In this episode, Hazelle Whited from the Ozark Foothills takes a journey with owner-operator, Jennifer Duer, owner of the South Fork Resort in Saddle, Arkansas. Jennifer shares the early beginnings from purchasing the business in 2018 to operating the 4 in 1 business through COVID, as well as her process to putting together the details as she puts the South Fork Resort up for sale. This float trip experience will help entrepreneurs hear the real life challenges to consider when purchasing a business, what it takes to survive obstacles, as well as what work is needed when getting ready to sell a business.
South Fork Resort
Mammoth Spring, AR 72554
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Come join us, explore the impact of small business here in rural Arkansas.
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What challenges would you face? Who can help you meet those challenges? How do you get in touch with others like you?
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This is Create Bridges, Arkansas, and we invite you to come cross these bridges with us.
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Thank you for joining us for another episode of the Create Bridges podcast series, Small Business,
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Big Rural Impact. This is Hazelle Whited and I'm excited to be with the very talented Jennifer Duer,
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owner and operator of the South Fork Resort in Saddle, Arkansas, located between Ash Flat and Mammoth Spring in Fulton County.
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This beautiful getaway with primitive campsites, RV spots and cabins is the only resort with a takeout on the South Fork river,
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which is well known for some amazing fishing and is also a terrific float for families and those just wanting a more relaxing trip.
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Yet what makes this place most amazing is the incredible work Jennifer has done since purchasing
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this business and the journey she has embarked on as well as where things are headed.
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Jennifer, thank you so much for joining me on this podcast. Thank you.
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So let's start from the beginning. If I remember right, you purchased this business about three, four years ago.
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And it was an existing business, right? Yes, yes. 2018 is when we took over.
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It has been here since, it's been about 20 years. So it started really small and it has grown.
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It's seen five owners, maybe six. Each one has added a few more cabins, a few more campsites, a few more extra things.
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So it's grown a little bit with each person.
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And if I remember your background correctly, I mean, you actually have a master's degree in mental health therapy, right?
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So purchasing a business like this, was it a dream or something that you really enjoyed in terms of the area or what it could offer?
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I think none of those things. So I enjoy the outdoors.
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I enjoyed kayaking, I enjoy fishing. I enjoy all those things.
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The dream behind it was turning it into something it really isn't; taking the land
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and the existing cabins and turning it into more of like a adolescent retreat,
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Trauma camp type of a situation was more of like the long term goal to go along with the counseling.
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And so I think it has to run as the business that it is now.
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Not that there's anything wrong with that business, but the long term goal was a completely different vision.
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There were just obstacles that kind of got in the way. And so that doesn't seem to be where it's going to end.
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Not at least not at this time. But the business itself, the dream was a completely different vision.
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But what it is today is a great place. It just the idea was something completely different.
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Well, so let's talk about, again, going back to purchasing the business,
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whether other aspects of the business when it was purchased that you maybe didn't
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anticipate having to do that kind of sprouted up very quickly after you purchased it.
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Well, I think with any existing business, turnkey is a relative term.
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So any business is going to have some surprises. I don't think maybe they were known.
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But you walk into anything and there are, of course, things that are going to break.
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They're going to fall apart. They're going to have to be replaced. We were just surprised with a lot of those things very early on.
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So we you know, we laugh about when we're met with five years worth of repairs in the first maybe six months.
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So that was a surprise. And that kind of knocked us back a little bit.
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You anticipate a five year plan when you start up any business that the first five years, you are probably not going to make any money.
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I mean, if you are really looking at it with a realistic vision, it's going to take five years,
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build the business, get your money flowing, get it where you're out of the red and making something.
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And we just got hit with a whole lot of unknowns really quickly.
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So we had record rainfall, which in a float business camping, people didn't want to camp in the rain.
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They couldn't float on a flooded river. We had a lot of those obstacles the very first year,
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along with just flooring that had to be replaced because it was falling in that maybe was missed on inspections, appliances that went out.
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You can't rent cabins if the refrigerators aren't working or the air conditioners don't work.
