Interview with the Founder of Eskimo Joe’s, Stan Clark, The Minister of Fun

Show Notes

If you want to learn how a thriving business can operate on the principle of JOY for 45 years, then you don't want to miss this episode. Stan talks about the highs, lows and everything in between for Eskimo Joe's and the principles the company (as well as his life) has been built upon.
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Audio Transcription

Jill Donovan:
Here we go. Welcome back to CEO-ish. I’m Jill Donovan and today we have an extra, extra, extra special guest, we have royalty in the house. We have the minister of fun, the founder of an empire and your photo is next to the word enthusiasm in the dictionary. Please help me welcome Stan Clark. With our live studio audience, it so much more exciting. Stan, thank you so much for being here.

Stan Clark:
Jill thank you. That was a fun introduction. Minister of… what did you say?

Jill Donovan:
Fun.

Stan Clark:
Minister of Fun, wow.

Jill Donovan:
Have you heard yourself called that before?

Stan Clark:
No, never. That is classic. I love it.

Jill Donovan:
Then you didn’t read the article I read right before. The minister of fun is exactly what you are.

Stan Clark:
Well, that is really a high compliment because I’ve always said that creating a good time is really what we are, that’s our mission. That’s what we try to do it’s what we strive to do for gosh, almost 45 years now so that’s really cool. In fact a mutual friend of ours Burns Hargis spoke to my management team one time right after he took a job on being president of Oklahoma State University and one first thing he said to our group was “Gosh, I’ve been really studying you all to get ready for this presentation today.” He said, “I think your core competency is fun.” He says, “I think you’re having fun.”

Stan Clark:
And when he left, I told everybody I said, gosh, I didn’t prompt him. I told him to speak on anything you want but the fact that he could figure out what we’re all about really meant a lot to me. And the next thing that came to my mind was and by the way, if you’re not fun you’re fired. And we’ve kept that mantra and it’s interesting how many of our team members come up to me and say and I am fun and they will remind me how fun they are.

Jill Donovan:
For maybe three or four people that know bracelets but don’t know who Stan Clark is. Stan is the founder of Eskimo Joe’s, which Eskimo Joe’s started 45 years ago as a little.

Stan Clark:
Little beer joint.

Jill Donovan:
Little beer joint and I believe beer was selling back then correct me if I’m wrong for 30 cents a bottle?

Stan Clark:
That’s correct.

Jill Donovan:
30 cents a bottle. The same person who called you minister a fun also told me that it was 30 cents a bottle.

Stan Clark:
Well actually it was 30 cents a draw and it was 45 cents a bottle. You had to be a big spending to go for a long neck.

Jill Donovan:
Now this was an idea that you and a friend came up with.

Stan Clark:
That’s correct.

Jill Donovan:
In your what year of OSU?

Stan Clark:
Well, I have to actually give him all the credit. My original partner his name is Steve File, Tulsa guy like me and we met each other on the first day of fifth grade and we went all through the rest of elementary school, junior high, high school together. Graduated from Memorial high school and we both went to OSU and four years later-

Jill Donovan:
What were you studying by the way, not bracelets ?

Stan Clark:
I was a business major. I had a general administration degree from the college of business. I did graduate in May in 1975 and two weeks after graduation, it was a Sunday afternoon I remember it like it was yesterday. I’m laying on a couch, not unlike that one right there and watching reruns of Star Trek and Steve walks in and he goes, “Hey Clark, I’m going to open a bar.” He said, “Man, all bars around here doing great. “Well File that’s a cool idea I’ll go in partners with. I know where there’s this groovy little two story building for rent.”

Jill Donovan:
But what were you doing at this time? Working somewhere? When he came in to tell you this did you have a job yet?

Stan Clark:
No ma’am.

Jill Donovan:
I like it, ambitious.

Stan Clark:
Two weeks after I graduated. Hey what I heard? Sorry, I’m going to go everywhere.

Jill Donovan:
Let’s do it.

Stan Clark:
So Barry Switzer I remember he was telling the story that when he got called by Jerry Jones and ask him if he would coach the Dallas Cowboys he said he was laying on the couch. So anyway-

Jill Donovan:
I’m going to go lay down for just a second. Good things happen when you’re laying down apparently. I like that story.

Stan Clark:
So anyway I’m lying there. We jump in File’s 1953 chevy which is what he was driving so think about that 22 year old car, but his home was at 303 South Ramsey. You were talking about being in the Knight Center?

Jill Donovan:
Right.

Stan Clark:
Well the Knight center is on that property, so we just round the corner on the university down my block, turn right on Elm and there we are. And I always say as fate would have it, the owner of that building was there then had he not been I don’t think we’d have ever gone back. I don’t have any idea what I would’ve done because within 10 minutes we’d agreed to rent the building and walla! That is the inception of Eskimo Joe’s.

Jill Donovan:
The two of you just went up and asked him you could rent the building?

Stan Clark:
Oh, I said, thank goodness he was there he said, “Well look around boys.” And oh the negotiation was so intense. He said fellas is if you want to just like you see there’s 350 a month if you want me to put an air conditioner in I need 400.

Jill Donovan:
And what did about running a beer joint when you were 21? I mean, I know you knew beer, but what did you know about running a beer joint?

Stan Clark:
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I actually worked at Ken’s pizza for nine months in my, I think it was a sophomore year at Oklahoma State. And in that nine months I really learned more about how to interact with a customer, how to be hospitable if you will probably than I didn’t in 4 years of the college of business. And it’s no knock on the business education by any means. I couldn’t have gotten a loan, wouldn’t have understood the financials, I wouldn’t have been able to done a pro forma, convince a banker to loan me some money to get started at age 22.

Stan Clark:
My dad encouraged me to think entrepreneurially from the time I was just a kid so I always thought I was going to work for myself. And as I went through the college of business, I was always thinking about how I would apply the principles I was learning to my own business, but I had no idea it was going to happen at age 22. But I do think without that backdrop when Steve said hey I’m going to open a bar, I’d probably gone “Yeah, right get me a beer.” And stayed in and finished that excellent episode of Star Trek but no, I jumped up I said, “Hey, I’ll go in partners with you.”

