When you dial 877.SITKA.GR, there’s a good chance Corey will be the one to pick up. His philosophy on how customer service should be done and his doggedness in serving others is nothing short of inspiring. We’ve had so much fun getting to know him over the last three years, and it finally dawned on us that we should let you guys in on that. So we peppered him with a bunch of questions, and here’s what he had to say.
Addie short for Adirondack.
1. How did you end up in Montana?
I grew up in Lake George, New York, where I loved to fish small streams for Brook trout. Fishing was my passion, and is what ultimately brought me to Montana. We took a family vacation to Glacier National Park when I was young, and I was hooked. The mountains sucked me in. I graduated from community college in Plattsburgh, New York and eventually transferred to the University of Montana in Missoula. I took two years off to play before I went back to school, you know, hiked, fished, climbed the Bitterroots, explored all around Missoula.
Saint Mary Peak, Bitterroot Range. Montana.
circa 2000. Adirondack Brown Trout.
Frenchman Coulee, Washington. Sunshine Wall route : 'Snooze ya Lose'
2. How did you get into hunting?
My entire family was big into whitetail hunting out east... except for me. I stuck to the fishing side of being an outdoorsman until I moved to Montana. My friends Dean and Erich got me into climbing and hunting at the same time. They were the ones who turned me onto Sitka. From there, it was my father-in-law who got me involved in archery hunting. He helped me become comfortable with a bow, and he’s an archery instructor here in Montana.
Hunting gave me another excuse to get lost in the woods, though you know, it was an entirely different adventure. I didn’t need to look at a map and see a trail or a guidebook with route names and grades, I simply needed to get where I wanted to go. There were no boundaries.
One of those spots where even just a half mile off the road makes a big difference.
3. Rifle or bow?
I always compare rifle hunting and bow hunting to spin fishing and fly fishing. I don’t think of rifle season in itself anymore. I just think, ‘Well, it’s time to put the bow away and take the rifle for a walk. Let’s put some meat in the freezer.’ I don’t want to ever use the word ‘pure’. Bowhunting isn’t more or less or anything, its just tougher, and so it gets more attention from me.
4. How did you get hired here, anyway?
When I first moved to Montana, I did whatever I needed to do to survive. I took two years off from school and worked lots of different jobs. When I moved out here in 2003, I took a job as a hooker, logging. I logged on and off for two years, worked in a kitchen, worked retail, and then shifted my focus back to school. I got a degree in Marketing from the University of Montana, and in the meantime made some great connections in retail. These were the connections that eventually helped me get my foot in the door with Sitka.
On my first phone interview I answered the phone with, “ Sitka Gear, this is Corey.” Jeff [Sposito] thought he’d dialed the wrong number, that he was actually talking to customer service. The interview went well. It was my technical gear background from climbing and working outdoor retail – not necessarily my hunting background – that made me valuable for the position. I understood the technical application of gear very well. You know, it was funny, coming from a climbing background where you’ve got so many options, I was just amazed there was only one company making legitimate technical apparel for hunting.
One of my first jobs in Montana - 'Hooker'. 2003
Hyalite Canyon, Montana. 2012
5. Why did you want to be a part of this team?
It was the brand, the direction of the brand, the technical orientation of the brand. And my passion for archery hunting. It all just aligned with my personality.
Back when I was working outdoor retail, I always wanted to get people in the right gear so they could have the best experience possible. It’s never been about selling or making money, I just really like the idea of being able to make someone’s life better.
6. When we said, “You’re hired,” what did you think?
When I got the job, there were so many emotions. I’ve always been driven by my passions, and always wanted to live in Montana. It was life-changing. I had been out of school for a year-and-a-half, working as a plumber’s assistant and doing whatever I needed to do to stay in Montana. It was pure excitement and joy when I got the call.
Blodgett Falls, Bitterroot Range. Montana. 2009
2008 backcountry ski trip - Bass Lake, Bitterroot Range. Montana.
Ingomore Lake, Bitteroot Range. Montana. 2010
7. OK, be honest, what were your first impressions of how Sitka operates?
I quickly learned how empowering Sitka and Gore were. It was really eye opening. Everyone really felt that every other person was important. We were a very small team when I started three years ago, and the environment was super personal. We could all chitchat, and we still can. It was different than I expected, a lot less ego, and everyone really wanted me to succeed from my very first day. After seeing that, I was hooked.
