If you’ve ever seen their “angry beaver” advertising on TV, you’ll have a fair idea of who Duluth Trading Company is. They’re the outdoor gear people with a startlingly good sense of irreverent humor. They take their name from Minnesota’s coldest city, so you know their products have got to be all about toughness and endurance.
I had the pleasure of working with Duluth Trading this year. With their founder, Steve Schlecht, I wrote and produced The Art of Building a Brand, a book about how they have grown from a one-product startup in 1989, through a company known for its humorous catalogs, to what it is today: a much-admired brand with a flair for creating apparel that solves problems for its customers.
One of the principles I came to admire about Duluth Trading was their delight in “Poking average in the eye.” That means that they strive to be better than anyone would expect—thinking like entrepreneurs, being rigorous in their product development, outstanding in their storytelling, excelling in customer service, and always offering up the kind of unexpected spin that delights their users.
Here is their “Poke Average” manifesto, if that isn’t too fancy a word:
At Duluth we’re a band of hellbent tinkerers and taunters. We’re fussers, futzers, and fine-tuners. We don’t take workwear, or too much of anything for that matter, for what it is. We see things for what they could be and what they should be. Then we find a way to make them exactly that. At Duluth, we get our jollies from prodding all things expected with a big pointy stick.
We never take ourselves too seriously. But that doesn’t stop us from triple-stitching the extra stitch and doubling down on extra durable fabric. It’s never gotten in the way of putting gussets places nobody dreamed gussets could go. It’s never hindered the un-plumbering of a butt. Because the way we see it, the better way to do things is the only way to do things. And we like to do it all with a big, toothy grin.
It doesn’t matter if we get there by the book, or by way of some cockamamie trick your grandpa taught your dad, who then taught you. It doesn’t matter if it’s men’s underwear or women’s overalls. What matters—all that matters—is that we outthink, outsmart and outcraft average in everything we do. Because there are a whole lotta legs, torsos, feet and crotches out there counting on us.
Because day in and day out, poking average squarely in the eye is exactly what Duluth Trading Company was born to do.
That pretty much sums up my attitude to my work as a writer and book producer, too. Why do average when it’s so much more satisfying to do something more, something different? So it was a supreme compliment when Jill Clifton, Duluth’s awesome and talented Associate Creative Director, sent me this note after we completed work on The Art of Building a Brand and we had the book itself in our hands at last:
I enjoyed working with Sally. The experience she has in pulling a project together from start to finish made the process enjoyable for me. Sally takes the time to listen but also offers suggestions, she adheres to schedules and budgets, her connections in the industry help your vision become a reality, and her passion for her work shows in her day to day communication. Sally is definitely a ‘Poke Average in the Eye’ kind of lady.
Love it. Let’s go and poke average in the eye today!