How A Passion For Whitewater Rafting Became A Full-time Business: Interview With Will Volpert of Indigo Creek Outfitters

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We are always talking about how a passion can turn into a business and Will of Indigo Creek did just that. It’s not a secret that no matter what job you have or business you own, it’s going to be hard work. But the most important thing about a business is that you love doing what you do. If you can you get up every morning and say “I look forward to going into work and running my business,” then you are already succeeding.

We love to expose what it’s like “behind the scenes” of a business, especially ones that nobody has a clue what it takes to run that business. Just like our interview with Bob and his paddleboarding business, so many just think “Oh I would love to have that job because it’s like a permanent vacation each day.” Well, the truth is that it’s completely not although these business owners do love what they do. They make sure the grunt work is done where you can have an awesome time on your vacation or day adventure.

We got the chance to find out from Will how Indigo Creek started and what it takes to run his business.

How did Indigo Creek Outfitters start?

After a number of years working as a guide and manager for various whitewater rafting and fly fishing outfitters, my girlfriend and I decided to find a more permanent living situation. Ashland, Oregon was our first choice, so we moved here in October of 2010. At the time, we weren’t exactly sure what it was we were going to do, but by the end of December the plan was hatched to start a whitewater rafting company. We pretty much took all of our most favorite aspects from each outfitter we had seen and started Indigo Creek Outfitters.

Your parents are a huge part of why you love the river and outdoors so much. What was it like growing up being on the river with your family?

My parents surrounded my brothers and I with the most incredible role models any kid could ask for. We were constantly around folks who had a great admiration for the outdoors, were smart and innovative, and knew how to take care of people. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned from guides and from guiding myself: how to take someone who might feel out of place or uncomfortable with their surroundings (like a NY City couple who find themselves floating through the Idaho wilderness) and treat them in such a way that they are completely comfortable, able to relax, and have the time of their lives with their worries washed away. My parents in their own right are great role models: they work hard, respect and love their customers, and run a business that gives people an amazing experience.

For most of my childhood, my parents’ business, Idaho & Oregon River Journeys, was run out of our house, so I got to see pretty much everything that they did to make it work. My brothers and were also involved at a very young age, mainly as the assembly line whenever they did mailings. As I got older I did get more involved and began to gain a better grasp of what it takes to run a small family business. 

There have got to be some startup challenges you faced trying to get this business started. What were some and how did you overcome them?

One of the biggest challenges we faced last year was the extended winter weather that pushed into June. In my sales forecast, I was expecting to run trips starting April 16th. We did a few trips, but it was obvious that I had miscalculated our opening day by over a month. We had snow June 1st. No one wants to go rafting in the snow. I think the error was a combination of opening too early and the exceptionally cold spring we had. This year, we are opening May 19th, which will give us time to get back into the flow of things, plus the weather is normally pretty nice by that time.
Another challenge we faced was finding a space to rent near downtown Ashland. I started looking in late December and signed a lease by the end of February. That was crucial, because I couldn’t make brochures without having an address. We were able to find a space that works great, is close to downtown, but doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. We got it by being persistent and having a clear vision of what our space would need.

What do you strive to do different than other whitewater rafting companies around you or any for that matter?

More than any outfitter that I know of, we are focusing a huge amount of attention on controlling and creating consistencies with every part of the experience our customers have with us. Starting with the first phone call received from a potential client and ending with them headed back home, we are finding that there are many parts of the entire experience that many outfitters overlook.

The biggest part of the experience we provide, outside of the actual rafting trip, is pre-and-post-trip at the Rafting Center. Instead of providing a pick-up and drop-off service, we have all trip participants meet at our Rafting Center near downtown Ashland. Not only does this allow us to completely control their introduction to our business, it also allows us to provide comfortable amenities that make preparing for a trip easy. For instance, many outfitters in Ashland provide a pick-up and drop-off service, which sounds convenient, until you’re forced to change into a wetsuit behind a tree in the pouring rain. Even worse, on large trips, with multiple pick-up and drop-off points, you may spend just as much time driving around town picking everyone up as you do sitting in a raft. For us, having everyone meet at the Rafting Center eliminates those inconsistencies.

My favorite businesses have always been the ones that have deliberately tried to control every aspect of their customers experience with them. Apple, Nordstroms, Starbucks – all of these companies are champions at controlling the user experience. I want to do the same, but with your rafting trip.

What’s one thing people don’t realize about a rafting business (what they don’t see behind the scenes, the work you have to do etc.)?