8. What’s one thing about you people wouldn’t expect to hear from a hunting company’s customer service lead?
Well, when I first got into climbing, I was addicted. Everything went on the back burner. I didn’t hike, I didn’t fish, I just climbed. There was a popular climbing area near town called Lost Horse Canyon, great bouldering and trad climbing. There was a quarry right below the trad climbing, and the Forest Service was “removing rock” right there for building roads. It was turning this recreation area into a real hazard, you know, eight hours a day there’s falling rock, trucks tearing up the place. They were going to close down public access, and we wanted to build awareness. We wanted the Forest Service to know this was a highly recreated area and realize its potential.
So we started a climbing event. The first year we had 60-80 people in attendance, and there were more the next year, and the next, and in the fourth year, we ended up having families and huge crowds of people show up. Starting that very first year, we had brand reps, gear shops, and local businesses come out to support it. And it didn’t take long for the Forest Service to see the potential. They found a different quarry to get the rock they needed. It was a big team effort with the Bitterroot Climbers Coalition, and it just felt good to organize such a fun event, so we kept it going. After the fourth year, I moved away, and I don’t think anyone took up the helm, but that’s OK. We accomplished the goal. For me it was about helping the community, all these people who were my friends, and that’s what made it so successful, a bunch of people getting together around a thing they love.
Lost Horse Canyon, Bitterroot Range. Montana -- Mid-Night Light Bulb Boulder - problem : 'The Rail'
Lost Horse Climbing Festival - Finishing Touches on the Dyno Wall. Montana.
9. How did you get so passionate about technical gear?
When I was younger, it was cotton and hot dogs. I’d just bring a package of hotdogs on an adventure. My brother used to do it this way, and he’d come back after a few days in the woods of the Adirondacks and he would just be haggard. That was where I was headed, and then I joined the Outing Club in high school. I was quickly introduced to technical gear, lightweight stoves, tents, good sleeping bags, things that made a huge difference. One winter, we went on a six-mile snowshoe hike and climbed Mount Colden. I had the gear, and that was the first hike were I was comfortable. I was excited and realized that I needed to start training and spend more time in the mountains. That trip opened my eyes to everything.
When I was logging in Missoula, everyone would criticize me because I’d wear my Arc’Teryx GORE-TEX® jacket. I was the most comfortable guy out there, though. Guys were wearing cotton stuff in January, logging in four feet of snow. I had huge waterproof gloves duct taped to my arms, and I’d be digging through snow to find logs and hook them onto the cable. They’d always criticize me, but I’d stay dry and get stuff done and those guys would have to quit and go warm up by the fire. That jacket was the best investment I could have made.
Adirondack's circa 1998.
Joe's Valley Utah climbing trip. World class sand stone bouldering.
Adirondack Mountains, Iroquis Peak False Summit. 1999
10. What’s the most underrated thing about the gear?
What I’ve learned is that hunters are more abusive on gear than ice climbers, mountaineers, or backpackers. I have hiking gear that’s twelve years old and it’s still pristine because all it ever sees is trails. Hunting apparel has to be more durable and more versatile. As a hunter, you’re bushwhacking, you’re way more abusive, and Sitka Gear definitely recognizes this. We make hunting apparel, it’s not just hiking apparel with camouflage. A buddy and I bush-wacked a good ways into the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness in the rain wearing the Dewpoint, and we were getting jabbed by sticks and every time I just remember thinking, “That has to be a hole.” I kept checking and was good to go every time. Not even a loose thread.
11. Tell us one of your favorite Sitka customer stories.
I had a gentleman call who was flying up to hunt in Alaska. He’s packing up and he takes his rain gear out of the dryer and there’s a problem. Well, first off, he bought the old Downpour series, and Downpour has always been for sitting in a tree stand. It’s a whitetail piece, and it used to just be a 2-layer GORE-TEX® Construction. But he’d been using it hard for spot and stalk, so he’s taking it out of the dryer to pack and he notices some problems. So we’re talking and you can tell he’s in a panic since he flies out in less than 16 hours, and he’s telling me how the kid who sold him the gear at the retailer told him it was the right stuff for spot and stalk.