Jill Donovan:
And so from there how long once you decided to rent the bracelets building, take me just through the next year really quickly what that process was until it really got going.

Stan Clark:
Well we got to open in July, so it took us a couple of months to do the remodeling. The interesting thing there was I had zero carpentry skills or any sort of engineering abilities, but Steve was much braver guy than I was, a lot more just kind of different skillsets. We actually just drew out on the floor of that place where we wanted things to be and we built the bar ourselves. We got the little, they’re still exist up in the front windows of this original building. We built those little platforms and I love to tell this story.

Stan Clark:
We bought these half sawn logs from a guy named Eddie Gilbert in Coweta, Oklahoma and those logs cost us 50 cents a piece in just five short years I’m going to have those logs fully depreciated. It’s just amazing. Anyway, it’s funny how I can tell you all the details of 45 years ago and I can’t really remember who I rode over here with-

Jill Donovan:
Or what we had for lunch.

Stan Clark:
Oh yeah. Emily and Mikhael. I do actually remember that.

Jill Donovan:
I get it. So you got this, you redesigned this space to your liking enough for a beer joint and then why Eskimo Joe’s?

Stan Clark:
That’s another great question and the honest answer is that was also Steve’s idea. Brilliant idea.

Jill Donovan:
Somebody call Steve and get him in for an interview.

Stan Clark:
I didn’t love the name, but every time we would discuss names, Steve would go into this chant Eskimo Joe’s, Eskimo Joe’s, all of our friends would join in and so-

Jill Donovan:
Where did it come from?

Stan Clark:
What I remembered about marketing really was that you needed to be able to cut through clutter, you had to do something that would stand out. I thought, “Well, at least it’s weird.” What in the world dos Eskimo Joe’s mean in Stillwater, Oklahoma. But thankfully I was 22, kind of a marketing guru really. I had three hours of marketing at Oklahoma State so anyway, what I remembered from principles of marketing class, the only one I ever took was that we needed a logo. That symbol that would conjure up our business in the hearts and minds of our customers with or without the name attached. So we thought well, we got to get a logo.

Stan Clark:
So where are we going to get one? Steve’s younger brother Russell says, “Hey, I know a guy he’s from California his name’s Bill Thompson. He’s freshman commercial arts, and I know he could do it.” Okay, call Bill. So Bill drives up, he’s driving a VW bus with California plates, his hair is all the way down to his rear he looked like an artist to me and sure enough he was. And he rendered the only logo that was ever render, drawing ever render for our logo it’s Eskimo Joe and Buffy.

Jill Donovan:
And why Buffy?

Stan Clark:
Well, that’s another great story. We had to t-shirts for sale day one and in the first week or so after we’d opened, a young lady came up and she bought our shirt and she said, “Hey guys, what’s the dog’s name?” Steven and I looked at each other and looked at each other, I still don’t remember which one of us blurted out Buffy.

Jill Donovan:
I’d say you. [crosstalk 00:09:43] some credit.

Stan Clark:
Okay. Thanks.

Jill Donovan:
So you just said Buffy?

Stan Clark:
Because nothing so far has been my idea right?

Jill Donovan:
For the rest of this podcast let’s make it your idea.

Stan Clark:
Okay.

Jill Donovan:
So you just blurt it out, Buffy?

Stan Clark:
Yes ma’am.

Jill Donovan:
Do you know any Buffy’s?

Stan Clark:
I do not.

Jill Donovan:
Do you know we grew up watching Buffy on what channel was that?

Crowd:
On Family Affair.

Jill Donovan:
Family Affair, Buffy.

Stan Clark:
Oh yeah.

Jill Donovan:
Yeah Buffy, that’s the only Buffy I know. What I really love is that there’s not this like rich history in why you named it what you named it. It’s organic which is really how everything then flowed from that point on.

Stan Clark:
Well it made perfect sense to me once I laid eyes on the logo, it was a fit I loved the logo. Here’s the funny thing about it I go, “Oh man, that is awesome. What do you think Steve?” And he goes, “It’s all right.” So the management lesson, leadership lesson in that we were extremely different individuals and we were so much stronger as partners because we weren’t alike. I had a skill set, I was kind of the hospitality guy, minister of fun. I like that new title but we wouldn’t have been able to have done it without Steve. I mean he was just bolder and he was just ready to go. Here we go.

Jill Donovan:
The way a marriage and bracelets are supposed to work.

Stan Clark:
Yeah, there you go.

Jill Donovan:
Yeah, opposites. So then you started with t-shirts by the way, you said when you first started?

Stan Clark:
We did. Fortunately, some guys came by and we haven’t got the place open yet and they said, “You guys ought to print your logo on some t-shirts.” And I have to thank my parents again on this one. They took me to Hawaii on a convention when I was in college and we found a place over there called Crazy Shirts and I bought some t-shirts and a wore them kind of the rest of my college days if you will. But had it not been for that I’m not sure we would have even caught onto it.

Stan Clark:
Printed sports wear was not hardly even going at that point so it was real new and thank goodness we did. I remember when we ordered 72 shirts, three dozen of them were light blue, three dozen of them were a goldish yellow color. The print was in one color but that’s how it was designed. It was designed with a magic marker on this huge art pad. So such a simple design like that recreates beautifully in one color.

Jill Donovan:
Wow. And you sold them really fast?

Stan Clark:
We sold them in first week, couldn’t believe it. There was this very entrepreneurial young woman who sat up in the front window at Joe’s every afternoon and when people would buy a shirt, she’d get them to come over here and she was charging a dollar and she was painting Buffy’s tongue red. She was making more money on the shirts than we were. T-shirts were 3.75 and you got a free beer with it.

Jill Donovan:
With the t-shirt?

