Feature Article - January/February 2008

The Great Outdoors

Recreation Equals Motivation

By William Flanagan


Never underestimate the appeal of the great outdoors. Whether they actually fish and cook what they catch or simply light a fire and order out, the smart incentive planner knows that deep down in their hearts, everyone is the "outdoors type."

The overall appeal of a nice day is readily apparent to most anyone. But for some, the extent of that attractiveness is limited to an Adirondack chair and a cold beer. For others, bright, sunny days are a reason to run, hike, and bike, go camping, fishing or simply get wet. These are the people who, when given the opportunity to choose a reward, literally think outside the box.

The fact is that most people consider themselves somewhat active and healthy. (We all know mirrors don't reflect the heart.) Even if they have a ski machine or a weight bench doubling as a clothes hanger in their house, they bought those things with the idea in mind that they would exercise and get healthy. But simply stepping outdoors can put them on the road to health.

"People associate the outdoors with a healthy, active lifestyle, and they want to be a part of that—even if they don't get outdoors as much as they'd like to," said Paul Cernohous, director of sales for Coleman Company Inc., a major supplier of camping and recreational gear to the incentive market.

It also doesn't matter if they're young or old. A well-designed incentive program offers sporting goods and recreational fun for everyone.

"Growth categories with the aging boomer population are hiking poles, air beds, RV, yoga and fitness walking," said Norma Jean Knollenberg, CEO of Top Brands, a full-service incentive house based in Oshkosh, Wis. "Growth categories with the younger participants are water sports, snowshoeing and trail running."

Some activities, such as fishing and camping, appeal to young and old incentive winners alike, and can actually unite generations.

"Fishing ranks among the top family leisure-time activities," Knollenberg said. "Over 34 million people fish each year. Nearly 9 million women and more than 10 million kids under the age of 16 go fishing," she noted, adding, "Unlike fad sports, fishing is a lifelong pursuit passed on from one generation to the next. Camping is also still very popular among families as well as extremists who enjoy hiking in the mountains for more than a day."

For self

Promoting a healthy lifestyle has become the corporate norm, and the main benefactor is the individual. As companies realize it's just good business to have healthy employees—studies show it lowers health-care costs and increases employee retention—they are beginning to develop programs that reward a healthy lifestyle.

While recreational hear has always been present in incentive catalogs, it is now becoming part of bigger, more personal reward programs. Instead of just sales or safety programs, companies are now rewarding employees for successfully quitting smoking, losing weight or even hitting the gym. This trend also falls in line with government programs aimed at ending the nationwide obesity epidemic, which is hitting our youth particularly hard.

Incentive suppliers have watched all of these trends and can see that it pays to help develop a healthy appreciation for the outdoors because it clearly leads to a healthy nation overall.

"The government is focusing on the growing obesity problem in the United States, and the topic is getting significant media attention," Cernohous said. "This concern about obesity and about Americans spending too much time in front of TV and computer screens, and not enough time outdoors, has contributed to the popularity of outdoor gear for incentives."

To help get people off of their couches and into the great outdoors for some healthy activity, Coleman is promoting the "Let's Go Outside" message. The company created national advertising, cause marketing and other initiatives to help demonstrate the appeal of the outdoors.

"We know that by getting people back outside—especially young people—we'll be contributing to their well-being and to the well-being of our society."