Kathy Sherwin’s Deer Valley Difference

Fresh out of college, Kathy began her career at Deer Valley Resort as a Ski Instructor before joining the Ski Patrol team and then moving on to the resort’s Human Resources department. She didn’t stop there and worked part-time in retail at the resort’s Signatures Stores, while she pursued a career as a professional cyclist. Today, she is the Tour & Travel/International Coordinator in the Marketing department. Before she re-invents herself once more, I stopped Kathy for a few precious minutes to uncover the secret of her breathless career path with Deer Valley Resort.

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JF: What was your life like before Deer Valley Resort?

Kathy Sherwin: I was raised in Tacoma, Washington and always was a very active child. I was a tomboy, I guess; I already had my little BMX bike and built a track for it in the back of the house. I also played soccer, tennis and was put on the ski bus every week by my parents.

JF: Where did you go skiing?

Kathy Sherwin: Snoqualmie Pass, Crystal Mountain and White Pass; those were the main places I learned to ski; I was always on the go!

JF: As you grew up, which career path did you want to pursue?

Kathy Sherwin: It’s kind of funny; I wanted to be a doctor. As I started volunteering and working in that field, I soon realized that everyone was sick. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be around all these sick people all the time and started looking instead into preventive approaches to healthcare which led me to a healthier lifestyle. I met my late husband in college and he was the one who had a bicycle and said, “Hey, let’s commute to school everyday.” It was of course much faster to ride our bikes than drive for 40 minutes in Seattle’s traffic. That’s how I got back into bike riding.

JF: I guess, biking was well planted into your DNA.

Kathy Sherwin: Yes. I remember telling my mom, “I want to bike race!” when I was 6 years old, but it didn’t happen.

JF: So you are at the university and then you graduate; what brought you to Deer Valley Resort?

Kathy Sherwin: My late husband said, “I’ve heard about Deer Valley Resort, it’s a great place in Utah; they treat their employees extremely well.” So we went, we got jobs, he became a Mountain Host and I became a Ski Instructor.

Kathy in the early days at Deer Valley Resort with late husband Chris Sherwin.

Kathy in the early days at Deer Valley Resort with late husband Chris Sherwin.

 JF: Had you taught skiing before?

Kathy Sherwin: Yes, I forgot to tell you; I had taught skiing at Ski Acres, next to Snoqualmie in Washington, during my last year of college.

JF: What were your expectations when you arrived at Deer Valley Resort?

Kathy Sherwin: That we would work there for a season or two and leave.

JF: And move on to another place?

Kathy Sherwin: Yes, but Deer Valley Resort was so fantastic and with the employee benefits, the way we were treated, and the tight-knit family atmosphere, it was hard to think about leaving.

JF: Were you hooked?

Kathy Sherwin: Totally!

JF: What did you learn during your first season?

Kathy Sherwin: The importance of customer service. If you had a question from a guest and didn’t have an answer for it, you would go find it out and would get back to the guest no matter how much work it meant and whether it took a few minutes or an hour. I thought it was pretty cool because many other places didn’t know how to service their customers that well.

JF: What else did you learn?

Kathy Sherwin: The other thing that I discovered, that I thought was really neat and interesting, was that all the departments were working well together. So we got along well with the kitchen and the kitchen would help us, Mountain Hosts would help us too; soon, the other departments would pitch in. The philosophy was, “We’re all under one roof, we’re trying to achieve the same goals, so we need to help each other to achieve them.”

JF: Did you feel this came naturally from all your coworkers?

Kathy Sherwin: We had orientation and training, but no one can force a certain attitude on you. With the kind of employees that we have, many of them so well-educated, this way of acting comes quite naturally. It isn’t pushed down your throat and most people buy in to that concept.

JF: What’s remarkable about your career at Deer Valley Resort is the impressive range of positions you have occupied over the years; tell us about that.