The amount of time I spend networking with other local business owners is astounding. We are definitely a business that relies on tourism, but when people are planning their vacations we are step two in the planning process. The first step is choosing a place to stay and the next step is either “What will we eat?” or “What will we do?” There are over 30 B&Bs in Ashland. I know them all.

What’s a typical day like for your business?

I’ll be at the Rafting Center at 7:00 a.m. Our guides arrive at 7:45 and our morning customers arrive at 8:15. We do a quick orientation, including a safety talk, and are normally on our way to the river no later than 8:45. Once on the water, we teach everyone how to properly use their paddles and sit comfortably in the boat.

There are quite a few warm-up rapids before our first big rapid, called Nugget Falls. There are surf waves, lots of wildlife, and great scenery. We like to pull over above Nugget Falls and walk down to take a look prior to making the plunge. When your raft does go through, we have a professional photographer stationed at the bottom of the rapid to capture the action. After Nugget Falls it’s a short distance to the grand finale, Powerhouse Rapid. Once through Powerhouse, we continue a little ways to our take-out, which is located just upstream of the town of Gold Hill. For our morning trips, we are normally back to the Rafting Center by 12:30 at the latest.

Back at the Rafting Center, we play all the photos on a big monitor, and customers are given the option to purchase a photo CD. It’s a great atmosphere as people watch themselves running the rapid. Lots of laughing, pointing, and smiling. Our afternoon trips are the exact same trip, except they meet at 1:15 and finish around 5:30. After cleaning up, I normally head home around 7:00 p.m.

What’s one thing you wish you knew before becoming a business owner?

I wish I had a better understanding of accounting. I’m terrible at it, probably because I’d rather be doing something else.

You obviously are doing what you love but what is the ultimate thing you love about what you do each day?

After the day, I write a note to each one of our customers and thank them for joining us. It gives me a chance to reflect on every moment I shared with that particular person. The thing about rafting trips is that it’s not simply about getting splashed. The trips are incredibly social and engaging. When I come off a half-day trip and feel like I’ve made new friends; that’s what I love most about my work.

You have a scholarship opportunity you offer. Can you tell us about it?

We offer a scholarship called the “Indigo Creek Outdoor Writer Scholarship”. It will be awarded to a graduating high school senior who writes an essay demonstrating an appreciation for the outdoors and the value of spending time outside. The deadline is May 31st and we’ve already received a ton of essays. Offering the scholarship helps give our business some character and adds to our culture. Plus, it’s fun to see what some of the applicants come up with.

As business owners we don’t always take the time to take days off or go on vacation. Your business is like a vacation getaway everyday but do you make sure and take time off every once and a while?

During the spring and summer I am too excited to take time off. There are too many opportunities, people to meet, and ideas to follow. When our last trip gets off the water I will take a breather, but it’s pretty much a full-court press all the way through the season.

What’s your advice to any new business owner getting ready to take the leap and start a business?

Develop a strong sales pitch with at least three key points and make it part of your brand. If your greatest sales tool is your discount policy, something is wrong. Customers are not loyal if they are choosing you based on price. Build a business that attracts great customers, not because your price is the lowest, but because you are the best.

Where can everyone learn more about you and Indigo Creek Outfitters?

You can check us out online at www.IndigoCreekOutfitters.com and we are also on Facebook, Trip Advisor, and Yelp. Additionally, I am on Twitter @willvolpert and share Indigo Creek news through that account. My direct email address is will@IndigoCreekOutfitters.com, or just call our office at 1-541-203-0222. I’ll probably be the one who picks up. Also check out our videos on Youtube/IndigoCreekOutfitter


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About

Ashley is the co-founder and co-host of Business Beware. Her passion is learning the background of how and why a business started and of course bringing a little laughter to business owners everyday. Proud member of the YEC too.

6 Comments

  1. Kevin McDonough /

    There is nothing like seeing someone do what they love and even something they grew up loving in the first place. Such a great story Will, thanks for sharing and when my family is up that way we definitely will be coming to your place!

  2. matt /

    “If your greatest sales tool is your discount policy, something is wrong. Customers are not loyal if they are choosing you based on price. Build a business that attracts great customers, not because your price is the lowest, but because you are the best.”

    100% dead on. Nice job, Will.

  3. Pingback: How A Passion For Whitewater Rafting Became A Fulltime Business … | Best Whitewater River Rafting, River Cruises, Fishing, Hunting and Outfitters Information

  4. Ashley /

    Couldn’t agree more with that Matt! Thanks for checking out Will’s interview!

  5. Pingback: Fly Fishing for Dorado in Bolivia – Leland Fly Fishing Outfitters | Bass Fishing Tips Today

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