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You can't put people in rafts that don't hold air and take them down the river.
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So there were just a whole lot of things that had to happen in the first year.
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That kind of, you know, was a hard blow. But we are in year four.
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And so I'll say we got through it. It wasn't easy, but I think it takes a little bit of wind out of your sails because you have a plan and you think
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we're going to do it this way and we're going to get here and we're going to it's going to be great.
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And then you get knocked down a little bit and you just have to keep figuring out a different way.
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And so sometimes it gets frustrating, but you meet great people and they help you get through it.
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So. Well, that's a common thing with business owners, right?
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I mean, if anyone who's a business owner for any length of time will tell you that there are always these ups and
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downs and sometimes it feels like just day after day of the downs and yet four years later,
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you're still standing, you're still here.
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And having come out of the amazing 2020 going into twenty twenty one, I guess tenacity and that spirit of, let's say, I jumped all into this.
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So we're going to keep on going is something that business owners really do have and have that commonality among them.
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And so I appreciate you sharing about some of the early things,
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because we wanted our listeners to understand that if you're about to embark on a business that's already established, after you do your homework,
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there's probably some other things you just didn't realize that was going to happen or that you needed to anticipate.
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So 2019 was like year two was starting to go well. People were commenting how the changes that you've made,
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they noticed it because there were some regulars that were coming in and you were seeing people from all over? Right there out of state, even Hawaii.
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We had them from Louisiana, we had them from Texas.
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They were not just the cornering states. So they were from everywhere.
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And it was it was really interesting to see when we were taking the reservations and they were it was picking up word of mouth.
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And that was really our biggest advertisement at the time.
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So it was really it was really fun to see and meet all of those people.
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First time our second year when we were really gauging it, it was a lot of first time people.
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It wasn't repeat people. And that was that was really fun to see because they did notice in our first year the people we bought it from,
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they were older and they were tired and they had turned away a lot of business and we know that.
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So we spent a lot of time in that first year just getting it out there and trying to let people
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know we were here and we did a lot of things that maybe were not financially the best choice.
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We did a lot of single floats that we didn't make any money off of,
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but we did do it and it made the customer happy and it got them to tell somebody and somebody came again and,
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you know, it got the word out there that, hey, they will shuttle you and they will take you on that float and they will let you stay one night.
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So it got it out there and people started coming back. So our second year, it was it was a lot better.
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And it was really interesting. And we got new people and they kept coming and we met great people.
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Not all are great, but that's dealing with the public. But it was good.
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And I remember we did a TripAdvisor thing. I mean, so so, yes,
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you were actually exploring all of the things that an outfitter like you need to do in order to get out beyond our area, which is great.
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Now, let's go to the fun. Yeah. We all talk about which is COVID.
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Of course, the outfitters got hit pretty hard early on,
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especially when it was the early on was during where it should have been peak season for all of the outfitters in the area.
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Let us know how you kind of maneuvered through that really challenging time.
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So it was very challenging for a couple of different aspects of it.
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We saw record numbers of people later on, but not record numbers in dollars.
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It was it was interesting. They were out, but they didn't want to move around, if that makes sense.
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So they wanted to be here because they could be here and social distance, but they didn't want to take advantage of all of the things we offered.
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So we were twice as busy and we ran twice as much.
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But we did not make twice the money, ironically. So but it was good.
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It was good to see people. It was good to have them here. We did have to alter a few things.
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It was difficult in dealing with maybe like the health department type of situation.
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They couldn't tell us we are what - we don't fit into any box.
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So we couldn't be defined on how to deal with it.
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We had to just disinfect cleaning with cabins and things like that.
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We wanted to be very careful for ourselves and also our customers. So we did up that even without being told exactly how to do that.
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So we had to change some things there. So that added some expense, which was worth it.
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But, you know, the people came. But again, we had to change the way we got them there.
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We had to change the way we shuttle them there. And they didn't want to use our equipment.
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They wanted to bring our own. So that brought in less dollars but increased our overhead.
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I needed more people to be able to accommodate. So it was odd.
