Each year Outside Magazine compiles a list of the 50 best places to work around the country across the outdoor sector. Each year, action sports brands continue to account for an increasing number of the winners, who are nominated by their employees and then chosen by Outside‘s team. This year’s winners included some of our industry’s most progressive employers including Nixon, Patagonia, Fuse Marketing, Skullcandy, and Boa.

We caught up with executives at each of these brands, as well as The Sterling-Rice Group, to learn more about their strategies to foster amazing cultures and how these efforts translate into hard numbers including improved retention and productivity.


Nixon Encinitas, California

With 70 employees housed in its Encinitas offices, just three blocks from the beach, enjoying perks such as flex time, loaner surf boards and skates, as well as surf and snow trips, Nixon’s work environment is definitely on time. We caught up with Nixon Co-founder and Director of Marketing Chad DiNenna to learn more about what this award means to his company.

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Chad DiNenna

Chad DiNenna

What are a few of the things you offer your team that led to this award?

It is a combination of many factors that led to the recognition; from our workplace environment, three blocks to the surf, unlimited snacks, surf and skateboard racks filled with loaners, to our company values and philosophy (integrity, respect, passion, collaboration and accountability). We host a few employee events, be it our company snowboard trips, surf mornings, or monthly meetings that give us an opportunity to connect outside of our immediate roles here at Nixon.  What we found by going through this process is that while physical environment and benefits are important, it’s the relationships colleagues have with each other, access to information about company direction, and the ability to contribute and improve that people really care about

Even with a high unemployment rate around the country, there’s a lot of turnover these days amongst top talent in the action sports industry. Do perks like you offer translate into improved morale and decreased turnover?

I hope so, but hard to say, people make decisions on where they work based on a number of different reasons. I certainly think it doesn’t hurt to be three blocks from the surf and have a strategic approach to our business, but I don’t think people are staying at Nixon because of our unlimited snacks or company snowboard trips. Health and wellness benefits are important in employee retention but you need a balance between the workplace environment,  the values of the company and the people who work there. At the end of the day you can offer up all kinds of perks to employees but if they don’t respect their employer or coworkers it will be a short stay.

Your Two Cents:

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Follow the jump for Patagonia, Fuse, Skullcandy, Boa, and The Sterling-Rice Group


Patagonia Ventura, California

Solar panels in early morning light, Patagonia Corporate headquarters, Ventura, CA 2007
Patagonia headquarters campus.
Patagonia employee holiday party, December 2009 / (L to R ) Amber Robinson, Maile Schulbach, Yvon Chouinard, Jennifer Sullivan, Monika Phaneuf, Jim Little

Shannon Ellis

Patagonia HR/Recuriting Manager Shannon Elli

Over the years, Patagonia has built a reputation for not only offering some of the most technical, forward thinking gear on the market, but as a stalwart advocate for the environment with an unwavering focus on its internal principles, which include creating an amazing work environment for its 806 employees. When Yvon Chouinard famously said “Let My People Go Surfing,” he meant it, and the crew takes advantage to follow their passions.

The company currently enjoys an amazingly low turnover rate in the single digits in its corporate offices, approximately 11% in its Reno distribution center, and in the low teens at its retail stores. We caught up with HR/Recruiting Manager Shannon Ellis to learn more about their practices and culture:

“First and foremost it’s culture. I believe that the type of people that are drawn to this industry have some sort of innate connection to the sports. They have a love for things and I think people naturally are innately curious about companies that they connect with. People that are drawn to Patagonia are connected to our sense of environmentalism, the sense of the product as it relates to sports. There’s things that we can do as an organization to foster that, and I think they have a sense of loyalty that makes them want to stay.

“Yvon  spoke about “Let My People Go Surfing,” which is paramount from a sense of flexibility as it relates to hours and allowing people to go out and pursue the passions that they want. People drawn to these types of companies put that high in their priority lists. Other benefits we offer foster a culture which draws people to this industry, not only on the work-life balance side, but also on the intellectual connection.

“Somehow the organizations that have figured out the secret formula are the ones where they obviously have lower turnover, but it also provides another competitive advantage,  it makes you incredibly attractive for drawing in talent. There are two sides of the equation—attracting people and keeping people. If you can foster a sound culture where people stay, it starts to resonate with people from the outside.

“We see that based off the number of applicants we get for our jobs. A job I worked on about a year ago, we had over 3,000 people apply. To me, there’s something to be said for that. If you can command that kind of audience for one job, mind you that’s not the same for every job, but that has incredible business advantages attached to it.”

