When newly arriving guests first drive onto our California dude ranch, they step out of the car, sigh in relief at the terminus of their long journey, and then look around. As they survey the stunning beauty of the ranch and it’s larger setting in the Klamath River corridor, they commonly express some form of a similar questioning incantation.
The short answer usually touches on the points of “following your passions”, and “not putting boundaries on the quantity or qualitative nature of your work load”.
In order for a person to successfully operate a dude ranch / guest ranch, you had better like what you do, and you had better be willing to also tackle a myriad of diverse work types and labor disciplines that might be outside of your comfort zone. The phrase “renaissance man / woman” seems appropriate here.
Imagine a 19th century pioneer building a home on the frontier West. Imagine the surrounding environmental threats, the generally hostile environment and culture, the inadequate cash flow, the limited labor pool, and all of the self-reliant, hands-on shovel to the ground kinds of work required. Now layer on top of all of this, the modern oppressive bureaucratic regulatory obligations, the full immersion into an evolving digital marketing and operations world, and all of the modern day obstacles to starting and running a business. On the surface, the task seems insurmountable.
The missing ingredient in most of these scholastic analysis to a business’ likelihood for success is the point of passion held by the business principles.
Most guest ranch / dude ranch owners are fiercely independent, highly driven, and effect a mirror to the epitome of passion. This is not to say that dude ranch owners are beyond failure. Dude ranches and guest ranches fall prey to the standard battery of inbound explosive business mortars (undercapitalization, over regulation, competitive pressures, static business models, etc) that befall the normal operations of all businesses. The difference here is that the ranching start-up barriers are often so steep, that a less than swashbuckling entrepreneur is more often driven to friendlier less hostile business models. In other words, Dude ranch money is hard-earned money and is usually not the raison d’etre for ranching.
My final and related point here is that for those of us who are persevering in this business, it must be more about the lifestyle than it is about the bottom line profits.
My children have been raised in a setting that is unlike anything possible in suburban America. I rise each day to a view from my kitchen window that is both primitive and hostile yet contrasts and softens to an alluring peaceful reflection of solitude and natural splendor.
Are dude ranchers entrepreneurial super-heroes? NO! But we might just have a good mix of serendipity, pioneer drive, and a bit of blissful naivete. A thick skin and a sanguine stance is also a must. I must admit here, if my wife and I had known every detail of the road before us at the start of this family dude ranch journey, we might both still be urban lock-ups running our interior design shops, our pre-schools, bake shops and the like. Wait a minute, this is sounding once again like our past urban prison!
“Once more into the fray…
into the last good fight I’ll ever know…
to live and die on this day…
to live and die on this day…”
See you on the trails or in the rapids, Doug!