Stan Clark:
Yeah.

Jill Donovan:
Wow. Now this is 1970…

Stan Clark:
Five, 1975.

Jill Donovan:
1975, goodness. And then you and Steve’s stayed together for how long?

Stan Clark:
We were partners for two and a half years. And Steve met a young woman at Eskimo Joe’s actually that he fell in love with and was married and just needed to change the lifestyle and wanted to move along with his life. And I just believed in my heart of hearts that we had something going that was very special. I knew we were really connecting with our customers and I just felt like it was something I could grow with and I was a lot more interested in working the bar business honestly than Steve was.

Stan Clark:
He was very entrepreneurial like I said, much more bolder really than I was and he wanted to move on and do a lot of other things and just let somebody manage that business. And I just liked it, I just wanted to run it I wanted to do it. So very natural dissolution of the partnership. It was probably the right way when things go. Nobody knew for sure who got the better deal everybody I think thought it was a fair deal and it was a tiny, tiny business for a bar.

Jill Donovan:
At what point did that this was something that had some staying power?

Stan Clark:
I felt like I knew that right away just that there was a connection. People really liked the place and in fact the ultimate affirmation to me was if they bought a t-shirt. That just meant the world to me I was so excited.

Jill Donovan:
Because they wanted to wear you like bracelets.

Stan Clark:
And then I knew that it was going to conjure word of mouth advertising. Where’d you get that? Well, at this fun little bar in Stillwater. Well what is about that? Well it’s a funky little place, the music’s great it’s just fun.

Jill Donovan:
So let me hit pause on that for a second. Because you needed to hire people obviously, did you do all of your initial hiring?

Stan Clark:
We hired our first team member out of the first night’s crowd. It’s just 30 feet from the front door to the bar and I’m just watching her walk and I’m watching her walk and I punched Steve. “Steve maybe that can be a team member.” So she gets to the bar and I kind of muster up the courage and say, “Hey, how would you like to maybe work here?” And she just sort of stepped back with this unbelievably groovy classic pause and she just said, “Well, Stan, I might think about working for you and Steve.” And I was just like what?

Jill Donovan:
But I’m 16. He’s laughing because it’s true.

Stan Clark:
No, I don’t think that’s quite true but so we’re taken a back. How does she know who we are? So her father coached me when I was playing eighth grade basketball and she was in grade school at the time. So she was like four years behind Steve and I but obviously she had changed a lot since grade school but the reason I really like to tell that story the most is that she worked for us for over two years. And I think that just speaks to the fact that I understood from the get go how important people were going to be.

Stan Clark:
And again, that goes back the way my dad raised me and he just talked about all the time about his company was only as good as his people and that is just so true. And I did get that. I knew that that was going to be important. I remember we just told her people walk in, we want to make them feel welcome like they’re walking in your home. Just make him feel welcome and special and show them a good time and that’s what it’s all about.

Jill Donovan:
But how do you impart what is just inherent and it’s just natural for you to… How many employees do you have now?

Stan Clark:
About 400 right now.

Jill Donovan:
How do you impart what you know needs to happen the minute somebody walks through the door, how do you impart that to 400 and a lot of college kids right?

Stan Clark:
Oh yeah, absolutely. Well, there’s a lot of things in place obviously today that we didn’t have back then, but the way I do it personally is we conduct what we call smiles 101 with everybody that we hire. And that’s just an opportunity for us to share our history and just to share our vision of greatness and just really get a chance to set the expectation and really what we need, what we’re all about and what we just have to have people do. There’s a huge white house study done back in the 80s and it said that 68% of people quit a business when they encounter an attitude of indifference on the part of a team member.

Stan Clark:
So the idea is we’ve got to be present, we’ve got to be there and we got to truly genuinely engage our customers with empathy and just be willing to do whatever it takes to delight the guests. Our mission statement is super simple to delight every guest, by giving my best and we wrote it in first person because as a young person is hired on to read it I want them to own it. I tell them treat those guests like you’re me, like you own this place. That’s what I want everybody to do. Is to own these values and own this approach and this isn’t rocket science just be nice.

Jill Donovan:
We’re you always like this or did you have something that happened to make you like over years? As a young child were you always happy and ministering fun?

Stan Clark:
Well, I might’ve been a little bit and my mom really is where I got this spirit and this positivity. She is just the nicest, sweetest, most… She’s just the best. And she always used to say, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. And she lived that. I’ve never heard her belittle another person or say anything behind anybody’s back and it’s just such a cool thing. So I’ve kind of always had that spirit I’ve always been happy and you said something early on it was true. I had had a beer or two before we opened that place, so I knew that that was fun and two was funner than one and-

Jill Donovan:
So he was in a better mood too.

Stan Clark:
So all that was very natural.

Jill Donovan:
Let me ask you, throughout the 45 years obviously it has not been all roses. Tell me about a time throughout the last 45 years that maybe not that you wanted to give up, but the time… You learn the most in the hardest times.

Stan Clark:
Absolutely.

Jill Donovan:
What was the greatest lesson that you learned and the hardest time over the last 45 years?

Stan Clark:
Wow. I’ve got so many of those bruises, I don’t know. First one I’ll talk about is when they changed the drinking age from 18 to 21.

Jill Donovan:
What year was that?

Stan Clark:
That was a real trauma. They changed the law in the fall of 1983. Back then Tulsa had two newspapers, the Tulsa World and the Tulsa Tribune. I remember the Trib called me and said, “Hey, we want to come over and do a story about this change in beer law and how it’s going to affect your business.” I said, “All right, come on over.” And so they took this picture of me and they said, “Wipe that smile off your face you need to look really glump because that doesn’t fit the story as well.” This is who I am, but okay I tried to look sad and got a beer from them. But they came up with the greatest cut line. It says, “New beer law chills Tavern owners.” And the story was bottom line, this ain’t going to work anymore because-

Jill Donovan:
College town.

