How Two Ski Bums Successfully Branded the Online-Outdoor Industry

Friends John Breese and Jim Holland took their love of the outdoors and built a brand that not only they are passionate about but is also fruitful.

learn more about Melanie Spring

By Melanie Spring
John Breese and Jim Holland

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The following is the tenth in the series "Live Your Brand" in which branding expert Melanie Spring takes us along on her three-week road trip across the country to meet innovative entrepreneurs whose experiences offer lessons learned to businesses big and small.

What do you get when you put two ski bums in a Park City, Utah apartment with the internet in 1996? - the first website to buy outdoor recreational equipment.

When the site first launched, friends and co-founders John Bresee and Jim Holland were so excited about being able to sell ski equipment that they didn't even have time to stock products. In fact, they had to buy their first order, avalanche beacons, direct from the manufacturer and have it shipped to the customer. Their enthusiasm is what started the brand, and it's what's kept them at the forefront of a growing industry.

"It was a hard road to pave because no one had ever done it before," says's brand marketing director Marit Fischer.

How Two Ski Bums Successfully Branded the Online-Outdoor Industry
An employee of, along with brand marketing director Marit Fischer and myself.
image credit: Melanie Spring

As pioneers in their field, they had to convince outdoor enthusiasts the wave of the future was buying gear online. Their original vision of selling the best outdoor gear and being the best at doing it stuck, and they are still going strong today.

With their headquarters in the active mountain town of Park City, they bring in talent from all over and keep them excited about coming to work every day. Here's how they built the well-known outdoor brand.

Related: How to Set Your Brand Up For Success

Stick to your mission.'s mission has always been to be the best core gear e-tailer, but with only an online presence, the company has the challenge of utilizing all possible storefront opportunities to get the word out. Their workaround was to put gear and sports front and center, allowing them to maximize how people find them. It seemed to work, as has now expanded its online presence to including surf, skate and snow site DogFunk. But before they made the expansion, they knew they had to get it right.

"Get really good at one thing before you try doing anything else," says Fischer.

Foster your culture from the beginning. "Set the culture and allow your employees to help shape it," says Fischer. "Be clear on your values, including the culture, then reinforce them at every turn."

How Two Ski Bums Successfully Branded the Online-Outdoor Industry
Backcountry's office space
image credit: Melanie Spring

With flexible schedules for powder days, sizable employee discounts and access to the gear closet, working at definitely has its perks. The environment and the perks bring the employees they want. People seek out the company as an employer, because they are the best at what they do and when you're an employee, you are surrounded by people like you.

Related: How This Woman Went From Creating Nativity Scenes to Having 165 Retail Locations

Although hires mostly outdoors-enthusiasts, they've learned that hiring excellent people is the best way to grow. "You can foster passion for your products or services in people who are new, but it's hard to foster excellence in those who are only passionate," says Fischer.

Know your product inside and out. With being solely online, its customer base interacts with them only via email or phone. This makes them hyper focused on being top-notch at customer service.'s passionate people know everything about their products thanks to an extensive training program and background. Most of their customer service department consists of Olympians, gear-heads and sports professionals. Knowing anything and everything about the sport they're plugged into helps them understand how every piece of equipment works and what makes it best for the person on the other end of the line purchasing. has a "no questions asked" return policy, which means customers can purchase anything online and then send it back for a full refund without hassle. Just one more reason is the brand to know in the outdoor industry.

Melanie Spring

Chief Inspiration Officer of Sisarina

As the Chief Inspiration Officer of Sisarina, a D.C.-based branding firm, Spring built her business with a strong content marketing strategy. With an innate sense for social media, connecting with her customers, and building a culture around her brand, she teaches businesses and non-profits how to rock their brand. She also recently toured the U.S. on the Live Your Brand Tour collecting stories from businesses living their brand.

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