9/11, the GFC and now COVID-19. You name it, Ian Holroyd from Mount Classic Tours has been through it.
And yet, despite the economic challenges thrown his way, Ian says each one has played a part in helping him take the business from strength to strength.
At age 44, the British ex-pat started Mount Classic Tours in 2000, a tour company focussed on taking US tourists for a cruise around the Mount area in a luxury Rolls-Royce.
With a background in cartography, surveying and software development, Ian was new to tourism and to running his own business.
“From the outside, you think you can just go for it and do what you want. I didn’t know how cruise worked or that there are protocols in place, like you can’t go on to the ship to sell your tours, so I had a lack of knowledge and some naivety. But, sometimes blind faith works in your favour!”
As a new business and a one-man-band, he came to the Chamber to surround himself with likeminded people, to learn what other people were doing and how they were doing it.
“When you work alone, you can get stuck in a rut, so it’s good to hear other people’s issues and how they find solutions in their business.
“You also never know what will come out of a chance meeting. It might be an opportunity to showcase who you are and what you do to other businesses in the area. I’ve made some great connections from Chamber events, with travel companies and other operators, but also lawyers, accountants and insurance brokers, who could help me get to where I want to go.”
The business grew quickly and with a busy small business to run, attending physical networking events wasn’t always possible. Ian remained a member to keep up-to-date with Chamber activities, but spent much of his time focused on the business.
In 2001, when US visitors stopped travelling following the September 11 attacks, Ian diversified. He invested in more luxury vehicles and moved into wedding cars for hire, eventually building up a fleet of 12 luxury cars.
When cruise came back on, Ian reduced the number of luxury cars and increased the mini vans and coaches for international guests. By 2019, the company had increased to operating 40 vehicles throughout New Zealand, having bought 12 new mini buses and coaches that year alone.
“The first thing I learnt to run a business was you need to grow. It was going well and we had consistent growth year-on-year so we kept borrowing money, buying vehicles, getting bigger.”
Then COVID-19 hit and with cruise coming to an abrupt end for the foreseeable future, Ian re-engaged with the Chamber to get a helping hand.
“During lockdown we watched webinars, and when restrictions lifted we returned to networking events, like the BA5.”
Ian knew they had to once again diversify, and in July bought Hinterland Tours, a nationwide company that runs boutique domestic tour packages ranging from four to 14 days.
“Our focus has always been international, not domestic, so we worked with organisations such as the Chamber to help us navigate this sector of the industry.”
The domestic tours were well booked for the latter half of 2020 and Ian anticipates about 12 to 15 trips in 2021, ranging from Stewart Island to Great Barrier Island, and everything in between.
While it hasn’t been an easy road running a business, Ian advises other business owners to always talk to the right people who will get to where you need to go.
“The toughest thing is getting started and keeping it going. If you’re new to the region or new to a particular business sector, any outside influence you can gain – such as through the Chamber – will be a smart move to get you started in the right direction and with the right people on your side.”