The Alaska Kayak Company entered its first season of operation this month, having given its first tour to a two-person group on Friday.
Started in October by Tim Hemme and Mary Maley, the Alaska Kayak Company has been built on the idea of offering unique and relaxed small-group tours that allow visitors more time on the water to explore much of what larger groups don't have time to see. The company offers two main tours: a kayak and boat tour, and a kayak, boat and hiking tour.
Weather and wildlife will affect its tour routes. Hemme said the fluid schedule allows for flexibility with the expectations and abilities of guests.
Hemme and Maley are visitor industry veterans, having spent seven and six summers in Ketchikan, respectively, and choosing to spend winters anywhere from Wyoming to Thailand. Maley first visited Ketchikan as a University of Alaska Fairbanks graduate student, when she found her way into the tourism industry. Hemme had been continually invited by a friend to visit during the summer.
"The (Ketchikan community) is the reason that we stayed when we didn't think we would," Hemme said of Ketchikan's appeal. "There's a reason that we stuck around when we never planned to call this home."
"We are really grateful for the city of Ketchikan and the opportunity it provides us to start a business like this," Maley elaborated.
The Alaska Kayak Company is confident in its ability to provide an entertaining experience for visitors, but it also wants to foster a personal environment, in which clients are free to ask questions.
"We really wanted to sell us, as well as our tours," Maley said. "The owners of all these companies that we've ever worked for are great, but at the end of the day, they're hiring guides and churning out a product. You lose a certain sense of the idea that, 'oh, these people are from Alaska, showing me Alaska."
The Alaska Kayak Company struggled at first in applying for a loan, but was referred by a local bank to the Spruce Root community development loan program, which specializes in "high-risk" loans to new Southeast Alaska businesses. The loan provided by Spruce Root allowed them to purchase a 24-foot Raider Voyager.
Aside from the long process of applying for loans, they said that their previous experience with kayaks and the visitor industry helped them avoid major challenges.
"We've been in this business long enough (to avoid many challenges)," Hemme said.
The company already has bookings for tours this summer, and are still accepting more clients.
"We did not make a mistake (concerning attention to the business)," Maley said.
The maximum capacity for a group will be six people, if travelling together. Hemme and Maley estimate their average group will be four individuals.
"Six people, if they don't know each other, in a small boat is a lot," Maley said.
The Alaska Kayak Company will accept children as young as seven on the tours.
Concerning language barriers, Hemme said, "If you're willing to venture out with an interpreter, and you're willing to enjoy yourself in that way, then why wouldn't we (accommodate for someone). If you're of that mind, then we're probably going to get along swimmingly." He added that the same goes for "physical limitations."
"If you're game, and it's not a matter of safety, let's do it," Hemme said.
The Alaska Kayak Company knows that it might encounter challenges, but is willing to maneuver around them.
"They're (big tour businesses) going to make a lot more money than we're ever going to, but at the end of the day, we wanted to do something that we would be happy doing all day, every day," Maley said.
"Which is being with the kayak and boat, not in front of the computer," Hemme elaborated.
Maley's advice to other small business owners in Ketchikan is to "just do it."
"It's not as if it was easy, or there was not still hesitations or doubts. But you are always going to have those, in the end. You should try," she said.
Hemme and Maley have enjoyed all the work they have done thus far, citing that even though they have not been paid for it, they enjoy "daydreaming about what's on the horizon."
"I could have, and would have, been able to do this by myself, but I never would have enjoyed it as much as working with Tim every day," Maley said about working for themselves.
"It's been a fun trip so far," Hemme said.