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San Clemente Journal

Living the Salt Life

Sep 05, 2017 11:20AM ● By Don Kindred
by Shelle Sandberg

Salt Life isn’t just a brand, it’s a lifestyle. That was the premise of the company when it originated in Jacksonville Beach, FL in 2003 by four friends, whose code words for going fishing were ‘living the salt life.’ One of these friends tattooed Salt Life on his neck and after several inquiries as to its meaning; stickers and T-shirts were manufactured to sell.  
Salt Life started taking on a life of its own and was acquired by its current owners in 2011. The Salt Life logo is extremely unique and recognizable. It was created by one of the original owners and his tattoo artist friend. The logo as it appears today is more aggressive than the first, and the entire alphabet is now owned and copyrighted in the newer font.

Whether your passion is fishing, paddling, scuba, surfing, or merely watching the Sun set out over the ocean, you’re living the Salt Life. Just by looking at the logo, one can tell in about 30 seconds if the Salt Life resonates, whether he is eight-years-old or 70. The sea is in our DNA and echoes for many as “home.”

Salt Life has remained active in communities, giving back by sponsoring events that are dear to salty hearts. Participating in dive and paddle competitions, deep sea fishing tournaments, and Ocean festivals, they stay authentic in everything they do. They feel deeply for our ocean and all she offers.

The company has a robust social media following and the models in the videos and layouts are actual Salt Life customers. They spearfish, kiteboard, and free-dive as far down as 100 feet. The videos, which seem to be choreographed to enchanting music, log over a million minutes of viewing time each month. 

The company is extremely strong in the areas of Sales & Marketing, Project Development, and Design. They’ve been able to compile a great team that speaks to the same vision. They’re able to make it fun while providing quality products. They are convinced the most important aspect is satisfaction in the “customer experience,” making sure their consumers are having a great time on the ocean while wearing Salt Life apparel. 

The company’s President is Jeff Stillwell, whose corporate back office is in Columbus, GA. He is truly a charming southern gentleman who has an affinity for the salt life. He loves to paddle and fish, while his favorite aquatic activity is scuba diving. He also cooks, plays guitar, and flies airplanes.  

He feels that employee motivation comes from the top and he takes absolute responsibility for everyone. His only job while running a successful corporation… to hire good people, and get out of the way!

Salt Life has experienced double digit growth every year since its acquisition. They’re very pleased with this expansion and through dedication and hard work, plan on staying there and continuing this trend.

Mr. Stillwell was forthcoming when asked about his risk taking with the growing company. The first was taking over such a small, unfamiliar company and moving it beyond just fishing towards surf, SUP, scuba, and diving. Having that vision was a huge risk and has definitely been paying off. He was just as open with taking a risk that was not a success but a valuable learning experience, when they expanded into footwear. He explained that they realized it was too soon and they needed to pull back to focus on generating the advancement of the apparel lines before venturing into other areas of the business.

When Stillwell was asked what one change he would make today regarding the company, he responded that even though there was stumbling during the learning process, it got him to where they are today, so he would not change a thing. He takes pride in the fact that people think enough of the brand to buy the stickers (they don’t give them away) and put them all over their cars. He also said they receive emails and pictures of customers who have tattooed the Salt Life logo somewhere on their bodies. Now that’s commitment!     

Distributing products and clothing in approximately 1,900 retail stores, Salt Life’s strongest market is the Southeast.  It’s pretty amazing that Orange County, California ended up with two of the four Salt Life stores! San Clemente has its own storefront on Ave. Del Mar, and the newest OC addition is in Huntington Beach. The fifth is scheduled to open in Daytona Beach this October.
Their target customer tends to be the 40 somethings, wanting to be 30… and the 30s, wanting to be 20… And although that may be the target, there’s something for everyone, as long as they have good taste, and “Live Salty!”

Salt Life 157 Avenida del Mar, SC (714) 361-3822