Susan Pieper, like so many Jackson parents, watched her son Steven Bailey grab a shovel and other tools from the garage to build dirt jumps for bikes in the summer and snow mounds for catching air on a snowboard in the winter.
What struck Pieper was that he needed so many tools and many of them did not stand up to the work. Plastic snow shovels cracked. Dirt shovels made of steel with wood shafts warped in the weather. Steven had to take a snow saw for cutting ice. It seemed things would be easier if he could grab a single, easily portable item.
“Tools hadn’t been reimagined for pretty much forever,” she said. “They had been built for farmers, miners and landscapers.”
So Pieper reimagined one of the most classic tools — the shovel — and created it in true Jackson fashion, designed for building snow jumps in the backcountry.
After graduating Harvard Business School and spending years of working as a financial consultant, with start-ups and on Wall Street, Pieper found herself in Japan, when her then-husband took a job and the family relocated to Tokyo. Without Japanese language skills, or a full understanding of the market, she found herself not working for the first time in years. The break gave her time to focus on what she wanted to do and where she wanted to live.
Pieper grew up in Dayton, Ohio, when manufacturing boomed in the city. She’d worked in an accounting department in a plant where she first witnessed products being built. Ever since, she’d wanted to create something and own a company, and she wanted to find a place that could inspire her to do that.
Pieper had visited Jackson on a ski vacation years earlier and knew the place was special. At the end of her time abroad she realized she could move anywhere and picked Wyoming. She arrived in Jackson in 2012 with a plan to eventually start a business. She just didn’t know what it would be.
In 2015 she launched DMOS Collective (DMOS stands for Do My Own Stuff) with a mission to innovate the shovel for backcountry use. She wanted something packable, strong and all-in-one.
The Stealth Shovel is called a “kicker tool,” designed for making kickers, or jumps. Its serrated blade not only scoops more snow than an avalanche shovel, it also cuts ice and grooms snow into corduroy texture. Equipped with her kicker tool, skiers no longer need an ice chipper or snow saw to use with a shovel, she said. A telescoping handle allows it to fit easily into a backpack.
“It really is a sneaky little tool,” she said. “It can do a lot.”
And it looks cool. Pieper deliberately employed a modern design. She raised almost $37,000 on Kickstarter to create the first models.
Pieper won the 2016 Gold Stevie Award winner in the female entrepreneur category for consumer products with 10 or fewer employees. At about the same time, she launched another crowdfunding effort in December for a new shovel called the Alpha. The Alpha is a larger version of the Stealth designed for shoveling driveways or bigger projects. DMOS Collective raised more than $177,000 by the time the Kickstarter campaign ended Feb. 10.
While she plans to market DMOS products in Asia, she wouldn’t have ever thought of the idea if she’d been living anywhere other than Jackson, she said.
“DMOS is really of this place,” Pieper said. “Our products are made for people who live here.”
But the target audience is already expanding beyond its action-sports roots. DMOS earned early endorsements from big names in the outdoors like snowboarder Travis Rice. It’s the go-to shovel for Pieper’s son, now a freshman in high school, to build jumps. But other people are using it to shovel their front steps or around their car. There was a surprising need for a small, but durable shovel, she said.
“Even though the inspiration was a kid in the yard, we are about homeowners and real people with active lives,” Pieper said.
The Alpha shovel is just the start. Pieper envisions a whole line of tools for home and garden and her long-term goal is to bring manufacturing, currently done in Asia, to Wyoming.