Outdoor Events & Activations


If you prefer to read instead of watching our short video, here is the transcript of the conversation between Kevin Colis and Kenji Haroutunian:

Kevin Colis: Thanks everyone for joining this session of the Bottom Line. My name is Kevin Colis and I’m honored to be here with Kenji Haroutunian from Kenji Consults, Kenji, thank you very much for being here. 

Kenji Haroutunian: Thanks for having me here, Kevin. 

Kevin: Great to have you so Kenji tell us a little about yourself and what you do. 

Kenji: Well, it all started when I was a child, so I’ll try to keep it short. So what I do is I’m an event strategist and mostly focused on the outdoor recreation industries. So that is all the hiking and skiing and climbing and backpacking, and surfing and fly fishing, and all of the activities that people do outdoors that is of a recreational nature that’s not ball sports became a rock climber, which is kind of where my reputation I think is strongest in the outdoor world, so I apply my where’s my event, strategy, skills, and talent in that world primarily. I also do have clients. I’m a consultant in the outdoor industry. I have clients also on the trade show side, so I help companies enter the trade show industry that might have cool technologies or something to offer that the trade show world could find benefit from.

Kevin: Got it. One of the things that has really stood out to me in working with you is your passion for the industry. How important is passion to you in creating standout events?

Kenji: You know, I do believe it’s really important and I think it’s almost a cliché. you know, people say, follow your passion and you know what? What exactly is that? But for me, it happened this way you know I was working my way through school in the grocery store business which is, you know I didn’t have passion for but it paid me pretty well. And then I had a. Union, you know gig and it was benefits and such and so but something happened during my junior year of college and I lost my job there. I got laid off. There was kind of this big brouhaha in the market business and so I had some time and I went into the outdoor shop that I love to go to and supply it up and they had a data for hire sign their long, Long story short, I ended up taking the job at this backpacking store. And it was 70% less than I was making in the grocery business, and there was no union benefits. And so I thought, OK, well, I can do this for a little while and sure enough, a couple of months later I got my job back I got rehired at the grocery store. But what I had learned in that two months was that I really didn’t like that grocery job nearly as much as I love the job at this shop. Every day I was meeting people that were adventuring outdoors, going to Africa and Asia, and hiking in the local mountains or skiing whatever they were doing. And so it was just amazing to meet every single person I met, whether they work there or they were customer was doing something cool, and I that that gap there became evident to me and I think to the point of your question, that was where the decision about passion versus whatever else comfort or safety or whatever else. I took a big risk and I went full on into that job and I struggled through my last year of school. You know, barely made it by the skin of my teeth but but I made it and. I was so excited to be part of that world that I excelled in that kind of work, and I think that’s what passion can do is it can drive excitement and interest at a level that you might not have. If you’re just punching in and out every day at a job. Kevin: Got it and in your view, how has the outdoor events landscape shifted after COVID-19? 

Kenji: Well, I think the entire events landscape has had a tectonic shift first of all, so certainly the outdoor world is no exception to that. Finding ways to do business digitally. Finding ways to form and keep and maintain relationships has been a huge challenge, I think the main thing that I would want to comment on is that. I think that the outdoor show world has been. I’ll say forever altered in that now we know that business can be really strong without these big mega gatherings. And so the question that every brand that every retailer every media person has on their mind is. Well, do we need to go back to that, you know, is that something that can serve us now that we know that because what’s happened in outdoor Kevin is that sales have been through the roof, especially on equipment. So hard goods like tents and backpacks and bolts and mountain bikes?  All of that stuff is flying off the shelves and there’s huge supply chain challenges and so with that the psychology of this is that hey, we did great business in 2020, was doing strong in 2021. Why do we need to have these shows again, you know, is kind of what the question is, so there’s a lot more regional, smaller events, more focused events that we’re really serving a smaller very. A particular slice of the market, whether that’s media people in a gathering around outdoor product or it’s a climbing event in Joshua Tree for new climbers who haven’t done traditional style climbing or you know these kind of very, very focused events is what I would call him and I think that’s what’s happening in outdoor as well as across the marketplace. 

Kevin: Very interesting. So where do you see outdoor events heading and how does this tie in with the work that you’re doing with the Big Gear show? 

