How We Build a Family-Like Culture at Hitch Studio with More Than 20 Employees

In case you’ve never met us here at Hitch Studio, we are Carrie Kuhl and Renee Bauman, owners, founders, and 50/50 business partners. (It’s nice to meet you!) We started this heartfelt design and gift boutique studio in downtown Brookings, South Dakota, in 2014 and have been growing ever since. Our specialties lie in graphic design + website design, wedding planning + wedding invitation design, and a brick & mortar retail store full of well-designed cards + gifts. 

When we started Hitch Studio, we hitched together our current businesses, beliefs, passions, and sheer determination into a creative powerhouse. Our goal is to save brides hundreds of dollars and tons of time by being their wedding stylists and wedding planners; make websites that are the electronic handshake for other small businesses; and offer the best, funniest, and most thoughtful cards and gifts.

Our goal is to provide products and services that are unique to our community, and since we are educators at heart, we thrive on creating job opportunities in Brookings and internships for college students. Here at Hitch Studio, part of our entrepreneurial mission is to nurture the creative culture in our business. So, you’ve heard all about how and why we started Hitch Studio. As you can tell, we LOVE IT! But as any small business owner learns, after they hire their first employee, how do you encourage that employee (and any who follow) to love it as much as you do?

The fact is, no one will probably ever love it as much as you do. The love, life, time, devotion, and energy Carrie and Renee have poured into Hitch will probably never be matched by anyone else. Our first full-time employee, Taylor will come close, though! Back to the original question…how do you encourage employees to love your business as much as you do? By creating a company culture worth following. And with Renee and Carrie setting the standards for positivity, kindness, optimism, personal growth, and a family feel — we hope our employees follow our lead.

Hitch Studio employs about 15-20 people at any given time. They are mostly a weekend crew of college students who help decorate weddings and take them down after the wedding dance has ended, which is often after midnight. Let me tell you…a lot of bonding happens after midnight! Haha! You depend on each other. You work efficiently because it’s late. You are deliriously tired and often laugh at the weirdest things. Haha! In fact, we’ve had college employees become such close friends, that they were in each others’ weddings! That’s the kind of bonding I’m talking about.

How do we encourage bonding? How do we encourage hard work with a smile? How do we train our employees to be the “face” of Hitch when Carrie and Renee can’t be there? How do we let them know they’re doing a great job? Well, I’ve written thank you cards to each employee I’ve ever worked with, telling them about a special quality and how much I enjoy having them as part of the Hitch family. I thank them sincerely and often. I laugh with them. I help them take down wedding decor. I started an open library of books they can borrow at any time from a shelf. I foster a culture of openness and honesty with grace and care. And I know Carrie does too.

One important way we also set the tone of the Hitch employee culture is with all-employee retreats. We hold two per year and focus on education and camaraderie by having one or two speakers at our retreat, food and drink, and a session on gratitude. We even have a summer book club for any employee who wants to join! (We’ve read “You Are a Badass” by Jen Sincero, “Permission to Screw Up” by Kristen Hadeed, and “5-Second Rule” by Mel Robbins.)

Our first all-employee retreat ever had a critical component: we allowed our employees to help us write our mission statement and our core values. They felt ownership. They felt part of something bigger. They felt like they needed to uphold those values and we could see their efforts. We also did a community service project by helping to build the stick house installation at the Children’s Museum. Our second all-employee retreat had two speakers — about personal values and accounting/how to read a P&L and Balance Sheet (Thank you, Tami + Gina!). Our third all-employee retreat had a speaker about conflict management in the office and how to be an effective manager (Thank you, Arian!). Our fourth all-employee retreat had a panel of four entrepreneurs giving advice about their start-up path, resumes, and what they hire for (Thank you, Megan, Jenilee, Angie, Sarah!). Our fifth all-employee retreat was a fun one! I organized an off-site 5-course meal to teach our employees dinner etiquette! And we just had our sixth all-employee retreat with two speakers — one on public speaking (Toastmasters 101), and one on personal branding (Thank you, Heidi and Leah!).

What did all of these retreats have in common? We made sure there was plenty of snacks, drinks, and time to get to know each other. We always do an introduction of some kind, present the two speakers (or main activity), share Hitch goals, honor any students who are graduating, and end with the “Gratitude Board”. This is a bulletin board full of envelopes with everyone’s name on it. Inside, employees tuck gratitude slips they’ve written to others on the team about why they value each other, what they admire, why they’re fun to work with, etc. At the end of the night, every employee gets to take home an envelope FULL of good sentiments and smiles.