Follow the jump for Fuse, Skullcandy, Boa, and The Sterling-Rice Group


Fuse Marketing  Burlington, Vermont

Fuse Marketing
Fuse Marketing
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Burlington, Vermont-based Fuse Marketing has built a team of 35 talented employees who have developed a niche in creative youth-marketing based on action sports, music, fashion, and other lifestyle categories. The brand has helped such companies as Burton, New Balance, TGR, Gatorade, and Mountain Dew translate their messages, while all the while building a culture that fosters collaboration, productivity, and above all creativity.

We caught up with Partner Issa Sawabini to learn more:

“We have always tried to create a fun environment at fuse. We want to reward our staff and we believe that a fun casual atmosphere translates into a better work/life balance.  Everyone gets a season pass, we have a miniramp, basketball hoop, and ping pong table in the warehouse and we create fun events for everyone. Dogs are welcome and of course we set everyone up with proform deals across the industry.

“We also create an environment to support the action sports and local community.  We recently launched our new service grant program.  We are giving away $25,000 worth of marketing services to a selected action sports charity.  The application process just opened and we’ve had incredible response.

“I am excited and honored that we were just named to the 2011 Outside Magazine list of best places to work in the country and earlier this year we were recognized as one of the top 20 places to work in Vermont.

“I also need to recognize all the great people that work at Fuse and the amazing clients we have worked with over the past 15 years.  Thank you!”

What are a few of the things you offer your team that led to this award?

We work hard to offer our team unique benefits that improve their work life balance and we’ve designed a fun office environment that is inspiring and conducive to creative thinking.  The benefits include season passes to Stowe and the option to ride on powder days, access to deals on equipment, event tickets, and an annual stipend for fitness and well-being.  Staff earn comp days for working on the weekend and we give everyone extra paid time off for volunteering in the local community.   The office features artwork from some amazing artists including Doze Green, Chris Pastras, and Scott Lenhardt.  Dogs are welcome, the grill is ready for summer BBQs, and we host monthly events for staff, their families and others in the local creative community.  We also have a mini ramp, basketball hoop and ping pong table set up in a dedicated rec room and there are loaner bikes and paddleboards available for everyone to use.  We really wanted to create a place that our staff were excited to come to every day.

Even with a high unemployment rate around the country, there's a lot of turnover these days amongst top talent in the action sports industry. Do perks like you offer translate into improved morale and decreased turnover?

Absolutely.   The office environment we’ve created helps keep our employees happy and motivated.  As a result our employee retention rate is more than three times the marketing agency average.  We want our staff to stay with us for the long term and we’ve even developed a special program to recognize staff when they’ve been with us for 5 years.  When a member of our team reaches this important milestone we reward them with an extra week of vacation and a special, customized reward designed with their personal passions in mind.  In the past, awards have included backcountry heli-trips, surf trips, spa weekends, mountain bikes and even a skate trip to Barcelona. Recently we’ve expanded the staff recognition program to honor the great employees who’ve been with us 10 years.

Follow the jump for  Skullcandy, Boa, and The Sterling-Rice Group


Skullcandy Park City, Utah and San Clemente, California

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Since its creation in 2003, Skullcandy has grown from a chairlift-spawned idea in Founder Rick Alden’s mind, to a publicly traded company with over 250 employees. Despite that phenomenal growth, one thing has remained the same—incredibly low turnover in a fun, creative workplace.

We caught up with CEO Jeremy Andrus to learn more about the benefits of fostering an office that feels more like a family room, all be it a family full of over achievers.

Skullcandy CEO Jeremy Andrus

What do you see as the value of creating a workplace that’s fun and engaging for your staff and how does that translate to hard numbers down the road for the company?

I’m a big believer that creating an environment that people get excited to come into everyday is everything in a business. That’s why people work hard. That’s why they’re productive. I’ve had jobs where Sunday night rolls around and I get a bit of a nervous feeling of “what a great weekend, it went so fast, I don’t want to go back.” What I feel, and what I think other people at Skullcandy feel is “great weekend, but I can’t wait to get back to work in the morning.” It is a fun place to work, the level of camaraderie and energy and passion for the brand. I’m a big believer that long term, if you’re going to retain good people, that you got to make sure that the entire package is the best professional opportunity that they could have from compensation to culture to career path and professional development. It’s got to be a place that they get excited about coming to. We have lost very few people in the time I’ve been here. We’ve got over 250 employees now and we just don’t lose people very often. I think it’s important that award, that was actually, as I think about all the awards that we’ve won, that mostly have to do with how fast you’re growing and how big you are. This one was probably the most important because it says that we’re creating a cool envi9ronment that people want to be a part of. Getting an award that you’re a really great place to work, just says that you’re doing something right and you’ve built a culture that’s assisting the growth over time.