Stan Clark:
18, 19, 20 year olds. That’s kind of your freshman, sophomore, junior year. Most kids weren’t even able to come in until they’re seniors. So I just really was sweating it and trying to figure out what to do and really necessity being the mother of invention, I decided maybe the only way to leverage the existing trade name and existing facility was to add a kitchen to it. So that’s what forced us into food service.

Jill Donovan:
Had you thought about that before they changed the law or it forced you?

Stan Clark:
All I could think about even in the face of this was, I don’t want to screw up this great business by being in a bad restaurant. Restaurant’s risky, restaurant’s hard restaurant’s really hours. You didn’t have to open til two o’clock when you are bar, we could stay up real late.

Jill Donovan:
So by yourself, this bracelets venture now. I mean, it’s like starting a brand new business almost because you had not gone into food at all. Right? It was just-

Stan Clark:
We had not. We had a little pot in the back a crock-Pot kind of a deal and I’m sure you all know the recipe of velveeta cheese and [inaudible 00:21:06] tomatoes-

Jill Donovan:
We got some for you after the podcast.

Stan Clark:
A little dab of peso at one point in time but anyway, no we weren’t in food service. So to go from beer joint to full service restaurant, even with the simplest menu, we went from 13 employees to 45 just overnight. I didn’t quite know anything about restaurants, hired a guy that had a restaurant degree but he was just a young fun crazy guy just like I was. And he hired a guy by the name Robert Williams, who is still our director of restaurant operations 36 years with me now. But here’s the cool thing, we got the kitchen open in 1984 and I was thrilled to find out in 1984 that more people actually eat everyday than drink everyday. I didn’t have any idea, it was crazy.

Jill Donovan:
That’s your aha moment.

Stan Clark:
Yeah it was. So actually there was a lot of demand for that and what was cool about it is more people came in, enjoyed our hospitality had a good time there. They too might want a souvenir like a t-shirt. So not only did it just grow the heck out of the core business, the shirt sales just went off the charts after that. So what looked like it was going to kill was the best thing that ever happened to us?

Jill Donovan:
Wow, that’s great and that’s a great lesson for everybody in business. The thing that you think is going to kill you is the thing that makes you the strongest.

Stan Clark:
You never know.

Jill Donovan:
Yeah. Were there any moments because this is a lot for you now, I mean this is many years of having to switch, having to pivot, having to continue to evolve. Were there any moments that as I’ve never seen you not smile ever. When I say minister of fun, it’s really true but are there ever any moments? What is it that will make your smile turn around? I know they’re hard times, but is there anything that really disappoints you?

Stan Clark:
Well if you were just talking about downturns in business or bad business decisions or just when things don’t work, it’s stressful. It’s just more fun when it’s working that’s all there is to it. We were talking about basketball earlier some are fun and you win and in business it’s real, it’s hurtful. We opened our third restaurant in 1987, Mexico Joe’s after having moved our second restaurant downtown into a new facility, got a great deal on that building because it was after the oil bust in the early eighties, and got a bargain on that and that was neat. But I hadn’t opened a third one and when we first opened Mexico Joe’s that just about broke me.

Stan Clark:
And I mean that was at the absolute probably lowest point in my professional life 1987. I remember the summer of 87, I was actually meeting payroll by taking cash advances on credit cards. And that’s not just for Mexico Joes, that’s for Eskimo Joe’s, that’s for Eskimo Joe’s clothes, that’s for everything I had going at the time, Stillwater Bay. I remember the young lady that was working at the bank one day was a server at night at Stillwater Bay which was basically right next door to Stillwater National Bank and back then you had to get the phone to get approval for cash advance. And I see her she’s talking to someone…

Stan Clark:
What I didn’t see, she kind of slid the drawer open to her desk and boom my credit card disappears and the company had instructed her to get possession of that credit card and take it away. Now she’s probably thinking I’m not getting another paycheck from Stillwater Bay. So anyway, you’re so right and it’s not just this meteoric rise with no hiccups and whatever else.

Jill Donovan:
Did you think you were going to get through that was your 12th year?

Stan Clark:
I wasn’t sure if I was, to be honest. I remember we took a family vacation that year mom, dad, sister and brother in law we went to Mexico. And I just felt so sorry for my dad that the whole time we were there I was just being in his ear dad what am I going to do? One strategy we came up with was local cable television avails had just come on the scene. You could advertise on CNN I think might’ve been a network then ESPN was brand new, some cable networks and that was kind of a new thing. So we started a TV advertising campaign where I just looked you right in eye.

Stan Clark:
I went to Wichita, Kansas did green screen and to look you in the eye and say, “If this isn’t the best Mexican food you’ve ever had. I’ll buy, it’s free. It’s on me.” And so the guy who was selling me the ads, he’s driving me up there in his little compact car and he looks at me he goes, “Now Clark, are you sure you want to say that?” I’m thinking so Bill, you mean you don’t like my food? But not that many people called us on it. Here’s the deal, we’ve had an unconditional guarantee on everything we sold from the first day I was in business but I’d never positioned it that strongly but that’s not what turned around.

Stan Clark:
What turned around was great trained people that executed the plan. The recipes are delicious, food was great. We started early, we were understaffed, we were under trained it’s a huge life lesson to learn but anyway, the good news was in 1988 we broke even. In 1987 later we opened Joe’s clothing world headquarters right next door to Joe’s. Thankfully. I mean, honestly, the opening that clothes store is what saved the whole company and shirt sales were going off the charts-

Jill Donovan:
Amazing store.

Stan Clark:
Thank you. The next year, the Tulsa World wrote that we were one of the most collectible shirts in the country behind HardRock that helped a whole lot.

Jill Donovan:
And then president Bush.

Stan Clark:
Oh man, what a guy.

Jill Donovan:
Came to do the commencement.

Stan Clark:
Yes. In 1990. George H. W. Bush president number 41.

Jill Donovan:
Did you know he was going to mention your name?

Stan Clark:
I did not, but you know what he said?

