivaled high-end retail brands in its appeal; in other words, says founder Doug Jackson, “functional outerwear at a much more approachable price.”
Storm Creek began under a wholesaler model, Doug says, but he found the clientele too often wanted to sacrifice quality for price, and they were unable to capture the essence of the Storm Creek brand and what it stands for. “I was letting wholesalers dictate the product selection instead of determining that myself.”
In 2014, Storm Creek’s trajectory was altered—for the better—by a change in ownership and a shift in its sales model. Doug helms the company as president, and co-owner Teresa Fudenberg serves as CEO. “I said to Teresa, ‘Let’s build the team to be able to do it exactly our way,’ and it’s been fun since then.”
Doug, who “grew up in the apparel industry,” spent countless hours traveling throughout Asia searching for partners in manufacturing who shared his vision and values for outdoor wear.
Doug found such a partner in Jesse, owner of several manufacturing facilities in Vietnam whose passion rivals his own. “He is a quality nut,” Doug says of his good friend.
This shared passion for quality extends into materials sourcing as well. Doug explains that the raw material producers and finishers they choose must also adhere to the same high standards.
In addition to its facility in Vietnam, Storm Creek also works with facilities in China and India.
“Each facility is different in what they focus on,” Doug says. “We go where we feel we can get the best bang for our buck, but it’s really all about the relationship with the owners who share our values.”
All other major aspects of Storm Creek’s operations are based in the United States. “Line development, product design, sales and marketing, and warehousing—it’s all done here,” Teresa says.
The Path to Sustainability
The supplier also saw a growing interest in, and the burgeoning ability to, develop apparel made in an eco-friendly manner in 2014. Doug says he made a point of asking about eco-friendly processes on every trip to Asia in the supplier’s early years, but the capabilities were slow to appear.
“Six years ago, we tried to make eco-friendly pieces, but the world wasn’t ready,” he said. However, in 2017, recycled content was beginning to show up in apparel manufacturing, signaling a shift toward broader capabilities.
“I came home [from a trip to Asia] and said, ‘Teresa, we really could become an eco-friendly company.’” And as more dyeing and fabric mills began to shift toward eco-friendly practices such as Bluesign® and oeko-tex®, Doug found opportunities to build new relationships with owners who shared his vision for eco-friendly apparel from fabric to finish.
Despite the change in focus on the manufacturing end, eco-friendly apparel wasn’t met with immediate interest from distributors. “Two years ago, 70 percent of people did not care [about eco-friendly apparel options],” Doug says. “It is slowly increasing more, and there are people who are super excited” about Storm Creek’s eco-friendly capabilities and the resulting offerings.
Of course, shifting away from traditionally produced apparel takes more than a season. “One thing people don’t always understand when you’re in our industry” is the effort involved in recreating an already popular item like that best-selling vest as an eco-friendly piece, Doug says.
The company’s signature vest—Item #3120—has been at the center of Storm Creek’s eco apparel journey all the way through.
“The hallmark of Storm Creek has always been quality, fit, and value,” Teresa says. Doug adds, “We put a lot of thought into every part of a garment. You can’t just switch fabric or insulation; the feel will be different. We have items that have taken two years to transition.”
Looking ahead, Doug says, the company has plans to become 100 percent eco-friendly by the end of 2021.
Keeping Up With Trends
Also part of the company’s evolution is the expansion of its lines. “We are constantly adding items so we can have the best office-to-outdoor collection,” Teresa says. “For us, that means adding lightweight pieces, and that we have evolved to a year-round company.”
She adds that current lifestyles and the pandemic’s effect on workers shifting from offices to their homes also influences the supplier’s innovations. “The way that people are living their lives and wearing their clothes is what we pay attention to, identifying what the consumer in a changing world needs.”
For Doug, it has meant embracing at least one staple of promotional apparel: the polo shirt. “I have fought doing polo shirts because everyone does them,” he explains. “But we finally knew we needed to have them for our spring and summer line.”
Storm Creek polos will come with a Storm Creek twist, of course. “We jokingly call the women’s style the ‘Nolo Polo’,” Teresa says, referring to a fashion-forward, non-masculine design in the works.
The women’s shirts will be non-traditional styles that feature feminine tailoring with high-end, eco-friendly fabrics, Doug says. “The key for us is knowing what it will look like after it’s washed. It has to look nice as a wash-and-wear item.”
Women’s fits are a Storm Creek signature thanks to Doug’s insistence, Teresa says. “When Storm Creek first started, women’s apparel was outselling men’s. Unisex is not in our vocabulary. Our women’s pieces have always had respect for different body shapes.”
This attention to consistent fit is something Storm Creek hopes customers recognize. They also want customers to know that trust is paramount, especially when it comes to displaying customers’ logos on Storm Creek products.
“We have a litmus test for quality, sizing, fabrics, and performance,” Teresa says. “We do all the homework so [distributors and customers] don’t have to. They can trust that all Storm Creek products will meet that test.”
Customer and Community Driven
Storm Creek is also future-focused in its workforce strategy. Teresa explains that the supplier has adopted the Entrepreneurial Operating System, or EOS. EOS principles and practices are designed to ensure every member of an organization understands and is committed to helping fulfill the company’s vision.
“We have made a commitment to have this be the way we run our business,” she says. “It’s about strong focus, alignment of teams, and accountability.”
Part of the Traction EOS strategy is to revisit the company’s three unique propositions and its core focus. “Our three unique propositions are: better fabrics made eco-smart, giving back for the greater good, and being trusted to elevate your brand,” she says, adding that this is simply what makes Storm Creek different from other industry suppliers.
Storm Creek also stands out by sharing the fruits of its labor with the surrounding community. As one of 100 business members of the Minnesota Keystone Program, Storm Creek commits to giving back five percent of its annual pre-tax earnings to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, and 10 percent of its Q4 consumer sales go to charities (check out Storm Creek’s Wear For BetterSM program on its website).
“The Keystone Program began in the 1970s as ‘The 5% Club’ by the area’s large business owners with the intent to give five percent [of earnings] back to the community,” Teresa says. “We’re proud to be one of the smaller size companies on the roster.”
Doug says while some companies might not share news of their charitable efforts with customers or the general public, “when Teresa and I met, we decided this was important.” The result is Storm Creek’s Wear For Better℠, which supports more than 40 charities with donations of funds, meals, and volunteer hours.
The company’s recent charitable efforts are highly relevant in the current national climate. Profits from the Work from Home collection went to Feeding America, and for every order of apparel created to honor frontline heroes, Storm Creek donated one to the customer’s hero. Storm Creek also participates in 1% for the Planet, donating one percent of every purchase from the Eco-Collection.
Focusing on the life cycle of apparel and its impact on everyone from employees to end users could very well be considered Storm Creek’s fourth unique proposition—or the one that wraps up all three into an eco-friendly, community-focused bow.
Storm Creek makes quality apparel that’s good for the environment, Teresa says, “and that’s how we give back to the community.”
From sourcing fabrics to forging relationships, Storm Creek weaves innovation, versatility, and style into everything they do. The result is eco-friendly outdoor-inspired apparel that performs well, looks great, and is priced right. Plus, it’s all backed by a lifetime warranty.Read on SAGE Blog