Campman – Outdoor Enthusiast Turned Business Owner
Chris Holt is the CEO of Campman – an outdoor specialty retailer that specializes in helping people find the right gear for their needs. Chris is an outdoorsman, business owner, and participant in the Sandy Chamber’s KeyBank Business Accelerator Academy.
When did your love for the outdoors begin?
My love for the outdoors began at a very young age. I grew up in Montana and you’re surrounded by the outdoors. To entertain ourselves we’d go hiking, fishing, hunting, biking, and skiing. It was ingrained at a very young age from my father who also grew up in Montana. I moved to SLC to live in a bigger city, but it was also important to me to have the outdoors right at hand. I live on the east bench and I have skiing at Snowbird within 20 minutes or mountain biking or world class rock climbing. It’s all super accessible here in Salt Lake City.
When did you first have the idea to open Camp Man?
I first had the idea to start Campman fresh out of getting my Master’s in Business from the University of Utah. I always knew I wanted to start and run my own business – I was just searching to find what that business was. I started a couple businesses that really weren’t going anywhere, and then I had the opportunity to purchase this website from a group of individuals from Provo. I had a meeting with them back in 2006 and the idea excited me to own my own outdoor store so I purchased the site. I slowly found my way through the years through successes and failures. These last few years we’ve started to figure out what we’re doing and we’ve had great success.
How much have you grown since day one?
On day one in 2006, we purchased a website and had no retail experience. Luckily we had a sale on the first day for an avalanche beacon. Then we just had to figure out how to get it. The first year was very mediocre as far as sales. In 2006, we maybe did $30,000 in sales – which isn’t even enough to live off. Since then we’ve steadily doubled and tripled each year. We’re about 200 times bigger than where we initially started. We went from having five to ten orders per month to 3,000 to 4,000 orders per month. It’s to the point where we’ve hired additional staff and we’re still looking to hire additional people to manage the growth we’re seeing.
What is your go-to gear item for your favorite outdoor activity?
My go-to gear for my favorite outdoor activity would be a tough choice because I have so many favorite activities. In the summer it’s a toss up between my mountain bike, which is a Specialized Enduro, or my Sage Fly Rod because I love to fly fish so much. In the winter it’s definitely my Surface Skis with a full rocker and huge underfoot. I’m a snow snob and my favorite thing to do is ski powder.
How has the Sandy Chamber’s KeyBank Business Accelerator Academy helped you think about your business?
The KeyBank Business Accelerator Academy has helped me by forcing me to step out of my business for a few hours each month to think about the future. I get stuck in the grind like many business owners and I’m worried about which fire I need to put out today. Being part of the Business Accelerator Academy gets me outside of my business and helps me think about the future. I get to network with other business owners and we can come together and talk about what problems we’re facing. It allows us to strategize for the future.
What’s your biggest takeaway from the academy so far?
It’s important to network with the people and businesses around you so that you can be a part of a community. Everyone has the same problems whether you’re in the outdoor business or the printing business or the engineering business – we all as small business owners have similar issues. A program like the KeyBank Business Accelerator Academy brings together people who might not normally interact with each other. I hope to maintain those relationships because the insights that those other business owners can give to me – as well as me helping them – not only makes our community stronger, but it helps us as owners strive through some of the adversities we face.
What’s the number one thing you’ve learned since owning your own business?
The number one thing I’ve learned since owning my own business is to be super flexible. It’s exciting to come in and be the boss, but at the end of the day it stops with you. If someone can’t figure out the problem, it falls in your lap. Another lesson is you can’t be afraid to fail. Failure is jut inevitable. If you’re afraid to fail, then you should probably never start a business. I usually fail more than I succeed, but that’s also where I learn the most valuable lessons. Other than that, networking is an important part of running your business. Whether it’s the relationship you have with your customers or your vendors, it’s important that people view you as honest. You conduct business because people will believe that you aren’t out to rip them off, but rather have their best interest in mind.
If you could describe your journey as a business owner in one word, what would it be and why?
I would just say it’s fulfilling. You essentially start something and it’s like growing a garden. You get to plant a seed and watch it grow and it either lives or dies by your hands. When you see it grow and it’s prosperous, you can be proud of what you’re doing. You can also provide other people with satisfying jobs or contribute to the community by supporting events. It’s just a fulfilling experience to build something and share with other people.
Do you have any advice for future business owners or someone who wants to open their own business?
Give it a shot. Maybe don’t put all your eggs in one basket and quit your job or sell all your stuff and jump right into it, but figure out a way to see if you can test to see if your business is going to work. There’s so many different ways to market and sell things these days so it’s really easy to figure it out if you can make something or sell something. Don’t get frustrated that you can’t just quit your job and start up a new business. I spent almost 10 years working two jobs before I could finally quit my initial career as a Biologist and switch over to the outdoor retail world. But now I run Campman. So if you have a dream, figure out a way to see if it’s feasible or not.
View the video interview here.