Five-Star Houseboat Vacations – Kimberling City

Dave and Nancy Long started Five-Star Houseboat Vacations in 2010. The business met revenue projections in its first season and revenues increased by 50 percent this year.

Five Star Houseboat Vacations

Then they started frequently asking each other: “Wouldn’t it be great to retire here?”

The Longs had lived and worked all their lives in the Des Moines, Iowa area … Dave sold building products and Nancy was an interior designer with an Ethan Allen furniture store. But in late summer 2008 they moved to southwest Missouri to pursue their dream.

However, it didn’t quite include retirement. Dave landed a sales manager post with a cabinet supplier in Nixa. Nancy continued to pursue her interior design work. If not retired at least they were only minutes, instead of hours, from their lake refuge.

Dave and Nancy Long standing in front of one of their houseboats.

Dave and Nancy Long loved to vacation at Table Rock Lake in southwest Missouri. The couple made annual visits from their Iowa home to their favorite spot on the lake near Kimberling City. They moved their treasured houseboat to the area in 2004.

One day about a year later, Dave arrived home from work and told Nancy, “Guess what we’re going to do. We’re getting into the houseboat rental business.”

That was the start of an intense four-month period for the Longs. They needed to learn everything they could about the houseboat rental business. They also needed to find financial backing.

Lenders at Liberty Bank in Springfield advised Dave and Nancy to talk to the business specialists at the Missouri Small Business & Technology Development Center at Missouri State University. The Longs enrolled in an SBTDC class on business plan writing.

“Developing a complete business plan is a serious time-consuming effort,” recalls Nancy. “Rayanna Anderson (SBTDC director) and her team helped us focus on detailed research. We presented a new style of business the SBTDC staff hadn’t explored before, so we did a lot of explaining and describing of what our business would be.”

The staff unload belongings from the boat

When a boat docks after a seven-day cruise of Table Rock Lake, Five-Star staff help the customers unload all belongings from the houseboat for their trip home.

The research covered custom-built houseboat construction and suppliers, maintenance, insurance, personnel and market pricing.

“We had a lot of Internet research sessions lasting until one o’clock in the morning,” Nancy remembers.

After many intense weeks of background work with the help of the SBTDC, the Longs developed a detailed business plan to present to potential lenders. A few banks looked at the plan but decided against funding it. Finally Arvest, a regional bank in the area, came through with a loan. The Longs signed the paperwork on Dec. 31, 2009, just in time to order custom-built houseboats that would be ready for the coming season.

Nancy and Dave ordered two four-bedroom and two six-bedroom finely appointed houseboats designed for their firm’s upscale target audience. They took delivery of their first vessel from its Kentucky-based builder in late March. After finishing the boat’s interior to Nancy’s impeccable decorating standards, Five-Star Houseboat Vacations served its first customers on May 1, 2010.

Pilot Michael Noel checks the oil in one of the two engines after a houseboat returns to port.

Pilot Michael Noel checks the oil in one of the two engines after a houseboat returns to port.

“We were just four dollars shy of meeting our revenue projections that first season,” says Dave. “And we’re on pace this season to exceed last year by 50 percent. So we’re in a growth mode. We’re just not completely sure what the market potential is, considering the current condition of the economy.”

They added a fifth boat to the Five-Star fleet this year. Rental activity has kept them and their staff busy, especially on Mondays and Fridays, prime turnover days for the three-day, four-day and week-long rental packages Five-Star offers.

Nancy devotes more than full time to operating and administering the business. Dave makes sure he arranges his Nixa-based job schedule so he can help Nancy and the staff on the busy turnover days. The bulk of their business comes from vacationers within a 400-mile radius of Table Rock Lake. However, clients have trekked from as far as California, Oregon and Massachusetts to cruise southwest Missouri waters in style.

Nancy makes sure she visits with clients upon their return from a cruise to check on customer satisfaction.

Nancy makes sure she visits with clients upon their return from a cruise to check on customer satisfaction.

“Our website is our most reliable advertising medium. It pulls a lot of business,” say the Longs. “And we’re already getting some repeat customers.”

While they’ve been working hard for the past two years, Dave and Nancy know their business wouldn’t have floated without some help: “We’re glad that first bank we approached pointed us in the right direction. Rayanna and her staff at the SBTDC helped us design the right plan to achieve our business success.”

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