This episode of the Outdoor Biz Podcast features Actual Outdoors Founder, Pro Photographer, and Podcaster John Holdmeier. John is a lifelong outdoor enthusiast and a fantastic photographer. He loves getting outside, more often than not on a river and you can hear him on the Nature Untold Podcast.
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So let’s start off with how you fell in love with the outdoors. How’d that come about?
Yeah. So, it was really early on for me. I, consider myself super lucky in that my family was into the outdoors. And so my dad and my mom, to enough of an extent that she would come do stuff with us but it wasn’t her first choice always. Older sister, and then I have a younger brother as well, but all of us were getting outside since my first memory. That looked like the normal travel vacation, hiking kind of stuff, early on, but also a lot of float trips going down to Southern Missouri.
What inspired you to commit to an outdoor lifestyle, or did you learn that through becoming a river guide?
It was definitely those experiences as a kid. My dad was into fly fishing pretty early on, and so I was fly fishing when I was really little as well. And that was the thing. I was so lucky to have all that, all the gear, and all the access to be able to do that. But yeah, it was those early experiences and really what made me feel like there was nothing else in life where I like couldn’t wait to go do it.
You weren’t burning to be an engineer or an architect?
Not even in the slightest at all. And it was different back then because this is probably nine late nineties that we’re talking about here. I was lucky because my older sister worked at a gear shop and, she got to go to OR. I think it was in Salt Lake when she was going and she would always come back with these stories of what Outdoor Retailer was like and all the free gear that she would bring back and stuff. And that kind of gave me a little bit of a sense of oh, there, okay, so there’s a bigger industry here.
So did you work in the same shop?
I did a little bit. So I was still closer to St. Louis and our local shop there is The Alpine Shop. That’s where I started out.
The crazy thing about my hometown in our area here in the greater St. Louis area in Missouri is that we have a pretty rich history of Outdoor industry companies being located here, and even manufacturing. Back in the day, Kelty and American Rec were based here.
So did you just walk in and apply for a job? Were you must have known somebody.
Yeah. it’s a small town, right? I knew several people that had worked out there. And I actually just saw that they posted a position for a product development role. I think Facebook was around at the time and I think they posted it on Facebook. And so I reached out and said, Hey, I’d love to talk about this. Cuz at that point, I had 10-plus years of retail knowledge. And that’s really the best kind of knowledge you can get from a product standpoint is figuring out how to learn about all that gear.
It sounds like you enjoyed your time with HKD Global. Tell our listeners about your role there and about that.
I’d say, I’ve had several of these experiences, in my development through my career journey where they’ve just been massively transformative. Starting that job at Alps was a really transformative thing to see how all the production and all that happened.
And then HKD, my role there, they do OEM manufacturing. So we made, I think at one point, if not still, I’m not sure, it was something like 70 of the camping tents that you can buy in stores came out of our factories. My role there was a product manager and also a brand manager as we started trying to launch some of our own kinds of internal brands.
It’s a Korean-owned company and the headquarters are in Hong Kong. and the manufacturing was in Bangladesh, and then our office was in the U.S. We were a really small team in the US of, I wanna say probably six of us at the time. and so yeah, they needed somebody who understood the product and could design the product and, so it was, I say product manager, but it was really like product manager slash tent designers slash market marketing slash Yeah, six hats.
So then in 2022, you launched Actual Outdoors, a complete shift from product into photography. What was the catalyst for that?
Yeah. So you know, I have, like you just mentioned, I had been making products and on the product side of things for a really long time. so there was a little bit of a burnout feeling starting with that.
you get to a point where you’re looking at everything that you’re doing and going, there are so many brands making so many products. Yeah. It’s too much similar. Yeah. Yeah, I just, I really wanted to shift gears again because I keep having these moments where I see something new and interesting that I wanna learn more about and photography and I would say marketing in general and video and, the visual side of things like brand identity design and logos and colorways and all that.
That was always like, just the most interesting thing to me, even though I had not. Done as much of a deep dive in my career into those things. And so, I started taking photos back in my H K D days because we needed photos for packaging. Oh, So, it was like we’d make these tents for Walmart or Cole or whoever it was, and they’re like, Hey, we need a good photo of this
And then we started looking around trying to figure out how much it cost to get a really nice photo. And then it’s oh wow, okay. John, can you take a picture? And I was like, I wanna learn how to do this, so. Oh, cool. yeah, so I started there and then I would say like the creative process of that photography and video stuff, nothing has captured me like that, has since.
