Interview with Charlie Bessey, CEO and founder of Coalatree
This article is part of a series featuring business executives who choose to live and work in Utah. If you know of an executive we should interview, please contact us.
Charlie Bessey’s passion for the outdoors is on full display. He is a firm believer in getting outside and enjoying all kinds of activities, including snowboarding, mountain biking and traveling, to name a few.
Bessey entered the action sports and outdoor sports marketing arenas as one of the first employees at Skullcandy. During his tenure at Skullcandy, he helped the company grow from $5 million in sales to over $125 million.
Next, he found his true passion as an entrepreneur and founded Coalatree in 2010, and as they say, the rest is history.
As the company’s CEO, he oversees the design of eco-minded gear and apparel. The company’s passion is bringing elements of the outdoors and city life together. It embraces a mountain-to-city lifestyle with adventure, freedom and ease. Coalatree employees embrace the outdoors and are always ready to hit the road, run the trails and explore.
The company also givebacks to the Salt Lake City community. Every year it uses surplus fabric to create warm blankets for the homeless in the community. Coalatree also partners with local organizations to maintain hiking and biking trails and to protect the integrity of local watersheds.
What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
Shepherding Coalatree to the 10-year mark is my greatest accomplishment. Our brand has stood the test of time, and I am incredibly proud. As the saying goes, 90% of businesses fail within the first 10 years. Achieving this benchmark, and having the company grow at a faster rate than it ever has is incredible.
Being able to provide jobs in our community, and cultivating an environment where people can learn and grow, all while doing something they are excited and passionate about, is my biggest reward.
What drew you to Utah?
I am a Utah native. I moved to Colorado to set-up a nonprofit farm that was attached to the Coalatree brand. After four years of being out at the farm, we found it challenging to operate our headquarters out of a small rural town. We had an opportunity to move to either Denver, Los Angeles or Salt Lake. The Outdoor Retailer show was based in Salt Lake, and that was a huge selling point.
As a young brand, it was reassuring to know that we could move to a place like Utah, where the state embraces businesses like ours and provides tax rebate opportunities. We felt like the brands in our space that worked here were opening their arms and saying, “Coalatree, we want you here.”
What do you like most about living in Utah?
Utahns are passionate about business, life and becoming increasingly passionate about sustainability. The recreational opportunities in proximity to the business opportunities in the Salt Lake Valley are unbeatable. In Utah, like few other places in the world, workers have a great life-work balance.
What do you like most about doing business in Utah?
The level at which Utah embraces businesses and provides opportunities for companies like ours to continue growing is incredible. We are about to embark on our fifth trip to a tradeshow in Germany organized by the state of Utah. On these trips, we develop stronger relationships with our existing distributors in places like Japan, Hong Kong and Korea.
Another benefit that comes from these trips is innovative product development opportunities. Often, we’re able to meet with factories to find new innovative cutting edge technology for sustainable fabrics and products.
What advice do you have for individuals considering starting a business, or relocating their business, to Utah?
Network. Network. Network.
There are many fantastic opportunities to connect with knowledgeable people within almost any industry. People call it “Small Lake City” for a reason. So many people are willing to help and share information.
Utilize the resources that Utah offers. Not only do we have a great ability to tap into opportunities that the state provides, but there are also many opportunities to leverage the many young talented people living in the Salt Lake Valley.
What is your primary challenge of doing business in Utah?
Utah’s not quite a global destination, but that’s changing.
Sometimes it can be a challenge to penetrate the media market. A larger media market allows a brand the opportunity to tap into things that are outside of their immediate “comfort space.” However, there is much more competition to contend with.
What is your business philosophy?
The bigger we get, the better we get at giving to the outdoor industry. We have giveback initiatives for our employees, partners, the environment and our customers.
We focus on quality over profits and stay true to our brand. Remaining true to our vision statement and putting the goals incorporated within that first, instead of profits, continues to pay-off.
Tell me about the company’s focus on sustainability.
I’m thrilled to know that we were one of the first brands sustainably doing things. Coalatree causes no unnecessary harm to the planet and makes things in the most ethical way possible.
Tell me a fun fact about yourself.
I have not cut my hair in 13 years! And, I lived in Colorado on an organic farm, in a cabin, for an entire winter without any heat.