After an extraordinary tour in Tuscany, Italy, Kelly and Scott Smith were inspired to start their own tour company, with a focus on the Sierra’s many destinations, particularly Yosemite National Park. They launched Sierra Adventure Charters and Tours in January 2013, investing their personal savings in a 10-person transportation van, website, and state permits, and launched their business. “Our goal,” explained Kelly, “was to provide the same impeccable customer service and adventure experience we had so enjoyed on our trip.”
As the months dragged by with little business, the Smiths struggled to identify what was misfiring. They joined area chambers of commerce, attended events, and networked, with few results. In March, 2014, Kelly heard about the SBDC consulting services, and decided to explore the possibilities.
Working closely with SBDC consultant Claudia Newcorn, the Smiths determined that they needed to reposition their company, restructure their pricing, and diversify their target market segments. “We had some queries from brides about providing wedding transportation,” Kelly explains. “There are many popular venues up in our area, but it’s easy to get lost, or the roads can be challenging. Claudia helped us to develop a marketing strategy and plan to pursue the wedding transportation market, and it took off. We met with event coordinators, wedding planners; attended bridal fairs; advertised… and started getting bookings.” By summer of 2015, the Smiths had hired a back-up driver to help handle all the business.
As they worked on their plan, the Smiths changed the company name to Mother Lode Adventures Charter Services (MLAcharters.com), due to a previously unidentified competitor with a similar name. SBDC consultant Greg Falken coached them on setting up an SEO-friendly website which Kelly could easily manage and administer. SBDC consultant Jennifer Hawks helped them set up Quickbooks.
Mother Lode’s repositioning of itself as a transportation company began to open other doors. Queries came in for airport transportation services, and Kelly secured necessary permits for all the airports. The area’s growing wine region created an opportunity to establish relationships with area wineries for distinctive wine tours. Other tour companies contacted them, interested in Mother Lode providing transportation for their guests. “Among, others, we are working with a firm that provide llama backpacking tours in the high Sierra,” Kelly said. “We pick up and drop off his guests at specific points along the trail. And we’ve developed unique Gateway to Yosemite tours to give visitors a distinctive experience.”
Murphy Suites in Murphys, CA had an emergency transportation need for one of their prestigious concert series guests, REO Speedwagon, that was performing at Ironstone Vineyards. They had heard of Mother Lode Adventures Charter Services, and Kelly and Scott jumped at the chance to become “transportation to the stars”. “It was an awesome experience,” Kelly laughed. “And it reaffirmed that we were on the right track as a company that provided customized transportation services tailored to each guest’s specific needs.”
The Smiths continued to work with the SBDC, developing financial projections, implementing streamlined accounting practices, and a process to effectively evaluate opportunities in context of their strategic goals. As a result of their willingness to learn and implement new concepts, Mother Lode Adventures Charter Services turned around, and today is a growing business with plans to hire employees in 2016, diversify into Destination Management, and engage and network with larger transportation Affiliate companies, and Destination Management Associations.
The Smiths credit the SBDC with their business turnaround. “The SBDC has experienced consultants in all the fields of services we needed for our business. They really helped educate us in areas we were very unfamiliar with, and assisted us in building a more efficient structure for our business. They helped us to recognize processes that were or were not working for our business, and have made all the difference in our company’s future.”