Jill Donovan:
Tell me.

Stan Clark:
I wish Barbara could be with me here. She did tell me to get a beer and some cheese fries over at Eskimo Joe’s.

Jill Donovan:
Wow. And how many people were there?

Stan Clark:
Hoping at the same time they have enough t-shirts for all the grandchildren. Wow. Rest assured they got the t-shirts. And think about it that was like Janet Bush that was W’s kids and Jeb’s kids anyway that was amazing.

Jill Donovan:
Were you there at that meeting?

Stan Clark:
I was and I was jumping up and down and bouncing off the walls. My parents call me “Our friends are calling us from all over the country, did you hear what the president said?” Oh it was-

Jill Donovan:
Did you meet him after that?

Stan Clark:
Not there, but Mikhael and I actually got to meet him one time, we sure did. He spoke in Oklahoma city and we had access to a behind the scenes deal. Mrs. Bush also spoke on campus one time and we found out where she was staying and we sent her this welcome gift to Stillwater. And it was in ’96 and that was the first year that Eskimo Joe ran for president. We had all these cute things like buttons and all this stuff and she came out, she had on this gorgeous blue blazer with huge black lapels of Chanel it’s was really very beautiful. And she looked out there and she said, “I’m surprised so many of you students are here on a Friday night. I thought you’d all be over at…” she pulls this lapel back, Eskimo Joe’s and she had that campaign button on and thankfully in OSU a photographer was right up on it with a zoom lens and so we had that. I’ve got beautiful letters back from them and it was just-

Jill Donovan:
But those kind of these things are unexpected.

Stan Clark:
Oh, and you just can’t-

Jill Donovan:
They come out of the blue and-

Stan Clark:
You can’t buy it.

Jill Donovan:
You can’t buy it. The thing is when you try to buy something like that, it doesn’t work-

Stan Clark:
It wouldn’t work anyway.

Jill Donovan:
Okay. So I want to ask you a couple of questions for people that know you but don’t really know you.

Stan Clark:
Okay.

Jill Donovan:
Okay. Just tell me really quick, a typical bracelets day in the life of Stan Clark. What time do you wake up?

Stan Clark:
Like this morning five till six. And just kind of take care of the dogs first, make sure the kids are awake at they’re prescribed times and then take the kids to school.

Jill Donovan:
And how old are your kids?

Stan Clark:
We have twins, Gabby and Hudson who are 15 years old and they’re in ninth grade and Maguire our older daughter is 17 and she’s a junior at Stillwater High School.

Jill Donovan:
Okay, so you get them all ready.

Stan Clark:
Yup.

Jill Donovan:
And then do you go to the office every day?

Stan Clark:
I do.

Jill Donovan:
Is the office for you the office or are you going around and… You’re so social that I don’t see you in an office all day.

Stan Clark:
I’m not great at office. It’s such a pest, it’s always a joy just to get away from it to be honest.

Jill Donovan:
You need an assistant.

Stan Clark:
I have a wonderful assistant.

Jill Donovan:
He’s assistant is here.

Stan Clark:
I have a wonderful assistant. It does take a lot to administer a company the size of ours but I really I have a lot of freedom to move around and do whatever seems appropriate. Like today, I can’t tell you how much I looked forward to today.

Jill Donovan:
I was surprised that you had enough time today to come here.

Stan Clark:
Oh gosh it was a joy, couldn’t wait to come.

Jill Donovan:
We gave Stan a little birthday party today and he didn’t even know it was his birthday. He didn’t know we were going to do that. So Stan if you want to get away in the afternoon or evening just to recharge yourself, what is it that you do?

Stan Clark:
Well, I’m a music nut so music is always something special to me. And I really love concerts of course. Gosh, my wife and I have been all over the country chasing all kinds of fun concerts. Before we had kids we were that couple that anybody could call in the last minute and we were always in. The last 17 years have been very different but that empty nesting thing is not that far around the corner so maybe we can ratchet some of that back up.

Jill Donovan:
Do you get time alone?

Stan Clark:
Time alone-

Jill Donovan:
Do you enjoy time alone or do you get it?

Stan Clark:
I don’t have a lot of time alone and I don’t particularly seek that out. I will say from time to time maybe the family goes to McAlester and sees Shannon’s side of the family and maybe I’m asked to stay home with the dogs. It’s not the worst thing in the world to have an evening all to yourself.

Jill Donovan:
And lay on the couch and see what happens.

Stan Clark:
You never know.

Jill Donovan:
You never know.

Stan Clark:
You never know.

Jill Donovan:
And so I like to ask questions that are not normal, so just hang with me here. If you were going to go to the top of the mountain and yell something down to everybody below in the Valley and whether it was advice or just your mantra, what would that be? That one phrase, sentence word that’s Stan Clark would yell at the top of his lungs to everybody.

Stan Clark:
Wow. What a great question.

Jill Donovan:
Wow. What a great question!

Stan Clark:
Standing on the top of a mountain, obviously-

Jill Donovan:
Say something to the whole bracelets world.

Stan Clark:
Obviously it would be so awesome, you’d have to be thinking about your maker and just the glorious world we live in and our savior to me that would be religious and that it would be something in that vein.

Jill Donovan:
Do you have something on your bucket list that has stayed there for a long time that you haven’t done and you’re determined to do it before the end of this life?

Stan Clark:
Whew I’ve got so much I still need to do before the end of this life, but I don’t have anything that’s that’s just.

Jill Donovan:
A place to go.

Stan Clark:
Not really. There are a lot of golf destinations that do intrigue me. it would be something to actually play at Augusta National for example, or to play at Sea Island or I’ve had the good fortune of actually playing it at Pebble and that stuff’s pretty neat.

Jill Donovan:
Yeah?

Stan Clark:
I do like golf.

Jill Donovan:
I was at Sea Island last weekend.

Stan Clark:
Were you really?

Jill Donovan:
Never been there before.

Stan Clark:
Pretty awesome?

