Nick Dokolas, of Green Bay, has a simple philosophy when it comes to business, and it’s all about enjoying what you do.
“If you’re starting a business, make sure it will be fun for you,” he said.
Providing fun and having fun are the motivations behind his business, Glide N.E.W., LLC . The fun is experienced through his Segway the Door and Segway the Fox Tours in Door County, Green Bay, the Fox Cities and throughout northeast Wisconsin.
Since 2005, Dokolas, a former school teacher in California, has grown the business step by step. What started as a summer-only business in Door County has become a full-time venture with an ever-growing market area and options that go way beyond the usual tour.
“This is just something that worked out,” he said. “I really thought I would just do the business in the summer in the few months when I wasn’t teaching. It was a fun thing to do, but then it got busier and busier, and I started to hire people.”
The first employee came about as he and his wife, Laura, were driving back to California after the summer break with their children. Dokolas was getting calls for tours but had closed for the season. It was at that point he decided it was time to get help.
“The growth came pretty quick after that, and we were seeing that the business was growing every year," he said. "We decided it was time for me to quit my day job, and make it a year-round business."
As a school teacher, Dokolas had no business experience and gained the knowledge he had by talking to the owner of a similar business in California, doing online research and relying on advice from the Door County Visitor’s Center. He went forward on instinct and said he started doing it and hoped it would work.
“To write a business plan, I went online to see how other people did business plans and wrote it the way it made sense for me," he said. "What I have found works best is taking each segment of the plan and putting it out there in a way that is most helpful for me to reach those goals.”
Because he needed to gain exposure, he worked with local chambers of commerce and visitors centers and developed social media pages and a website. He also spent time honing a marketing plan.
“The marketing plan is written to show the best way to get the word out there," he said. "About half of the people see us online first, so that presence is the most important this for us. I try to plan as much as I can in the winter so that everything is put together correctly because during the season I don’t have as much time to do that.”
To feel confident that the business was going in the right direction, he participated in the 2017 Green Bay Packers Mentor/Protégé program where he was mentored by John Kreutz, of Hobart. Kreutz, who had been in sales at Shopko, stressed the need for keeping track of financial planning.
“John met with me once or twice a month and made me accountable for following my goals," Dokolas said. "As a small business owner, it can be easy to neglect the things that are hard to do.”
The meetings also helped Dokolas make major decisions on the direction of his business and decide if physical locations were needed. Most areas are reached via use of a trailer, which has been most cost-effective, especially as the business has added tours and new options including relay races and corporate events.
“I want to increase the number of corporate events, because they can be done year-round, indoors or out," Dokolas said. "We set up cones, train each person and break them up into teams and have relay races and obstacle courses. For some, it is a foreign concept because people don’t understand yet how fun it is. All of our tours are based on fun, nature and history to provide memorable experiences. We take you to places you want to be, and we bring the fun.”
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.