36. Rutabaga

Madison, WI

From the Company

Outside editors excerpted this information from the Employer Questionnaire submitted to the Best Companies Group.

Rutabaga is the largest single-door paddlesports retailer in North America. We offer canoes, kayaks, and paddlesports gear from 150 manufacturers. Our Outdoor Programs puts over 1,000 children and 400 adults on the water every year, and we offer instruction and certification to anyone who wants to learn more about paddling.

We have a culture that celebrates the glory of the outdoors, and we love that we work in an industry that has such a profound effect on the quality of one's life. We are a mixture of a democracy and a benevolent dictatorship. Everyone is allowed to give feedback in any area of the business, irrespective of their position; the best ideas often come from people who are not familiar with the intricacies of a process. Because of that, the staff now think strategically rather than tactically when initiating a new process, whether it be an internal business process, like rearranging inventory storage so it's more efficient, or organizing an event, like a local community festival. A lot of the people working here have never been employed before, and we get to teach them the basics (step one - show up and look alert). It's very satisfying to have staff members join when they are young and inexperienced and leave five or six years later to great jobs they've dreamed of, and then call and say they miss us.

We ask folks to work hard, so it's not too hard to allow them to use flextime, especially as we are a seasonal business. Employees can accumulate up to 80 hours of flextime.

As a paddle sports shop, we get wet a lot. As such, we have a locker room and shower for those who paddle or bike to work. Staff are encouraged to paddle before or after work or on their lunch hour. We keep a full line of staff demo boats that are free for their use.

We support a vast array of community programs: Big City Mountaineers, Sierra Club Inner City Outings, and a bunch of other community initiatives. Through our scholarship fund, we allow at-risk or underserved populations to participate in our programs. Staff members receive three days to perform community service each year. If they volunteer with Big City Mountaineers to do a canoe trip with at-risk youth, we increase this to five days so they can take the whole week off.

The electricity we use is generated by wind power, and we use bio-diesel in our vehicle fleet when available. We are planning on installing solar panels in 2010. Plus, employees receive $2 for every day they bike or walk to work.

The big award is the Silver Rutabaga, a lapel pin that one person per year receives for their outstanding leadership. It's a silly little thing but it means a lot to the person who receives it. Other than that, when we catch people doing things right we reward them on a regular basis. The management team has a budget to reward great behavior. It can be cash, gear, trips, whatever—we like to give people stuff they like, not stuff we have.

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