A1 Tours owner Stacy Foster-Goodwin on the convention center balcony of Harrah’s Atlantic City that overlooks the inland waterway marshlands, an attraction promoted by her tour business.
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Three years ago, operator Stacy Foster-Goodwin and her husband walked along the oceanfront boardwalk in Atlantic City. She looked out at her hometown and wondered why it lacked tour offerings.
Although many visitors came for the casinos, there was an underserved market of something else to see and do. So Foster-Goodwin opened her own touring service. She talked about her experiences Nov. 8 on a Women Owners Business Panel during LCT-NLA Show East at Harrah’s Atlantic City, and followed up the event with an interview for Small Fleet Business.
Company challenges: For the first two years of her business, Foster-Goodwin partnered with a local car rental company and rented a different vehicle depending on how many people booked a particular tour. She continued to work a 9-to-5 job in finance for the Superior Court of New Jersey, and offered tours Thursday-Saturday to test the market. Once she saw visitors liked her tours, she added more days, and now runs six days a week while working her full-time job.
Start-up costs and methods: “The basic startup of course is registering your business and making sure you’re incorporated and you have those appropriate protections in place,” Foster-Goodwin said. Her biggest investment came a year ago when she purchased a 15-passenger Ford E350 van.
Marketing strategies: Foster-Goodwin’s biggest success has come from partnering with Atlantic City’s visitor website. “That really helped to get our offerings out there. I’ve looked at my SEO and most of my orders come from the website.” She’s also partnered with hotels that refer customers to her.
Mistakes: “Underestimating the costs associated with running a travel business. With transporting people, the insurance is really high,” Foster-Goodwin said. She didn’t imagine how much that would cost her. “If I could have delayed the purchase of my vehicle to give myself more time to get my financials in order to better handle and manage things, I would have done that.”
Biggest success: “The biggest success has been the partnerships that I have been able to develop along the way. That’s across the venues I use for attractions and the small business here. How we’re able to support each other and reference each other.” Stacy-Goodwin added that now is a good time to be a non-casino business in Atlantic City. Four casinos have closed down in recent years and some of the eight remaining casinos are struggling. The city is promoting businesses like hers to bring people into the city who have interests beyond casino gambling.
Customer service: Foster-Goodwin makes sure her drivers and tour guides are always on the same page and smiling, even with their voices. She also treats everyone who travels with A1 Tours to a goody bag full of coupons, and a staple of Atlantic City — salt water taffy. “Everyone likes them. It’s always a big surprise. They say, ‘Oh wow, I wasn’t expecting this,’ and ‘That’s what we want.’ We want to have that surprise element and that thank you because they could have done anything while in the city; they didn’t need to come to our tours.”
Advice: “Research, research, research.” Operators need to know their markets, Foster-Goodwin said. Just because something may work in one market does not mean it will work in yours.
Future plans: “I’m really looking to grow this business outside Atlantic County. A1 Tours is here to stay. We’re going to do our very best to offer world class service to our customers.”