GoSmart with Searles Family: Taylor Searles Reports from SmartPak Headquarters
It’s summer time, the time for horse shows, youth world prep and vacations. I was lucky enough to escape the hundred plus degree temperatures in Arizona by going on a vacation with family and close friends, like Gabi Salamone, Jeff Johns, and Susan Johns. With an itinerary including Niagara Falls, Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Boston, I didn’t think that one of the highlights would be in the small town of Plymouth, home of SmartPak.
As soon as we pulled into the parking lot of SmartPak, our eyes were met with a building that seemed to go on forever in each direction. We were greeted by Lissa Hines, SmartPak’s Marketing Director, who invited us into the reception area. It was here where we learned about the history of the company. Lissa told us the story of Westley, a horse that needed to have a daily dose of Vitamin E to remain healthy. SmartPak’s Founder and Westley’s owner, Becky Minard, knew there had to be a better way for barn managers to feed supplements and for the horse owner to have peace of mind knowing that it was being done consistently. Minard and Co-Founder, Paal Gisholt, put their Harvard Business School degrees to work and the SmartPak feeding system was conceived.
After we learned about the start of SmartPak, we walked into a conference room, but it wasn’t just a boring conference room like most are, this was called Wellington named after the horse mecca for hunter/jumpers, Wellington, Florida. Every conference room in SmartPak is named after a well-known horse event or location; they even have one named Congress. On one of the walls in Wellington, there was life-sized image of Team SmartPak rider Laura Chapot jumping one of the courses at the famous Winter Equestrian Festival. Underneath that was my favorite part of the room, the food table, on which SmartPak had generously supplied us hungry travelers with bagels, coffee, and other breakfast snacks. While we enjoyed the breakfast, Senior Director of Equine Health, Jessica Normand, along with Lissa reviewed the individual SmartPaks of all the horses in my parent’s barn. We also signed every horse up for SmartPak’s ColiCare program, which provides up to $7500 of colic surgery reimbursement to the owner of the horse if the horse were to have to undergo colic surgery, as long as the horse is on a ColiCare eligible product and enrolled in the program. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to sign the horses up for this free program!
Once our ponies were protected, we headed to another room called the Round Pen, where the SmartPak team does most of their training. Our group of seven filed in and five of us started to head to the back row of chairs to watch my parents talk about their SmartPak experience to a room full of eagerly awaiting SmartPakers. As we made our way to the back, Lissa stopped us and pointed us in the direction of seven chairs facing the crowd. I felt sick to my stomach. I couldn’t tell if it was because I ate too many bagels or if it was my nerves. Considering that I was about to have to stand up and introduce myself to a room full of SmartPak employees and the CEO himself, Mr. Paal Gisholt, I am thinking it was my nerves.
After the stressful introduction, we got down to business. Everyone at SmartPak wanted to know how they could improve their products and services which in my opinion were already top-notch. My mother, Deanna Searles, was first off to explain why she loves SmartPak saying, “Not only is SmartPak convenient and easy to use, their products are always quality and the customer service is unbeatable.” We also talked about the large variety of supplements that SmartPak has to offer for overall health of the horses. My dad, Jim Searles, explained, “SmartPaks have been very cost effective for us both in terms of vet bills and because little is being wasted.” Susan Johns said her favorite part about using SmartPaks is “getting to feed them at the shows because they are both easy and fun, and to be honest I love the smell of them!” Throughout the meeting, I scanned the crowd for the usual texter or napper, but to my surprise everyone was truly interested in what was being said and they really wanted to provide the best products and services out there.
Once the meeting concluded, we got the all-access-behind-the-scenes tour of SmartPak. Walking through the offices, the normal office-like cubicles were nowhere to be found. Instead the desks were surrounded by what looked like mini stalls and inside a majority of the stalls were the employee’s dogs. According to Lissa, there can be anywhere from 40-60 dogs in the office on any given day. The working environment was a relaxed one but it was obvious that everyone was working hard.
Following the office tour, we entered the hustle and bustle of the shipping area. Employees worked quickly to send off not only SmartPaks, but supplies, tack, and apparel. The technology that told the packers what to put in what box and to send where was the same technology that airport bag services use, but I am pretty sure that SmartPaks is better since they have never lost my suitcase. Trent Searles found it “cool how SmartPak has created their own boxes to fit the specific size of every shipment. It was also cool to see how they shipped out the large orders.”
When we exited the shipping area, we entered the warehouse, which is the gateway to a horse owner’s heaven. Shelves towered above our heads reaching the ceilings and they were all packed with anything you could ever need/want. Susan Johns said, “SmartPak has everything from horse to home! I’ve even bought SunShield shirts by SmartPak to wear on the golf course!” My favorite SmartPak products are the line of Pipers by SmartPak, which are cute, affordable, colorful breeches, that as their slogan goes are “too fun to just have one!”
We were lucky enough to have a guided tour from the Chief Operating Officer, Mr. Dodd Corby. The machines that package, label and seal each individual SmartPak are custom made and top secret. I was so impressed with how quickly and effective the employees worked that I asked Corby what the hiring process was like. According to Corby “once hired they undergo two weeks of training before they hit the floor. One of the unique things that SmartPak does is that we work with a local program, Community Enterprises to hire individuals with disabilities. These employees are held to the same standards but get a little extra training when needed.”
It is hard to describe how great of a company SmartPak is but I think that Gabi Salamone summed it up by saying, “Getting an in-depth look into SmartPak was an amazing experience! All of the employees take a lot of pride in their work, and it shows. The entire company is very organized and efficient! It was an amazing work environment and I’m really glad I got to take a look behind the scenes!” I think that we were all in awe with how smoothly such a large company was run.
Donnie Steele, Chief Marketing Officer, described his career at SmartPak as “being challenged everyday but never bored.” Donnie is not a horse person per se, but he understands the business and is a large part of the success of SmartPak. Jeff Johns also was spot on when he described SmartPak when he said, “I never knew how large of a company SmartPak is. It was so exciting and impressive to see their headquarters and meet tons of people that all care about horses like I do. It’s definitely a company run by horse people for horse people.”
When our tour concluded we returned back to the Wellington for some more food because Lissa knows how to keep my dad happy. There was an assortment of tasty sandwiches and wraps, followed by to-die-for brownies! I ate a solid three brownie squares…. Thanks Lissa!
While I was stuffing my face with those brownies, Kaitlyn Zaleski, Marketing Coordinator, sat down with Gabi, Trent, and me to discuss an event that is being planned by SmartPak to take place during the 2015 AQHA Youth World Show. She is working on a scavenger hunt that involves taking selfies with newly crowned world champions, a picture in the Gateway of Champions and other top secret missions.
Once lunch concluded, we drove to Troy Green Quarter Horses, a beautiful, nearby horse property where my parents did a demonstration with the help of trainer Torey Roderick, assistant trainer Carrie Jensen and their clients. A group of about 30 SmartPak employees from the Customer Care, Marketing, Merchandising, and Creative teams got an opportunity to learn more about the different classes involved in the western discipline. They asked a lot of great questions and were engaged all afternoon. Thank you to Green, Roderick, Jensen and their customers for opening your barn to us!
I would like to thank Lissa Hines, Jessica Normand, Paal Gisholt, Dodd Corby, Donnie Steele, and Kaitlyn Zaleski for making our trip to SmartPak a true highlight on one incredible vacation.
To sum up SmartPak, I recommend that you imagine how the offices at Google would look, the warehouses at Costco/Sam’s, and the shipping area at Amazon with same day shipping and everything. Once you have that in your mind, add a bunch of smiling faces eager to help, and you have SmartPak.