Nobody loves the referees, it has been suggested, except by their families and friends -- and that's assuming those officials stay away from working a game involving a favorite team of those loved ones. If so, Wild Bunch Desert Guides owner and operator Laurel Darren is a notable exception – and for one very good reason after one of the Phoenix mountain bike tours she guided recently.
Phoenix adventure tours? Priceless
“My sister and I had the opportunity to hike with Laurel and members of her amazing team. We were first timers to the Scottsdale area and Wild Bunch Desert Guides were recommended to us. We did two wonderful hikes, Gateway Ridge and Spur Cross in Cave Creek. Laurel could not have made this any easier -- hotel pick up, narration about the trails, the area, plant life, and she was fully stocked with water and snacks. For me though, what makes Wild Bunch so exceptional is the work on the front end. Laurel was rigorous during booking -- what did we want, what was most important, our assessment of our own skill level and then her follow-up questions. Everything was geared to us and for us. Laurel, Ellen and Tommy didn't just guide us, they hiked with us, and after four hours we felt as if we had made new and wonderful friends. They were also attentive to others on the trail, checking in with hikers who looked like they might need assistance and offering guidance to a mountain biker who had gone astray. These hikes were the highlight of our trip and truly I can't say enough about the experience. Pricing is more than reasonable and frankly the opportunity to spend time with these experienced guides -- Priceless!” – Katherine, Chicago, Ill., on Tripadvisor, May 2017
A female guest can hardly contain her joy while posing for this picture in front of an incredible vista during a Phoenix hiking tour with girl friends from the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.
The price of gas has rocketed to nearly a dollar more from the start of the year.
Everything from milk to meat costs more at the grocery store.
Supply-chain issues are creating all sorts of shortages on shelves everywhere.
As consumers, we all have experienced the price pinch by now with inflation ballooning to 6.2 percent in October – the highest increase since 1990.
My small mom-and-pop specialty shop is not immune, either, raising the rates recently for Phoenix hiking tours and Scottsdale mountain bike tours at the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.
However, inflation is hardly the reason.
Instead, I nearly delayed the long-overdue rate hike BECAUSE of the many other recent price hikes in our country’s economy.
A mountain bike rider zooms down a thrilling stretch of trail flanked by several kinds of cactus on either side during a Phoenix mountain bike tour with the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.
Phoenix adventure tours: Priceline
Last fall, I never ever considered a price hike because I was simply happy to get back to business.
There were tough times during the heights of COVID-19 that nearly crushed the Wild Bunch Desert Guides. But my little company survived and actually started to thrive last spring, as this March 2021 Blog detailed.
I believe the keys to the Wild Bunch success story are simple -- high-quality guides delivering high-quality service in the incredible surroundings of the Sonoran Desert.
The fact that every one of our Phoenix adventure tours is guaranteed to be completely private certainly helped, too.
We collectively remain in the midst of the pandemic – and while many fears have been relaxed with the proliferation of vaccinations, the development of treatments for the illness, and a better overall understanding of COVID-19 -- Wild Bunch restricting each tour to you and your family or travel group has been especially important to guests leery of mingling with strangers.
So, I started to look at what some other Phoenix adventure companies were charging to make a tour private from their usual all-comers’ cattle calls, and to say I was surprised is an understatement.
These are respected companies who have been in business longer than the Wild Bunch, so I certainly do not begrudge them for valuing so highly the services they provide. But that did serve as a wakeup call for me.
From there, I consulted a variety of resort and hotel concierges who have been in the hospitality business for a long time and that I deal with quite often.
I asked them all, “Do you think I could raise my prices to this?”
One concierge did not even let me finish the question. He said, “You should have done this two years ago.”
“Laurel,” he continued, “you have an awesome product. We have never had one guest come back to this desk and say anything less than how amazing your guides are and what a fun time they had. You absolutely should go up in pricing – either during the fall season or do it January 1. But whatever you do, do it because we have a clientele that would not bat an eye at you raising your prices.”
I should have hired him on the spot as the first real salesperson ever for my company.
But that concierge was not alone. To borrow from another famous advertising campaign, the overwhelming feedback from his peers was JUST DO IT!
Ditto for my loyal guides, one who assured me, “this is a great time to do it.”
Same with multiple friends in the Phoenix adventure tours industry, who have done business with my company.
Nobody responded, “WOW! These prices are even crazier than you!” (And keep in mind, I have donned a “Devil Woman” or “Grinch” costume for special occasions, along with all sorts of colorful socks and hairdos, as my first 2021 Blog notes).
However, as a small business owner, it is hard to raise your rates because you have no idea how your customers will respond.
Breaking down my nervous arguments against the price hike was my long-time business mentor JJ Briles from Stellar Adventures.
JJ has been in business more than 20 years, so he is a grizzled, hard-numbers guy, and maybe I will get there some day, too.
“You have to think about the cost of things,” JJ lectured me again at one point. “For instance, look at fuel costs going up right now. That's an added business expense.”
JJ encouraged me to raise my rates. He always tells me to, “take the emotion out, you're a businessperson and you have to make bottom-dollar decisions.”
I know what he means – and I know he says it with love -- but that is a hard proposition for me because I am an emotional person.
But when you own a small business like the Wild Bunch, your emotion is inextricably intertwined in the equation. It is hard to be strictly business all the time, and I am not yet ready to take the emotion out of it because the bottom line is this is my passion and first love.
Yes, I need to be realistic. Yes, I need to look at the hard numbers. Yes, I need to look at the future and growth of the business.
Yet, I sat on the price hike and pondered for a long time. I was plagued by the kinds of questions and doubts that lead to inaction from every kind of risk-taker.
