Not long ago, Ketchikan residents Mary Maley and Tim Hemme had an idea. They saw an underexploited opportunity in the cruise ship tourism market, where passengers were looking for an intimate, adaptable tour experience that got them out of town and into the Alaska wilderness.
Since boating and kayaking are Maley and Hemme’s favorite ways to enjoy the outdoors, they thought they could fill this niche by offering visitors a rare chance to experience Alaska the way locals do. And with this idea Alaska Kayak Company was born, creating a tour operation specializing in small tours that allow cruise ship guests to experience Alaska on the water and away from the crowds.
With little more than a lead on an unfilled gap in the market, Maley and Hemme contacted Alaska SBDC Business Advisor Jennifer Adams for guidance on how to develop their business plan, create a detailed financial projection model, and make their dream of business ownership a reality. “Within a few days of contact we were a registered business,” recalls Maley. “Over the next few weeks Jennifer provided much needed input on everything from our business plan to our website.”
“I loved working with Mary on the purchase of her business because she was a ‘go-getter’ from the very day we met,” says Adams. “Together we worked on a financial forecast so Mary and her business partner could find out what her expenses, cash flow and break-even point would be. Once the financial forecast was completed, Mary had a much better idea of what kind of net profits to expect and how big of a loan she would need to finance her business.”
Now that their enterprise has launched, Maley and Hemme have found their small business is a good fit for their family. “We love working together with our dog and kid in tow as much as possible,” says Maley. “We both worked in tourism for years, and while we loved our jobs, the long summer hours away from home were straining. Now, we are putting in even longer hours, both on tour and behind a desk, but we do it on our own schedule and as a team.”
As any small business owner will tell you, valuable lessons are learned along the way and throughout the process. “Organization is the key to productivity,” suggests Maley. “If I had it to do all over again, I would have labeled every folder and document, and filed it in one searchable place from the start. Maley says this tactic would have streamlined their efforts to secure startup capital, as each lender and investor required the same basic information. “I would suggest keeping good track of all your documents so that you can streamline checklists and applications like a pro.”
Alaska Kayak Company tours are now being sold by a host of quality resellers, greatly expanding their reach into the tourism market. Maley and Hemme are currently focused on building their business; they hope to expand their offerings and hire additional staff in the future but says one of the milestones they are most proud of is making their first booking. “The night we confirmed our first sale, the whole crew: Mary, Tim, Noah & Peach, danced around our living room/office!”
“I’m sure Alaska Kayak Company will be successful,” says Adams. “They are super passionate about sharing their love of Ketchikan, Alaska with visitors via sea kayaking.