John has built an HR resource and team of professionals with experience in the outdoor industry and a love for adventure!
How were you introduced to the outdoors?
John grew up in Murphysboro, TN, and was exposed to the outdoors by his dad, who would take him camping once in a while. His perspective on the outdoors really changed when he joined the local Boy Scout troop, which allowed him to go camping more often and begin backpacking and canoeing. “In the summers, we did a week-long high adventure trip,” John says, describing backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail and in New Mexico, “in my early development years, that’s what got me outdoors.”
While on summer breaks from college, John broke into the outdoor industry by working as a canoe guide for Northern Tier High Adventure, where he would take people out on extended wilderness trips in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota and Canada. He has also worked as a zip-lining guide at Adventure Guild in Chatanooga, TN, led trips for his university’s outdoor program, and even ran a community program for the Girl Scouts.
What degree were you pursuing while in school?
“I got my bachelor’s degree in business administration, but then I also got a second bachelor’s degree in human resources,” John says, “and then I later went back and got my Master’s in business administration with a concentration on human resources.”
He goes on to describe experiences with an internship that he took at an outdoor school and discovering his university’s outdoor recreation program, which led him to become the president of his campus’s recreation society. “My passion is with the outdoor industry and that’s what I did while in college,” he says, “the jobs helped me get through college but then all my schooling was specific to business, so I took a few extracurricular recreation classes for fun, to get more of a structured learning experience in recreation.”
Where did you get your HR chops?
“When I worked for Northern Tier, I was there for five seasons…and at the end of my time working for them was when I was at the end of my Bachelor’s Degree, so I worked my way into a management role and a training coordinator role,” John says, clarifying that at many companies, training is an area of human resources. “So that was really my first introduction to an HR job,” he says “handling two-week training programs, multiple times throughout the summer, for a total of 200 employees that we trained.”
John then went on to work an internship at a local city government, where he worked with employee compensation plans. After his internship ended, the city government hired him as a full-fledged employee, due to his love for HR analytics and knowledge of Excel and statistics. “I was brought on as a new position,” John says, “which was called HR project specialist, so I reported directly to the Director of Human Resources and dealt a lot with the Mayor’s office and different government-wide programs that we were implementing.”
John was later promoted to an HR Generalist, which allowed him to work with more departments like Youth and Family Development, where he was able to do more outdoor and therapeutic recreation-focused work. His next career move was to a large private security company in Chatanooga, where he was hired on as the Human Resources Manager and managed a seven-state region with over 600 employees.
Where did your entrepreneurial spirit come from?
After relocating to Houston while his wife attends medical school, John decided to open up his own business, which he has always wanted to do. “My dad was the president of a company, so I’ve always been in the business realm of life,” he says, “but I got really involved in Human Resources, which is great because it’s strategic leadership of your people.”
Why did you choose to focus your business on the outdoor industry?
“From my time working with a handful of different outdoor programs, I learned that, typically, there’s not a dedicated HR professional at the organization,” John says. “I realized that there is a huge need in the industry because when you look at a lot of the organizations in this industry, they are focused on people…your products are your people who provide experiences.”
What percentage of your business is camps-related versus guide services?
Though HR Outfitter began primarily targeting expedition guiding companies due to John’s previous work experience, the business has grown rapidly and is marketing more towards camps. “Every company is unique and has their own differences,” he says, “what kind of solutions do you offer those folks or do you offer anybody who comes to you with an HR need?”
What kind of solutions do you offer?
“The main thing we market toward our potential clients is a recurring partnership between us and the customers for a fraction of what it would cost for them to hire on a full-time HR person or outsource to another company. They can bring us on board and basically hire us to be their HR team,” John says. HR Outfitter creates policies for workplace structure changes and also handles employee relations and staffing, “we tailor our partnership to the person we’re working with.”
Do you work in person or remotely?
“Our team is fully remote,” John says, “We set up our company to where we can work remotely as a team internally, but we can actually support companies remotely as well.” He elaborates on their process, saying “we’re able to do a lot through video calls, regular calls, emails, file-sharing platforms, and also a lot of HR stuff we handle on our end that the company doesn’t necessarily deal with, such as applicant tracking systems.”
Do you have any success stories?
HR Outfitter does full house HR for an international company called Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions, which hires a seasonal staff of 120 people from over 25 different nationalities. John will be traveling to Antarctica and Chile at the end of their season to do exit interviews with the staff in order to look at the season from an analytical perspective to see how the company can improve its culture with staff members.
Have you experienced any unique challenges?
Covid presented challenges for Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions, due to border closures and heightened public health restrictions, but now that border closures are loosening in Chile, John has had to rush to hire staff and coordinate global travel. “It was unique. Number one because you’re dealing with the global aspect, but then also Covid regulations from different government agencies,” he says.
Let’s shift gears a bit, what outdoor activities do you participate in?
“With my background, I do a little bit of everything,” John says, noting that his favorite activity is primitive camping, whether that involves backpacking or going on canoe or kayak trips. John and his wife go camping together once a month.
Do you have any advice for folks wanting to get into the outdoor adventure business?
“Grow and utilize your professional network,” John says, “it’s important to know your skillsets, but it’s also important to have those social interactions with people in the industry because you never know where it’s going to lead down the road.”
John goes on to say, “I deal with a ton of applicants, so some more direct advice is, number one, work on your soft skills. Companies, a lot of times, are willing to train people on the hard skills. But soft skills, such as personality, interactions, the way you present yourself in an interview, or just things that you need to work with that have a huge effect on if you get a job or not. So I would work on your soft skills.”
What’s your favorite outdoor gear purchase under $100?
“There’s a company called Granite Gear, which is a great company, and they make a compression dry sack called the Event Sil Compression Dry Sack…it compresses really well, but it’s waterproof so I can put my sleeping bag in there and throw it in a lake and when I pull my sleeping bag out, it’s dry.”
Do you have a special offer for the listeners? How can they reach out to you?
“For any businesses out there in the outdoor industry, because we work with outfitters, camps, companies, anyone who’s related to the outdoor recreation industry, I’d love to give them a free 30-minute consultation on a problem that they just need advice with,” John says. Listeners can reach out to John via the HR Outfitter website, Facebook, or call him at (409) 333-0079 and let him know you heard about HR Outfitter on The Outdoor Biz Podcast.