Are we now excluding those families we love so much because they are on tight vacation budgets? … Are we going to completely lose business with people seeking a cheaper option? … Are we adding to a painful period of inflation – and at a particularly “bad time,” with the holidays on our doorstep?
Then one day a concierge I had consulted for advice called me to book one of our Phoenix hiking tours. She told me what she quoted the guest – and the rate was significantly higher than the fees published on my website.
“But that's not my pricing,” I said.
And she was like, “Well, that's OK. Just give it to them at that price – that’s what they agreed to pay.”
I declined again, not wanting to overcharge a guest, but she offered a reassurance from our first conversation about a price hike.
“You need to raise your pricing,” the concierge repeated, “because what I just quoted to these guests was not a problem for them.”
With the sun shining brightly behind them, and standing in the midst of the sticky Teddy Bear Cactus, a smiling couple are all thumbs up about their memorable Phoenix adventure tour with the Wild Bunch Desert Guides.
Phoenix adventure tours: Price is right
How much of an increase are we talking here?
Let me just say I did a lot of hand-wringing – and I am doing a lot of explaining here – for the princely sum of $20 per person.
So, the Wild Bunch Desert Guides are hardly gold-digging or price gouging.
Understand, though, the adjusted rates are not because of inflation. That crutch of an excuse is something I refuse to misuse.
Instead, this adjustment is a long overdue update to our prices, which had remained the same since I started the business six years ago.
My “bottom-dollar decision,” as JJ would say, is the Wild Bunch no longer can continue to barely survive covering costs at the lowest rates possible.
At some point, I have to start thinking long term beyond today’s daily miracle and realize I will have to replace X, Y and Z. Everything has a shelf life, so there will be a time sooner than later when I am going to need to replace mountain bikes or hiking backpacks or transportation vehicles. I have to add staff and new features.
To continue to deliver at a high level, the Wild Bunch needs to continue to grow and evolve and become even better.
We still have the same level of passion and joy for doing what we do – and there is no lack of positive reinforcement, whether from the pictures shared with our guests, to the reviews received on social media and booking sites, or the direct calls and emails of thanks that come our way.
The prices have changed slightly but what remains the same is our dedication to delivering first-class, five-star rated service.
So, a $20 increase is both trivial and overdue when considering the exceptional safety, overall high-quality and once-in-a-lifetime experiences we provide each day on every tour.
My guides are so amazing and do such awesome work, they are more than worth this increase. Wild Bunch is five-star rated across the board – by TripAdvisor, Yelp and Google -- because of the work of my guides. Together, they offer the greatest source of comforting confidence for me that raising our prices is warranted.
No one needs to seek a Groupon, either. Wild Bunch already is an incredible bargain. To borrow the conclusion from that famous advertisement – Phoenix adventure tours from the Wild Bunch? Yeah, they are PRICELESS.
But if guests look at the competition and wonder, “Why is Company A so much cheaper?” There is a ready explanation – the Wild Bunch Desert Guides offer 100-percent private Phoenix hiking tours and Scottsdale mountain bike tours.
What that means is we never combine groups like most of our competitors, especially the Big Box Adventure Tours in town. Most people fail to realize they are being thrown together with strangers until they get to the Big-Name Adventure in town – and there is another couple, along with two guys from here, two girls from there and a random loner or three from Washington (the state or the capitol city).
Voila! That is the constitution of a typical Phoenix hiking tours group at most places. But not at the Wild Bunch, where your completely customizable adventure is only for you and your family or travel group.
Oh, you can find some private tours at these other places to feel safer and more comfortable – but you will be paying top dollar for that “requested” privacy – and that will cost a lot more than the Wild Bunch.
And know this: One price fits all at the Wild Bunch because every tour already is private, and we will not “price switch” on you for an “upgrade.” Our fees are clearly quoted and stated up front.
Since returning to full-time hours in October – after the usual reduced “offseason” offerings during the sweltering summer months here in Arizona – the Wild Bunch Desert Guides thankfully has been SLAMMED.
But that is true of every Phoenix adventure tours company – and there is no convention or special event that explains the avalanche of guests, either. People are simply tired and worn out from the pandemic, and as restrictions and fears ease, they simply want a much-needed vacation to break out of the monotony of their routines and new normal.
And there is no better place to do that than the Valley of the Sun.
Arizona offers endless sunshine and plenty of room to roam outside with exceptional views. That was the case a year ago, too, when the desert offered an oasis for people hungry for more than Netflix and their couch – trading in another bag of Cheetos for the totally safe, socially-distanced exercise of Phoenix adventure tours offered by the Wild Bunch.
For people coming from locations featuring super-strict lockdowns, Arizona is a shock to the system because it is nothing like walking down the packed streets of New York City or visiting an amusement park full of people or even dining in a crowded restaurant somewhere cold during flu season.
So, Phoenix adventure tours companies are riding a wave of popularity for those reasons. But I did not raise my prices to take advantage of those circumstances. I simply raised my prices because it was a long time in coming.
I know I have made the right decision. But then I look at my calendar to acknowledge, “We have a week coming up that's really slow,” and the first thing that comes in my mind is, “Could this be because we raised prices?”
A year or two ago, I would have simply accepted that slow week as the normal ebb-and-flow of business. But now?
Leaps of faith are funny that way. There always is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” internal debate constantly raging with regret easily accessible.
Another worry: Higher prices also mean higher expectations, right?
But I have great confidence now because Wild Bunch is an established, proven commodity. No longer are we a startup dream. People know they can trust us with their vacation adventures.
I know Wild Bunch can not only meet but exceed expectations from personalizing the adventure through the booking process to delivering on all the details during the tour.
And that is PRICELESS.