By Leslie T. Snadowsky
Biking, boating, fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding, sailing and skiing trips — Outside Brands is driven by a mission to enrich lives by connecting people to exceptional places, products and experiences in South Carolina and Georgia, not only for its customers but also for its employees.
“Mike Overton, our CEO, has been passionate about this for more than 40 years,” said Sharon Sutton, director of human resources. “Our very name speaks to being outside and we look for individuals who align with that desire and who are ‘hungry, humble and smart.’ Each role within Outside relates to our mission. As a company, we offer so many great benefits to our employees, not only for enjoyment and enrichment but to improve their knowledge of the company.”
Ashore or at sea
Outside’s employees get complimentary access to adventures including shark tooth island cruises, dolphin eco tours and stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) excursions, all of which bring back employees season after season. Outside recruits via multiple web-based portals, including LinkedIn, Indeed, Handshake, Instagram and Facebook. Sutton also posts positions on area colleges’ recruitment boards.
Outside’s four divisions offer customized group travel services; team-building programs; specialty retail; and employee-training programs. Each is designed to enhance customer-service skills across the board. Sutton said applicants for guides and USCG-licensed captains are required to attend a comprehensive five-day interpretive guide training. Coursework includes kayak and/ or power boat competency, basics of interpretation, local ecology, wildlife, history, and environmental stewardship. Applicants also rotate through Outside’s retail training course and reservations training course where they learn sales skills, product and brand information, and technological booking skills.
“These courses also cover communication and leadership,” she said. “Additionally, participants will become acquainted with the wide range of programs offered by Outside Brands, including kayak, boat, SUP, bike, and land-based tours. This is followed up with our mentor/mentee program and reviews.”
Sutton said new employees are assigned a mentor who provides knowledge and support throughout their first year with the company, and coaching programs inspire employees to grow and offer guidance along the way. These relationships are fostered through interest sharing and shadowing evaluations and have an impact on the company by creating a positive culture of communal learning and encouragement.
All hands on deck
Outside stands at the helm of work-life balance and provides flexibility to emphasize the importance of downtime and self-care. Sutton said the company recently introduced a gamification element to make the work more engaging and enjoyable. “We use leaderboards, challenges, and rewards to encourage our employees to excel in their roles,” she said.
Outside also supports community engagement through its nonprofit Outside Foundation, which is charged with getting kids outside and protecting and preserving the local environment.
“The guiding principles of the foundation are to provide outdoor experiences that will have a positive impact on people by creating awareness, expanding knowledge, and developing a responsible understanding of nature and the environment,” Sutton said. “We invite our employees to foster a sense of community by volunteering for our Kids in Kayaks program and island clean-sweeps. At the end of the day, we are a family. We care for each other, and we care for our community. That sense of pride and connection keeps our employees happy to be here and our turnover low.”
Since starting as a windsurfing school in 1979, Outside has been an evolving and growing business that has become the Lowcountry’s leading outdoor outfitter, providing programs 365 days a year.
Sutton said Outside boasts a staff made up of experienced, knowledgeable, and personable retail associates, reservationists, interpretive naturalist guides, and USCG-licensed captains who are fueled by ongoing education and training and are committed to offering exceptional programs along with unparalleled customer service.
“With more than 40 years serving the Hilton Head, Savannah, and Bluffton area, we are a staple,” Sutton said. “We have more than 6,000 5-star reviews through Trip Advisor. We consistently have returning families each year who typically request their favorite guide or captain.”