We also had a chance to discuss the value of the workplace environment with Skullcandy HR Manager Linda Cooley.

What are a few of the things you offer your team that led to this award?
Alternative work environment. Values of independence, ambition, individuality, and creativity.

  • Company surf trip to Costa Rica – Surf Lessons Included
  • Christmas Party with Eagles of Death Metal
  • Powder Day Policy (In around 11am)
  • Subsidized Gym Program
  • Flex Time Off (Work hard, play hard)
  • Education Assistance Program
  • 401 K Matching
  • Health, Vision, Dental, STD, LTD, and Life Insurance
  • Office mini ramp
  • Huge product discounts
  • Break room stocked with treats
  • Rewards and Recognition

Even with a high unemployment rate around the country, there’s a lot of turnover these days amongst top talent in the action sports industry. Do perks like you offer translate into improved morale and decreased turnover?

Absolutely. Our company culture and perks play a huge role in our recruiting effort and low turnover rate. I believe it is a combination of our culture, distinguished management team, and company success that bring amazing talent our way. Then the perks keep them here.

Follow the jump for Boa, and The Sterling-Rice Group


Boa Technology Denver, Colorado


Boa Technology began in Steamboat Colorado when Founder Gary Hammerslag, a retired medical technology inventor, was looking for a better way to lace his kids’ snowboard boots. The company has since expanded to over 50 employees in offices in Steamboat Springs, Denver, and Asia.

When asked about the importance and impact of having an enjoyable work environment, Hammerslag had this to say: ” Personally, I think the atmosphere of respect, inclusivity and the encouragement of passion for doing things well – even if it is for activities outside of making and selling Boa reels –  is even more important than the specific perks.  The perks are just examples of this respect for people.   Do these things help?  Well, I would say the evidence is in our skyrocketing sales and the fact that over the last 12 years we have had only a handful of employees leave for other opportunities and two of them have come back! ”


Boa HR Manager Becky Patterson

We also caught up with HR Manager Rebecca Patterson, who explained what makes Boa stand out:

What really makes Boa a special place is a result of Mark Soderberg’s and Gary Hammerslag’s leadership.  Gary and Mark have empowered each employee to make decisions and excel at their job.  Employees are offered educational and training opportunities on a regular basis. Boa offers flexible work schedules, which allows for the ability to attend a work-time family activity or appointment.  Our workplaces are open and have great energy which invites creativity and motivation.


We can bring our dogs to work…which can be interesting when ten dogs in the office on the same day. But it lightens the day to be able to sit on the floor play with a co-worker’s puppy.

Boa has great social events; an annual company party, pot-lucks & cook outs,  a golf tournament, bowling party, afternoon Rockies game outing, a community volunteer day, chili cook off and a monthly birthday celebrations.  We work hard and love to have play hard!

Each of us leads an active lifestyle whether a bicyclist, runner, walker or weekend golfer.  The Boa Health & Wellness committee encourages each employee to be healthy by offering fun incentives, providing health risk assessments and a  Boa Wellness website.  The return for Boa, our employees are happy, healthy and loyal!

The entire staff is focused on the Boa’s vision, which enables us to move forward as a team. And…yes the Boa planets are aligned!Follow the jump for The Sterling-Rice Group


The Sterling-Rice Group Boulder, Colorado

While The Sterling-Rice Group isn’t an endemic brand, they just won the 2011 Ad Age Small Agency of the year award, they came in third on Outside‘s list, and they’re located right around the corner from Bonnier’s Boulder offices. We decided to pay them a visit to see what companies in our realm can learn from this prestigious company seated at the base of the Flatirons, that boasts a who’s who client list and over 140 of advertising’s most creative minds.


SRG, a brand-strategy, innovation, and creativity firm, was founded 27 years ago and generated over $10 billion in incremental revenue for its clients in just the last five years. With a rehire rate of over 90%, they’re doing something right, and with an impressive retention rate in an industry notorious for turning and burning creatives, they’ve got the work-life balance equation figured out as well.

“It’s a lot like other agencies in that everyone is hungry, driven, and dedicated, but it’s sustainable because there’s a balance,” says Managing Director Rob Hofferman.

In many agencies there’s a rivalry between sales versus creatives, but Hofferman says the dynamic doesn’t exist at SRG. “We’re too small to take sides. Once a week we have company wide events,” he says. “Whether it’s lunch, drinks, or a meeting, this is very important to boost morale and share best practices.”