THRIVING SMALL BUSINESSES IN WYOMING: Lifestyle Brand Rides the Wave
Staying true to the Western ethos keeps aim of Sheridan business true
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Jun 05, 2023
By Bob Wooley
Special to the Wyoming Truth
This story was updated on June 8, 2023 as of 6:30 p.m. MT
Krista Treide knows a thing or two about brands. An impressive career building them, with time spent at global powerhouses like Nike, Reebok, Diesel and Speedo, has given her unique insight into how to connect with customers. But a unique brand that caught her attention is what ultimately led to her taking the reins at Sheridan-based Surf Wyoming.
Born and raised in the Cowboy State, Treide often traveled back to Sheridan to spend time with her parents and brother while she was working on the West Coast. It was on one of these trips that she discovered Surf Wyoming’s attention-grabbing T-shirts and trucker caps.
“. . . We bought the products and brought them back home — we were living [out of state] at the time — and people would see them and say, ‘Oh my gosh, where did you get that brand? That’s so funny. You can’t surf in Wyoming,’” she said. “The brand got everyone’s attention right away.”
Treide said it gave her the opportunity to engage people about the company, explaining to them that actually, you can surf in Wyoming.
Surf Wyoming was conceived in the late 1990s by river surfers who started it while surfing ‘Lunch Counter’ on the Snake River and finding that the water was becoming polluted. So they began printing T-shirts to raise awareness around keeping the water clean.
Fast forward a few more years. On a visit to Sheridan in 2012, Treide and her family were striking out while trying to find Surf Wyoming gear when a chance encounter with the brand’s owner launched the goal of buying a few T-shirts into a completely different direction.
“On our last day we’re at a restaurant and a guy walks in wearing a Surf Wyoming T-shirt,” Treide said. “So, when we finished eating, we approached him to ask where he got his T-shirt. And he told us he owned the brand. He said we could head over to his shop and he’d open up and sell us whatever we wanted. So, on the way there, I called my brother to see if he wanted us to buy him any gear while we were there. And he said, ‘No, but ask him if he’s interested in selling the company.’”
And it turns out, he was.
One thing led to another and Surf Wyoming’s founder, an entrepreneur looking for more time to focus on other endeavors, agreed to sell to Treide and her brother, PJ. The company had no website—just a handful of retailers around the state that sold Surf Wyoming T-shirts, hats, etc.
Said Treide: “We acquired this brand as a hobby, and I joke that it’s turned into a jobby.”
Growing the brand
Over the next few years, there was much to do, including building a website and launching a slight aesthetic rebrand. Among other things, Treide oversees marketing strategies, and her brother manages operations for the business. But Treide said there was always a focus on promoting Wyoming and continuing the spirit of doing good derived from the ethos of the people and the state itself.
“We love Wyoming. We’re born and raised here and want to keep it clean,” she said. “Surf Wyoming was the first lifestyle brand that kind of came to be in this area, and now we’re the lucky team that gets to take it to the next level.”
Aside from operating retail stores in Sheridan and Cody, Surf Wyoming has been adept at leveraging e-commerce, social media and the entire digital space to allow customers around the globe to connect with the brand, Treide said. And the quirky, fun nature of the expanded product line has helped them build an organic consumer base that loves to spread the word about the company.
Surf Wyoming also continues to embrace the irony of the brand, she said, while ensuring that they blend it their authentic roots. And that’s where this story circles back to how a business that was supposed to be a hobby became more like a job.
“We had a lot of friends who were building direct-to-consumer brands and other acquaintances who said ‘How are you doing this?’” Treide said. “And so, we have folded the whole concept of Surf Wyoming under a bigger entity called Bighorn Design, [which] has evolved over the past 10 years, and it’s now the parent company of Surf Wyoming.”
Located in a 30,000 square foot building on Main Street in Sheridan, Bighorn Design is a fulfillment business that offers pick, pack and ship services to companies that need graphic T-shirts, mugs, hats and almost anything else with a logo or personalized message. Most of their fulfillment partners are in the lifestyle apparel space. One of the most well-known may be King’s Saddlery. Bighorn Design handles a big chunk of the iconic Sheridan ropemaker’s e-commerce business, including the King Ropes trucker hats. Aside from screen printing, they do embroidery and even some cut-and-sew product creation. The acquisition of a leather business has allowed them to make small leather goods and product adornments as well.
“So we can create products for brands,” Treide said. “We can then take them to another building where we house them. And then for our 32 fulfillment partners, when they get an order, we have a team of fantastic teammates—people that do pick, pack and ship to our partner brands’ customers.”
Bighorn Design also helps brands with social media content and brand strategy. And in many ways, Treide said the stars have aligned in that timing, trends and even shifts in the way people connect to brands in the pre and post-pandemic era have converged, more or less organically mainstreaming a business model that used to be more niche.
“There’s still this mystique about Wyoming,” Treide said. “But there’s also an enormous fascination with the West and with Wyoming and the desire to discover more of the country — but the deep history and rustic beauty of Wyoming in particular. And people are finding the things that weave that sense of honesty and hard work and western camaraderie through our brand. And we feel very fortunate to be able to ride this wave — pun intended.”