Leaping Ahead in the Competitive Events Industry
If you haven't run in a Red Frog Events race or been to one of their musical festivals yet, one thing is for sure - you're missing out. Since 2007, this Chicago-based middle market company has been bringing unique events, such as the Great Urban Race, Warrior Dash, and Firefly Music Festival, nationwide. Red Frog Events is delighting not only their customers, but their employees as well. After all, not many companies can boast that the quickest way from one side of the office to another is via zip-line.
Over the past few years, Red Frog Events has been named to the Inc. 500 list for fastest growing private companies in America, Outdoor Magazine's "Best Places to Work" and was awarded "Top Workplace" by the Chicago Tribune.
To find out more about how Red Frog Events has thrived in the middle market, we sat down with Vice President of Operations Stephanie Mezzano.
Q: Red Frog Events has really burst on to the scene lately, with big events such as the Great Urban Race, Warrior Dash, and the Firefly Music Festival. How did the company get to this point?
A: Joe Reynolds founded the company in 2007 with the creation of the Great Urban Race. The Great Urban Race is a city-centered , scavenger hunt style event focused in a large city where teams of two to four run around and complete tasks. Once we really got our feet wet in the industry, we launched the Warrior Dash series which was the first real obstacle race to hit the United States. So we saw a tremendous amount of success in 2009. In 2010, we rolled out a 10-event calendar where we saw significant number of registrations as the Warrior Dash really began to sweep the nation. So those have continued to be a success.
Right around 2012, we determined that we wanted to continue to expand our portfolio and that's where Firefly started. We had our first event in 2012, which was in Dover, Delaware. We saw a real void in the marketplace for an event of this magnitude. At the time, there was really nothing on the east coast that would identify itself as a major music festival. Our first event was a great success with over 30,000 people. We focused on innovating and grew that event to over 65,000 people in 2013. We will be putting that event on again this year and are hoping for hitting somewhere around 80-85,000 attendees, being one of the fastest growing and largest music festivals in the United States. So along with those core brands, we've continued to keep our pipeline really healthy and add other events to our portfolio.
We have the Bacon Chase, a brand new event which is going to hit Atlanta later this year. That's a 5K run with bacon at several points throughout the race and at the finish line. We also created an event called the American Beer Classic which is a beer festival situated in Soldier Field that lets fans get closer to the field and gives them a unique experience.
Q: As the popularity of these specialty races and events has spiked over the past few years, what do you think really separates Red Frog from the other players out there in the market?
A: I think that our largest separating factor is innovation. It's really at the forefront of everything we do. For the core events that we have, we're constantly looking at them and we're never satisfied with our current product. We know that there's always a way to improve it and to continue to make it better. So we also realize that the event industry is constantly changing and it's our job to make sure that we're adapting to our consumer wants and needs. I think because that's such a huge part of our company we've managed to stay on top of the industry and to constantly create new experiences for our customers.
And with that, I think Red Frog as a whole has embraced the idea of innovation through our culture. We put a tremendous amount of pride and passion into our workspace. We have treehouses, zip-lines, foosball tables, and creative conference rooms that really drive innovation at all aspects of our business. And I truly do believe that the innovative culture that we've created allows us to gain exceptional talent that produces incredibly innovative ideas that have really made an impact on our product.
Q: It seems like the office vibe, with treehouses, zip-lines, and other amenities, is really a core part of your recruitment strategy for getting young talent. How else are you approaching talent acquisition?
A: This is very much a core focus of our leadership team. We know that in order to continue to grow, innovate, and stay as a leader within our industry that we need the most top-level talent that there is. And with that, we realize that we do need to create a place that people actually want to come to work, in a place that develops those innovative ideas. So we put a good bit of time and effort into that. We receive thousands of resumes a year and it's a very long process in order to secure a job at Red Frog.
