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Laid-back offices can improve customer service

Kimberly Nicoletti
High Country Business Review
HCBR Scully's Dogs 1 DT 8-2-07
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Mary Bracken stays at Scully’s Art Office and Drafting Supplies nearly every day, along with Josie May, Ned Pepper and Molly (who, oddly enough, is the only one without a last name). They’re not employees, but dogs that frequent the store in the Vail Valley, all in the name of the laid-back mountain work environment.

When customers bring their dogs in, it becomes a party, sometimes with more dogs than people in the store.

“Some people just come in to see the dogs, and they don’t buy anything,” said owner Tim Scully. “Dogs are quite good for stress relief.”



Scully “employs” the dogs to create a relaxing environment, much like home. The atmosphere, coupled with the fact that he’s not a demanding boss, have led him to a high retention rate in employees, with most staying for five to 10 years, he said. He tries to let the job itself be demanding, rather than dress codes, rules or inflexible schedules.

Sugar, Susan Wentworth’s dog at the Frisco Lodge, helps create a relaxing atmosphere. Since many of her guests can’t bring their own dogs, Sugar reminds them of home, and Wentworth’s employees enjoy playing with her, too.



Jim Morter, owner of Jim Morter Architects in the Vail Valley, takes a similar approach, just with a different twist. He had Lassie the pig in his office for about 18 years. Like dogs, she was friendly, smart and fun ” just “one of the gang” when it came to hanging around the other three to four dogs Morter allows in his office.

Usually, clients would either like Lassie or warm up to her, but if they didn’t, he’d send her out of the office. She died about a year ago, so now the dogs take center stage.

Not only does Morter allow dogs to create a relaxed environment, but also he’s very loose when it comes to schedules and keeping track of time. There are no punch cards, no mandatory lunches that need to end within an hour. And he thinks that’s the key to good work. Office manager Jeanne Whitney, who’s been with the company for 11 years, said Morter believes great work comes from a relaxed setting and great employees.



“We’re in a creative field,” Morter said. “We don’t want to get in the way of creative minds by setting arbitrary rules.”

Since the company is project-driven, employees take off for powder days ” as long as it doesn’t interfere with deadlines or quality of work, which always come first, Morter said.

“A relaxed atmosphere lends itself to better, more inspired work because people are in a better frame of mind,” Morter said. “I don’t try to get in the way of that.”

He says the best way to work is in a fun, friendly environment.

Jim Rodkey, owner of Coffee Roasters in Frisco, makes his workplace comfortable for employees ” and customers ” through their input. For example, employees pick the music of the day, customers can change the volume. Employees can bring their artwork to decorate the walls, and Rodkey asked customers if they wanted more couches or chairs. When it came to painting, Rodkey relied on employees’ color preferences. The same goes with uniforms. They must wear the Coffee Roasters T-shirts, but they can choose the color and design, even if it’s black, which Rodkey isn’t fond of, he said.

“The big thing is employee input,” he said, talking about how to create a laid-back environment.

Since his business, like most front-line service industries, can’t give his employees unscheduled time off for powder days, he’s flexible with planned time off. For example, a couple employees work four 10-hour days rather than five eight-hour days. He doesn’t care if employees trade days or hours, as long as they cover the shifts.

He’s also restricted by health codes as far as allowing dogs in the store, but the health department says it’s OK to allow them on the patio, so he often has plenty of dogs hanging out by the fountain.

In general, as far as powder days go, it seems there’s an unspoken rule about powder days. Office workers who can afford to take off for a couple hours and make up the work after skiing do. Some supervisors even encourage the behavior.

And as far as dress codes, obviously mountain living is much more lax.

“If you get too dressed up around here, people look at you suspiciously,” said Copper Mountain spokesperson Lauren Pelletreau.

Jane Dvorak, executive office of Summit County Builders’ Association, never felt comfortable in dress clothes when she was a mall manager in Ohio. Although she chose her own pants, blouses or dresses, she said it always felt like she was wearing a uniform. Now, her “uniform” of choice includes jeans.

“I think it reflects on the casual atmosphere in the community,” Dvorak said. “When people go to resorts, they want to relax. They want to feel comfortable.”

And as Jim Shields at the Snake River Saloon in Keystone would tell you: Happy, comfortable employees pass that attitude onto customers, making it a positive experience all around.


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