Kenji: Well, I think that’s a great question because the Big Gear show is a national show we we are putting this on the ground as a launch in a year like 2021, which is probably, you know, not everybody’s idea of the greatest thing to do. But it’s a unique equation an it’s born out of being a retailer for many years. Being an outfitter and throwing large events and understanding the dynamic between field events, demos, we column gear demos. And indoor events that are more of your traditional trade show platform and finding a new equation that serves the needs of the industry at this time. Which is you know, packing an indoor Convention Center with a ton of people is not, is not something that a lot of people, particularly in the outdoor industry, really think is a great thing to do, like down. Let’s go do that. They’re excited about it. They do get excited about getting outdoors, an testing product’s on trails up in the mountains, on the lakes and waterways, and whether that’s downhill mountain, mountain biking or climbing rocks in the vertical world. You know this is something that people in my industry back to your first question about passion. That’s something that can get them out of their shops. And how did their offices and I think I think that’s part of the goal here is to you know, it’s really hard. I manage retail stores for 14 years. It’s hard to even think for 10 minutes about. The strategic direction of your business or what strategic partnerships am I looking for? Am I really kind of weak on? I need to strengthen and what is the demand like from my customers? You know those just trying to get the door open an get the staff in place and get the register ringing and make sure the product out like that’s all. That’s 100% of my effort all day, every day. At the retail level. So in trade shows and organize or events that serve retail. It’s really important to get people out and into a setting that they can start to think through strategically and so there is a lot to do with setting when it comes to outdoor and I think that’s actually true across. All markets you know that helping people get out of their their comfort environments. Whether banging away, efficiently and to think strategically, to start thinking about collaborations and partnerships and the direction forward, not in the next week or two weeks or a month. But next year, three years. Five years down the road, what do I see my business doing? That’s the level of. A strategic thinking that I think is enabled by these events, but they have to be curated right? And they have to be kind of in a setting that makes sense, so that’s part of the equation of the Big Gear show. Let’s take people into the environment that the gear is made to be used in in an environment that they want to be in. And for this first one, you know really just allowing there to be that face to face Re discovery or discovery of partners and people that you do business with, you know. I think that’s the most important single thing that we’re trying to get done there. It’s not too grandiose as far as. You know revolutionizing the show industry or revolution revolutionized the outdoor industry. But maybe that’s, maybe, that’s our strategic thinking in the future is that we are doing that. Yeah, it’s true that the outdoor industry and outdoor events seem to be the perfect marriage.

Kevin: So what is the most important thing for brands to consider when preparing for an outdoor activation? 

Kenji: Yeah, great question Kevin. You know I’ll go on record as saying, you know when we use the term like outdoor industry you know that’s in quotes to me because really it’s a it’s an amalgamation of many different industries that all play in the same sandbox and that is what we call outdoor. But you know there’s so many elements to it and so I think when brands are thinking about how to activate in the outdoors, you know it taps into. Obviously this this well in interest. An activity outdoors that’s born out of Covid that’s born out of Covid, but I think as other brands in other markets see that and want to take advantage of that opportunity because it is psychologically a lot more palatable. It’s a it’s not rocket science, you know, none of this is really, but you do need to have some. Basic expertise about activating outdoors and that means keeping people safe, not sending them into places where they’re going to get lost or and having a system in place. I’ve run over 20 demos with outdoor retailer as the show director I’ve done dozens of events out in Joshua Tree and in different climbing areas. That bring people together, but in a way that’s that maintains a level of safety and balance, is that fun with like, let’s not have any, you know, life lights if we can avoid them, but it’s. I think there is a lot to offer there and I I’m surprised not more companies do it. I part partly is not. Everyone is historically been excited about being outdoors. At least that’s the assumption but I think that that is changing. On a number of fronts so it’s exciting to see it’s it’s daunting too, because part of our. Part of our dual goal with the Big Gear show as well as in the outdoor industry is too. Help conserve and protect the places that we like to go even while encouraging more people to use it. of our industry at the moment, but I I’m a believer that it’s doable, but it doesn’t require education and experience, right? And this is what we’re talking about. Is having people actually experience? Some outdoor rec at whatever level they’re comfortable with.

Kevin: Yeah, well, I definitely see the work that that you’re doing with your company, Kenji Consults, and the Big Gear show as being so innovative in this space and definitely heading in all of the all of the right directions, so I thank you so very much for your time today. Thank you for spending this time with us and thank you everyone for joining this session and will see you all soon.