From the moment you drive up to vineyard vines’ headquarters in Stamford, Conn., a sense of ease washes over you. Located along a branch of the Long Island Sound, the four-story, 91,000-square-foot building overlooks a marina full of sleek boats swaying in the gentle New England breeze.
Past the putting green on the front lawn and through the squeaky-clean glass doors awaits the main lobby, where the stern of a massive sportfishing yacht serves as the reception desk. Adorned with real ocean fishing rods and ship lights, the custom-made desk is similar to the sales counters in many of the company’s retail stores. Overhead, the ceiling features a sprawling nautical map of Martha’s Vineyard.
Across the lobby, affixed to a white beadboard wall, a wood carving of the company’s signature pink whale keeps watch as smiling staffers decked out in the pastels of the clothiers’ latest lines casually make their way to the employee café for lunch, a game of shuffleboard or an assortment of free snacks.
A question that occurs to many first-time visitors is “Do these people ever work?”
Mike Gaumer ’98, president of vineyard vines, hears this one a lot and has a ready reply: “We work really hard to make it look easy.”
The building, which Bloomberg called “The Preppiest Office in America,” was gutted, renovated and furnished in meticulous detail before the company took occupancy in 2015. But the flourishes and nautical nods are not limited to the first floor. The entire place is like a funhouse where a surprise awaits around every corner: Colorful, waxy surfboards stand like sentries; entire walls are covered in turf, whale murals or tie patterns. Teak-topped conference tables shaped like boat hulls and rope-wrapped columns convey the company’s maritime-influenced roots.
A mock retail store is a visible reminder of the brick-and-mortar business that’s helped spread the brand’s visibility from shore to shore. Down the hall, the employee exercise room reinforces an air of healthy living that pervades the company’s youthful, cheery ranks.
The upper three floors, serviced by elevators, boast employee lounges, each decorated in homage to an iconic getaway – the Florida Keys, the Bahamas and Martha’s Vineyard. Gaumer and company founders Shep and Ian Murray occupy a spacious suite of fourth-floor offices overlooking the marina.
Environment is everything when you’re selling a lifestyle brand, Gaumer explains. And that starts with creating an experience, whether it’s for the employees and visitors at the headquarters or for the customers in the retail stores. Past all the polish and panache, you’ll find many of the people who create and design the bright color palettes, casual patterns and beach motifs that make the vineyard vines look so distinctive.
New clothes are piled, stacked and hung everywhere. To the untrained eye, it’s nearly impossible to discern a shirt from a skirt in what looks like the aftermath of an Easter egg explosion.
The building’s open layout, abundance of common areas and meeting spaces and its cafeteria were all designed to foster collaboration and community, which was easier to accomplish in their former building.
“One of the things that we did early on when we realized it was going to be a challenge is we built this very nice cafeteria,” Gaumer says. “It’s right on the water. We want people to congregate, so we asked people not to eat at their desks. There was a lot of groaning at first on that.”
Nowadays, the cafeteria is a hub of activity, and you can often find Gaumer and the Murrays eating there and talking shop. And no matter how busy things get around the office, there’s always time to appreciate the finer things in life.
On a recent weekday afternoon, Gaumer walked over to the marina to take a group of visitors out for a spin on one of the company boats. It was a beautiful summer’s day as he pointed the bow toward the Sound, his hair blowing back in the wind. He didn’t have to say what he was thinking; his smile said it all: “Every day should feel this good.”