Sometimes opportunity knocks, and sometimes you have to create it yourself. When we speak of opportunity lately, we usually mean job creation. It has been a hot topic in Northeast Michigan for many years. When will the next big employer move into town? When will the economy pick up? When will I catch a break and get hired? When will young people stop leaving to seek opportunity in bigger cities?
For Erin Riopelle, owner of Adventureland Sports, LLC, the questions may have been the same but she created an answer all her own. I don't normally highlight specific businesses but Erin's story struck a chord with me and I think it is worth sharing. Erin is young, grew up in the Alpena area, went away to school earning degrees in outdoor recreation and sports management, and wanted to come back to Northeast Michigan to work. Sound familiar? So many of us share similar journeys.
After looking around she understood there weren't going to be a lot of choices in terms of jobs that fit her education. Knowing that finding employment would be tough, she started to think about things she would like to do. A job that would be more than a job, something she would enjoy, and something that would benefit the community. She dreamed up a business that would allow people to experience the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary and other areas of natural beauty throughout the year. Adventureland Sports, LLC began operating at the Duck Park earlier this summer. There is no building and no hoops to jump through to participate. Just a simple awning and a fleet of kayaks, canoes, and surreys consistently available for hourly rental.
She said the most challenging part of starting up was writing the business plan. She took advantage of local resources and sought help from Carl Bourdelais at the Small Business Development Center. Once she got her plan down on paper, everything else became easier. She sought approval from the city to operate at the park and acquired a loan to fund equipment. When I asked her why she was so willing to take on the big risk of starting a business such as this she commented on three things: support from her family, support from friends, and support from the community. I think that pretty much sums up one of our community's greatest strengths;: support of one another.
Erin's mom Terri originally contacted me through Facebook to tell me of her daughter's plans because I am always wondering why we don't take greater advantage of our natural resources. I wanted to try out Erin's service before talking about it. After renting a canoe twice, my husband and I have been more than impressed. Erin makes it easy for people to interact with her business. Her focus is on two things - customer satisfaction and highlighting the eco-resources of our area. Prior to opening her business she researched the area's demographics to consider what kind of equipment would be best to purchase first. She also considered how people would find out about her services and set up a website and Facebook page right away. If you don't have cash on hand that's OK because she uses secure software on her smartphone to process credit and debit cards (we used this method and within moments we paid, received an email confirmation, and were in a canoe on the water).
While talking to Erin I gathered a significant understanding for her authentic love of Northeast Michigan's natural beauty. She plans to operate her business year round with ski rental in the winter months. She hopes to also offer educational courses for the community such as camping basics, orienteering, and other outdoor adventure based topics.
According to Erin's mom she is doing this because she loves this area and wants to remain here. She also sincerely wants to give back to her community and help it become an outstanding destination for visitors as well as an outstanding place to live. I wanted to share this story with Inspiring A-Town column readers because it wraps up two things I highly value and make a community stronger - people following their passion, and operating a business so the customer is at the center of every transaction. This isn't meant to be an advertisement, but an inspiring essay on the perspective of creating your own opportunities instead of waiting for one to knock. What kind of business do you think Northeast Michigan needs? Maybe you should start working on a business plan.
Mary Beth Stutzman's Inspiring A-Town column appears bi-weekly on Tuesdays.