I am always so inspired by the entrepreneurs I meet in my travels. Last time I visited Hawaii Island, I met a fit and fabulous businesswoman who has capitalized on her love for biking. I’ve chronicled her journey in Part III of my series, Working in Paradise.
WORKING IN PARADISE, PART III: CYCLING TO SUCCESS
The road that led Gwendolyn Hill to launch BikeVolcano.com was a curvy one indeed. Here’s how she turned her passion for pedaling into a dream-come-true business on Hawaii Island (also known as the Big Island).
The journey: The Oahu native graduated with a business degree from University of Redlands, California in 1990. She was managing an art gallery on Maui and volunteering as a Humpback Whale Interpreter on the weekends, when she became interested in wild dolphin communication research. She’d heard about several pods that regularly visited beaches on Hawaii Island, and decided to move over in 1992. “There was not much work or industry on the Big Island, so that forced me to become creative and start my own business,” she says. Her first was an adventure tour company, specializing in hiking, biking, camping and shore fishing, co- founded with her then-boyfriend in 1994. He financed the enterprise and Gwendolyn provided the business know-how, but after 2 years he decided to pursue other things. “I did not have the finances or the confidence to buy him out, so I closed the business down begrudgingly,” Gwendolyn says.
Exploring new directions: Instead, she researched and wrote a grant, and started a Hawaiian Koa Farm, planting 30,000 native Acacia Koa trees on her family’s land along the Hamakua Coast on Hawaii Island. It was a long-term project, and the trees took several years to plant and manage. Meanwhile, Gwendolyn also studied and taught African Dance, another passion of hers. She traveled to Africa to learn native dances and created a jewelry line inspired by African artwork. “Once my trees were up and running, and basically taking care of themselves, I found myself at a crossroads,” Gwendolyn says. “I wanted to run one successful business, instead of several somewhat successful businesses. I always believed that my adventure tours company was a great idea and could be profitable, especially with the Internet allowing worldwide access,” she says. So, in 2006, she mustered up the courage to reopen the tour business, this time specializing in her favorite activity, biking. Since Volcanoes National Park is the top attraction on Hawaii Island, and was one of her most popular tours the first time around, Gwendolyn decided to focus on bike tours through the park. She’d name her enterprise BikeVolcano.com.
Fueling up for the ride: It took Gwendolyn about 9 months to write a business plan and obtain a $50,000 loan to purchase bikes, a van and trailer, and cover other costs. “I needed every type of insurance and license that you can think of,” she says. “The red tape for operating a bicycle tour business is quite intensive. You have to be willing to jump through several hoops.” Her loan got rejected at first, but Gwendolyn was not discouraged. “I went in with a determined attitude that I was going to get a loan and do whatever it took to obtain it.” She got some advice from her local Small Business Development Center, resubmitted her application with additional information, and was awarded the loan.
Putting the wheels in motion: She incorporated, and BikeVolcano.com officially opened for business in 2007. A friend helped design and build the website, and Gwen methodically implemented the marketing goals she’d set for herself in her business plan. The word spread, and customers came. At first it was just Gwen working as a guide, with her new (and current) boyfriend driving the van. As the business began to build, she hired an additional driver. She now has 7 employees. “I am having to hire even more staff to keep up with the demand,” she says.
Handling roadblocks: As Gwendolyn’s business became established, one of the biggest challenges was finding time to take a vacation herself. But “now that I have been in business for 3 1/2 years, I have been able to figure out the slower seasons and have timed my vacations accordingly,” she says. “I also give myself a break every day where I can go to the beach and swim, bike ride, take a yoga class, read, or even nap for a couple of hours. This time adds up to a huge vacation, and helps me achieve a more balanced lifestyle.” Gwen is also learning to delegate more of her responsibilities.
On a roll: As BikeVolcano.com continues to grow, Gwendolyn has stayed true to her original mission. “My formula is essentially the same, to provide a quality tour with professional guides and good customer service,” she says. BikeVolcano.com now offers three tour courses: Summit Tour Special (a half day tour, 10am to 1pm); Bike Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, with an optional Wine Tasting Session (full day tour, 10am to 3pm); and Bike to Pele – Kilauea’s East Rift Zone & Active Lava Flow Bike Adventure (1pm to 8pm). Business has grown so much that Gwendolyn is considering expanding even further.
Words of wisdom: What advice does Gwendolyn have for other businesswomen? “Believe in yourself,” she says. “See your dream in your mind and hold on to the vision. If you receive a ‘No’ keep asking until you find a ‘Yes’. The details will work themselves out and your dream will manifest, as long as you believe in it and know there is infinite abundance.”
Sounds like smokin’ hot advice to us!
Ever dreamed of what it would be like to run a business on a tropical island? Here’s another inspirational woman who is doing just that, from my ongoing series about Working in Paradise.
