Küat joins the passionate pursuit

Aaron Scott, SBJ Editorial Photographer & DesignerSeveral months ago, I learned about “The Dirtbag Diaries” podcast through the Patagonia company blog, The Cleanest Line. For the last few years, Patagonia, the Ventura, Calif.,-based outdoor clothing and gear company, has sponsored the podcast dedicated to the stories behind adventure sports. Now a young Springfield-based company is lending its support to fuel the podcast and a new web-television series spinoff in 2010.

After listening to the podcast for the last few months, even going back through the archives, the “Diaries” has become one of my favorite listens. While it’s centered around adventure sports such as climbing, skiing and surfing, it’s not about gear or technique. It’s about people. It’s about stories. It’s about the pursuit of passion. If you’ve ever wondered why someone would rid themselves of most of their worldly possessions to don titles that include the words “bum” or “rat,” the podcast will answer most of your questions. (I’m aspiring to become a certifiable trout bum.) It’s about how doing what you love can both save your life and take you to the brink of death. And, if you do live to tell about it, creator Fitz Cahall will probably want your story on the record.

Additionally, Cahall produces a sideshow to the “Diaries” that is similar in nature, but in a short-form, first-person narrative. “The Shorts” is sponsored by Fort Collins, Colo.,-based New Belgium Brewing Co., makers of the popular microbrew Fat Tire Amber Ale.

Later this month, Cahall, along with video producer Bryan Smith, is launching a 22-episode web-based video series. “The Season” will track five adventure athletes through the training and competition of their respective seasons in the Pacific Northwest. On the “Diaries” Web site, Cahall describes the premise of the new series: “Could we take compelling stories from our community, combine them with tightly crafted footage and create small installments that reveal a bigger story? … These athletes aren’t setting out on their season’s goals because there is monetary reward or they expect to get famous. They chased these goals because they are deeply passionate about their pursuits.”

So it doesn’t come with much surprise (only the kind associated with the coincidence of locality) that Küat Innovations, a Springfield manufacturer of lightweight aluminum bike racks, whose “heart” of their business is the mountain biking crowd, would sponsor the podcasts and video series. The core audience is right up their alley – young, adventurous, eyes set on the mountains. And their sponsorship demonstrates the new opportunities that exist with “new media” such as podcasts, Web-based videos and blogs. Luke Kuschmeader, Küat co-founder, says his company will be a “silver star” sponsor for all three of Cahall’s creative endeavors. Kuschmeader contacted Cahall in November about possible sponsorship openings on the podcasts, not knowing “The Season” was just months away from launch, but he says the opportunity makes sense. He declined to disclose the dollar amount of the sponsorship, but said it was a sizable chunk of their marketing budget, comparable to running several full page print ads in cycling magazines.

Traditionally, outdoor gear manufacturers have a handful of marketing opportunities – athlete and event sponsorships, print advertisements, and tradeshows – but Kuschmeader says new media offer new possibilities for targeted advertising. While a single race sponsorship might put their brand in front of 400 people, sponsoring the podcasts and the Web TV show could expose Küat to audiences of up to 20,000. Even though the company has been mentioned in only one “Diaries” podcast and the trailer for ‘The Season,’ Kuschmeader says they’re already receiving attention from potential customers via e-mail messages and Facebook posts.

This leap into new media doesn’t mean Küat is abandoning traditional means of advertising to grow their business in 2010. Conversely, the company is expanding traditional marketing efforts of print ads and regional race sponsorships by rolling out company-sponsored junior, cyclocross and adventure-racing teams that will fly Küat’s colors this year.

In the latest “Diaries” episode of the, “Fueled by Strawberry Jam,” Kuschmeader makes an appearance, talking about his goals for the year. He says he’s entered into two “sufferfest” events this summer. The first, a seven-day mountain biking trip from Durango, Colo., to Moab, Utah, is a personal journey through San Juan Hut Adventures that will take him “hut to hut” across 215 miles of rugged terrain ranging from alpine tundra to desert canyons. In August, Kuschmeader hopes to compete in the Leadville Trail 100, a series of marathon events established in 1983. The LT100 gained publicity the last two years when cycling icon Lance Armstrong entered the mountain bike race. Not only has Armstrong participated, he also won the race in 2009, setting a record with a time of less than six and a half hours. While a century ride is not a stretch for some avid cyclists, when you consider that the race peaks out at an elevation of nearly 13,000 feet with a total elevation change of 14,000 feet, its immense challenge is apparent. Entrance into the LT100 mountain biking race is lottery-based, the reason why Kuschmeader didn’t participate last year, but he says he has a good chance of having his name drawn this time around.

On the podcast, Kuschmeader also says he wants to balance the pursuit of his passion and nurturing the business that was born from his passion. Preparing for the two events will require intense training, but continuing the growth of Küat also will need plenty of attention. He tells me that he plans on spending between 10 and 18 hours a week in the saddle to prepare for the trips, riding when he can on weekdays and completing a big ride on weekends. Much of his training will be road riding, but he still plans on tearing up singletrack at Busick State Forest and the Ozark Greenways’ Sac River Trail. As for the business side, Küat has recently launched two new racks, the “NV” and “Sherpa,” and will officially launch the “Trail Doc,” an attachment for on-site bike repair and maintenance, in the next few weeks. Beyond that, Kuschmeader says they will unveil a rack that he bills as an “economical solution” at a “bargain price point” in the spring.

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