Quite a coup, this: Rutabaga, the canoe and kayak emporium just off the Beltline at Monona Drive, has made the 2010 list of "50 Best Places to Work" in Outside magazine. Part of the Best Jobs feature in the magazine's May issue -- the one with muddied Man vs. Wild star Bear Grylls on the cover, if you can still find a copy in the racks -- it ranks the paddlesports retailer 36th among such heady outdoor-industry company as Clif Bar, Eddie Bauer, Keen, LiveStrong, National Outdoor Leadership School, Patagonia, Pearl Izumi and SmartWool.
On a list dominated by manufacturers and firms that provide services -- as well as firms based in California (10) and Colorado (eight) -- Rutabaga stands out as one of only a few retailers and the only Wisconsin business.
Rutabaga owner Darren Bush has known this was coming since receiving an email message from the research firm that did this year's rankings. "They said, 'Congratulations, you've been selected,'" says Bush, noting this was in February. "'You can't tell anyone until April.'" His immediate reaction? "Wow. That's a pretty big deal. Cool."
He hopes the recognition may help correct misperceptions that independent retailers can't be as flexible as big manufacturers at accommodating staff members who want to take a year off to roam or pursue a goal, for example, or work four 10-hour days per week. "In retail, you kind of have to be there when the customers are," Bush allows, but a little scheduling creativity can pay off in a happier, recharged employee at little or no cost to the business.
Another payoff is a staff that votes their employer onto the annual list. "It's nice to get that award," acknowledges Bush. "I hope it makes some people notice that the outdoor industry is not all about Colorado." Madison, he adds, is "a great city. Southern Wisconsin is a great place to live." He cites both city and region among contributors to the quality of life reflected in his staff's survey responses.
Rutabaga's inclusion on the magazine's list is augmented by a "My Company" profile on Bush, one of a handful of business owners selected to elaborate on their core management principles, and a description of Rutabaga's company culture.
Beyond the scope of this Outside feature, but also worth mention here is canoelover, a blog by Bush that offers an engaging blend of insights and photographs spanning canoes, kayaks, the outdoor industry, family, friends, blacksmithing, food, spirituality, traditional skills, sense of presence and place, the natural world and odonates.