Jill Donovan:
Yeah, it was. I didn’t golf but it was beautiful I’ve never been to that part. I’m sure you have a lot of college students that come up and say this phrase, can I get some time with you to pick your brain?

Stan Clark:
I’ve heard that.

Jill Donovan:
And because so many want to be entrepreneurs and look up to you. How do you handle with so many people coming and wanting your time?

Stan Clark:
Well, if and when I can I do enjoy it. I will admit I dodge some times just for scheduling reasons, but Emily would attest every time I accept I was go, “Oh, I’m so glad I did that. Oh, I’m so glad.” How many times have we heard yet? So it’s always fun. It’s just a matter of can you actually make it happen? I can’t help somebody write every paper.

Jill Donovan:
But if I’m a college student and I say “Stan, what is the number one piece of advice you would give to me that I can carry with me for the next decade?” What is it that Stan tells him?

Stan Clark:
Well, I just tell them to do something that they actually enjoyed. Hospitality is very natural to me, I just feel so blessed to do something that I actually just enjoy. It’s just fun to me. It’s natural to me. so I think that’s a big deal, but as much as anything you just give it your all whatever it is that you’re doing. And if it doesn’t turn out to be exactly what you wanted, still just learn to give all you’ve got to whatever it is you’re doing and great things will happen. That’s just the way it works. Just to dog along and not do your best there’s just no way you can feel good about yourself doing that so you should just go for it.

Jill Donovan:
I tell my kids to be so good that the world can’t ignore you. Whatever it is that you’re doing, because you don’t know who’s watching or how that is going to lead to the next step that you’re supposed to do.

Stan Clark:
I totally love that advice. It’s excellent.

Jill Donovan:
What is the last great book that you’ve read?

Stan Clark:
Oh gosh. So the last great book I read was as a title called What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. And it’s really good it’s by a really smart, sophisticated business consultant and that’s one that I just have around all the time and I will go back to it. I think the one book, business book particularly that probably had the greatest impact on me and this happened back in the late eighties was the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. And that is a book that I not only read I did some studies with other business guys around our community. We actually follow Stephen Covey’s philosophy of “Hey, to best learn, teach.” We taught habits to each others teams throughout the various companies that were represented. And that one really was a game changer for me and it’s just easy to embrace those habits. I mean, it just makes so much sense to me that I’ve started to [inaudible 00:36:53]

Jill Donovan:
Tell me two of those habits.

Stan Clark:
Be proactive and that’s just we can all choose how ever we’re going to react. So many different ways to sail, but we can’t determine where the wind is going to come from but we can adjust the sail. Bottom line, we react to whatever comes at us how ever we choose to react. Only humans have that ability animals just… What do you call that? They can’t help it.

Jill Donovan:
My dog can wear bracelets but [crosstalk 00:37:24].

Stan Clark:
Good for you. The other one I would say is I seek first to understand than to be understood and that was a principal my dad taught me from the time I was just a kid. Again, he said try to understand any situation from the other person’s perspective and that’s how he said it. Stephen Covey says, “Seek first to understand than to be understood,” but if you can just put yourself in the other party’s shoes, it just sure can disseminate things. Plus if you’ll give somebody psychological air with a chance to just tell you what they think and if you reflect that back to them and they really believe, truly believe you’ve listened to them by then things are a little calmer.

Jill Donovan:
Who is your hero?

Stan Clark:
My hero?

Jill Donovan:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Stan Clark:
I’d have to say my dad. Obviously I’ve re referred to him so often. He was in the pipeline contracting business but he didn’t know he was doing this, but he was modeling how to run a great company the whole time I was growing up. And just the way he interacted with his team. He was on the phone constantly and he was just supporting everybody in that company. And then his supplier partners were heavy equipment salesman and they were the funnest guys that I’d ever met in my life. I still remember all their jokes and I still tell them when I can. And a pretty [crosstalk 00:38:52] if you can imagine pipeliners so he loved his people and he loved his supplier partners, but also the way my mom and he treated their customers all over the country.

Stan Clark:
So our vision of greatness is all about just that, how are we going to interact with each other, our team. How are we going to interact with our guests and how we work with our supplier partners. So I didn’t realize that I’m just a kid but it’s what I’ve observed and what I watched so I just get a little older, I just reflect so much more. And I just realized that everything I’ve done, everything I’ve stood for and the way I’ve tried to run our companies I’ve just modeled my dad.

Jill Donovan:
When we talk about bracelets companies that do what they do with excellence and then are known for that there are very few that come to mind. One being Chick-fil-A, Disney World and Eskimo Joe’s and the reason I know this is because I’ve met so many of the people that work for you and in your promotional products, Eskimo Joe’s promotional products group, they are all… They go by what I have wanted for so long to have a job that you feel is your get to job. They wake up and say, “I get to do this.” And I think that’s why people love working for you because for them it doesn’t feel like a job because it’s just joy.

Jill Donovan:
And how lucky they are to get to be in a company like yours that not only do they get to learn and earn a paycheck, but the days don’t feel like work days. They’re not dreading the work, their weekdays seem like they’re the same as the weekends. And I know Mikhael who heads up your promotional products group and she’s an example of how everybody that works for you, how what you have done is instilled in them such a joy for it that they have a different perspective than I think other people do in other companies where it is a have to job.

Stan Clark:
Well that’s the greatest compliment you could ever give me and you’re referring to the sweetest, most dedicated and hardest working person I’ve ever known that’s Mikhael Reed. That almost makes me tear up because I love her so much but thank you, that’s a great compliment. And you did something for EJ PPG that meant so much. First of all, you packed the house at our big show one time and that was amazing and thank you for that but even more touching to me was when you came and sat with about 18 people and it was so personal and you gave so much of yourself and it’s experiences like that that make people feel like what you’re describing and so thank you for that because that was special.

Jill Donovan:
Well the day that I came, thank you for that. The day that I came to speak to the group at your annual conference, right?

