A Columbus entrepreneur finds an outdoorsy niche in the corporate world.
When Amy Gillespie launched a business focused on providing luxury outdoor experiences, she expected to serve customers looking for ways to enjoy nature without roughing it. What she did not anticipate was that many of them would be corporations that also wanted to use her branding and marketing know-how to help plan and organize meaningful events.
Gillespie started The Campfire Experience after almost missing a favorite music festival because she was pregnant and initially couldn't find a comfortable way to attend the event. Gillespie, who loves to crunch data, discovered a need in the Midwest for a company that could help people engage with the outdoors without sacrificing comfort. She quit her marketing job at Nationwide, bought some high-end camping gear and put her professional skills to work for herself.
She has helped customers attend outdoor music festivals, create unique wedding accommodations and explore state parks but also responded when early clients like Goose Island Beer Co. and Abercrombie & Fitch requested assistance creating events with a mood that reflected their brand. Gillespie and her team organized farm-to-table dinners around the country for Goose Island designed to help attendees reconnect to the company, which had been acquired by the Anheuser Busch Company.
They also helped Abercrombie & Fitch plan its annual fundraiser, The A&F Challenge, where organizers sought to create a camp-themed festival. The Campfire Experience team transformed the company's headquarters into an upscale campground and created special tents where top fundraisers and VIPs could hang out.
Anna Ankenbauer of Abercrombie & Fitch credits Gillespie with bringing about the “realization” of the planning team's vision. “We were thrilled with how she creatively executed our request for beautiful and organic gathering spaces spread throughout the event, where guests could relax, enjoy food and drink from local vendors and listen to music from several bands,” she says. “Our vision and her aesthetic were a perfect match from the start.”
Working on those projects and others convinced Gillespie to pivot her business plan from scaling a luxury rental company to branding The Campfire Experience as a company with luxury camping items that plans and executes outdoorsy experiential marketing opportunities.
“These companies were searching for something special and different,” she says. “They sought me out and, because of my marketing background, I was primed to do it.”
Additional research convinced her that the spending traits and social habits of millennials mean there is a market for a luxury adventuring company that also focuses on branded experiences. Due to growing interest from throughout the country, Gillespie is currently making plans to open a second office in Boulder, Colorado.
Gillespie works to make sure she and her team grasp a brand's focus and that they work closely with its in-house employees, she says. “I never want to be a vendor,” she says. “We're better when we are an extension of the team. We want to understand their strategy and help achieve their goals by creating an experience authentic to who they are.”
Gillespie's ability to work closely with clients, combined with her love of the outdoors, has allowed her to create this unique company, says Shelley Bird, CEO of LiveFocus and one of Gillespie's business advisors. “It's not just a transaction,” she says. “She exceeds that. She's really focused on the customer and looking to add value.”
Her corporate background and dedication to research helps her successfully pitch her unique services to companies, adds mentor Jeni Britton Bauer, founder and chief creative officer for Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams.
Gillespie also delivers what she promises—creating visually appealing events that evoke the desired mood, Britton Bauer adds. It's clear that she taps the creative and analytical sides of her brain, Britton Bauer says. “She's a whole brain thinker. She's open and flexible,” she says. “She has high standards, resilience and persistence. She's going to go forward no matter what.”
Melissa Kossler Dutton is a freelance writer.