This message was paid for by Wes Gardner for Teton County Board of County Commissioners
JACKSON, Wyo. — As the owner of the highly successful Teton Toys on the Town Square, Teton County Commissioner candidate Wes Gardner could be resting on his laurels. Instead, he wants to use hard-fought lessons from the business world to push novel solutions through for Teton County’s biggest problems like housing, traffic and water quality.
Gardner has run for Teton County Commissioner before as an independent in both 2018 and 2022 with a vow he’d keep running until he’s won. Though he got a 168 percent bigger share of the vote in 2020 compared to 2018, he thinks his insistence on running as an independent still cost him the race.
The loss was hard on him for a while. But when it came time to run again, he realized thousands of people had voted for him in 2020 because of who he was and were still counting on him to help solve Teton County’s toughest challenges.
“Not a single person voted for me because of the letter next to my name,” he said.
But this time, he said he owes it to the people who voted for him to actually get elected. Ultimately, it was the lack of a party affiliation that sunk him with voters who didn’t know his platform.
“I owe it to my voters to quit beating my head against the wall of independence,” Gardner said. “Joining a party doesn’t change the fact that I’m a super independent person.”
After 2020’s election, Gardner recognized the loss as one door closing so another could open. Sure enough, within a couple weeks two different agents reached out to him with the potential to open new Teton Toys sites in Utah. The agents both indicated their owners loved the location he’d opened in Lehi, Utah in 2015 and wanted to replicate it in their spaces.
“They weren’t interested in toys or a toy store generally; they specifically wanted Teton Toys,” he said. He started negotiating in good faith with both of the owners, thinking that one or both would fall through in the end.
Neither one did, and Gardner held to his commitments, opening two stores in Orem and Farmington, Utah in May 2021.
The experience taught him a lot about leadership and crisis management. He had to ask a lot of his employees,shuffling most from the established store in Lehi. He also spent a lot of time on the ground dealing with the openings, which ended up being much more complicated than anticipated.
The day before the Farmington store opened, his new landlord called him about opening a fifth location in another space she had open. “Out of nowhere,” Gardner went from owning two toy stores to owning five in a period of three months.
“I wouldn’t call it a mistake, but the fifth store has put the most pressure on me,” he said. His time is more precious than ever and he’s had to learn to be a stronger leader to make it work. He was thirsty for that growth, and knows that it’ll translate into success as the next Teton County Commissioner.
“When there are problems, I’m the guy people look to – in the mountains, in the store, wherever,” Gardner said.
Opening three stores since the last election has forced Gardner to build out a support structure. In the end, he’s created a company as foundationally strong as he hopes he can help make Teton County, all issues aside. But to run for commissioner again, Gardner had to rely on his staff more than ever to break away.
He rallied his corporate team to put various challenges in the rearview within a 6 week timeframe. He encouraged the hard work and collaboration necessary to get five stores ready for holiday sales in a burgeoning market so he could tackle his life goal. Under Gardner’s newly upgraded leadership skills, his team crossed the last to-do item off the list within 4 weeks.
“I look at these last two years and see so much growth in myself,” Gardner said. “I feel so much more confident in my ability to push Teton County forward and do the job of a County Commissioner.”
Growing multiple stores and developing a corporate leadership structure simultaneously comes with plenty of setbacks and challenges. Gardner recognizes that he’ll soon be able to apply those lessons to help solve Teton County’s biggest nagging issues.
“Problems like housing and traffic seem impossible to solve. I’ll doggedly pursue solutions one day at a time,” he said. After all, solving “impossible” problems is how he’s built his business.
“Teton County’s problems aren’t going away,” Gardner said. “But I’ve always been a problem solver.”