Blue Tent Marketing a home-grown success story
EL JEBEL – A knock on Aspen has always been that kids who grow up here don’t have enticing career opportunities to lure them back once they’re out of college. Josh Lewis and Peter Scott have blown that myth out of the water.
The two men, graduates of the Aspen High School class of 1993, created their own opportunity. They have built Blue Tent Marketing into a successful company over the past decade, along with partner Jay Scherrer.
In a nutshell, the company helps small businesses grow a sustainable presence on the World Wide Web, Lewis said. It does that in a variety of ways – designing websites and optimizing a company’s position in Web searches are two prime examples.
They started with a simple concept: “Small businesses have always been screwed” when it comes to the Internet, Scott said. The smaller players don’t have the in-house resources to compete with the big boys. They often don’t possess the technical know-how to keep their websites relevant in a technology-fueled, social-media-addicted world that thrives on change. Blue Tent and its staff, which tops 30 workers when counting regular collaborators, provides those services.
While building a successful small business, Lewis and Scott didn’t stray from the culture they grew up in. They immersed themselves in skiing, cycling, climbing, hockey and just about everything else outdoor- and athletic-oriented when growing up in Aspen in the 1980s and ’90s. Maintaining a balance between work and play – and, now, families – is a big part of Blue Tent Marketing’s success, the two men said.
Their entrepreneurial spirit also has deep roots. They teamed up as paperboys for the Aspen Times Weekly, where kids who sold a bunch of papers could pocket decent change.
Both men are now midvalley residents. Blue Tent Marketing makes its home in a custom loft in Orchard Plaza, in the building adjacent to Movieland.
Their hard work and perspective was recognized in a major way last week when Outside magazine honored Blue Tent Marketing as seventh in the nation in its survey on the best places to work. Companies have to apply for consideration by Outside. The magazine hires an independent company to survey employees and then analyze the results in an objective way. Aspen Skiing Co. came in 80th on Outside’s 100 best places to work.
Outside online touted Blue Tent as a place with a great culture.
“Flexible hours let you ski, bike, run, or play, as long as you hit deadlines,” Outside said.
The top 30 companies on the list will be recognized in the September edition of Outside, on newsstands Aug. 14.
Blue Tent won accolades from Outside for company-sponsored ski outings and rafting parties and for stocking its office refrigerator with beer to help ease stress on late afternoons.
“It’s always been about having your cake and eating it, too,” Lewis said.
But Lewis and Scott said Tuesday that their company is far from all fun and games. It is every bit as serious and passionate about marketing as larger agencies in big cities, Lewis said. It has built a culture of success, Scott added.
“We’ve got a group of pretty passionate people,” Scott said.
Their hard work has paid off during the recession. Blue Tent managed to continue slow growth thanks to its earlier decision to focus partially on vacation-rental business. Blue Tent builds the websites for companies such as Frias Properties in Aspen, which manages hundreds of high-end condominiums and homes in and around the core of Aspen. A company like that needs a website that showcases awesome photos and virtual tours of the properties available, gives shoppers a good idea of where a property is situated in Aspen and provides a fool-proof way to check availability and make a reservation.
Blue Tent built a reputation for creating solid websites for clients in the vacation-rental business. The niche paid off. Vacation rentals continued to grow during the recession while real estate sales stumbled. Now that the real estate industry is clicking again in the upper Roaring Fork Valley, Blue Tent’s business has picked up even more. It also has programs dedicated to the smallest of businesses and to nonprofit organizations – providing the most bang for limited bucks.
The company is hiring programmers, account managers and specialists in search-engine optimization. Lewis said it grows when it must, not for bragging rights.
“When you operate on cash, it kind of dictates your growth trajectory,” Lewis said.
They estimated that 60 percent of their clients are outside the Roaring Fork Valley and 40 percent inside. It’s their work in Aspen, in the vacation-rental field and real estate in particular, that gets noticed by companies in other resorts and cultivates business for them. Aspen is so competitive for customers’ attention that working in other resorts is much easier, Scott said. That keeps Blue Tent’s staff on its toes, always looking for ways to innovate and improve.
“We always like to joke, ‘You never get to raise the “Mission Accomplished” banner here,'” Scott said.
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