Kathy Sherwin: The ski school came naturally because I had done it previously. Still continuing on the thought that I wanted to go into medicine, I became an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) and joined the Ski Patrol for a few years. Then about a year later, after my husband and I married, I had the urge to get a “real job” and an Administrative Assistant position in Human Resources became available. I applied and got the job.

JF: Was it a year-round job?

Kathy Sherwin: Yes, salaried, full-time. I did it for a little over 10 years and worked my way up to HR Manager by the time I left. I decided to then pursue my passion of racing a bicycle full-time.

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JF: Did you take a sabbatical or did you find some other working arrangement?

Kathy Sherwin: What I did was to work on-call with the Deer Valley Signatures stores. I would come to help over Christmas, holidays and other busy periods and did this for six years. In the meantime, I was racing my bike full-time, traveling the world and training daily.

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JF: How did that passion for mountain bike racing develop?

Kathy Sherwin: When I was sitting in the HR department, I watched the NORBA (National Off Road Bicycle Association) series come through and set up mountain bike races; I wondered what this was all about and thought it would be cool to try one day.

JF: Did you have any mountain biking experience?

Kathy Sherwin: Not really, I would occasionally ride a hard-tail mountain bike and eventually I ended up getting a full-suspension one. I loved it and started to race. My first competition was the Intermountain Cup Series, 14 years ago. I participated as a beginner and won my category, which was a real shocker to me.

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JF: What happened after that?

Kathy Sherwin: Everyone was excited for me and told me to go on to the next race, which I did and won! Then I got a local sponsor and little by little, I built my resume up to garner even more sponsors, about ten of them. I was able to accomplish all this without even setting the goal of becoming a professional in the first place.

Kathy on a muddy day of cyclo-cross.

Kathy on a muddy day of cyclo-cross.

JF: Is this how you went on to race nationally and joined the international scene?

Kathy Sherwin: Right. I raced in Canada, Belgium, Scotland, Germany, among other countries.

JF: How long did you race as a Professional?

Kathy Sherwin: About six years.

JF: How did you return to Deer Valley Resort?

Kathy Sherwin: I always knew I wanted to return to Deer Valley and this was always part of the plan. I knew I wanted to work in the Marketing department. A position became available when my husband was sick with cancer, which made the transition so timely. 

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JF: How do you like working in the Marketing department?

Kathy Sherwin: I love it. It’s amazing, as a professional athlete, how you must learn to sell yourself. First I was really shy about it, but it soon became a matter of survival. You learn how to push yourself and show what is important to the person you’re selling something to. It’s amazing how my competitive experience translated into the sales and marketing process. Add to this my love and passion for Deer Valley Resort, the best product out there, all these pieces make it so easy!

Kathy sharing trade secrets with the Travelocity Gnome.

Kathy sharing trade secrets with the Travelocity Gnome.

JF: In looking back over your remarkable career, where do you see the essence of the Deer Valley Difference?

Kathy Sherwin: It’s all in the guest service quality, being upfront with all the experience and value we’re offering our guests. The key is to provide guests with an experience that is always over the top and makes a true difference for them. I love being part of that entire process. I would also add that the company’s leadership has a huge influence on the Deer Valley Difference. For example, Bob Wheaton, our President and General Manager, is instrumental in making it work by leading through example and there’s a trickle down effect throughout the entire work force. This and the fact that we’re all empowered to think out-of-the-box when it comes to solving problems and finding solutions for guests, continuously fuels a customer service experience second to none.

JF: In closing, and for our readers considering a Deer Valley Resort career, what advice would you give them?

Kathy Sherwin: They should know that our employees are kind, open, willing to engage guests, hardworking and willing to go above and beyond the call of duty. Another very cool thing about Deer Valley Resort is that we hire a lot from within – I mean a lot. So go get that “entry-level” job, because, before you know it, you can have a year-round position; this is exactly what I did.

Georgia Anderson: Two Deer Valley Careers for this “Super 33”

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In this day and age, any tenure that spans a third of a century is remarkable enough. However, when it also entails two vastly different careers, the feat becomes truly exceptional. Georgia Anderson began her employment with Deer Valley Resort in Human Resources before becoming the director of that department. About 15 years later, she re-invented herself by becoming the director of merchandising and logo licensing! This speaks volumes about the unlimited commitment and energy Deer Valley employees are capable of and how their unwavering leadership can inspire the next generation of employees.