In the 1990s, Jeanne Sunderland was a Spa Director at luxury hotels on Hawaii Island, where she founded the Spa Without Walls at the Ritz Carlton (now the Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii), and revolutionized treatments by offering them outdoors. Today, she and her husband, Robert Watkins (who is also a physician on the island), run Hawaii Island Retreat, an eco-friendly, boutique-style hotel and spa, specializing in health and wellness. It took nearly 10 years to complete, but Jeanne & Robert persevered, believing that it was their mission to create this peaceful sanctuary on Hawaii Island’s North Kohala coast.
Here’s how they took their idea from vision to reality.
Noticing a need in the market. During the 13 years she worked in spa management, clients would often ask Jeanne if she knew of a place they could go for health and wellness retreats. “Though there were some, most were operating without proper permits, and lacked the grace and comforts of upscale hotels. “I realized there was a need for elegant facilities that could accommodate 30 – 50 guests for spa getaways, honeymoons, small weddings, and group or corporate events,” says Jeanne. “The existing hotels were too large for such intimate gatherings, and B&B’s were too small.” Jeanne imagined a refined place that would specialize in Hawaiian healing treatments for mind, body and spirit, and be completely sustainable, too. Hawaiians have great respect and love for the land; they call it aina, and believe it has sacred power. “We wanted our lodge to be in total balance with the earth, and show that it is possible to be green, while providing high-end accommodations,” says Jeanne. Her retreat would have 5-star amenities, as well as eco amenities for the earth. Electricity would be provided through solar energy cells and windmills, sparkling pools would catch rain water for resort use, meals would come from their organic fruit and vegetable gardens and the cattle, chickens and sheep raised in lodge pastures. “Our goal was to be as self-sustaining as possible,” Jeanne says.
Trusting her intuition. Though originally from Kansas, Jeanne found herself at home on Hawaii Island as a young adult, and fell in love with the Kohala Coast and settled there. She became interested in Hawaiian culture and therapies, and began studying with native healers. She recalls that over 30 years ago, her spiritual teacher, Uncle Tommy, brought her to the very land that Hawaii Island Retreat now sits on, but she didn’t know why. “He said he was told to bring me there,” remembers Jeanne. Years later, when she was searching for a tranquil setting to build the lodge on, a friend showed her that same piece of property, and she immediately recognized it. “I knew I was home,” she says. It was as if she was destined to start her venture there. Business owners are often surrounded by critics and naysayers, but “you have to trust your gut and listen to your inner voice,” Jeanne says. It turns out that the land has a very interesting and sacred history. It is believed that Hawaii’s famous King Kamehameha The First met with his advisors in the grassy outdoor ampitheater in the valley, and that the ancient boulders there have spiritual power. It was while meditating by the rocks that Jeanne heard the Hawaiian name for her retreat: Ahu Pohaku Ho’omaluhia, which means place of the Sacred Peace-Giving Stones.
Building blocks. Jeanne and Robert bought the land with money borrowed by mortgaging their home and other properties purchased through years of living in Kohala. They applied for a Special Use Permit, which they obtained in August of 2001. Robert and their grown son, Daemion, an engineer and general contractor, began building the lodge and surrounding structures themselves, and Robert worked to cultivate the fields. But it took 9 long years before they received their Certificate of Occupancy and welcomed their first guests. One setback was the earthquake of 2006, which delayed things nearly 12 months. Stucco and drywall had just been completed and needed to be extensively repaired; finish work and painting had to be redone; and although the structure was sound, the couple chose to add more reinforcement. The rules, regulations, permit process and business taxes also slowed things down, and made the cost of doing business extremely high. During that time, Jeanne continued working for local hotels, and Robert, who is a doctor, kept practicing as a primary care physician and Director of Emergency Services at Kohala Hospital (a position he still holds). “It would be hard to view this state and island as business-friendly,” she says. “You need a lot of patience!”
Persistence pays off. Hawaii Island Retreat opened it doors on April 1, 2009 and built a buzz in the first few months by hosting non-profit fundraising events for community organizations, like Kohala Hospital, and Friends of the Library. Word of mouth referrals, a beautiful (and peaceful) website, a You Tube channel, Facebook Fan page, and partnerships with the Big Island Visitors Bureau help Jeanne reach more potential guests and get covered in many newspaper and magazine articles.
Serenity now! Today, “the grounds and facilities are even more beautiful than we dreamed,” says Jeanne. The main house has an open-air dining room and courtyard, and 9 guest rooms (including a penthouse honeymoon suite), all decorated in classic Hawaiian style. The spa has 2 yoga studios (with floors made from eco-friendly wood imported from South America), outdoor massage cabanas, and a saltwater infinity pool that seamlessly blends into the surrounding landscape of ocean, cliffs and sky. Jeanne was savvy enough to notice that travelers were looking for a retreat like this, and truly believed that if they built it, guests would come. She says her greatest reward is seeing the transformation of her visitors. “They come with the stress of their lives showing on their faces, and leave at ease, peace-filled and happy.”
