Nags Head | Abby and Brad Carey | www.firstflightadventurepark.com
Without the SBTDC, we wouldn’t have found out about the Revolving Loan Fund, and we wouldn’t have been able to open at the critical moment.
WHAT IS FIRST FLIGHT?
First Flight is an Aerial Adventure Park. It’s an obstacle course that’s 12-50 feet in the air using cables, rope, wood, buoys, barrels, etc. It makes traversing the course both challenging and entertaining. Generally, all 42 obstacles and six ziplines take about two hours, but you can just tackle parts of it. We have guides up there for safety, rescue and coaching; but, you’re mostly on your own or with your group, working out the obstacles together. And we’re constantly changing things. We’ve already added seven new obstacles, and a viewing platform.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO AERIAL ADVENTURE?
Brad has always loved building anything from skate board ramps to rock climbing walls. While getting his BA in Construction Management from ECU, he got involved with ECU’s Adventure Center. That introduced him to a ropes course construction company and ended up working 12 years for them. He calls it construction on ropes; it’s challenging, there’s a lot of travel, and he loves it. Now, he’s helped design and build aerial adventure parks along the East Coast, including the one in Asheville, which was the first one in the United States.
About four years ago, we decided to start our own. Brad had the design and construction background and I have the experience in customer service. I have a BA in Recreations Management, plus experience as an instructor and front-line guide. We lived in Nag’s Head and decided that an adventure park would be a great fit for this tourist destination.
WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN GETTING STARTED?
Raising the capital that we needed. We were able to raise a lot of it through friends and family and from our own investments. The banks, though, thought we were starting with “excessive debt” and refused to loan to us. We had already tapped all our resources, but we were still $50,000 short. This was at the beginning of the year, and our schedule required that we start construction no later than March 18th in order to open by Memorial Day, which was essential. The season is really only 100 days, so missing that first weekend could have been detrimental.
HOW WAS THE SBTDC ABLE TO HELP?
Southern Bank referred us to the SBTDC in February, and they directed us to the Albermarle Commission Revolving Loan Fund. This loan fund is designed specifically for good projects that have been denied by the banks. Our business counselor walked us through the process and made sure we had our documentation in order. We were able to get the capital we needed and start construction on time.
When we came to the SBTDC, we were so frustrated. We had tried everything, but they just looked at us and said, “We can help!” Our schedule was so tight and stressful. We didn’t even get our Occupancy Permit until Friday at 4:30 p.m. They were right, though, they were able to help. Our counselor was so supportive and flexible, even showing up at the construction sight to make sure things got signed. Without the SBTDC, we wouldn’t have found out about the Revolving Loan Fund, and we wouldn’t have been able to open at the critical moment.
DO YOU THINK THE FIRST YEAR WAS A SUCCESS?
It was. Last year went really well. We’ve already been able to pay back 25% of our debt and we have financing to expand. And, the SBTDC has continued to be a resource. Lately, we’ve been working with them on human resources. We’re essentially first time managers so we’re learning some leadership skills on the fly. Plus, just drawing in employees can be challenging since we’re competing against all the restaurants in the area. The first year, we were able to hire four full time employees plus 26 seasonal workers and 3 part timers. We originally thought we would only need 16 guides and one office staffer for our first season but we ended up hiring an additional 8 employees, which just kind of shows how things exceeded expectations.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER STARTUPS?
Be creative in raising capital, but stick to trustworthy sources and don’t discount networking. Including our own contribution, we were able to raise $380,000 without going to the bank.
WHAT’S IN YOUR FUTURE?
This year will be bigger and better. We’re already renovating the office and check-in area and added a shaded viewing platform. Last year, we got a lot of exposure with things like the Best Outdoor Adventure – Best of the Beach Award in Outerbanks Voice, and we were on the TV show Fit to Be Wild.
This story was originally published in the SBTDC 2014-2015 Annual Report. Click Here to view the report.
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