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And in the beginning, for the first couple of months, there was nothing. And then once we got into it and reservations were being made,
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our reservation policy couldn't stand the way it had before so people could break reservations.
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And all they had to say was, we have covid and there wasn't a whole lot I could do to hold them to that.
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So it was kind of a double edged sword with that. It was a difficult but also it was a good year.
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So it's really one of those really difficult things to pinpoint.
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I think of you during that time is almost being like a sanctuary, you know,
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people were allowed to move around by this point, but there was this social distancing.
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And so the governor had come out and encouraged people to go fish and to kind of be in the outdoors.
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So people were taking advantage of that because you have the primitive camping, they can be spaced out.
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You have the RV. People can be in their own places and cabins there.
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They're individualized. And so they didn't have to be near anybody and put absolutely social distance.
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Well, I don't know if everyone heard that phone call, but you know how it is with businesses, we take it as we go.
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So anyway, we're back.
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And I was just telling Jen that one of the things I wanted to talk about was staffing, because as you can see on the property like this,
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it takes a great team to be able to really accomplish the number of campsites and cabins,
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keep the property up and also keep the customers happy.
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So I was just going to ask Jen, I'm sure over the last four years you have seen your share of staffing challenges,
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but also kind of what happens when you find good staff, because I think that's what you've got this year.
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Yes, definitely. So I have amazing friends also who come in and help holiday weekends.
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You can never have enough people. Lots of times friends come in and help and they hang out and they stay and everybody chips in.
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But I have been very fortunate to have a great staff for the past couple of years, actually.
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So I have some returning people. They are amazing. So they know what's going on and they kind of help the new guys out, but it can be challenging.
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There was a time when I was like, what are we going to do this year for people?
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But I've been very blessed with that. This is one of those seasonal businesses where nobody really wants to work for only five and a
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half months a year unless they're really young or really not that dependable in most cases.
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So it can be challenging, but I have been able to find some really great people.
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So this is just one of those businesses where you either get really good ones or maybe sometimes you don't get really good ones.
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And I've had those too. And that can create a challenge. And you have to be very careful.
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It's a very fine balance because you need bodies.
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That is something you need. You need people to work. You need them to lift.
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You need to sweat. You need them to do things most people don't want to do.
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But you also need them to be good with customers and you need your customers to feel safe and want to be around them,
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you know, and trust them to get them off the water safely, too.
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So it is challenging, but I have I have great people that work for me.
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And you talked about like the younger group, which I think, you know, once you find the younger people that can help you,
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I would think that that's something that you you really want in this business, because, let's face it, they're they're the ones that interact.
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And there's a lot of younger people. But also they will be the ones that hopefully stay with you for a couple of seasons so you don't have to retrain.
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Right. Right. And I think it's fun for them until they figure out that it's every weekend.
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So there's the downfall of that. But yeah. Yeah, you need them.
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You need them young for a couple of reasons. It's hot, it's intensive, it's backbreaking at times.
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But then it's also a lot of fun. They're going to get to be around a lot of people their age might be a little bit older.
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They're going to have a lot of experiences, sometimes comical, sometimes not great.
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But it's you know, it is a lot of fun and it is challenging at times.
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But it's a good overall experience, especially for the younger kids, too.
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Yeah. And what a great way to give them customer service experience also.
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And also some conflict management. I'm sure. You know, let's face it, there are some challenges with patrons at times.
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And so they get to learn early on with your help and, of course, leadership of how to manage some of those situations.
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I can really see it being a little scary in the beginning.
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But by the end of the season, I mean,
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even simple things like backing up trailers or or how to help people that maybe are no longer able to walk off their canoes from the water,
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how to be graceful in helping them along. And so, yes, it is a you have a very unique opportunity to help again in those customer service areas.
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But you did also say something about your friends coming and your family being there.
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And so I think one of the things that strikes me about this business, if you own it, is you have to want to live it.
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I mean, this is a lifestyle. It is not just - it really is not something you can just manage from afar.
