By Benjamin Spillman · Originally published in the Las Vegas Review-Journal June 2, 2008
In a place where bombast means business and flamboyance lures customers, Jared and Heather Fisher are writing a different kind of Las Vegas success story.
The couple runs the Las Vegas Cyclery bike shop and Escape Adventures, a bike-oriented tour company.
They started in 1992 with $400 and two bikes when they were students at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. At the time, Las Vegas was known more as a place to eat, drink and gamble in excess than a hot spot for outdoor recreation and eco-awareness.
Since then, the Fishers have built their bike rental business into a multistate tour and retail enterprise that runs on vans powered with vegetable oil, recycles everything down to the bike tires and makes enough money to pay living wages to dozens of employees.
At the same time, Las Vegas has burnished a reputation as one of the top destinations in America to start a cycling, mountain biking, camping or hiking adventure.
The couple recently took time out for an interview near Red Rock Canyon to talk about how taking tourists from crowded resorts to the Nevada outback can be a healthy and profitable path for Las Vegas.
Says Heather, “Life is so much richer when you are on a bike on that road than when you are in a car on that road.”
Question: Las Vegas is the last place many people think of as an outdoor adventure destination, let alone the idea of being a place for environmentally aware tourists. Is your Las Vegas address a hindrance or an asset?
Jared: It is awesome. It has been a strong point for our company. Other companies, they have little garages here, but we actually have a retail bike shop. We have lots of resources because of that, equipment for on-the-spot needs.
Heather: It is so central to Death Valley, all of California, Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon, Zion. It is a really great location. We have Red Rock right here and we are just surrounded by national parks.
Jared: Vegas is the greatest city to get out of. It is a big asset having the Las Vegas hub.
Question: What about the business climate? Do you like doing business in Las Vegas?
Jared: It is very easy in Nevada. I’m so thankful. I went to school for relatively nothing, I got grants. I got paid to go to school, and so did she, from the state because they had so much money from the subsidies from the casinos.
Heather: They encourage business.
Jared: I think it paid off well for the state of Nevada to invest in Heather and me. We couldn’t leave college because she was getting scholarships for playing the violin and I was getting paid just to be in school. Their little investment in us has brought tons of business into this state.
Question: Is it hard to make a small hospitality business stand out among the major resort companies in town?
Heather: If we tried to mass market, it would be a disaster. Because we are so specific, people type in “biking,” “Las Vegas” and “tours” (into search engines). If cyclists go somewhere, that is the first thing they are going to check.
Question: Where do most of your customers come from?
Jared: New York, Boston, Chicago, Texas, lots of Californians. We bring a lot of business. They come in, stay overnight, then go out for a week with us to a national park or something. Then they’ll come back and do the Vegas thing for a day. Then we have the day tour business with people who are already in Las Vegas on business, usually, then they want to get out for the day.
Question: Within the span of a few years back in the early 1990s, you each moved to Las Vegas, started college at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, met, married and started a business. How did it all come together?
Jared: A friend of mine had a bike rental business, delivering bikes to hotels on the Strip. I was the only employee. And he decided to kill that business, just shut it down. One thing led to another, I bought a couple of his old bikes and we started a business.
Heather: He has owned his own businesses since he was 8 years old. So he loves to do the entrepreneur thing. After we got married in January (1992), two months later he says, “I’m out of a job, I don’t have a job anymore.” I said, “Yes you do, we’re starting our own company.” I thought it was a perfect opportunity for him to use all of his ideas. We rented (the original bikes) out until we had enough money to buy more bikes. We rented those out until we had enough money to buy a van.
Jared: We started the business in 1992. We started with day tours and rentals, day tours out here in Red Rock, we continued doing that until 1996. In 1996 we wanted employment for our guides who were doing tours, so we decided to open a bike shop. We opened the bike shop in late 1996, Las Vegas Cyclery. In 2001, one of our competitors in Utah for mountain bike tours decided to sell. They had a location in Moab, so we bought that … and opened up Moab Cyclery and took over Kaibab Mountain Bike Tours.
Question: Were there setbacks?
Jared: We got robbed really badly a few years after we started the business. And we didn’t have insurance. They stole everything, all of our bikes, all of our equipment out of a little warehouse by the Strip. They broke through the drywall of the building and made it big enough so they could walk out with all of our bikes, gear, tools, sound equipment, everything we had.
Question: What did you do?
Jared: I went and got a $10,000 loan from my grandpa. He trusted me because when I started my painting business when I was 8, I would borrow 10 bucks from him to buy paint and then I would pay him back from the money I earned. So I called him and I said, “Grandpa, can I borrow $10,000?” He said, “Sure.” I had him paid back within a year. But he trusted me all the way.
Question: How did the business grow from simple day tours in Red Rock Canyon to a multistate tour and retail enterprise?
Jared: After our first year (doing Red Rock tours), I realized we weren’t going to make any money as a career. Just day tours, it is $200 a day then add all your expenses in, forget it.
Heather: I grew up camping and stuff at national parks. So I took him up to a couple places; he liked it. So we started doing tours up there. That was before anybody was doing tours in Utah.
Jared: We never bought anything for ourselves. We don’t even buy anything for ourselves these days. We reinvest everything back into the business. We have got to give back to where we got it from.
Heather: When we started the business we were two years into (college), so the following two years of our education until we both graduated was all geared toward the business. Every project we did, every internship, every class assignment we did toward the business.
Question: You run a fleet of trucks and vans powered by used vegetable oil, use solar power for electricity at your Moab shop and recycle most of the waste your business generates. That, combined with paying living wages and seeking local business partnerships is part of what you call the triple bottom line. How does it work?
Jared: People, profit, planet. Those are the three things we weigh into the decision-making. You are taking in the people you are working with, the people in your organization and the people on your trips. And you are evaluating whether your trip affects them in a positive way.
Heather: Our mission starting in 1994 was to promote human power and the environment. That was before any green things or anything. The human power has gone from just bike rentals to bike tours to bike stores to hiking and rafting and rock climbing.
Question: What is something from the triple bottom line that makes your business stand out?
Jared: We recycle all of our waste on our tour. We don’t just throw it away and write off a green tag or buy a carbon credit.
A lot of companies call themselves green but that is all they do, they buy carbon credits all day. All they are doing is paying to pollute. We don’t like to pay to pollute. We just don’t want to pollute.
Question: Do you think other Las Vegas businesses, even large ones, could use the triple bottom line philosophy and succeed?
Jared: Through being environmentally conscious about everything, being conscious about the people, your profits too, you feel really good about what you are doing. You don’t feel like you are doing something mundane.
When you are doing a mundane job you are kind of wasting your life. We have one guide who has been with us nine years. He is really smart, he could go out and get a job making $100 grand a year, but he has figured out what life is about and what he needs to do right now.
It has been really good for us to see him grow in our company. So many people forget what they are doing on the planet.
If you are not liking your job and what it is you are doing. then you need to evaluate that.
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3861.