We have a unique internship program that we call the "Tadpoleship" where we bring in groups of employees that work for anywhere between three and five months. They get an experience where they really get to touch every facet of our business and also get to travel to our events. Through that process, we get a pipeline of selecting highly qualified full-time employees. So we get to spend that time with those employees to really make sure that they're a right fit for Red Frog. And truly, I think that's one of the critical aspects. You have to have employees who are passionate and whose passion aligns with your core business. I think that's what has allowed us to separate ourselves. Our employees are so passionate and want to move our brands forward because they truly love them and feel and connection to them.
Q: What do you think has been instrumental to the success of Red Frog since the first Great Urban Race took off?
A: I think that there are a few things. The amount of time and effort that we put into the overall experience at our events has allowed us to continue to grow them. We pride ourselves on giving every one of our participants top-notch customer service from the first time that they register for one of our events to after the event where we're continuously asking them for their feedback. We really consider ourselves leaders in the event industry for this. I also think that our investment into innovation has been a huge. We have several internal programs that we've created to continuously push the envelope on what we do. We have innovation meetings monthly where every member of our staff meets with a group of people that are cross-functional from all different departments. We give them some of the large brainstorming topics that we've been thinking about. This really helps make innovation a part of the entire company from top to bottom.
Q: Tell us a little bit more about customer input and continuous improvement. What are some of the things you offer customers as part of signing up for an event?
A: We have a very unique customer service program through our representatives, which we call "Ninjas". What we pride ourselves on is giving the customer service we would want ourselves. At any time you can email us, call us, or we actually have a new feature which is kind of like instant messenger where you can get to us directly from our website. That gives you, within one minute, someone who will answer any question that you have. I think that really helped to drive registrations.
We also pride ourselves on being very flexible. Let's say you sign up for an event nine months beforehand and get hurt prior to the event; we give you the ability to transfer your registration to another person. That's something that's really separated us from a lot of our competitors. Additionally, when we're on-site, we actually fly out all of our own staff; we don't use third-parties. So when we're at an event, our staff is very knowledgeable and ready to answer any questions that our participants have.
Q: In addition to the monthly innovation meetings, what other opportunities does Red Frog offer for employees to expand their skill-sets and become more valuable to the company?
A: We believe that we have the world's best benefits package. A big portion of what we give to all of our employees is professional development. We grant the access and ability for any employee to find and seek out opportunities that are going to better themselves and help them grow. Specifically, for a middle market company, that's very important. In small businesses, employees wear many different hats and you do whatever they have to in order to get by. And I think once you move into that middle market, you really have to start systemizing it, making sure that your business is as efficient as possible.
With that, you really have to empower your employees to learn and become specialists in their individual fields. That's really what we're pushing and granting our workforce the ability to do, is to seek out those opportunities to become the experts we need them to be. Because we have such a passionate workforce, it's something that our employees take full advantage of and, as a result, have pushed each one of our departments to the next level.
Q: What words of advice do you have for other middle market executives out there that may soon be experiencing that level of growth that Red Frog has had?
A: The number one sentiment that I would leave is that the people in your business are everything. Recruit people who care about your mission. Give them autonomy and the tools that they need to accomplish their tasks. Encourage and aid them to grow alongside of your business. Without them, it just wouldn't be possible. With that passionate workforce, I truly believe that anything is possible.
Q: Reflecting back for a moment of students that are interested in working for Red Frog, what would you say are the advantages of working for a company of Red Frog's size as opposed to a large corporation or a start-up?
A: Oh, there's so many! Working for a middle market company is incredibly exciting. My largest piece of advice is to take all opportunities and run with them. Grow with the company and give it your best shot. You're going to learn along the way. As an employee of the middle market, your job is to create, innovate, and push the company to where you eventually know it is going to become.
Q: As a final thought, you mentioned the Bacon Chase that's on the horizon. Are there any other long-term growth opportunities that you're looking towards or any other exciting developments that are happening within the company that you can share?
A: 2014 is going to be a very big year for Red Frog. We have quite a bit planned in terms of expansion and innovation. We're going to take this year as a growing year and expand into several new industries. We hope to find a new stepping stone for our expansion and growth in the future.
For more information on Red Frog Events, visit www.redfrogevents.com.