The Vail Valley’s Slifer Designs just celebrated company’s 35th anniversary
EDWARDS — Beth Slifer started in the design business by spiffing up an apartment in Vail. Slifer Designs, the company she started by herself, now employs about 30 people and recently celebrated its 35th anniversary.
Reached by phone just before the anniversary celebration on Thursday, Nov. 15, Slifer recalled that, when she started out, she had just moved to Vail from Chicago after her marriage to her husband, Rod. A new friend “asked me to fluff up an apartment he was able to sell — a penthouse in the Lodge at Vail — and with a tiny budget.”
That apartment sold, and Slifer soon gained a reputation as someone who could help brokers move property. Those projects prompted Slifer to open a small space in the basement of Rod’s office on Bridge Street in Vail.
Slifer comes from a design background — her mother was a well-known designer in north Florida — but had pursued a career in business and finance.
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But there was a need in the local market.
Seeing a need
“When I got here, it was obvious that no one was delivering the quality my mother delivered,” she said.
Beyond need, Slifer Designs was a “right time, right place” idea. Beaver Creek was struggling to find its footing, and there were projects in Vail to do. Within a decade, Slifer Designs moved from an office and a small showroom on Bridge Street to a larger space in Avon.
The company grew along with the valley, and Slifer Designs soon took on projects in resort areas throughout the West. Today, the company has had clients in most resorts in the West, as well as locations from Hawaii to Florida.
As the company evolved, so did ideas about design.
“We started when people wanted a Southwestern feel,” Slifer said.
That style has evolved to a more “mountain-y” feel, to European alpine and Western ranch themes.
As resort homes grew, some clients wanted more chateau-like designs in their mountain getaways.
These days, people often favor small touches to remind them of the outside environment, Slifer said. More simple furniture designs and cleaner lines are also popular.
One thing that hasn’t changed is clients’ desires for comfort and durability.
Clients’ experiences in their second homes are starting to be reflected in primary homes, many of which have seen the Slifer Designs’ touch.
Like most businesses in resort areas, design companies often rise and fall with the economic times. The national recession that began in 2008 hit hard at Slifer Designs, and recovery took some time.
Slifer had tried to ease out of day-to-day operations for a time, but had to come back into full-time leadership for a few years. These days, she is still engaged in the direction of the business but has turned over more and more responsibility to employees.
General Manager Mike McClinton has worked at Slifer Designs for the past couple of years. McClinton said the business these days is on a solid path, noting that 2017 was a “real turnaround year.”
Blending youth, experience
Longtime employee Kim Toms is now the firm’s managing principal. These days, though, longtime employees aren’t as plentiful as they once were. Roughly half of the staff has been at Slifer Designs for two years or less.
“It’s the best culture I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” McClinton said.
Several of the former longtime employees now have design businesses of their own.
“We call it Slifer Designs (University),” McClinton said.
Part of the turnaround has come in shifting resources away from the company’s retail operations. The showroom in The Riverwalk at Edwards center is now a tidy 1,300 square feet. It used to occupy the entire first floor of the company’s space.
These days, retail accounts for about 10 percent of the business, with design making up the rest of the revenue pie.
But that design element wouldn’t be possible without the large Slifer Designs warehouse in Eagle, which McClinton calls the company’s “best-kept secret.”
With that warehouse, the design team can do work from initial sketches to final installations.
The crew at the warehouse is a big part of that team, McClinton said. He recalled a recent Facebook post praising a delivery crew for picking up a mattress found on the side of the road and taking it to the Eagle County landfill.
Doing everything that goes into a job also means there’s plenty going on. People on staff will sometimes drop what they’re doing to tackle a right-now issue.
McClinton said that’s because everyone at the company shares the same goal: “making sure the client is happy.”
That means doing projects well, within budget and on time, McClinton said.
“If we’re going to do something, we’re going to do it right,” he said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at email@example.com and 970-748-2930.
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It’s fitting that Eagle County is proceeding through its reopening phases of COVID-19 in an analogy to ski run difficulties — green to blue to black. Monday marks the transition from the green beginner phase to the blue intermediate phase.