From Voyage LA
Today we’d like to introduce you to Katie Hayward.
Katie, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
It all started in 2010, I was working at a local community bank in commercial lending and unfortunately was in a snowboarding accident and was out on leave while I recovered. The economy had just tanked and the banking industry was not fun anymore due to all of the litigation and mass foreclosures we were dealing with. I had a sense that I needed to branch out, but just wasn’t sure what avenue to go. It is funny how the universe works. The Uncorked Wine Tours venture was born out of a want to sell a van that my husband had and the idea that it would be a perfect wine touring vessel. My husband tried to sell the van to this gal doing wine tours out of her small SUV and he told her this vehicle would be the perfect fit for her business. She had no interest in purchasing it. My husband came home frustrated and decided we would just keep the van. We then both looked at each other and had an Oprah “AHA!” moment and thought we could do this. Since I was out of work at the time and my husband was busy running his own business I literally came up with the name Uncorked Wine Tours the next day. I was on a mission to figure out licensing, insurance, and how to move forward with this idea. A couple of months later all was good and I got my first job off of a CraigsList ad. I remember the call and the group asking if I could make it down to San Luis Obispo in an hour and of course I said “YES!”….I showered quickly and threw on a captain’s hat that my husband had recently been gifted (I didn’t want to go down with wet hair and didn’t have time to dry it). The captain’s hat ended up being a fabulous marketing tool, so many people wanted to put it on and take photos and were asking me what the hat was for. Even now when I get this question I always tell people it is because we drive land yachts. Mind you, I had never done a wine tour before, so I completely flew by the seat of my pants and acted like a complete professional. I remember dropping the group off and getting paid for my services and I thought it was the coolest thing! The first year and half it was pretty slow …I pounded the pavement marketing hotels, going to networking events, and tried any way I could with my marketing background to get that phone to ring. It was about year two, after a brief stint in the Virgin Islands (we captained and crewed yachts for a couple of months hence the captain’s hat my husband had) that I realized I wanted to come home and grow Uncorked into the company I knew it could be. I bought another van that second year and bought another vehicle every year for the next 5 years so that we are now able to offer our services to small and large groups. I am still very hands-on, answering daily phone calls and emails and providing knowledge and personal touches to all that inquire. I do employ a 10 person team of fabulous guides that share our area with people from all over the world. The past 9 years has been one of my favorite adventures in life so far and I can’t wait to see what Uncorked has in store for the future.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I’m not sure any entrepreneur would say that starting a business and keeping up the momentum year after year is easy or without its challenges. My biggest hurdles have been finding the right people to represent Uncorked Wine Tours. We live in a small area, so the pool of drivers is small. Most of our team has been with us from the very beginning. We are lucky to have a team with a large amount of knowledge about the area and also who focus on making our clients experiences the best they can be. Another challenge has been deciding when to expand. Our area continues to grow and so does the tourism. Growing with the industry but not too quickly is something I reevaluate year after year. Another challenge has been keeping up with all that our industry has to offer as well as the wineries policies. With the growth of the area, the wineries have continually gotten busier year after year. I now have a spreadsheet of all of their group policies, tasting fees, varietals that they pour and much more. With our expertise on the wineries we can provide our clients with the most amount of knowledge when mapping out their perfect day. We also ask very specific questions when setting up itineraries. We find out what our clients are looking for in their experience? What types of wines they enjoy? If they want to add in any beer or spirits? If they would like a tour of one of the wineries to learn about the winemaking process? And many other important questions to help us guide them appropriately. We also want each of our clients to be completely satisfied after the tour. Since I am not on the tours I always follow up with the clients afterwards to find out how their overall experience was. We enjoy getting feedback so we can always be improving our services. There have certainly been other challenges along the way. While you are going through them it may be painful, but I always feel like the challenges are the best obstacles for learning and growing.
Please tell us about Uncorked Wine Tours.
Uncorked Wine Tours is based on the California’s central coast region serving all of San Luis Obispo county including Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo wine countries. We are located 300 miles north of Los Angeles and 300 miles south of San Francisco. We do have a private and public airport, so guests from all over the world can fly here. California locals also find it fun to ride the train up the coast. Uncorked will pick up from train stations and the airports. We specialize in private personalized and completely customizable tours, so we can set up the perfect experience for our groups based on their taste preferences. The winery options are limitless and we can also add in beer, spirits or olive oil tasting. Our guides provide knowledge of the area, expertise on the wineries, and we have complimentary water bottles on board. We can also add in other elements to the experience such as horseback riding through a vineyard, zip-lining, or educational components such as blending seminars or tours of vineyards and wineries. My joy and passion comes from setting up the perfect experience for each group, so that they can see all of the amazing options we have in our area. Some people come to us and know exactly where they want to go. Other groups have no idea so we will ask specific questions that will help us guide them appropriately. We also provide concierge services to our guests which is helpful with other aspects of planning your trip to the Central Coast. We have been blessed to be involved with engagements, graduation celebrations, pre and post weddings, milestone anniversary parties, and much more. We enjoy seeing all of our repeat customers come back year after year and love meeting newbies to our area. Uncorked Wine Tours definitely specializes in the touring spectrum, but at the end of the day we are a transportation company. We can provide shuttling needs for small and large groups for dinner, trips to Hearst Castle, weddings and much more. Our fleet is capable of taking one person and up to 14 in one vehicle, but can do multiple vehicles if the group is larger than 14. We also offer options for corporate and team building events. The central coast continues to evolve and change and Uncorked Wine Tours provides our expertise to all that come so that they can make the best use of their time while they are here.
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
There are many…. but I would have to say being a complete “Kid” with my brother. We would play outside for hours building forts, doing make-believe, and just being fully in the moment with our creative minds. I definitely miss the innocence of childhood and back then life was very simple. While adulting and having responsibilities of running a business has its perks, the simplicity of childhood is what I look back on fondly.
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