JF: What prepared you for your current career with Deer Valley Resort?

Georgia Anderson: I grew up in Salt Lake City and moved to Park City in 1980; I was working for a small company in town. When I heard that a new ski resort was in the planning process, I immediately applied for a position. I interviewed with Deer Valley and obtained a position as an accounting clerk. The day before I was supposed to start, the director of human resources called me and said, “The person we hired to be my assistant is not coming and we’d love to have you take the job; what do you want to do?” I thought about it and said “Sure, I’ll be in human resources, why not?” As I came on board, things began to grow very fast. After a few months I was made a supervisor and a couple of years later, I became the director of human resources.

JF: So more than looking for a specific job, your desire was to be part of a new, innovative company?

Georgia Anderson: Yes and that’s where it gets interesting because sometimes I wonder what would have happened to me if I had not made that choice at the very beginning. I feel so fortunate to have been here during those earlier years, when everything was being planned, the policies were developed and the vision was being formed on how we would become like the Stanford Court Hotel in San Francisco. I even remember personally visiting and experiencing that wonderful hotel and being part of this revolutionary change in the ski industry. At that time, the resort wasn’t open yet and the Snow Park Lodge was still under construction.

JF: Where was your office located?

Georgia Anderson: Our first office was where Starbucks is today on Park Avenue. We were there until the resort opened on December 26, 1981, when our first winter season began and we moved to the new Snow Park Lodge.

JF: Now, you need to explain how you found yourself as director of human resources one day and director of merchandising the next?

Georgia Anderson: I wasn’t looking for a change, but at that time, the retail shop and logo licensing was handled by an outside company. The resort owner really wanted to bring that function inhouse and have someone in charge who understood the brand, had passion for that project and could take the lead. Our attorney for the resort knew that, and since we were working closely on human resources issues, she also knew me well. So one day, out of the blue, she called me and said, “Georgia, you have a degree in fashion-merchandising and I think you should consider becoming the new director of merchandising!”

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JF: How did you respond?

Georgia Anderson: I first said, ”What are you talking about?” I was afraid to make a change but after thinking it over I decided that I could to do this. I loved the challenge, yet it was a huge shift for me, from dealing with thousands of employees to moving into merchandise and product development.

JF: When was that?

Georgia Anderson: It’s been about 16 years.

JF: How did you actually get this program started at Deer Valley Resort?

Georgia Anderson: We brought it inhouse and we established two Signatures stores; one here in Snow Park and the other at Silver Lake, then we moved the Snow Park location upstairs and added our Main Street store later on.

JF: Are you just in charge of the Signatures stores?

Georgia Anderson: No, I also oversee NextGen DV, the children outerwear store that we’ve been operating for three years. Also we have Shades of Deer Valley, our sunglasses and goggles specialty shop at Snow Park that we’ve been operating for seven years, and finally, also at Snow Park, there’s Deer Valley Etc., the espresso bar where we offer a lot of fun kitchen and gift items as well as a large selection of logo mugs.

JF: How many employees work in these stores?

Georgia Anderson: There are about 65 employees, mostly part-time, but they are an amazing group of individuals!

JF: What about online sales?

Georgia Anderson: We’ve been selling online for about 10 years and this business has grown steadily over time. Today we’re looking forward to making a change with our eCommerce cart that should boost our volume further. Our most popular online purchases are Deer Valley Gift Cards and the Turkey Chili mix.

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JF: Were you also involved with the 2002 Store during the winter games?

Georgia Anderson: Absolutely! As we moved towards the 2002 Winter Olympics, just before the turn of the century, we added our 2002 Store, which was located in the Snow Park Lodge where SharpShooter Imaging is today. We operated that store throughout the 2001 – 2002 winter season. We were able to offer some incredible items, including our own Deer Valley Olympic pins, which was both a wonderful and fun merchandising opportunity!