Stan Clark:
Yeah. We call it client day but it’s our client appreciation day. We invite clients from all over this part of the country and we have suppliers from all over the country and it’s a big deal.

Jill Donovan:
Well we were talking about this earlier, Jordan you were talking when we drove up. Jordan you came up in a golf cart with bracelets and she said she thought you were a parking lot worker she didn’t know. She thought you were the nicest person and you came up to help us figure out where to park and then directed us where to walk but she thought you are a parking lot worker, which is a testament to who you are. You are not above anything and you never have been. I see you, you walk around and talk to people and even though you have 400 employees. I know that if you could you would know every detail about all of them and their lives and call them all by their first name if that was possible for 400 of them. But that is so rare Stan, we know that’s rare because people already in countless books teach other people how to do that and it doesn’t happen regularly at all.

Stan Clark:
Well, like I said, my dad modeled that he had a lot of other principals we don’t have time to go into but certainly-

Jill Donovan:
Was he a beer drinker?

Stan Clark:
No actually he was kind of scotch drinker.

Jill Donovan:
Yeah, that’s your next venture.

Stan Clark:
But we did have a bar in the home so my ultimate occupation well really didn’t fall too far from the tree.

Jill Donovan:
But you liked beer when you opened up your business.

Stan Clark:
I did like beer yes.

Jill Donovan:
So I wanted to ask you, why did you decide not to expand into other neighboring states? Because I know that had to have been a thought or a lot of other people’s thoughts.

Stan Clark:
Sure. Well we get approached all the time, would you be willing to franchise. Real estate people call all the time, “We got the perfect spot for the next Eskimo Joe’s.”

Jill Donovan:
We get that too.

Stan Clark:
It occurred to me a long time ago my goal was never to be the biggest, but I wanted to be special. I just wanted to really matter to our customers and we just decided a long time ago that we’d never be the home team again like we were in Stillwater. It was just so organic and it just grew from well, 900 square feet just a little bitty bar that I don’t know. Really I just abandoned that whole idea a long time ago. We’ve been able to do fun things off of the brand and the bar and restaurant created a retail stand standalone company. I mean we present to the public as one it’s when you go to Eskimo jobs but it’s actually two different companies with two different management teams and we’re really in two different industries.

Stan Clark:
Today Mexico Joe’s still exists and it’s just doing great, had the best year they’ve ever had just last year in 2019 and that’s 33 years in and so I’m very, very happy and proud for that. Your the one that almost broke me. Okay, I’ll go back and rewind it so that’s cool. And then Eskimo Joe’s Promotional Products Group it’s the last one. There’s going to be a game Saturday in Stillwater and they’re going to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our trip to the final four. And that trip to the final four was in Seattle and we did a little t-shirt called toothless in Seattle that year. That’s the biggest, craziest, wildest thing we ever, ever tried and in fact, it’s really the birth child of Eskimo Joe’s Promotional Products Group. Because after that we had to use every screen printer we could contact and get to help us.

Stan Clark:
We had people standing in line to buy shirts in Tulsa and Oklahoma City and Stillwater that hadn’t been printed yet and so we got to build a bigger print shop. We’ve gotta be ready for the next toothless and we did that. We opened in the spring of 1998 and pretty quickly I realized we can’t create this much demand and so really that’s when Eskimo Joe’s promotional product was born in 2002. It was to leverage that huge facility and all that screen printing capacity that we had and graphics, art, design, expertise et cetera. And so 17 years later EJ PPG is the biggest company we’ve got. So it’s been a fun ride.

Jill Donovan:
That’s amazing. As an bracelets entrepreneur, do you still have that yearning inside of you to create new and different or do you just want to keep protecting?

Stan Clark:
I still am driven to try and just see where it goes. We’re not the craziest, now I don’t have these huge goals on the wall we’re going to hit this number or that or the other. What I’m concerned about is delighting every guest by giving our best. If it’s in the promotional products division, it’s just becoming so important and so invaluable to our clients that they demand people use us. They don’t just refer as they’re telling that these people were amazing. So that’s what I’m about and I think if we continue to take care of those little things that the big things take care of themselves.

Jill Donovan:
But the key to that is having the leaders that can implement what your heart is and you do have that because I’ve experienced that with the promotional products. We’re committed for life that’s how we feel and we’re just one of thousands and thousands of people. So it’s finding the right people to implement your heart for that.

Stan Clark:
Well, I always say that really everything we do is about that interaction with the customer, whatever level if it’s at retail, if it’s in the restaurant or if it’s with a client at promotional products. The key thing is how can we make you feel and we’ve got to win hearts and minds and that’s what I’m all about. And if we continue to execute at that level, I really do… I think top line takes care of itself, bottom line takes care of itself. Sure. There’s a lot of details, there’s a lot to manage and there’s a lot to try to keep going and you do have to be profitable. I mean, hey there’s nothing wrong with profit there’s nothing wrong.

Stan Clark:
That’s what our great economy is based on is that without it we can’t do anything. I can’t employ people, I can’t give back, I can’t do any of the higher level things that you really aspire and enjoy doing the most. But cashflow is King. I mean without it you can just go right off a cliff. So it is very important to be successful. I remember Dr. Halligan when he was president, he talked about moving beyond success to significance and I’ve never heard that coached that way, but I loved, I love what he said. I thought it made so much sense but really the success has to come first, it has to.

Jill Donovan:
There’s a lot of people who are behind the scenes that aren’t seeing you have your servers and then you have your bartenders but a lot of people who are behind the scenes that you have to instill the same way to interact even though they are not on the front line. And I heard this story that has to do, I believe with president Bush and he went to the space shuttle he went to observe. A tall man standing there with a broom and something magnificent was going to happen that day. And he looked at this man he was a janitor and he said, “What do you do here sir?” And the guy said, “I’m sending somebody to the moon.”

Stan Clark:
Awesome.

