Strong roots, business sense are Slifer’s recipe for success |

Strong roots, business sense are Slifer’s recipe for success

Shannon Armstrong

What does it take to be a successful business person in the Vail Valley these days? Location? Timing? Quality service? A unique product? A strong will to succeed? All of the above, of course, but for Beth Slifer, owner and operator of Slifer Designs of the Vail Valley, it also took falling in love. And not just with her husband, Rod, but with the Colorado mountains and, most specifically. a quiet ski town called Vail. A native Floridian and East Coast professional, Slifer never dreamed she’d find herself in the design business and certainly never in the Rocky Mountains. “When I married Rod in 1983 I told him I’d try living in Colorado for one year. We moved here in 1984 and 20 years later, I’m still here,” Slifer said in her slow, slightly Southern voice. Twenty years ago though, she was so uncertain about making the mountains her home that she retained her job as a consultant for a chemical company in Chicago, traveling extensively for the company and keeping one foot outside Vail’s door.And who could blame her? After all, Colorado was just beginning to dig itself out of the devastating oil and gas recession of the early ’80s. And although skiing had long been a cornerstone of income for Colorado, there had been a few very lean snow years making winter tourism questionable. Vail was growing, but it was anyone’s guess how the local economy would respond to the up and coming Beaver Creek ski area, the base area of which consisted of just a hand full of buildings. At that time it was also uncertain how real estate would do in the Vail Valley.’Just come to Colorado’Besides that, Slifer was used to the fast pace of big cities. From 1976 to 1980 she truly had her finger on the pulse of the country while living in Washington, D.C., where she served under the Carter Administration as special assistant to the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. At the EPA she worked as liaison to the White House representing the U.S. government in international environmental meetings and advising other governmental agencies, while reporting to the president. When Carter’s administration ended Slifer took a job in Chicago as a consultant to a multi-million dollar chemical company. While working, Slifer enrolled in business courses at the University of Chicago, earning an MBA. And, although she’d met Rod Slifer while working in Washington, it was during the years in Chicago that her relationship with him became more serious.”Rod kept telling me to just come to Colorado and see how I liked it,” she said. They married in 1983 but Slifer had huge reservations about living in the mountains.”I didn’t know what I was going to do here,” she said. “Rod had his real estate business but really I didn’t have a clue what I’d do in the small town of Vail.” But the size of Vail was a blessing for her business, she said. “I learned in graduate school to always find a niche business or product and identify something people needed,” she said. “Rod had a Realtor working for him at Slifer and Company at the time named Les Streeter, who one day casually asked my opinion on selling a penthouse in the Lodge at Vail. He had a seller who’d been sitting on the condo for months and was desperate to sell it. “He asked me what I’d do to make it look better. I told him I’d need $17,000 and I’d see what I could do,” she said. “It wasn’t a large budget, but I did what I could and the condo sold in a week. Les was my first client and word traveled from there.” Smart movesSlifer was not a stranger to the design business. Her mother was one of the leading design specialists in Jacksonville, but Slifer had made a deliberate point not to train in design and had tried to stay away from the business. Once in Vail though, she realized this could be her niche. After all, back then the only other business in Vail anywhere close to doing design work was the Finishing Touch, she said. She started working in a little office in the back of Rod’s real estate officeSee Slifer, page B30 on Bridge Street. A short time later she opened a store in Vail Village and not long after that business was strong enough to open another store in Avon. In 1996 business was booming and Slifer decided to consolidate the two stores and move her entire operation to Edwards. “There were people who thought I was crazy to move to Edwards in 1996,” she said. But she figured with 90 percent of her clientele being second-home owners, construction planned for Bachelor Gulch and the growth in Cordillera and Beaver Creek, the timing was right, she said. By 1998 Edwards was definitely establishing itself as the retail heart of the Valley. Slifer Designs now had 100 employees and, even with the company’s 20,000-square-foot warehouse in Eagle, Slifer Designs again needed more space.In 1999 Slifer purchased the Amber Building at Riverwalk where her company now occupies three floors and over 13,000 square feet of the building. She also had the foresight to lease the corner space of the building to Starbucks, possibly the single busiest place in all of Edwards.The libraryIn the last 20 years Slifer has learned how to customize her business to her market, and she and her staff are able to provide clients on- stop shopping when it comes to design and decorating, she said. “When our clients are here, they want to play, not make trips to the Design Center in Denver,” she said. “Second-home owners want convenience. So it’s our job to make the decorating process as fun, efficient, painless and beautiful as possible.”Slifer Design’s showroom and retail shop is on the main floor – next door to – and the offices, conference rooms, cafeteria and design workshops make up the second level. But the third floor is perhaps the most impressive. This floor is dedicated entirely to what the company calls “the library”. With over 3,000 vendors, Slifer’s designers and clients can find just about any and every type of finish available – from flooring, to window treatments, to tile samples to cabinet handles to fabrics galore. “We have so many heavy flooring and tile samples, along with the rolling cabinets that house everything, that we had to reinforce the floor to accommodate the extra weight,” said Patti Armstrong, who oversees the daily operations of the library.After Sept. 11 hit, Slifer Designs, along with so many businesses across the county, was forced into what Slifer calls a “realistic adjustment period.””We really had outgrown ourselves in some ways,” she said. “We were taking on so many projects that it was difficult to keep track of all we were doing. 9/11 forced us to re-evaluate and make some necessary but positive changes.”She now has 65 employees and is ranked the third largest retail design firm in the United States, she said. “What’s so exciting is that we’re in a better place now than ever,” she said. “Retail has improved and continues to improve and our overall sales have increased every year.”Mother, volunteer, trendsetterHer goal now is to expand her company even more into the hospitality industry, which means decorating boutique hotels, lobbies, golf clubhouses and residence clubs in exclusive resorts, she said. She’s already made her mark in the Vail area in this way, with venues to her credit such as Beano’s Cabin, Allie’s Cabin, The Game Creek Club, Eagle Springs Golf Course and Country Club of the Rockies, as well as the Snowmass Club and St. Regis Hotel in Aspen. And although Slifer says Slifer Design’s core business is in Colorado, they also have projects in Utah, California, Wyoming, and Wisconsin, she said.Not only is Slifer a sharp business woman who had good timing in spotting a need among valley consumers, she’s also the mother of teenage daughter Alexandra; she is active in volunteer work at the Vail Mountain School; and she’s the chairwoman of the Vail Marketing and Advisory Council, where she helps the Vail Town Council decide how to spend $1.5 million during the spring summer and fall seasons.For a woman with so much going on, there’s little time for an ailment but Slifer did suffer a setback recently when what seemed like a small annoyance grew into a nearly life-threatening illness. A blister on her toe became infected and escalated into strep and a staff infection that landed her in the hospital for nine days. Although the illness got her attention, it hasn’t slowed her down.”It’s no secret who works the hardest in this place,” said Maggie Hurley, who’s worked for Slifer Designs for more than six years. “Slifer sets the bar and we all try hard to keep up her pace. She’s an amazing woman.”

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