What will change my life?

In business it is easy to get caught up in numbers and dollar signs – your salary, gross sales, and margins are figures that show the “value” of what you are doing and the “score” of your business. But numbers don’t always tell the full story. Numbers tell the story of numbers, which are inanimate, impersonal, and a very black and white way of making business decisions. What I hate about financial documents is this: there’s no column for happiness. There’s no column for the value of a lifetime memory that was created for a family that only gets together once a year. And there’s no column for our growth as individuals as we become better people because of our shared experiences with others.

In economics a “cost-benefit analysis” takes into account factors and outcomes that are difficult to quantify. In the business of adventure tourism there are a lot of those. For instance, numbers “prove” to us that we should never run a four-person half-day rafting trip on the Rogue River because at best we will break-even and at worst we’ll lose money. But numbers can’t show the whole story.

Numbers don’t show that the mother who booked this trip for her family made the reservation two months ago. Numbers don’t show that in March, her son enlisted in the army and is leaving home in two weeks. Numbers don’t show that her 13-year-old daughter is starting high school in August. And numbers don’t show her kids growing up and, with that, opportunities to spend quality time together as a young family are closing quickly.

The cost to our business of running this trip is a far cry from the opportunity and experience this family will lose if we cancel the trip. Often times we don’t know the exact circumstances that brings a family to our business until we are in a raft with them and hearing their stories. The opportunity to meet and share an outdoor experience with others is valuable to our guides and staff as well. We all grow from meeting new people and connecting with them personally. So while the numbers tell us not to run this trip, it’s a trip we will run over and over again.

family rafting

In an interview last week I was asked why our customers come back to join us year after year. The truth is, it’s not about the rafting or the whitewater. The activity itself is what people think they are paying for, but it’s the experience of sharing that activity or place with people you care about that makes it worthwhile. Nobody goes rafting to be by themselves. You go rafting because it is a social activity and a chance to enhance your relationships by doing something out of the ordinary. What people remember most is not specific rapids, but rather they remember the people who were paddling next to them. And that’s because people inherently care about those around them and it is people – not rapids, whitewater, or money – that make these experiences worthwhile.

We can teach anyone to get a raft down the river but we can’t teach everyone to be a good person. Be a good person and you’re going to be remembered by name for that, which is a lot better than being the guide who simply got a boat downstream.
– Indigo Creek staff manual

Most importantly, these shared experiences change lives by creating memories that last throughout a lifetime.

In 2012, we were contacted by a family that was traveling through Southern Oregon and wanted to take their daughter on a float trip. The catch? The girl was wheelchair-bound and the stretch we typically run would not be suitable for her. We set-up a special trip on the Table Rock stretch of the Rogue River, which is very mellow and incredibly gorgeous. About a week after the trip I received this email:

Hello Will,
Just a note to thank you again for the river trip. You can’t know how much it meant to my daughter. She has had little in her life except hospitals and operations. She felt very special in your care. It is a memory for her to enjoy for years to come. I’m not given to spontaneous hugging but my emotions were high too. Hope it was OK.

Stay well and I wish you continued business success and personal happiness.

Barry O’Hare

According to the numbers, three people on a Rogue River half-day trip doesn’t make sense.

But, sometimes it’s simply not about the numbers.

Will VolpertMeet the Author: Will Volpert
Will Volpert is from Inverness Park, California and grew up running rivers with his parents rafting company, Outdoor Adventures. He started Indigo Creek Outfitters in the winter of 2011. When he’s not at the Indigo Creek office or on the river, he’s probably out on a walk with his yellow lab, Groover.