2005 Puget Sound Business Journal Heir Plunges into Dad's Whitewater rafting biz
Heir plunges into dad's whitewater rafting biz He sets aside doubts after finding no holes Mark Zoller and his wife, Sherry, above right, say they couldn't miss the opportunity to take over his dad's whitewater rafting business, Zoller's Outdoor Odysseys.
By M. SHARON BAKER CONTRIBUTING WRITER
Mark Zoller wasn't the least bit interested in joining his father's whitewater rafting business — not even when his dad offered to match his executive salary at UPS. He had no thought of buying Zoller's Outdoor Odysseys when his dad, Phillip, began shopping the White Salmon-based business around for a buyer. Content to help out on weekends despite a three- hour commute from Bend, Ore., Zoller was concerned enough to try to talk two friends into buying it — to no avail. "For years I said, ‘I'm never going to do that,'" Zoller said, about the possibility of going into the 22-year-old family business. "At one time, my dad and brother had competing businesses and I said I was never going to work for either one of them." Sensing his dad might be on the verge of closing the business after a sale fell through, Zoller decided to ask his wife and four young children if they should run the business. Even then, Zoller wasn't seriously considering it. "I thought it would be a one-sentence discussion," Zoller said, explaining that his wife, Sherry, came from a long line of corporate lifers, and "I thought she'd shoot it down." Surprisingly, "she said we should look into it," he said. "We had missed out on buying a property that both of us wanted, and had made a commitment that we'd always look at an opportunity if it presented itself. I then spent endless hours pouring over the P&L statements, the QuickBooks statements, trying to find holes, so I could say, ‘This is why we just can't do it." He couldn't find any holes. What he found was that the first company ever to raft the White Salmon River had 50 percent of the market share. His father had forged partnerships with several local hotels, and had a great reputation. And Mark Zoller learned that the other nine rafting companies following in his dad's footsteps were praying the company would close down. After studying the books for six months and surviving several panic attacks about losing the security that comes from moving up the UPS corporate ladder for 16 years, Zoller decided to take the plunge. In 2000, he moved his family from Bend to White Salmon, which is 65 miles east of Portland, across the Columbia River in Washington's Klickitat County, some 235 miles from Seattle. Now, five years later, he has doubled the size of the company, growing to serve more than 5,800 customers and bringing in sales of about $250,000. He's pumped his life savings into building a new facility and retail outlet on property where Zoller's Outdoor Odysseys has a private launch site. Just last year he purchased a tiny rafting company that adds overnight rafting trips on the Snake River through three states to his product mix. And he's brought the first flush toilets to the rafting industry on the White Salmon River, replacing the portable toilets available in many places. Most rafters, Zoller said, are "used to baring their rear ends in park…