As Poslovni Dnevnik/Ana Blaskovic writes, the first time you step out onto the peaks of Velebit, a magical mountain with a view of the endless greenery of the forests of Lika and the blue of the sea stretching all the way to neighbouring Italy, it’s almost certain that you will descend from it as a different person. Enchanted by the mighty Velebit, a team from the very different Slavonian plains, led by Jurica Barac, became mountaineering enthusiasts whose story began as a local mountaineering adventure and became a global business.
Five years ago, Highlander Velebit was created, an adventure that combines the beauty and peace of this natural gem and the ultimate long-distance hiking experience. When this year’s mountaineers leave Zavizan on September the 25th, in five days, they will pass 100 kilometres through the national parks of Northern Velebit and Paklenica, where the trail ends with a triumphant jump into the sea in Starigrad.
While ten years ago it was almost impossible to meet living souls on Zagreb’s Medvednica except on weekends, today it is common to meet a group of mountaineers or cyclists on Wednesday evenings who are descend back down into the city below with lamps on their heads. A reversal in the way of thinking and the growing need to escape to nature after work is one of the main reasons for the success of the Croatian Highlander brand as well.
“The wellness market is set to blow up over the next five to ten years. Croatia hasn’t yet fully tapped into its potential, but more and more people are starting to engage in sports and hiking,” stated the executive director of the Croatian Highlander brand, Jurica Barac.
This is reflected in the applications for the upcoming Velebit adventure, the number of which is increasing from year to year, and these events could easily be attended by about 600 mountaineers.
Soon after it came to life, the Croatian Highlander brand transcended local and regional boundaries and today it is organised on 12 more mountains in Austria, Greece, Portugal, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Northern Macedonia, but also Spain, Egypt, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.
“When the coronavirus pandemic started, we had a year of great expansion in which we sold the rights to the event in five more countries. Then for 2021 in ten more countries, mainly here in Europe and in the Middle East,” explained Barac. It was, as he says, a trigger to start thinking about taking the next serious step – looking for a fund or bank to finance the expansion or a strategic partner.
The decision eventually fell on the world’s leading event brand, the American Spartan Race, who initiated contact with the Croatian Highlander brand and with whom a global strategic partnership was recently contracted. Spartan Race has otherwise been organising obstacle race events since back in 2010, meanwhile it has expanded its business to 45 countries and become a world leader in endurance sports, creating a new category of “Tough Fitness”.
“When we started the talks, it wasn’t really money that was all that crucial for us, but the possibility of global branding. It’s very difficult and takes a long time to get to the US market, which is the ultimate market for us,” said Barac. Spartan Race, whose events are attended by 1.5 million people per year, already has all these channels open and will be available to the Croatian Highlander brand.
Barac hasn’t disclosed the investment and the amounts in question, justifying that with the fact that the figures are a trade secret, but he will only say that the majority control of the company is still in his hands.
Next year, the Croatian Highlander brand will organise three to five events in the USA, China and much closer to home in England, the exact locations are currently being discussed, but it is to be expected that they will be in some of the most famous national parks.
“It was crucial in the talks that Highlander will become the number one hiking event in the world with this cooperation. We’re already negotiating with countries like Argentina, Australia and South Korea, we wouldn’t be able to do that alone without a strategic partner,” Barac said.
When it comes to tasting success, anyone who has tried their hand at business will say that a special mindset is needed. Much like in sports, the domination of the mind over the body is crucial. The old saying that luck favours the brave, or that God lovers one who tries, also rings true here.
Incredible luck appeared when the Croatian Highlander brand embarked on the intellectual protection of the brand in the USA and Europe, managing to protect the name Highlander, although in America, where about 40 million people are engaged in mountaineering, it is practically synonymous with mountaineering.
With the support of Spartan Race, the Croatian Highlander brand has an optimistic future and the aim to present its concept to a much wider audience, while keeping the concept and philosophy in the hands of the founders.
“Investing in a partnership with Highlander allows us to encourage even more people around the world to participate in physically demanding activities that they think are beyond their reach. We’re excited to work with Highlander and increase their global reach, but also because of the fact that we’ll be able to offer our Spartan community even more opportunities to step outside of their comfort zone,” said Spartan Race founder and CEO Joe De Sen when the collaboration was agreed.
For the American company, the cooperation with this rising Croatian company is an opportunity to expand the “tough fitness” portfolio to hiking.
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