Shout out to Emily. She’s one of the original outdoor podcasters I believe as well. I wanna say it’s probably about a year ago now that I took over hosting.
We’re a show about sobriety and recovery, of all types of recovery in how those things interact with the outdoor industry and the outdoor space. And so my personal journey, I have over eight years of sobriety, so I went. to a rehab facility back in my Alps days. And, quit drinking. And so it was much needed. And by far the best thing that I’ve ever done for myself in my life. Yeah. it’s made such a huge difference. And, I’m always trying to look for ways to be a part of and stay a part of that sobriety and, Sober curious, recovery community.
And, Emily had also recently quit drinking. And she is a podcast person and she wanted to start this podcast about sobriety in the outdoors. And so she started it and I came on as a guest. And then, she did like connect one and connect two, and then she had, just a lot of things get busy in within her life.
And, she’s also doing her own new career thing after leaving a corporate gig. And so things started getting pretty busy on her end. And, she asked if I would be interested in hosting and I was like, absolutely I would love to do that. And so I’ve been hosting for about a year now and,
So without giving away any state secrets, any projects, or future projects you’re working on, you can talk about?
Yeah, we’ve got a few things. We’ve been going for about a year now with Actual Outdoors and, we’ve done a few really cool projects this year so far.
One that I would love to give a shout-out to is our project with Illumine. They partner with nonprofits and they sell apparel that has custom artwork for the nonprofit and then a pretty sizable percentage of the proceeds goes to whoever their partner is for that month.
And so we did some branding, with them, brand identity and my partner Lindsay is the other half of actual outdoors, and she’s a graphic designer by trade. And so, that’s another big part of what we do.
The coolest thing I’m looking forward to this next year, we’re just getting into getting some of this stuff out to the public, is, we’re working with a good friend of mine, Chev Dixon, who’s based up in Yonkers, New York.
He’s just the past, eight years or so, he’s been doing this amazing work in Yonkers where he’s getting people from the community out on the water, on the Hudson River right there in New York. You can see the bridges in the city in the background. It’s pretty wild. Yeah. And, they’re getting tons of people out on the water. And so we’ve, we’ve helped with his website. That will go live soon.
Sounds like you get outdoors a bunch, which outdoor activities do you participate in?
Probably all of them. Yeah, it’s a little bit of all of ’em. As I said, was super lucky growing up. We got to do everything, with my dad taking us outside, so I’ve dabbled in almost, every outdoor activity, but really the two biggest that stuck for me, anything around, like free-flowing water, clear water, rivers, so, whitewater kayaking and then fly fishing are the two biggest ones.
Do you have any suggestions or advice for folks wanting to get into the outdoor biz?
Yeah, absolutely. I would say, however, you can fit in or get into a spot, do it. Go for it. If it’s retail if it’s as an assistant if it’s as some sort of like social media management, whatever, the role that you can prepare yourself to get into it, go for it. And don’t be thinking like, I have to wait and wait and then get this amazing engineer dream job that I want, or whatever it is, as soon as you can get your foot in the door, do it.
What’s your favorite piece of outdoor gear under a hundred dollars?
So I had to think long and hard about this. There are a lot of ’em out there and I use everything so much. I use it all the time and then it goes back with me through my history. The Sawyer Squeeze.
Do you read a lot, or have any favorite books?
I do read quite a bit and it’s hard to narrow down what books have really made a big deal to me, but, going back, I loved reading everything from Ed Abbey. but also, I would say Ego is the Enemy is one of the biggest books, it changed my trajectory. And then, another one that I really loved, I read this past year was Subtract, and its subtitle is, the Untapped Science of Less.
And to go along with that one, Essentialism by Greg McKeown. Stolen Focus is another one that I read this year by Johan Harry. And then the last one, I promise. But if you’re in marketing at all, Mark Schaffer has several good books. Marketing Rebellion is a really good starting point for him.
As we wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to say to our listeners?
I’d say the biggest thing for me is I’d really love it if people could go check out what we’re doing with Actual Outdoors. That’s the biggest thing I’m trying to get to grow this year. And, we’ve been really learning a ton and growing in small steps and trying to do everything the right way for trying to get more people outside and make the outdoors more approachable and more accepting and more inviting. So, I would say that people can check that out and check out our website and reach out if they have any questions. That would be the big ask I have. And the website is actualoutdoors.com.
John Holdmeier Instagram for any, nature untold questions or sobriety questions or anything, I’m always down to talk to people and have conversations around that, there as well.