JF: Besides the pins, what did you sell?

Georgia Anderson: We offered merchandise that had both Olympic and Deer Valley logos since we were an official venue and were in the midst of so many Olympic competitions.

JF: While we are on the subject of the Deer Valley logo, how did it get started and how was the brand created?

Georgia Anderson: My understanding is that the “Deer Valley” name itself was Polly Stern’s idea. Polly was the wife of Edgar Stern, founder of Deer Valley. I believe that the ad agency at the time created the logo and that Polly was also closely involved with its development and design. It has evolved ever so slightly over the years, but the deer head inside the aspen leaf has always remained. We are very fortunate to work with a brand and a logo that are so powerful and carry such widespread recognition.

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JF: How are new items sourced and developed for your Signatures stores?

Georgia Anderson: Sometimes people approach me with design ideas; of course, we attend many trade shows, we also have some long standing vendors that may come up with new variations on their designs, but the most fun for us is when we’re creating something totally new, like Christmas ornaments. For instance, we took inspiration from our mascots, like “Bucky the Deer,” and last year we developed a 3-D ornament featuring Bucky on skis. Step-by-step, we’ve seen this project evolve from a rough concept into a completely finished product and the whole process has been extremely gratifying!

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JF: Someone mentioned the Avalanche Dog merchandise to me; what is that?

Georgia Anderson: I’m glad you asked! About a year and a half ago, our Ski Patrol avalanche dog handlers approached me and said they are always asked by guests about the availability of merchandise featuring their rescue dogs. So this is how we developed the Avalanche Rescue Dog collection, with its distinctive dog and deer logo! When you purchase these articles, the proceeds go the Avalanche Rescue Dog program; this is a great way to sponsor the dogs and provide a great gift idea for guests who want to reward the person watching after their dog while they’re visiting Deer Valley!

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JF: What are your best selling items?

Georgia Anderson: As I explained, we have many different stores, but the number-one selling item in all of them is the Turkey Chili mix! Another popular item is our little replica trail signs that we can even customize. We also sell lots of t-shirts, ball caps and coffee mugs.

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JF: All are wonderful Deer Valley memories that people can use or see year-round!

Georgia Anderson: Exactly!

JF: What is your driving philosophy in picking a new product?

Georgia Anderson: First and foremost, it needs to reflect what Deer Valley Resort stands for in terms of quality and design. It can be playful though and doesn’t have to be serious all the time. We call this process passing the “Polly Test.” By this, we mean that when we’re considering new merchandise, we always ask, “Would Polly Stern approve of it?” Today, when we decide on a new product, there are things we feel good about and things that might concern us. If an item elicits too many questions or raises too many doubts, we simply won’t select it.

JF: How do you arrive at your price points?

Georgia Anderson: We cover all price points. Our products always represent an excellent value; for instance, anyone can come into our stores and find a good quality t-shirt that’s not overpriced.

JF: Can you give us a few examples, ranging from the most expensive down to the most affordable item?

Georgia Anderson: Sure, we have a 14-carat gold necklace with diamonds on it, made locally, priced at over $1,600 and a sticker that only costs a couple of dollars. We also offer a full range of polo shirts priced from $39 to $99!

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JF: What have been the most important lessons you’ve learned over these 33 years with Deer Valley Resort?

Georgia Anderson: I think attention to detail is paramount. The little things take a lot of time, but they add up to a whole lot and can make a tremendous difference. Even though it takes so much energy to attend to the most minute detail, we take the time to always do it and we constantly take pride in doing things right!

JF: Now, if you keep that focus on details into consideration and take a sweeping view over your entire tenure with the company, what is your own personal definition of the “Deer Valley Difference?”

Georgia Anderson: It is the combined dedication and commitment from everyone to keep passionate about doing things right and keeping going back to our roots. We are not standing still though, as we always strive to improve our products and services. This approach is ingrained into our culture and we embrace change while preserving the personal touch.