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You really have to kind of live it. Is that true? Definitely. You have to be married to it, be a better a better word for it.
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It's not one business. It's four. It could really be five it if you had to go there with it. You're going to have to be an owner.
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One, you're going to have to run a store.
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There's one, you're going to have cabins, you're going to have camping, you're going to have an outfitter service.
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So it's not one business, it's all of those rolled into one. And it's it's a lot.
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But it's very rewarding. It's more rewarding. And challenging most of the time, but again, if you have great people, it is a really great experience.
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But yes, it's a 24/7, 365.
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You know, there is off season, but there's not really off season.
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So you might not be taking people to a river and you might not be cleaning rafts and you might not be cleaning cabins,
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but you are definitely making repairs and preparing for that next year because when you're in the season,
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you don't have a whole lot of time to do much of anything but take care of things as they come.
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There are surprises every day.
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So, yeah, it's something that you need to go into with a full team in place and then have an idea of where you're going from their support systems,
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extra referrals and, you know, things that that if something comes up, you know how to get that taken care of.
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As we talked about that, I was just thinking this coming up is going to be the big weekend.
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If I could guess,
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this is probably the biggest weekend of the outfitters in the middle of summer, or at least one of them, because it's a major holiday.
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We're coming up on the fourth. Yeah.
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So I know your staff and you have been preparing all week for what is going to be a really great weekend, actually.
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So if you would just kind of briefly talk about what this weekend may look like for you and your staff.
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I mean, I'm guessing you're talking 15 hour days for the next three days, at least, maybe longer.
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So we will probably I mean, I think it's looking like something around starting at 5:00 or 6:00 am this weekend,
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and we might not come off the river to around 10 or 11. So we might be on a little bit longer.
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So, yeah, it's going to be a busy weekend, but it should be fun.
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The main goal for the weekend, though, is everybody has fun and everybody comes off the water safe.
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So that's our job. And then maybe somewhere on Monday we'll be relaxing somewhere.
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This is the hope when everybody else is headed home. So, yeah, yeah, it'll be I mean, and it's all hands on deck, all the staff,
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which you have a real tight crew this year, which is great to see you and all your friends.
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Full disclosure to the audience, including me and Joey and my husband and all that.
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I mean, we will be close by. And so anything that they need during this weekend, because it is also remote.
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I mean, we are, you know, fifteen, twenty minutes from town in either direction.
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And so really, it's just, you know, even logistically just that it's like, I've got to do this.
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Can you please just go run and get sunscreen for somebody because they ran out or something like that?
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I mean, and so it is all hands on deck.
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And you do need to have that support system in a business like this because it is so remote and it is very leanly run.
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And they are amazing. So I call them all the time and we'll be out there sweating.
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They won't be having much fun, so, but it will be great because we all laugh and joke as we continue on and eventually splash each other off the river.
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So so as we get to the towards the end of this, I also want to talk about your business from a full circle perspective.
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So four years ago, you purchased it as an active business. And I just found out that you also now have it listed to sell.
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And so I guess what I wanted to talk about was some of the things that a
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business needs to consider when they are putting their business on the market,
00:18:58,340 --> 00:19:05,780
you know, kind of really more the reality of their numbers and what an investor would expect if they're going to purchase.
00:19:05,780 --> 00:19:09,530
Because some of those things, I think we forget when we're getting ready to sell our business.
00:19:09,530 --> 00:19:13,820
And so, again, if you don't mind talking about really some of the more operational things that people
00:19:13,820 --> 00:19:17,180
need to consider if they're getting ready to put their business on the market.
00:19:17,180 --> 00:19:24,740
OK, so really just keeping up, you know, just a really good handle on profit and loss numbers.
00:19:24,740 --> 00:19:29,660
That's what they're going to look at, what your expenses are, kind of, if you can tell.
00:19:29,660 --> 00:19:38,780
So, again, in this business, those change every day. And so being able to kind of forecast what that's going to look like is really hard.
