2006 Life Raft NASE Member Mark Zoller owns Zoller's Outdoor Odysseys
NASE Member Mark Zoller owns Zoller's Outdoor Odysseys. www.zooraft.com in White Salmon
Tell us about your business.
Zoller's Outdoor Odysseys is a whitewater rafting company that operates on the White Salmon. Klickitat and Snake Rivers providing half-day, full-day and multi-day river trips. My dad, Phil, founded the company in the early 1970s. I bought the Company upon his retirement about five years ago. The staff consists of 24 river guides and five support staff. We operate 12 months per year, but service the majority of our 6,000-plus annual guests in the summer months. My family has three generations of guides. The team starts with my father, age 65. Next would be me, age 42. Then, two of my children, Rachel. 19, and Zachary, 17. Zachary will start guiding this summer on his 18th birthday and become the youngest licensed guide in Oregon. Washington and Idaho. My dad has agreed to come out of retirement and raft the Snake River with us for that trip, just as he did when Rachel received her license.
Why did you buy the family business?
Sherri, my wife and high school sweet heart, and I made a commitment to each ocher many years ago that we would never ignore an opportunity. When this opportunity came up, we looked into it only out of the commitment to check things out. I was confident we would be telling my dad that after careful consideration (digging into his bookkeeping) it had been determined that we would be better off with me maintaining my management position at United Parcel Service. I almost didn't take over the family business because I was enjoying my 16-year career at UPS so much. But every time I tried to shoot a hole in the business purchase plan, I could not. After running different operating plans, we were convinced that with some hard work we could take the family enterprise to a new level.
What's your favorite piece of gear?
Easily, the raft. Once in the raft, customers become this little family on the river. No matter what a person's history, we seem to accept each other as equals and partners for that few hours on the water. The raft brings people together and facilitates unity rarely seen, but always sought after. Maybe we should market that we are changing the world "one raft at a time."
What rules of rafting apply to business?
The physical obstacles encountered while running a great piece of whitewater are just like a business navigating tax codes, competition or employee relations. Sometimes the obstacles seem so overwhelming that you just want to take the raft or business into a calm eddy and sit. But you don't get paid for sitting in the calm. My encouragement to all small-business owners — paddle hard, hang on tight and run clean lines!