One local tourism company continues to grow by leaps and bounds even during challenging economic times.
When John and Kim Kelliher moved to Temecula from Arizona in 1997, they had no idea they would be running one of Temecula wine country’s premier tourism companies.
Grapeline Wine Tours came about in part by Kim getting her feet wet in wine country as Wilson Creek Winery’s first paid employee, coupled with her husband’s keen marketing sense.
“John was tired of commuting and traveling and was looking for a business to start locally,” Kim said. “He was thinking about a shuttle service to the airports and I said, ‘That’s boring, how about a wine shuttle?’”
Soon after, they took a leap of faith. John quit his sales and marketing job in late 2001 to work full time on crafting a business plan for their shuttle concept.
“John used to sit in front of Thornton Winery and count the cars going by on the weekends to get an idea of the numbers of visitors to wine country.”
After presenting their business plan to several banks and being turned away, the couple took a calculated risk. They cashed their 401K and their children’s college funds and jumped in with a lot of heart and a solid plan.
“We spent about $40,000 on promotions and advertising leading up to our June launch,” Kim said.
She added that on their first official day of service they had only four paying customers.
“Fortunately we made a few adjustments and managed to squeak by the first year,” she said. “I finally quit hyperventilating about half way through the second year.”
There were plenty of reasons for the Kelliher’s to hold their breath. In the beginning, with no buses of their own, they had to charter vehicles from a transportation company while operating out of a converted upstairs bedroom in their home.
“We even paid to have Grapeline advertising wraps put on a couple of vehicles,” Kim said. “That didn’t work out so well. One of the vehicle owners actually took off to northern California with our wrap and started doing wine tours up there.”
She said to their horror another vehicle owner completely ignored their contract and removed the expensive ad wrap and stopped working with them.
“We couldn’t afford to sue him,” she added.
Time and perseverance proved lucrative and in 2008 the Kelliher’s launched a sister company, Stryder Transportation, which owns all of Grapeline’s fleet of vehicles.
They have also expanded into Paso Robles, Santa Ynez and Santa Barbara, where they offer wine tours of the central California wine region. Expansion into other states may be on the horizon.
“It is likely we will expand Grapeline into other areas, although we have made no concrete plans,” John Kelliher said.
Grapeline and a few of their employees were recently recognized and nominated by the Temecula Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau for their outstanding tourism leadership in the valley.
“The CVB’s hospitality awards are like the industry awards for tourism, so they mean a lot,” Kim said. “We feel like we have absolutely the best hosts in wine country.”