Man standing at base of chair lift waving a pirate flag
Tim Fater
Man standing at base of chair lift waving a pirate flag
Tim Fater
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Industry Interviews

Brand building for your employees

Ben Hewitt
Jan, 2022
5 mins

Jay Peak’s Steve Wright talks about creating a brand people want to work for.

At Origin, we’ve long held the opinion that developing a strong brand isn’t merely essential for your customers; it’s critical for your internal team, as well. Not only does it help your staff understand how best to communicate with your target audience, it also gives them something to connect with on a personal level, to rally around and feel proud of. And it’s a hugely important tool for attracting right-fit talent in the first place. 

If this was important before the great resignation of 2021, it’s even more so now, as many brands across most sectors face staffing shortages. The impacts can be felt throughout the consumer experience, and particularly in guest-facing industries such as mountain resorts and other destination experiences. In fact, some North American resorts have been forced to cut operating hours and limit access to terrain simply because they can’t find the workers they need to run at full capacity. 

Now, we’re not going to claim that having a strong internal brand will guarantee you’ll fill every position with loyal employees. But we are sure that it won’t hurt, and that it will only strengthen your brand overall. To deliver some real-world examples and insights, we turned to Steve Wright, President and General Manager of Jay Peak Resort, which has committed over the long haul to developing a brand that not only resonates with guests, but also with the staff necessary to keep the train on the tracks. 

Full disclosure: Jay Peak is a longstanding Origin client, and we’ve worked with them for many years in bringing their brand to life across a wide array of mediums. 

Origin: How important is it that businesses consider employees as they develop their brand? And how important is it to convey that to both employees and consumers? 

Steve Wright: I think if a business feels - and more importantly, acts - that employees are part of their brand, they do themselves a disservice by not layering that reality into their branding. That said, it’s easy to brand your business as employee-centric; it’s a helluva lot more difficult to act that way, though, and that’s really where branding lives; in the reality and not the theory of something. And actually, it’s not really that difficult to focus on your employees as being the center of your business-experience, but it does take a commitment to it and commitments can be hard, not to mention they’re almost always expensive. You need to step up with better wages, better working conditions, housing, benefit programs, acknowledgment, all of it. It takes planning and it takes a willingness, maybe, to take a bit less to your bottom line than you normally would. At least in the short term. 

Origin: How about in the longer term? What benefits have you seen from investing in your employees? 

SW: Generally speaking, we’ve seen less turnover, better service delivery, and much easier recruiting, especially during the turbulent times we’re all facing. But it’s important to point out that we’ve been doing this for a while; the problem, I think, is that many businesses don’t think of these experiential improvements until they have to—until the hiring climate is so challenging that they need to. Building an employee-focused culture doesn’t happen during crisis—that’s when you need to lean on it. It happens in steps, consistently, transparently, and honestly. We don’t always get it right here, but getting it wrong helps add clarity into what it takes to get it right.

Origin: What got you on this path?

SW: We took a step back when we went into Receivership (editor note: This was early 2016, in the aftermath of an EB-5 funding scandal that included Jay Peak investments) and really looked at how we were going to get through it, through the bad press, and challenging sales periods and impossible recruiting environments. We kept coming back to creating an environment where the employees, first, felt safe. Then it was how can we make sure they’re benefited correctly, paid correctly, compensated the right way. And then it was about acknowledgment and reward systems. This didn’t happen in a linear fashion per se, and we weren’t able to do everything at once, but over a period of time, most started to feel that we were trying to move in a sincere direction with putting the staff in front. In our view, the days of trying to do as little for employees (both with respect to compensation and acknowledgment) in an effort to take fractions of profit to the bottom line are over.

Origin: What’s the relationship between the Jay Peak brand that’s known to your guests, and the Jay Peak brand that’s known to your employees?

SW: The Jay Peak we try and present to guests is the same Jay Peak we present to staff. Transparent, honest and unmanufactured with respect to how we deal with both guests and staff. We have grown our campus through half a billion dollars of capital expenditure investments over the nearly 20 years I’ve been here but we’ve tried to hold on to those pieces while we grew. In some cases, we’ve nailed it and other places we’ve failed miserably. But we have to own all of it.

Origin: Do you have any advice for brand managers who might be considering a more concerted effort to develop their brand internally and also how to communicate that to their customers?

SW: The only advice I’d give brand managers is to be as painfully honest with yourself about what you’re showing the public. It can’t be an artifice. It has to be real. You can’t be honest with the people who frequent your business, but deceitful with the team that runs it. You can’t charge for a premium experience but revert to budget savings when it comes to acknowledging staff tasked to deliver it. And you absolutely can’t be proud of the business you run and the products you deliver, without simultaneously being proud of what you try to deliver to your staff and the opportunities you try to create for them. That balance must be something you’re always trying to calibrate correctly. I also believe that if you’re in the business of delivering service and you aren’t integrating your staff as a meaningful part of your brand, you’re probably missing both a branding opportunity and, more importantly, probably not delivering a level of service required to stay competitive. 

Origin: Thanks, Steve. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.