These days, when we think of a typical entrepreneur, visions of a startup with office ziplines and trendy product offerings come to mind, but Joe and Sue Greiner, owners of Wilderness Aware Rafting, have been channeling the entrepreneurial spirit striving for excellence in whitewater rafting (and so much more!) since the 80’s!
Believe it or not, the Wilderness Aware Rafting we know and love today was this close to never existing. Back in 1983 when owner, Joe Greiner, was a senior at Colorado State University he had a summer job lined up to be a backpacking instructor with his girlfriend (not yet wife) Sue. Fortunately for us, before taking off for the mountains he got a taste for whitewater rafting and never looked back.
At this time WA was very much so a summer hobby for the owners Bill and Jamie. The company was a passion project for the couple who worked as teachers during the off-season. There was a small team of only three boats and three guides. This level of intimacy allowed for the development of a deep philosophy focused on quality and safety. The emphasis on providing guests with a high level of personalized attention kept people coming back summer after summer.
In the summer of 1985, Joe and Sue got married and celebrated with the purchase of Wilderness Aware Rafting. In general, this was an exciting time for the whitewater rafting industry. It was exploding in popularity and there was a lot of growth occurring along rivers across the nation. WA maintained a consistent slow growth, standing out amongst the competition for the dedication to quality we still hold highly today. First time guests became regulars, visiting every summer. It was obvious then as it still is today, the Greiner family is extremely passionate. “For us, this is so much more than ‘just a business’, we are personally proud of the result of our continuous efforts over the years.” Joe explains.
When Sue became an owner, she immediately learned guiding skills and was a shining star 1st year guide while at the same time figuring out how to own a company. “It was stressful at times to be the owner and at the same time being a rookie” says Sue. It was no time at all before she excelled and became a trip leader. After about 10 years of guiding and being involved in every aspect of the company, she spent more time managing the office and raising the boys. She remains a key behind the scenes decision maker and handles the accounting.
With this intertwinement of family and business, it can be challenging to distinguish the two at home. Fortunately, this has been extremely advantageous for the Greiners and their two sons, Ben and Ethan. They learned to value experiences over possessions. Sue explains “It’s tough to say whether many of our family values have carried over into the business, or if our dedication to pursuing excellence for WA has spilled over into our family. Growing up, the boys both had their own personal desire to become guides the moment they were old enough. Dinner table conversations often revolved around the theme of working hard both in school and beyond the classroom. We talked a lot about the difference between wants and needs, something our rafting trips to rural villages along the rivers of third world countries really solidified with the boys.” Today, both sons are in their 20’s and have logged thousands of river miles guiding guests on whitewater rafting adventures.
One of the biggest challenges that Joe and Sue face is the grey line that comes with pursing wants versus needs in terms of quality. Along with the rest of the team at WA, they feel a deep dedication to always seek ways for improving processes and providing guests with the best possible experience. When you visit the Buena Vista headquarters, the goal is to provide quality at every touch point. WA is the only whitewater rafting outfitter to offer a complimentary breakfast before you kick off your trip. They are one of the few who thoroughly sanitizes rental gear every day. They take pride in the shiny green shuttle busses and properly maintained boats and gear. Another major focus has been taking care of their guides as well – providing them with summer housing so they aren’t forced to live out of a tent in the parking lot in exchange for pursuing their passions.
Joe says, “I am extremely proud of the fact that we have grown our mailing list from several hundred guests to over 60,000 since purchasing Wilderness Aware. We didn’t get into this for the money. We’re here for the quality of life. I am so proud to provide a product people want and to show the world this is who Sue and I are.”