Five Years Later
By Cary Ihme
“Wow, five years. It’s hard to believe.” This is what I said to myself as I realized our fifth anniversary as business owners was fast approaching. “How did we get here?” I thought to myself.
It all started with my husband’s dream. After working for a business on Horsetooth Reservoir in Fort Collins as a teenager, Tom always wanted to own a marina. Year after year I would find him randomly looking at marinas for sale. After some good friends of ours purchased a marina and Tom better understood the costs involved, along with the scale of operations, he took a step back and decided to start with a campground. And so the ritual began.
Every week, I would find him searching the web looking at campgrounds for sale. When the first generation iPad came out in 2010, this was a game changer. His searches went from weekly to daily. Every night he would come home and spend hours on his iPad researching campgrounds for sale. He spent so much time on the iPad that at one point I asked him if I needed to stage an intervention. This nightly ritual quickly turned into him saying to me, “Hey, look at this one,” which spurred my own nightly ritual of being the loving, supportive wife and replying “Cool,” or “Wow, that’s a nice one,” as I reviewed the pictures.
The Game Changer
The ritual lasted for several years until one day he said, “I’m going to fly to Florida to check out this campground.” As my head snapped around to attention, I thought to myself, “Oh crap. He’s serious about this.” It was time to have a meeting. I was not willing to pick up my life, walk away from my career, leave our family and friends and move across the country. I wanted my husband to have his dream, and I was willing to help him achieve it, but we had to have some ground rules. Have I mentioned neither of us had ever owned a business? Have I mentioned neither of us had any formal business education?
We agreed to look for campgrounds within a four-hour commute of our home. This narrowed the playing field significantly. We looked at several promising businesses, but they were always priced out of our range. After driving by the Dory Hill Campground every day on his way to work, Tom came home one day and said, “I’m going to stop and see if they will sell that place to me. I drive by it every day and every day I watch what used to be a thriving business decline before my eyes. I know I can do something with that place.” Dory Hill Campground was not for sale, but Tom had a dream, and that small fact was not about to get in his way. If you know Tom, you know he lives by a simple motto, “Everything is for sale.” For the next two years, he developed a relationship with the previous owners and slowly convinced them to sell the campground to him.
On May 1, 2014, Base Camp at Golden Gate Canyon and Pickle Liquors opened for business. Tom turned the open sign on, put a drawer in the cash register, put up a tarp, blocked an area off and began tearing the place apart to update it to my surprise. I said, “Aren’t we going to close for two weeks while we work on all of the updates?” To which Tom replied, “We are open for business. If someone wants to come in and buy a bag of chips and a drink while we are working, we will let them.”
Blood, Sweat, Tears and “The Network”
If anyone tells you that owning a business is easy, they are lying. Things do get easier, but every day presents different challenges. One thing is sure, everyone has an opinion of how you should run your business, and everyone is eager to tell you so. My best advice is to listen to the comments knowing that only you have all of the information it takes to make the best decision under the given circumstances. Common sense will take you far, but most of all, when you fail, take time to learn the lesson that comes from that failure and your failures will turn to successes.
By the end of August 2014, I declared that nobody could pay me enough money to go through that summer again. There were numerous occasions where I asked the question, “What have we gotten ourselves into?” as I pondered how we would make it through another 16 hour day.
How do you make it? Drive, dedication, determination, and dreams. All of these things are important, but the most important thing has been our network. Tom and I are blessed to have amazing families, friends, colleagues, customers, vendors, and our community. We are blessed to have a fantastic team who works for us. We would not be where we are today without the help and dedication of so many. To this day, we continue to receive support and encouragement for our continued success. Kind words can make all the difference when you are having “one of those days.” For every single person who has ever helped us or encouraged us, we simply say “thank you.” Words will never be able to express how your kindness impacted us. Just know, those words may have been the only reason we made it through to the end of a terrible day.
Every business owner’s journey is unique. Entrepreneurship is about taking risks, and those risks are scary. You have to prepare yourself to lose everything, but convince yourself that you have what it takes to be successful.
As a security measure, we both continue to work our full-time jobs and work on the campground nights, weekends, and holidays, which has allowed us to invest as much as possible into turning the business around. We started improving the business on day one and haven’t stopped since then. Some of the major projects we have achieved include updating the main building, laundry facility, and the apartment. We removed the old swimming pool and put in a pavilion. We’ve made road and site improvements and re-roofed all of the cabins. We brought gas services back and just finished updating the bathrooms.
Cheers to 5 Years!
If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit us in a while, we invite you to stop by any time. We would also be honored to see you on Saturday, May 25th from noon – 4 p.m. at the Base Camp pavilion as we celebrate our 5th anniversary. There will be a live band, giveaways, and free food while supplies last. Pickle Liquors is featuring 6-packs of Coors and Coors Light for $5 through May. Limit one per person per day. Let’s Camp! Let’s Get Pickled!
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