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Helping hands

Yoga instructor Sarah Rusnak leads a class at Coldwater Creek in Sandpoint on Wednesday. The company provides fitness facilities free to its employees as part of its wellness initiative.
Yoga instructor Sarah Rusnak leads a class at Coldwater Creek in Sandpoint on Wednesday. The company provides fitness facilities free to its employees as part of its wellness initiative.

Employer touts fitness, nutrition

In an economy where corporate downsizing is the trend, those who are fortunate enough to keep their jobs often find themselves working longer hours and unable to find time to take care of their personal needs. But Coldwater Creek’s headquarters in Sandpoint is ensuring its 500-plus employees have the tools they need to lead a healthy lifestyle.

“There are five components of wellness,” said Heather Petersen, Coldwater Creek’s senior manager of travel, event and employee services – “career, financial, physical, social and community.”

When formulating a wellness program for employees, Coldwater Creek looked at these components and devised a program that would not only help employees lead a well-balanced life but also would benefit the company.

Said Anne Bruce, vice president of human resources for the company, “There are things we can do to help our employees which result in them becoming more creative, productive and happier in their work and that ultimately benefits us as a company.”

One change – eliminating bottled water. According to Jay Kral, Coldwater Creek’s food and beverage manager, prior to that change, the company was going through 10 to 15 cases of water each week. Now, the company provides glassware and pitchers of water.

“Everything is now washable. We use very little paper,” said Kral.

Kral also works with his chefs to prepare what he calls clean lunch specials. Each Wednesday, instead of buffet-style service in the cafe, there is a dish specially prepared and served by Kral’s staff.

“Rather than self-serve, it is served by our staff for portion control,” said Kral, who also uses fresh vegetables from the garden his staff maintains on the Coldwater Creek campus.

Healthy food options, such as low-calorie burritos, sandwiches and salads, are available every day. Kral said Coldwater Creek also purchased software that makes it easier for him and his staff to provide nutritional values for the food they serve.

“We’ve even done sample menus for our employees to bring home,” said Bruce, emphasizing that the company is promoting lifestyle changes, not dieting. “It’s all about education.”

And in a business where many employees travel, Petersen said it is important to provide “road warriors” with the tools they need to maintain a healthy lifestyle while staying in hotels and eating in restaurants.

Coldwater Creek is a self-insured company, so healthier employees ultimately translate to a more profitable bottom line.

“When someone goes to the doctor, we’re paying for it,” Bruce said.

Programs such as Eat Clean, Get Lean, along with lifestyle and weight-loss challenges, have shown dramatic results at Coldwater Creek.

In the first weight-loss challenge, those who participated lost a total of 450 pounds and more than 300 inches.

“(The wellness programs) gave us the opportunity to reach out to our employees who would not typically walk into the fitness center,” said Petersen, emphasizing that these services are available for those who want to use them but are not pushed upon the employees. “We take a subtle approach to it.”

The Coldwater Creek fitness center is equipped with just about anything needed to stay fit and active. With the help of their photo studio they produced a workout guide showing how certain exercises are done.

Except for personal trainer fees, the fitness center is free of charge to the employees. Equipped with three full-time staff, it is open all day Monday through Friday and on Saturday mornings.

In addition to the many weight and exercise machines, there are classes including Pilates, yoga, Zumba, and weight-circuit training. The facility offers employees an opportunity to interact with people they might not come into contact with during the work day.

“It is amazing the type of dialogue it opens up,” Petersen said.

There’s also a spa that provides a big employee discount. The wellness program is a collaborative effort among the departments, with the trainers from the fitness center working closely with the food and beverage staff to do what they can to maximize the benefits for the employees.

Portion control cards were distributed by the fitness center staff to make people aware of what they were eating.

Coldwater Creek also supports employee fitness by sponsoring its workers in activities such as Bloomsday, the Scenic Half Marathon, Celebrate Life, Jacey’s Race and Sandpoint’s CHaFE 150 biking event.

And during the lunch hour on any given day, one can find soccer or volleyball games taking place among the employees as well as co-workers going on an early afternoon run.

Bruce knows that a company cannot change people. But as a responsible employer, Coldwater Creek can help employees do what they can for themselves.

“We are creating an opportunity for people to make choices,” said Bruce. “Some things you do because it’s the right thing to do. And this is one of them.”

Contact correspondent Patty Hutchens by e-mail at