- Interest in safety education and compliance continues to grow, especially in outdoor recreation, where effective online training and certifications are required for many activities.
- At the same time, state and local governments are seeking ways to drive participation and engagement with their constituents through modern cloud-based technology solutions.
- The growing recreational safety management sector presents a significant opportunity for buyers to build platforms that meet the needs of both outdoor enthusiasts and government agencies.
Where Recreational Enthusiasts and Government Agencies Meet
For many people, the call of the Great Outdoors is irresistible. Every year, millions of people in North America flock to the water and the woods to enjoy nature’s bounties, exercise, and adventure. Many of those pursuits are regulated by government agencies to ensure participant safety. This has given rise to the large and expanding recreational safety management sector, composed of companies that provide online recreational safety education, certifications, and agency management software and licensing solutions.
One of the leaders in this sector is Kalkomey, which offers online recreational safety education and certifications in boating, hunting, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), scuba and other recreational markets, as well as cloud-based agency management software solutions. The company’s solutions enable outdoor enthusiasts to safely pursue a broad spectrum of recreational activities while helping government agencies increase recreational participation, drive civic engagement, and streamline their operations. Kalkomey was recently acquired by Cove Hill Partners from Inverness Graham in a deal facilitated by Harris Williams.
Here, Mike Wilkins, managing director, and Andy Leed, director, both of the Harris Williams Technology, Media & Telecom Group, discuss what makes the recreational safety management sector appealing, and why Kalkomey was an especially attractive acquisition.
An Appealing Space for Buyers
A nearly $1 billion annual market opportunity, the broader recreational safety management sector is appealing to buyers for a number of reasons.
First, there’s growing consumer interest and stable participation trends in recreational activities. Each year, tens of millions of people will boat, hunt, fish, scuba dive, and engage in various off-road activities. Additionally, millions of families enjoy camping trips every year to private, state, and national parks. Such hobbies tend to be recession agnostic, with participation growing even during downturns.
A second factor that makes this sector appealing is the general shift to digital learning. While a large portion of boating and hunting education is still delivered in person, there is growing pressure on government agencies to make safety education more accessible, causing them to shift more of their education programs to online and mobile-friendly platforms.
A related development is the ongoing move by government agencies to consolidate their legacy IT systems in favor of individual, integrated, typically cloud-based solutions that can be deployed across multiple locations and departments. This trend is creating significant opportunities for emerging SaaS vendors to gain share: Underfunded, understaffed agencies increasingly seek comprehensive, lower-cost solutions that enable greater visibility and access to who’s participating in outdoor activities in their respective regions.
Finally, the sector enjoys predictable demand. Safety education programs, certifications and licenses are required for most activities by the agencies involved. Government agencies also must ensure their training is compliant with various state-specific regulations, which are only getting stricter.
These factors—coupled with the fact that the sector is still highly fragmented—combine to create opportunities for investors.
One of the leading players in this space is Kalkomey, a company that provides one of the industry’s only integrated platforms combining recreational safety education and agency management with licensing software. Its solutions help outdoor enthusiasts attain the education and certifications they need while enabling government agencies to drive operational efficiencies, create greater civic engagement, and increase recreational activity participation.
Breadth and Scale
With an addressable market of nearly $1 billion in North America alone, Kalkomey is one of the only vendors of scale working across multiple recreational safety education verticals. The company provides safety training and certifications for a broad spectrum of recreational activities, and has one of the industry’s largest proprietary content libraries. As a result, Kalkomey has created a growing and loyal community of outdoor enthusiasts spanning diverse recreational markets, which is difficult to replicate.
Additionally, Kalkomey has long-standing relationships with government agencies in all U.S. states and Canadian territories and provinces, as well as 75 countries—all of which have different safety regulations and educational requirements. The company’s ability to navigate all of these different requirements and needs is key to being able to operate at such scale.
The combination of a comprehensive understanding of enthusiasts’ educational needs and strong relationships with state and local institutions enabled expansion into agency management software with a compelling value proposition.
Comprehensive Technology Platform
Government agencies are increasingly focused on comprehensive technology platforms—which not only boost operational efficiency and can offer substantial cost savings, but also provide a more engaging and easy-to-use face to the public. Kalkomey is one of the only solutions combining online recreational safety education and agency management and licensing software on a single integrated, cloud-based platform, purpose-built for government agencies and outdoor enthusiasts. This enables Kalkomey to deliver on its simple, yet powerful, value proposition: making outdoor recreation safe and easy to manage.
For outdoor enthusiasts, the solution plays a central role in each phase of an outdoor enthusiast’s journey—from embarking on a quest to master a new hobby, to taking courses online to learn about the hobby, to gaining the relevant licenses or certifications required by government agencies. The solution delivers engaging educational experiences using the latest interactive and mobile learning modalities—which makes learning easy and results in faster and more effective training.
For government agencies, Kalkomey’s solutions support all key areas of an agency’s work: from licensing and registration to certification and event management to marketing outreach and engagement. In doing so, Kalkomey enhances an agency’s ability to recruit, retain, and reactivate (R3) its membership base, a key initiative for parks and wildlife departments throughout North America. Additionally, by seamlessly integrating constituents’ education data with agency management software, the solution enables governments to more effectively manage the licensing and registration process each year, as well as achieve real-time visibility into who is participating in activities in each locality.
Kalkomey has effectively translated its breadth, scale, and technology into robust organic and inorganic growth. Strong product innovation capabilities have enabled Kalkomey to continually launch new products since 1995. Its most recent example is its new campground management solution, which helps agencies manage the many administrative burdens associated with the reservation process. At the same time, the company is highly adept at executing and integrating acquisitions. This combination has helped Kalkomey enter new markets and strengthen its presence in existing ones, which has driven stable and predictable revenue growth over the past 25 years.
Growing interest in outdoor activities that require online education and certifications combined with the push by governments to modernize their IT systems has created a promising opportunity. The sale of Kalkomey is a testament to that—and demonstrates that leading companies can still get deals done, even in a difficult market.
While it’s true that current market dynamics may dictate a less-traditional approach to M&A, transactions are nonetheless possible and are, in fact, happening. Buyers and sellers should know that there is plenty of potential in this sector to generate value for all parties involved.
Published May 2020
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