Now, you could say that’s not our fault. But we take responsibility for every action that’s done on behalf of the brand. That includes how the product is marketed on the retail floor, no matter who’s selling it. It takes a team effort to make sure everyone is educated and on the same page, and that didn’t happen here.
So I decided to send him a set of Cloudburst gear as a replacement. Only there was no way to get it to him in time for his flight, and he couldn’t get to a store that night. So when he flew into Anchorage, I had him swing by a sporting goods shop and call me as soon as he got there. Then I told him to hand the phone over to the clerk, and I gave them my credit card. He was pretty close to having miserable time on his once-in- a-lifetime hunt, but instead, he had a great trip. That was one of the most rewarding experiences for me.
Corey at Sitka HQ.
12. OK, tell us about a time you received good customer service from another company.
Long before I worked at Sitka, I tore a Marmot rain jacket ice fishing. There was a huge tear in it about four inches long. I sent it in, they looked at it, and we talked. They pointed out that the tear was parallel to the zipper and not along a seam, and it was pretty clear the tear didn’t just happen. The guy said there must have been something sharp that cut the jacket. At first, I couldn’t think of anything, and I was mad.
Being on the other side of things, I can see that customers often don’t know what happened, even when it’s clear to the customer service guys who look at this stuff all the time that the issue didn’t arise from a material or construction defect. I completely sympathize with that, and I understand the perspective of somebody’s very first experience with a product and it doesn’t perform and you don’t know why, and all you think about is, “I paid this much money, and now it doesn’t work right.”
I was mad at Marmot, but the guy was good and he really helped me think it through, and it dawned on me: the ice auger rode in the sled with the jacket, and it was razor sharp. Yep, my fault. Marmot ended up selling me a new one at a discount, and I totally accepted it. It’s still a great product and I still trust it.
So with warranty issues, it’s really about education for me. It’s not about pinching pennies. It’s about making sure the customer is confident with the next piece of gear we send them, and to do that we need to identify the initial cause of the problem.
6lb 10oz Rainbow Trout. Montana. 2006.
13. What do you want people to know about the Customer Service team before they call?
I want people to know that we want to help them. If you give us the opportunity to help, we will. We don’t have cut and dry policies like some companies, which allows us to just have normal conversations with you. All the guys here are empowered to make decisions and stand behind the gear. And we keep things personable – I can’t count the number of times people are surprised when they call our customer service line and hear a real voice instead of an options menu. That’s valuable, and that will never change.
14. How about after?
I want to change people’s perspective of customer service and make sure they have the right stuff. I want people to be stoked. That’s the objective.
15. Why should people trust your advice on gear?
I have personal experience hunting in just about every piece we make. But that doesn’t mean I have the perfect answer to every question. Like, I’ve never been on a sheep hunt, so if you call and ask what piece you need for a place I’ve never been and hunt I’ve never been on, how can I help you? Well, I have a few Sitka Athletes on speed dial, so I’ll ask them and get back to you.
But what I think is even more important is to empower people to own the process. So I give options. I’ll say, for example, “This piece of gear is better for these conditions, but this one is better for these conditions.” I want the gear you receive to be perfect for your situation, and I want you to know why you’re using what you’re using.
Success in Montana.
16. What does the future of Customer Service look like at Sitka?
Our focus will always be on your experience, not necessarily with us on the phone or email, but your actual experience in the field. Seasons are short, and timing is everything. Things are really fast here now, but that doesn’t mean we should quit improving the system. We’re working on alot of pretty innovative ideas, but maybe it’s better to keep them under wraps for now.
17. You get a ton of customer feedback. How does that impact design?
Whenever there’s an issue, I go directly to the design team. Literally, they sit 20 feet away from me. They come up with all sorts of solutions, we try them out in the field, and the problem is resolved. Being able to do this in one season is nice.
18. OK, so we’re writing this article about you. What do you want people to do after reading it?
The one thing I want customers to always remember is that they can call us. We’d love to talk to you, and we want to help you. Seriously, call us! For us, it’s about the education; it’s about making sure people are aware of what gear they should be in for their application, what the product is designed for, and how to make it work best for them. We want to make sure you’re ready for your next adventure, and a great way to do that is to talk it through. We made our number easy to remember because we want people to use it! 877.SITKA.GR – how easy is that?