From rock shows to expos

Marketing master Tracy Lundeen carves out a singular business niche

Duluth event guru Tracy Lundeen will celebrate 44 years in business this summer. He has never really worked for anyone else.

Oh sure, he had the usual part-time jobs as a high schooler, including pumping gas at 25 cents a gallon at the old Clark station near Duluth Denfeld High School.

Yet he seemed to discover early on that his “vocation or his avocation are one in the same,” explained Jeff Jarvinen, a long-time friend and business associate.

Lundeen started out as a musician – a rock & roller in bell bottoms and long hair – enjoying regional success with various bands throughout the early 1970s, while still in high school. That experience gave him exposure to the business side of the entertainment industry, to which he shifted after graduating from Denfeld in 1972. As Jarvinen said, “Tracy, with his roots in music, just took it one step further after graduation and never looked back,” finding an uncommon career niche.

In 1973, he purchased ShowPro, which, at the time, was a four-year old regional concert production and promotion company. Over the next several decades, he developed and expanded the business beyond concerts to include non-musical events such as expos, consulting services and a publishing department, eventually rebranding his business in 2003 as Lundeen Productions. These days. It’s known as the Lundeen Group.

“I’ve been a lucky guy,” Lundeen, 62, said in a recent interview while he prepped for the Duluth Women’s Expo last month. “I’ve parlayed all of my fun stuff and hobbies into a career. This is what I live for.”

Early rockin’

ShowPro’s early years included an exhaustive list of concerts in Duluth and elsewhere, such as a 1975 sold out Guess Who concert at the then-Duluth Arena; Wade Stadium concerts — controversial at the time because of neighborhood concerns — which featured Willie Nelson in 1983, and the Beach Boys and Three Dog Night a year later; and most major rock shows to play the Arena in the 1980s.

He was also a part of the development and creation of Bayfront Festival Park in the 1980s, and helped give birth to the Bayfront Blues Festival, which started in 1988.

Lundeen and ShowPro continued to promote and produce concerts into the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s. Lundeen individually also worked as a contractor for a Minneapolis concert promoter, booking and producing national acts at venues nationwide. Plus, under the ShowPro shingle, he also started booking non-musical performers such as Jay Leno; promoting events such as Wedding Day (now the Duluth Wedding Show); and producing events for clients, such as the activities that commemorated the Centennial of St. Mary’s Medical Center.

A shift to events, expos

Fast forward to today. Lundeen no longer does concerts but oversees several popular annual events in Duluth that draw thousands.

With an office in Piedmont Heights, Lundeen operates as a sole proprietor. One of his daughters, Kynze, assists part time. Additionally, like a lot of independents, when Lundeen needs services, such as the production and management of his websites, he hires contractors.

Lundeen’s three largest events are annual expos, all presented at the DECC. The Women’s Expo/Women Rock event draws about 4,000 participants every March. The Senior Expo in October attracts 3,000. The Duluth Wedding Show, which will commemorate its 30th anniversary next January, brings in about 2,000 attendees. Each expo includes 100-plus business and service exhibitors plus presentations, speakers, workshops, fashion shows and other activities.

Corporate sponsors for these events also help Lundeen’s bottom line. Over the years, he said he has worked fairly consistently with sponsors such as Mediqwest, Benna Ford Roush, Walgreens, Holiday Inn Duluth, Fox 21-TV and Midwest Communications.

Other notable Lundeen events include Engwall’s Corn Maze, open in September and October in Hermantown, and a brand new event, EventPro Party and Expo, set for later this month.

Marketing focus, community work

Lundeen has sustained his business over the years through diligent attention to marketing and active community involvement – promoting specific events, yes, but also, along the way, cultivating his own personal brand and reputation. 

“It’s all top-of-mind awareness,” Lundeen said. “Establish yourself to the public as an expert in your field ... You’ve got to be the expert. I’ve always positioned myself to do that when I can.”

Would a cynic call that self-promotion?

“He’s successful because he’s a promoter,” said Jim Caesar, another Lundeen business associate. Caesar is executive director of the Development Association that serves the city of Superior and Douglas County. He also is the producer of Lundeen’s “Talk of the Town” radio show, which airs Saturday mornings on KDAL 610 AM and 103.9 FM, and is another way Lundeen keeps his name out in the community. “Tracy is a promoter of his businesses but also has gotten involved in community and charitable organizations and has promoted those causes he believes in, too.”

Lundeen also unabashedly speaks his mind, on the radio show and in other forums such as social media, about public policy and other civic issues. He’s well known for his conservative views, which he chooses to label as “common sense.” 

Beyond the community component, though, Caesar said Lundeen’s business flourishes because he’s good at what he does. He has taken his background as a concert promoter and applied that to the professional events world. 

“All of his events are well promoted, well produced and well organized. His retention rate for returning vendors and sponsors for his events is high. Very few are unhappy and drop out.”

When asked to offer marketing tips for independent business owners, Lundeen said, “Be everywhere. You want to be in front of people everywhere in this day and age.”

He said that means social media, but also newspapers, broadcast and cable television, broadcast and satellite radio, and even posters and flyers if necessary.

“The social media piece is important…but not everybody lives on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Snapchat,” Lundeen said. “You have to have a mix because there’s a lot of buyers and consumers out there and they all get their information differently.”

And what about those budding entrepreneurs thinking about starting a business? Lundeen says go for it, quoting Walt Disney: “‘Think, believe, dream and do,’” then adding, “You’re better off having failed than never trying at all, because you’ll learn from it.”

Bluebird Foundation

Over the years, Lundeen also has helped raise thousands of dollars for area causes through various musical events and band reunions. In addition, a portion of the proceeds each year from Engwall’s Corn Maze goes to local charities.

More recently, Lundeen formed the Bluebird Foundation, his own philanthropic arm, which raises money for area high school students in the arts in dance, theater and music. More than $12,000 has been raised in the past three years, Lundeen said. The Foundation’s fund-raising is bolstered by the annual “Christmas by the Lake” CD that Lundeen produces, a popular seller featuring local artists.

The future

Lundeen said he’s not interested in retirement. 

“Friends talk about retiring and gardening, but that’s not for me.” He said he does enjoy spending time with his four grown children and three grandchildren, and, when he can, heading up to his lake place near Hibbing in the summer for a little pleasure boating. But he said he’s still having fun working and might expand his firm beyond the Twin Ports area.

Caesar, his radio producer, is not surprised, and said this entrepreneurial passion may be the key to Lundeen’s long career. “He’s always looking for the next event, the next idea. He’s always looking for a fresh idea he can develop.”

Iron Range native Angelo Gentile is a Twin Cities-based marketing and writing professional.