From Color Runs To Fight Camps
On an average workday, Jeff Suffolk could be welding the world’s largest Oktoberfest bobblehead, hiking 18-plus miles at 14,000 feet to deliver oxygen tanks in an emergency, convincing Under Armour executives to host a running event in Death Valley or planning the highest triathlon in the world. Most days, it’s a mix of it all, and in true innovator spirit, Suffolk is the only one who would tell you he’s not doing much.
With an attitude that summons Ridgemont High’s Jeff Spicoli, and an event planning and management savvy that only comes from doing it every day since he graduated Western Michigan University in 2002, it’s no wonder his Louisville, CO-based company Human Movement (HMM) is behind the most radical events in the active lifestyle industry.
Suffolk ran his first event planning and management company, The Red Rock Company, from 2002 to 2008, focusing on run, bike and tri markets, when he got an offer from what would become LifeTime Fitness and sold the operation.
In 2010, he started Human Movement, gaining Pabst Blue Ribbon and Sam Adams as his first clients. HMM then became the producer behind the Color Run, which would signal the start of fun-runs, pushing this style of events on the map and up the heights of consumer popularity.
Suffolk focused on mass participatory events and relied on ticket sales instead of sponsors. Reflecting back, Suffolk slightly cringes at this growth period, but it’s an honest response to what nearly every true innovator feels during their rise to the top. Ironically, his hand in the fun-run revolution skyrocketed HMM to success, landing it on Inc 500’s fastest growing companies for 2014. The company’s three-year growth figures averaged 1724 percent.
Jeff Suffolk, Founder, Human Movement
Photo courtesy Powdr Enterprises
Experiences are today’s luxury goods…and I want to make people super rich.”Jeff Suffolk
Today, as Suffolk walks the sprawling property that is HMM’s ski cabin-meets-workshop-meets-bunker, he has more on his mind than events. The plan was always to make something bigger, better and ultimately top his own best year-over-year.
Suffolk’s quest for the greatest event is why HMM builds all installations at its headquarters while running operations on the second floor. HMM is also the hands-on crew during all of its events. For its Denver Oktoberfest event, Suffolk was picking up crumpled beer cups alongside his employees. He’s on hand at branded athlete and endurance events as well, like the inaugural U.S. Fjallraven Classic held this past August, or the Under Armour “Fight Camp” that HMM hosted last winter, and again this October.
“Our true test to the type of experience we want to create was if it could change your social media profile,” Suffolk told SGB. “There was a wave of people wanting to do three-mile mud runs, because you looked unique and appeared exciting on the weekends. Now people are looking for real bucket-list experiences. Everyone has upped the ante.”
Raising the stakes is a good way to put it, and a true reflection of Suffolk’s mind at work. The Human Movement-owned triathlon 106º West was created by Suffolk to be the highest triathlon in the world. Fight Camp, one of the joint Under Armour event concepts, consisted of bringing together the toughest athletes from around the world, under the toughest conditions and training them hard for two days in succession. At the same time, HMM’s Dirty Girl Mud Run is the world’s largest women’s only mud run.
“Experiences are today’s luxury goods,” Suffolk said. He laughed to himself, “And I want to make people super rich.”
Active lifestyle Entertainment Company Powdr acquired HMM in March 2015 as part of a diversification strategy (the company also bought Camp Woodword and Sun Country Tours). Operations would continue running as usual, with HMM producing more than 100 events in the calendar year. The Powdr acquisition opened the door for an introduction between Suffolk and Under Armour executives in the run category — a branch that the sportswear brand has been desperately trying to validate to consumers against their Beaverton foe.
Suffolk and his team pitched four ideas and Under Armour ran with all of them.
SGB asked whether this was a response to Suffolk seeing the gender ratio among event attendees shifting, and what those numbers could look like in the future. Suffolk’s best guess was cemented in a deeper social observation.
“It has dramatically changed over the last decade, from about 70/30 males to now roughly 60/40 women,” he said. “Participatory untimed events are heavily women (70/30). Why? Mom is making a lot of the programming decisions. Also because women grew up less from a stick and ball background, and unlike most men, their athletic prowess didn’t peak in high school.”
As for the future? He sees women getting grittier.
His theories on male participation are equally astute. “Millennial males grew up not having to go to war. They don’t have that camaraderie; they don’t have scars. Now they’re looking to fill that hole.”
We can guarantee Suffolk has already refined his theories and is on to the next big event trend. Even after he bounced his social studies hypotheses off SGB he ended by saying, “but those trends are dying.”
Photos courtesy Human Movement