00:19:38,780 --> 00:19:44,120
You can't tell what the weather's going to do. You don't know what that's going to look like from year to year,
00:19:44,120 --> 00:19:49,430
just really knowing kind of what your overhead kind of what that range is going to be,
00:19:49,430 --> 00:19:57,200
where it stays as much as you possibly can, taking out all of the extenuating circumstances that you can't predict.
00:19:57,200 --> 00:20:03,290
But really just trying to have a ballpark on expenses, utilities, you know,
00:20:03,290 --> 00:20:09,860
where your revenue is coming from, what categories make you the most, what you can cut back on,
00:20:09,860 --> 00:20:15,290
what works, what doesn't, what maybe could change, what you would do different,
00:20:15,290 --> 00:20:21,710
what you wish you had done, maybe sooner or different things like that.
00:20:21,710 --> 00:20:26,240
Those are all questions I've been asked and maybe some things
00:20:26,240 --> 00:20:30,590
I had those answers and maybe they caught me a little off guard. So that's some,
00:20:30,590 --> 00:20:32,090
Are some of the things I've learned,
00:20:32,090 --> 00:20:41,360
at least in this process and maybe some of those questions I didn't know to ask on the front end when I was purchasing, so might be who your buyer is.
00:20:41,360 --> 00:20:48,080
That's really been interesting to me. And the housing market right now has really been exceptional.
00:20:48,080 --> 00:20:52,790
But for this type of business, maybe it's been a little slower.
00:20:52,790 --> 00:20:57,470
And I think it's really more of what we're talking about. You have to be married to it.
00:20:57,470 --> 00:21:05,270
And I don't know that there are a whole lot of people ready to just give one hundred and ten percent of their life for this.
00:21:05,270 --> 00:21:09,450
You really have to be in a certain season of life for that to be OK.
00:21:09,450 --> 00:21:13,670
So, I mean and I appreciate you sharing that because I think, again,
00:21:13,670 --> 00:21:18,740
sometimes we forget all the nuances that go that we should consider when
00:21:18,740 --> 00:21:23,990
selling to have a realistic chance of selling it for what your expectation is.
00:21:23,990 --> 00:21:31,820
And so and not not pretending that, you know, it's maybe worth more or maybe worth less than what you were thinking.
00:21:31,820 --> 00:21:37,070
Certainly no one leave any money on the table, but you don't want to price yourself that you can't sell it.
00:21:37,070 --> 00:21:44,810
And so that was one of the things that I really wanted to you about, is that fact that you have like a succession plan in mind for this business.
00:21:44,810 --> 00:21:50,000
It's like I'm at the point with this business that I would love to
00:21:50,000 --> 00:21:53,360
Hand this over to someone who is ready to be married to it and love it.
00:21:53,360 --> 00:21:59,690
Like I love it but that you're moving on, but you want to make sure it's in the hands of somebody else.
00:21:59,690 --> 00:22:03,860
And so you're looking to sell a business, really look hard into, you know,
00:22:03,860 --> 00:22:09,470
just as take as much time into selling it as you did if you bought it or when you started your business.
00:22:09,470 --> 00:22:18,770
Because I think Jen will tell you. Right, that it's as it'll get you to that place where, you know, you made the right decision when you move on.
00:22:18,770 --> 00:22:26,600
Yeah. It takes as much homework to get rid of it as it has to convince her maybe more work.
00:22:26,600 --> 00:22:33,890
Well, and some people just walk away. And that always hurts our feelings when we see businesses just close and we always ask, why didn't they sell it?
00:22:33,890 --> 00:22:42,380
And so it's great to see it being going on to another a fifth or sixth owner now or however that how many times it's changed hands.
00:22:42,380 --> 00:22:49,580
And yeah, certainly for me, I'm kind of invested. I would love to see this transfer to someone who is just as wonderful as Jen has been.
00:22:49,580 --> 00:22:55,220
And so if you are looking to buy a resort, it's beautiful.
00:22:55,220 --> 00:23:01,550
Here it is. I love the tagline she created for a paddle at Saddle. I inherited, inherited that.