Each of these retreat topics has been determined by what employees would like to learn about or see more of. It’s employee-driven. We sent out a survey after this last employee retreat just to make sure we’ll still on the right track with these 3-hour retreats. (Do they love them just as much as we do? Is it too long?) That’s where they have the opportunity to suggest other topics they’d like to learn about.

Also on the night of the all-employee retreat, we do orientation for anyone brand new to Hitch Studio. We go over our employee handbook (in a fun way) and go through possible wedding scenarios to teach new employees what to do…and what not to do. That orientation sets the stage for our professionalism, problem solving, and happiness at each and every wedding.

Here are some thoughts from recent employees about our Hitch culture and all-employee retreats:

TESSA: “When I handed in my resume to Hitch Studio, I did not anticipate it to be such an AMAZING opportunity. Renee and Taylor were so welcoming during my interview. They were excited to hear about what I was going to school for and what my plans are after college. I have an entrepreneurial heart, and when I was invited to my first all-employee retreat, I was thrilled to find out that it was going to have a panel of female entrepreneurs from Brookings. I could not have been more inspired that night. I learned that it was okay to dream big because if you are willing to work hard for yourself, anything is possible. Because I was newly hired at that time, I didn’t know anyone that worked at Hitch. At the retreat everyone introduced themselves, and I got to meet some pretty amazing girls with big dreams and personalities of their own. The second all employee retreat that I was invited to was about teaching us proper dining etiquette. Renee, Carrie, and Taylor were kind enough to treat us to a five course meal that an instructor guided us through. This was so helpful because I had no idea that you should scoop a spoonful of soup away from you or hold red wine by the bowl of the glass and white wine by the stem. It is the littlest things that could make the biggest difference. Getting to bond with Hitch employees on a personal level makes working much more fun. We are all willing to help each other get our tasks done. We share creativity and opinions when we are decorating, and we make sure to have fun when we are packing up decor from a wedding in the middle of the night. I genuinely feel like everyone at Hitch cares about me. I feel so blessed to be able to learn from Renee. She truly wants each of her employees to learn, grow, and conquer her dreams. Renee and Carrie have successfully created an empowering work culture here at Hitch Studio.”

MACKENZIE: “I just want to thank Renee and Carrie so much for everything they have taught me working at Hitch. I am so appreciative of all the experiences and opportunities they have given me, from weddings to working in the store to my internship hours for class. You have made me feel so comfortable to learn and grow here, and I feel so lucky to be able to continue on in the event industry because of what I learned through my time here. I will miss Hitch and all of you so much, and I hope to keep in touch as I move into my next chapter!

KATRIONA: “I feel that many college students, like myself, have a set of questions that they ask themselves when looking for jobs. How is this job going to help me with my future? How am I going to apply what I learn here to my career someday? When I applied and accepted the position at Hitch Studio I knew some pretty basics gains that I would be learning such as designing, retail merchandising, and marketing. What I did not think of were the lessons and helpful tips that I would be getting by just being an employee for Hitch. Within my first week at Hitch, Carrie and Renee had an employee retreat. At this event, we learned tips on public speaking and personal branding from working professionals in the area. This was that moment that I realize Hitch Studio wasn’t just preparing us to be the best employees for their company but they were helping us prepare for our future careers. During another session at the retreat, we were in encouraged to join their summer book club that will be meeting once a month to discuss a book focused on knowing how to push yourself in order to build your confidence and courage. We also took the time to give gratitude notes to our coworkers. Many companies do not take the time to show this appreciation to their staff.  I think that it is important for many reasons it not only builds up your staff but to encourages them to continue being their absolute best. When Hitch had us fill out the gratitude notes it was a very uplifting moment for everyone at the retreat.”


It absolutely means the world to Carrie and Renee that we have employees who love to work at Hitch. We love the opportunity to mentor them and teach them. We have a special place in our hearts for every single one of them. If you have any employee retreat success stories, summer book club suggestions, or would like to be a speaker, post in the comments below! We love to keep making our retreats better. If each employee can love Hitch Studio even a fraction as much as we do, that’s just the beginning of some great things — and amazing people we’re sending out into the world when they decide to spread their wings and move on from Hitch.

It’s okay. Because then we have new employees to teach.
With all our love,
Renee + Carrie

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