Organizer Spotlight: Chip Heuser of VaultCon
For our inaugural organizer spotlight we chat with Chip Heuser, the founder and head organizer of VaultCon. Previously known as Vault in the Ville, VaultCon will be entering it's 9th year in 2020.
Hi Chip! Tell us a little bit about yourself. What's your background and how did you get into organizing pole vaulting events?
I pole vaulted for a little over 18 years of my life until retiring from the sport in 2016. I jumped in high school (over 17' and still hold the state record). I then went to the University of Florida, followed by the University of Oklahoma where i was a 4x All-American and runner up in the NCAA in 2006. After suffering a head injury, I left the sport.
Eventually, I put my spikes back on and began jumping post collegiality. I witnessed the "street vault" in other cities around the world and wanted to bring that excitement to Louisville. We also promote a charity at the event, so it serves a duel purpose.
How did Vault in the Ville start and how did you become involved?
Back in 2011, we were sitting around the fire with some family friends and discussed how much fun it would be to have a street vault in Louisville. One thing lead to another and we were able to raise $6,000 in 3 months and build a runway. Luckily I had many professional friends in the sport and they all agreed to come jump. Now we are the largest street vault in the US.
For someone who has never been to Vault in the Ville, how would you describe it?
Its like nothing you would ever imagine. The venue itself, 4th Street LIVE, is a party atmosphere with balconies, patios, bars, and other viewing areas for all ages of spectator. Its an amazing thing to witness athletes hurling themselves as high as they can in the air right in the heart of downtown Louisville, and next year we plan on being even bigger and better!
How much of your time does organizing Vault in the Ville take? Do you organize any other events? Is it a side/part-time/full-time thing for you?
It takes around 6 months to pull it all together. Fundraising, athlete enrollment, scheduling, setup logistics, etc. I would say its more of a labor of love than a job really. Next year we plan on having not one, but 6 pits and include the use of the Kentucky International Convention Center. We hope to have over 500 athletes over the course of the weekend, so it will be a large undertaking. I would estimate planning the Vault Convention will take well over 9 months.
What drives you? What is your motivation for organizing Vault in the Ville?
I love my sport. The camaraderie it inspires is incredible and I love watching how excited kids are to jump on my runway in the middle of such an electric atmosphere.
Have pole vaulting events changed over the years? If so, where do you see them heading? Are there any current trends you see happening or that you're pushing for?
More and more individuals are participating in the sport. Clubs and coaching clinics are popping up all over the nation. I have always envisioned the pole vault pulling away from Track and Field and moving more towards the X-Games. We plan on speaking with them in the future, perhaps have an exhibition in the next years to come. We already have offers from the city of Orlando, FL to set up a street vault in Disney World or downtown Orlando. It can be done, and I see myself as the person who can change the governing body of the sport and give it the recognition it really deserves.
What would you say are the most important qualities required of an organizer of this kind of event? Did any of your previous education or experience prepare you?
In the 8 years of putting on Vault in the Ville, I have learned that making things as simple and easy as possible is tantamount to success and sanity. Surround yourself with people willing to help with certain areas of the process so that you are not swamped with every little aspect of the event by yourself. For instance, using Sport.io, I was able to streamline my registration and payment process and cut down on hours of competition entries and registration issues. Also, remember that everything is not going to go the way you want it to. You must be able to adapt and accept when things go wrong, or someone is upset with an issue. Don't let one person take away from what you've worked so hard on creating. In reality, they have no idea what it takes to be a meet creator/director/manager/and announcer at the same time.
What was the biggest challenge or most important lesson you've learned organizing Vault in the Ville? What advice would you give other event organizers to help them with similar challenges?
As I stated before, it's usually the logistics of the event itself. And with our meet, it's also fundraising. You have to have a budget and you have to have enough money left over to donate to the charity. That has been our biggest task in the past few years. As the event grows, overhead costs grow with it. And keep your head on your shoulders. You're going to be exhausted, but its worth it.
How does marketing factor in to the sustained growth of Vault in the Ville and how does the registration platform play a role?
Vault in the Ville has really grown in popularity via word of mouth. It is so unique, the most unique street vault I have ever seen. We deliver a quality, fun meet to people and they tell their friends. It's always nice to hear someone say how much fun they had and that they would be coming back next year. Registration has been difficult to tackle in years past, but using Sport.io really helped me organize things much more easily. I was able to put 138 athletes in 16 different sections over 4 days in a matter of minutes, compared to a weekend of work. That takes the stress level way down. As I said, make things easy and simple.
What was your criteria in choosing a registration platform and what advice would you give event organizers who are considering registration platforms like sport.io?
The ease with which it was created and customized to our specific needs was great. The ability to request a specific detail like shirt size, or athlete section choice made things so easy. I have never used a platform before, but will definitely be using Sport.io again next year.
Do you have anything up your sleeve for Vault in the Ville next year?
We are expanding from 1 pit to 6. 5 pits in the international convention center and one pit on Fourth Street LIVE for one Elite Vault competition. A weekend of learning and experiencing new training methods and techniques in the vault will also accompany the competitions held for all athletes. Were expanding from just a vault meet, to an actual learning convention. Our attendance should jump from 140 to 500 if we market it correctly!
The new Vault in the Ville will be known as: The Vault in the Ville Summer Vault Convention powered by ESSX. AKA: VAULT CON!