00:23:01,550 --> 00:23:08,870
So I apologize for whoever did that. And I was giving credit to Jen, but if you know her, you would know I would give her credit for that.
00:23:08,870 --> 00:23:12,290
But it is a it is a wonderful experience out here as a guest.
00:23:12,290 --> 00:23:17,960
And I will say, as challenging as I've seen it be for you, Jen, I think also as an owner,
00:23:17,960 --> 00:23:24,420
there is something rewarding when you have guests that just absolutely love this place and you see over and over.
00:23:24,420 --> 00:23:29,450
Right. I mean, you have some of those guests that you've seen repeatedly and I don't know,
00:23:29,450 --> 00:23:32,490
do you have a story of any of them that may have come here as a visitor?
00:23:32,490 --> 00:23:37,970
Maybe you learned that they come and stayed or said, like, I'd like to find a place here or anything like that.
00:23:37,970 --> 00:23:41,870
I've had a couple a couple of people that would really love to own it, you know,
00:23:41,870 --> 00:23:49,010
but they're like in that place where they can't give it seven days, three sixty five.
00:23:49,010 --> 00:23:55,100
And so I tell them all the time, hey, when you get to that point, come and buy it, I'll come and see you.
00:23:55,100 --> 00:23:59,180
So I'll definitely be a customer when it's not mine one day.
00:23:59,180 --> 00:24:02,900
So as we wrap up, I was going to ask you, is there anything that you would like to share?
00:24:02,900 --> 00:24:10,190
So to either potential business owners or people that are maybe wanting to buy a business or getting ready to sell their business?
00:24:10,190 --> 00:24:18,770
Any tips that you want to share? I think you just have to get to a place where you decide that whatever it is that you want to do,
00:24:18,770 --> 00:24:27,140
you have to be sure that you are not willing to give up until you get to that place because nothing is going to be easy.
00:24:27,140 --> 00:24:34,760
If it were easy, if it was easy, we would all own businesses. So you just have to know that they are going to be things that knock you down.
00:24:34,760 --> 00:24:38,450
You just have to keep trying. And keep praying
00:24:38,450 --> 00:24:42,170
That is the thing that gets me through every single day.
00:24:42,170 --> 00:24:43,940
So absolutely. Yeah.
00:24:43,940 --> 00:24:51,890
And I will tell you, John's not afraid to ask for help from her friends and she has a surrounded herself with some good support systems,
00:24:51,890 --> 00:24:57,500
her neighbors, other businesses. Just being able to work together,
00:24:57,500 --> 00:25:02,630
I think has been a saving grace through some of the hard and being able to give
00:25:02,630 --> 00:25:06,590
back to them when they have those challenges because she's in a better place.
00:25:06,590 --> 00:25:11,570
And I know that she shared with me that how rewarding that is as well. Anyway, we love this place.
00:25:11,570 --> 00:25:21,140
I wish you the best on the sale. Until then, I hope you have a fantastic season and hopefully see some of the people that listen to the podcast.
00:25:21,140 --> 00:25:25,970
Just if you are listening and you come see Jen, please let her know that you heard the podcast.
00:25:25,970 --> 00:25:29,750
I think we would just love I think she would love to know who she reached.
00:25:29,750 --> 00:25:35,450
And you can see hi to Hazelle while you're out here, maybe around, thank you again for visiting with us.
00:25:35,450 --> 00:25:40,590
We really appreciate it. And thank you all for listening to another episode of Small Business, Big Rural Impact.
00:25:40,590 --> 00:25:45,260
And we'll see you in two weeks and talk to you soon.
00:25:45,260 --> 00:25:54,080
For more information about this or any Create Briges podcast or more about Create Bridges in Arkansas,
00:25:54,080 --> 00:25:57,140
visit uaex.uada.edu/createbirdges. The Create Bridges
00:25:57,140 --> 00:26:04,460
Small Business Big Rural Impact podcast is made possible by a Wal-Mart grant to the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture,
00:26:04,460 --> 00:26:20,664
Cooperative Extension, Community Professional and Economic Development Unit and White River Now Productions.