Tawny Clark and Chris Staudinger, the duo behind Captain and Clark, recently welcomed some big changes into their lives. Not only did the travel writing, videography couple become parents last year, Chris and Tawny also settled down in Tacoma, Washington and founded a local tour company, Pretty Gritty Tours.
Running a tour company, alongside their two additional partners in this project, is allowing the two to utilize their skills in storytelling and their passion for travel while sharing their hometown with visitors. It’s also giving them valuable insight on the flip side of the travel industry — once working primarily as partners in content creation with travel companies, they now have a tour company of their own.
We caught up with Chris and Tawny to find out what the transition from nomadic bloggers to grounded tour company owners has been like. They’ve shared helpful insight for anyone who might consider a similar career path…
What inspired you to start your tour company, Pretty Gritty Tours?
Starting a tour company seemed like a really natural transition for us. Captain has always wanted to have a tour company since he used to give unofficial tours in the Bavarian theme town of Leavenworth, WA as a kid.
Tourism and storytelling have been a part of our lives forever it seems. We’ve been in the business of promoting tourism and tours for years as travel bloggers for a decade now.
Since this year we just had our first baby we wanted to have something that would allow us to stick to our passion while staying close to home. It’s perfect because it allows us to keep sharing the world with people while remaining in Tacoma, but at the same time doesn’t bind us here when we leave on trips.
How long did it take to get this idea off the ground? What kind of work was involved in getting your tours started?
When we sat down to look at what would be involved with starting a tour company we were fortunate to have all the requests we had received from tour providers over the years. When we worked with other tour companies as travel bloggers they always had little tweaks they wanted to posts or videos to help them attract customers. For us this was a tremendous resource in understanding the other side.
The rest was very organic to what we normally do: find great things to do in an area, connect with local restaurants, find the cheap ways to spend a day in the city, and share it with people.
Building a website and setting up an LLC were all things we had done as bloggers. It was a very smooth transition. After that though came research, research, research. We had always loved Tacoma, but actually digging deeper into historical buildings, dates, and events not only gave us the power to offer amazing tours but also a whole new love of this city.
How did your experience as travel bloggers help in launching this business?
We had been promoting tours from the other side our whole career. All of the value that bloggers bring to the table for tour companies like content, promotion, video, advertising, and SEO were all things that we could do on our own. It made so much sense to bring all those talents to the table when we started. At its heart too, giving tours is just travel blogging but in person. We have been writing about the great things to do around the world and now we get to talk about them in a specific area.
Have you learned anything since launching your tour company that could be applied to the work you do with your blog?
Being in the hot seat as a tour company has given us a much much deeper understanding on working with our tour companies and brands around the world as a blogger. You get to see the need for a quick turnaround and feel the costs when you offer press trips or promotion. You get to see up close and personal the ripple of social media on bringing people to your booking site.
We have a much deeper respect for the whole process and add that into our pitch process when traveling. It’s nice to roll up to the table and say, “We get it. We runs tours ourselves and we want to bring you the most value at the lowest cost.”
What is your favorite aspect of running a tour company?
At the heart of everything we do we are storytellers. Watching people get excited over a place you love or sharing an emotion with them is really priceless. We get to spark interest in an area for them, or give them a story to tell and that is everything for us.
When you hear people talking about how exciting a ghost tour was, or how they had never noticed a certain area before, you know that you’ve had the privilege of changing someone’s life. Being able to set our own hours and plan tours that interest us is just icing on the cake.
What is the most challenging part of running a tour company?
I think that it is difficult to be patient with yourself. When you are blogging you get the satisfaction of instant gratification, travel, experience, create, repeat. With the tour company we have had to watch as tours slowly grow. There seems to be a sweet spot where suddenly everyone has heard about a tour and suddenly we are at capacity, but figuring out where that spot is can be challenging.
What do you think are the most important skills or characteristics for someone who’s interested in starting a similar business?
I suppose, that like everything, it is playing to your passions and strengths. Tawny and I are really fortunate in that we love the Tacoma area and love researching things to do here. You need to have the energy to go out and make local connections to bring your community on board. We couldn’t do this with out all of the interest and enthusiasm of local businesses.
Knowing your audience and making a tour unique are really important, too. At the end of the day you are attempting to enrich someone’s life by showing them a part of an area that they have never seen on their own. You’re offering perspective and story. So that unique angle and eye are key to tourism too. However I think travel bloggers are just innately trained to do that.
What is one thing you’ve learned about yourselves since branching out into this new business?
You know, we have discovered just how many different sides there are to Tacoma. I think we could say the same about ourselves. We were uncertain if we would feel trapped here starting a business and having a baby. As it turns out we discovered how much we enjoy the creative process of building new tours and hosting new groups. Each day is a sort of travel, and since we own the company we can still take those last minute trips to wherever when we want.
What is one goal you have for Pretty Gritty Tours in 2017?
In a word, growth.
Our dream here is that Pretty Gritty will blossom into such a powerful force for us that we can expand outwards and perhaps even franchise out. Of course, as we mentioned, we need a little patience. For now, we are savoring the thrill of putting down roots in our area and cultivating a deeper appreciation for our city.
There is no better way to explore a place you know than through the eyes of a stranger. Each visitor we get on a tour always brings some new viewpoint or appreciation that we hadn’t seen before. In between big trips we get to come back and fall in love with Tacoma all over again.
Chris and Tawny are also the creators of Videography for Travel Bloggers. You can catch up with all the fun they’re having through Pretty Gritty Tours by following them on Twitter.