For more success stories, read Working in Paradise, Part I: Slow Down and Smell the Coffee
Hello all! I hope you all have your DVR’s set for 8:00. The hype is pretty cool! They are leaking all kinds of little teasers. On Friday I appeared on a local TV show called LowCountry Live. Here is the clip from that: http://www.grillcharms.com/demovideo.html
Tonight I’ll be on twitter at #sharktank while the show is airing. I’m having my very closest friends and family around me to share in the moment. We are keeping it small because it’s going to be hard watching it. In case you don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle, this was all about Shark Tank and I couldn’t say anything:
I’ll be reliving “the event” for the 3rd time. It will be hard, but in a strange way, I feel closer to Pa when doing Shark Tank stuff. The two events are so intertwined for me that I can’t really separate the two. A physiatrist would have a field day with me!
So I have done all I can do. Every buyer I know has been made aware, every media outlet I can think of has been notified, and now it’s out of my hands. Hopefully my dream of having Grill Charms™ in every home with a BBQ is on its way to fruition! (Okay… so maybe that dream is a TAD bit lofty, but if you’re gonna dream, dream BIG right?!)
Tonight I’m going to try to tweet as much as I can live during the show. To follow I’m www.twitter.com/grillcharmer.
The Sharks are
You can join me tonight at #sharktank. If you don’t know much about twitter (and believe me, I’m no expert) and want to join in on the party, I’ll give you the REAL easy 411.
If I don’t see you tonight, I’ll write when I can REALLY talk about what happens in the tank! Start chumming the waters!
Leslie Haywood, Founder and President of Charmed Life Products, Inventor of Grill Charms™ www.grillcharms.com
Here are a few links and stuff for you:
If you have a small business or want to help one, here: shinealight.ivillage.com
With October being Breast Cancer awareness month I have been sending out press kits to my “short lead media list” regarding The Pink Collection. I have my media contacts in two categories. My long lead which includes most magazines, and my short lead which includes newspapers, TV and radio. The magazine’s editorial calendar is about 6-9 months out so I submitted my stuff to them around the first of the year for October.
Okay… enough small talk, I’M GOING TO BE ON ABC’S SHARK TANK!!! OMG, that felt good!! I have been holding that little secret in for MONTHS. Well…. Not that I was going to be on, but that I even taped the show. Up until you see yourself on the screen (which I did in the promo on tonight’s episode) there really is no guarantee that your segment will air. Now that it’s “public knowledge” well…. It’s public knowledge. It’s fun to follow the sharks on twitter. Sometimes you get an inside scoop!
Also there is a show on TV LAND called “How’d you get so Rich”. Joan Rivers is the host and she is HILLARIOUS! There are a few episodes where she features a few of the sharks. Just to get to know them better, check out this one to meet Robert Herjavec
This one to meet Kevin O Leary:
I’m hoping she’ll do the other sharks too in upcoming episodes.
Now whether I sink or swim in the Shark Tank, you just have to tune in and see. I am still not 100% certain when my segment will air. I’ll let you know as soon as I know. I’ll be back again soon!
Leslie Haywood, Founder and President of Charmed Life Products, Inventor of Grill Charms™ www.grillcharms.com
I was posting on another thread about my day yesterday – it was pretty exciting. But I realized that 3/4 of the things that happened yesterday were a direct result of being on the Mompreneurs Online board – had I not I joined Mompreneurs, these events in my day yesterday probably would not have happened.
1) We had 5 web sales – all from different places. Due to all the PR we are doing. Before Mompreneurs, my PR was limited to local papers, and places where we were performing.
2) We were contacted by a wholesaler in Canada. Before Mompreneurs, I didn’t know what a wholesler was, and never dreamed we would be getting requests for orders in Canada!
3) We got a dropshipper acct set up in California. Before Mompreneurs, never heard of Drop Shipping. Still figuring it all out too, with everyone’s help here. Thanks!!!
4) We got a great review from another product review blogger site. (Parents With Style http://parentswithstyle.blogspot.com/search/label/Stardust ) Before Mompreneurs, I had never heard of a Product Review blog.
5) We were contacted by a national magazine!! (More on that later,when it happens, but WOWEEE!!!!) Before Mompreneurs, I didn’t have the slightest idea how to approach a national magazine, and I always thought it had to be a BIG company to get national press. I’ve learned so much and gotten the information necessary to feel very comfortable approaching any magazine. Extra big thanks to El and Pat for giving me so much guidance!
6) I was able to hold an intelligent conversation about SEO, page rankings, and metatags. That sentence would not have been spoken from my lips 6 months ago. I owe all that to fellow Mompreneurs, Holly, Jill, Amber, Amy and Lisa (and anyone else I am forgetting…) Thanks Gals!! You would have been proud of your humble student And, I have found an amazing community of great women here that I consider my teachers and my friends. Thanks, El and Pat for providing the Mompreneurs board, and thanks fellow mompreneurs for making this journey a great one!!
The other cool things that happened yesterday, – un-Mompreneur related – we booked a House Concert, and we also took a part time job putting together a choir for a nearby church.
I needed to do something for my spirit – I visited my blind 91 year old friend, Reverend Wills, lovingly known around here as “the broom man,” at his new home – a nursing home. We were able to find a piano and sing some songs. Several residents wheeled themselves in to the little room and sang along or listened. I’m going to go again next week. THAT fills my soul. And at the end of the day those are the things that matter.