Jill Donovan:
And he took such pride in his job because what he did was going to affect the next one and affect the next one ultimately the person who was going to the moon. And it’s up to the leaders to instill in the people who are behind the scenes that what you do is just as important as the people who are on the frontline. If you can have an entire team of people that have that same heart, then it’s magic.

Stan Clark:
Yeah you bet. I mean if we don’t have a great product people aren’t going to come back. We can sell it with sizzle and make people feel great, but then when the meal comes out it’s just terrible. It’s like “Well, okay. I’m not doing that again.” So every piece of it is so critically important and you’re so right that’s a great example though. Sending a man to the moon I love that.

Jill Donovan:
If they were to make a movie about the life of Stan Clark what would the title be?

Stan Clark:
Oh my gosh. I don’t know.

Jill Donovan:
I should have given you these bracelets questions ahead of time.

Stan Clark:
You’re sending me on some fun little space Odysseys here.

Jill Donovan:
Of you can’t do a movie then a book. If they’re writing a book about your life what’s the title? If you’re writing a book what is the title?

Stan Clark:
Well, I think you gave it to me in the intro. I guess it would just be the minister of fun.

Jill Donovan:
I don’t know anybody else who’s called that and you’re the only person that I’ve heard that is called that.

Stan Clark:
I’ve never heard myself called that so I don’t know where you got it, but I like it.

Jill Donovan:
Do you know who I would liken you too as far as another entrepreneur who an amazing entrepreneur who has gone and had some ups and downs but is very well known for being a minister of fun?

Stan Clark:
No.

Jill Donovan:
Richard Branson.

Stan Clark:
Oh gosh. Well he’s really gone a lot farther.

Jill Donovan:
He’s in a different country, but he has the same attitude that you do. Why do it if you can’t enjoy it? What’s the point? Why slave for 20 hours a day to make money on bracelets if you’re not enjoying the process and impacting people’s lives?

Stan Clark:
Well that’s probably our proudest legacy right there is how many young people have worked at Eskimo Joe’s over the last 45 years. And when they come back to Stillwater, they come back for a football game in the fall or they are back for our anniversary celebration in the summer. They talk about what a great job it was and how much they learned and that’s our proudest legacy without a doubt. It’s just we’ve touched so many lives and so I do take a tremendous amount of pride in that.

Stan Clark:
We had our annual management leadership meeting this just this past Monday, just two days ago and one of the questions that one of the team members ask was Oh gosh, how did they capture it? Anyway what gets you up in the morning and what drives you after all these years? And I wasn’t playing to the crowd at all, I looked out there and I said, it’s all of you guys because you guys are the ones that’s making all this work and in my opinion, I work for all of you. It’s my job to give you opportunity to provide you the resources and all of you are there to support that person that at the end of the day. At the top of our org chart as we see it, it’s interacting with a retail customer, with the promotional products client and everybody works for that and that’s what it’s about.

Jill Donovan:
That’s not normal though you know that? There are so many companies that aren’t run like that.

Stan Clark:
And there’s so many companies that have to make quarterly numbers and all that kind of stuff that that doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s all about the longterm. Nothing, we never want to cut a corner, we never want to make a decision for the short term it just doesn’t make any sense and it doesn’t build a brand that’s for sure.

Jill Donovan:
Why aren’t you teaching a class at OSU?

Stan Clark:
I don’t know, it might be fun.

Jill Donovan:
You should be. So I’m going to end. First of all, thank you so much for being here what an honor to have you. It’s humbling that you would take this many hours and come to be with us on your birthday.

Stan Clark:
You’re so kind. I promise you this is my joy. It has been an absolute delight.

Jill Donovan:
Thank you so much. This is going to be at the top of my favorite podcasts unless somebody else that I’ve interviewed is listening. Then it’s like right up there in the top 10.

Stan Clark:
That is so Jill Donovan, I love it.

Jill Donovan:
What is your word for the year? Please tell me you picked a word for this year.

Stan Clark:
My word for this year and every year is enthusiasm.

Jill Donovan:
That’s so great. Did I not start off the podcast by saying that your photo in the dictionary is next to the word enthusiasm?

Stan Clark:
You honor me with that I love it.

Jill Donovan:
It’s contagious though, it really is contagious. How could you have a bad day, how could you be down about something when you are around Stan Clark? Yesterday I had a meeting with all of my team and I said, a watched pot never boils. Meaning which I know you know what that means, but if you’re focusing on something that is really troublesome to you at the moment and you’re looking at it for it to change, it’s not going to change while you’re looking at it.

Jill Donovan:
And so I told them, go for a walk, go do something to get your mind off of that because no way do things change when you’re staring at it. And if they eventually do what a large amount of time you’ve wasted staring at it. If you’re staring at something waiting for it to change, go spend time with Stan Clark because there’s no way your mind can drift back to that thing that is troubling you when somebody is with you.

Stan Clark:
That’s so kind, thank you.

Jill Donovan:
So thank you so much. I prepared something to end this with, something I’ve practiced all morning and I’m not joking you it is a birthday song. Each year I pick a new hobby and this year I picked the saxophone, I’ve never played the saxophone. You can do music, no?

Stan Clark:
I can play guitar but barely.

Jill Donovan:
This was the time where you could have made it up and said you played sax I would never have known but I learned this instrument, I’m going to play happy birthday for you on this instrument while wearing Rustic Cuff bracelets.

Stan Clark:
I love it.

Jill Donovan:
Okay. Hold on just a second. Okay, here we go. This is an electronic saxophone, which it’d be super fun if you learned how to do it because then we could start a band together. The funny thing is, I know you might actually consider that. Okay, here we go.

Stan Clark:
Fabulous, I love that.

Jill Donovan:
Would you come back again?

Stan Clark:
I would be honored.

Jill Donovan:
I want to be your third podcast. Thank you for being with us today we will see you next time on CEO-ish. And that’s a wrap.

Stan Clark:
Thank you.

Jill Donovan:
Thank you.

Stan Clark:
That was [crosstalk 00:56:31] Thank you so much.