Caroline, Can you please tell us a bit about yourself personally and professionally.
I completed year 12 and went on to Study Tourism and marketing at Victoria University which was a 4 year course. After I finished my course in 1992 my husband, Tim Wood (manager and part owner of Aireys Pub), and myself moved from Melbourne to Aireys Inlet and started up Blazing Saddles.
We have three kids aged 16, 19 and 21, all of whom attended school in Geelong.
If you asked me when I was younger what I like most about my job I would have said the money and feeling of success and drive that came with all the long hours and hard work. If you ask me now I would say that I love the feeling of providing people with an opportunity to enjoy horses, see our coast and be outdoors and active. I have also found that I love educating my staff on how to run a business and to think outside the square. To see them grow and succeed and learn from me is a great feeling.
As you learn as you get older, money doesn’t matter, it comes into the bank and heads out again, it’s the life experiences and what you put into it that is the bonus!
How did you get started in this business?
Tim and I travelled for a year during university and while travelling and working in the USA I found myself working in a trail riding school in Colorado and came back to Australia wanting more! After this point we decided that we would move down the coast and start up a riding school, which provided us with a great lifestyle changed and an opportunity to run our own business. Little did we know we’d be here still and doing what we are doing still!
Can you describe your customers / what type of customers does Blazing Saddles Trail Rides have?
Our customers vary depending on the time of the year. All school holidays are packed with families wanting to do activities. We live in the southern part of Australia which doesn’t always guarantee great weather, so even in January we do get very cool days early on, so this activity fills in the day for a lot of people. During winter we get couples coming down mid-week for getaways, in November and early December we get Europeans.
We also do a lot of school groups in February and December.
What are some of your “keys to success” in building your customer base?
I think that if you have a good product and keep adding to your business base then you can’t do much more. I don’t advertise because I believe that word of mouth is the strongest tool you will have.
We have been in the Lonely Planet a few times, which is something you can’t pay for – you just need to provide a great service and try your best to keep improving and to offer a great experience.
I also think that people still like to chat about what rides they like to do. Although a lot of bookings have gone onto booking systems, it’s still nice to have a chat with customers about what type of rides they would like to do before they turn up. For me it’s all about offering a tailored experience that will meet the needs of my clients. It helps to have that personal connection.
Is there anything about your business that you feel makes it special?
I don’t know what makes it special, I suppose we don’t overprice our products, we offer some incentives to come again and our horses are great. I also think that I try to explain to my staff that it’s not me paying their wages, these customers do and that they are paying for a safe and fun experience, so that is what your job is! Put yourself their shoes, then you will be a better person and better at your job.
What kind of issues do you see that will likely affect this sector over the coming few years?
I try not to think about problems as there are always solutions to them.
I guess my major challenge is always permits. I have so many guidelines, permits and accreditations which need to be maintained. Some of these are understandable as they are in place to ensure a certain level of quality control within the industry but others are time consuming and possibly unnecessary or could be streamlined.
There also needs to be some measure of understanding and cooperation between local environmentalists and businesses like my own so that we are able to mutually benefit from the beautiful surroundings that we are blessed with.
Where do you see your business in the next year? In the next five years? In the next ten years?
I hope that the business keeps plodding along steadily (sorry for the pun!). I am happy about what we do and where the business is at the moment. I just hope that small businesses like mine continue to be supported and that people like us get to earn a living, employ people and provide a great experience to many people who want to get out and enjoy our lovely outdoors!