How to Start a Wine Tour Bus Business

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Quick Reference

Ridley Scott’s 2006 film A Good Year, starring Russel Crowe, tells the feel-good story of an overworked investment broker at Norman Foster’s London Gherkin. Crowe’s character, Max Skinner, discovers that his estranged Uncle Henry has died, leaving him with an inherited French chateau and vineyard. When Skinner visits France with full intentions to sell the property, his plans deter after he falls in love with a woman and his childhood memories from Uncle Henry’s place come to the surface.

The question posed in the movie is whether Skinner should stick with his original plan to sell the property or change course and settle in France as a new business owner in the wine industry.

Skinner’s uncertainties hit it out of the ballpark with many wine-trepreneurers as they find themselves facing similar ultimatums before leaving the corporate world to start a wine tour bus business.

Business Overview

Wine tours are so much more than catering to the social drinking tourist and emphasizes a healthy balance of education and fun for the guests onboard.

From glossing over topics such as the harvest process, fermentation, and varietals, wine tours inform wine enthusiasts of everything that occurs in the process, from the first stage of growing a grapevine to the last stage of pouring vino out of the bottle and into the buyer’s glass.

Industry Summary

The power of the internet and Google in the early 2000s caused the travel industry to plummet, but it has since bounced back. The market size for the tour operator sector in 2021 exceeded $8 billion in the United States. In 2019, the Resort Group, Inc. reported a 20% increase in tourists wanting to experience food adventure and tasting tours in wine country. The expected annual growth rate of the travel and tourism industry between 2021 and 2025 is 24.03%. The 2021 projected revenue is $385 million in 2021.

Industry Trends

In a digital world, people want everything right at their fingertips. According to stratosjets.com, 83% of adults in the United States want to book their trip online, with 72% of mobile bookings occurring within 48 hours of a Google search that was completed last-minute and include the words ‘tonight’ and ‘today.’ Successful wine tour companies leverage online bookings to gain more business.

Target Market

The target customer for the wine tour business includes wine enthusiasts, social drinkers, tourists, bachelor and bachelorette parties or anyone celebrating a special occasion.

Skills, experience, and education useful in running a wine tour bus business

It would be wise to have a background in business, communications, or winemaking before operating a wine tour/party bus business. Attending wine workshops or becoming a sommelier are also useful tools.

Costs to Starting a Wine Tour Bus Business?

Wine tour bus businesses need to budget for the costs of the bus, gas, wine and food, office rent, insurance,   marketing, employee salaries, software, licenses and permits, and branding supplies, among other fees.

In addition to the startup costs, wine tour bus businesses need to budget for the costs of the bus, gas, wine and food, office rent, insurance, marketing, employee salaries, software, licenses and permits, and branding supplies, among other fees.

The total cost can vary depending on your budget and the tour bus chosen. It could be as low as a couple of thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands.

Steps to Starting a Wine Tour Bus Business

Step 1: Write your Business Plan

So, you’ve decided to begin your journey owning a wine tour business. Congratulations! The next step in the process is to put pen to paper and create a formal business plan. Future partners, employees, and banks will often request to see this to reassure them that they are making a sound decision when agreeing to work for, do business with, or lend money to you.

Related:
How to write a business plan
Free sample business plans

Step 2: Name the Business

Coming up with a good name for your business is key in your company branding. A helpful tip to get started is devising a name that is quick to the punch, catchy, creative, easy to remember, and one that sets you apart from your competition.

Step 3: Form a Business Entity

Sole proprietor, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), and corporation are the four different business entity options.

Sole proprietorship: Someone who owns a business by themselves is considered to be a sole proprietor. There is no registration to become a sole proprietor, but if operating under a name other than the owner’s first and last name, a Doing Business As or DBA will be needed in most states.

Partnership: This is a business that has two or more owners that share profits. Typically all owners share the business liabilities.

Limited liability company (LLC): An entity that is separate from the individual and is well-known for offering protection to business owners from their personal debts and liabilities being sought if their business were to get sued.

Corporation: This is an entity where the business is also separate from the owners.

Related: Comparison of Business Entities

Step 4: Select your Location

Location is vital when it comes to wine tasting. Are you located somewhere touristy where you can draw in a lot of customers?

Related: Choosing a business location

Step 5: Apply for Business Licenses and Permits

To understand what licenses and permits are necessary for beginning your business venture, conduct some research online across reputable websites to identify state requirements. Consulting an attorney is a no-brainer when starting a business to ensure you are doing everything legally. Since this business transfers people, a state chauffeur’s license is most likely going to be needed. Another common license is for a liquor license if serving liquor during the trip.

Related: Common business licenses, permits, and registrations by state

Step 6: Find Financing

Pulling from your own bank account, borrowing money from a family member or friend, or financing through a bank are a few ways that individuals choose to start their business. Small business loans are going to have stricter requirements as far as your financial profile compared to obtaining a personal loan.

Related: Finding the money to start a business

Step 7: Open a Business Bank Account

Lenders will request both personal and business documentation when opening a business bank account. Some items requested from the bank include your social security or personal identification number, business license, formal business plan, and ownership agreement, to name a few.

Step 8: Get your Marketing Plan in Place

Marketing is your second-hand man when it comes to getting the word out about your business and attracting new customers. The first step to making a successful marketing map is to analyze your current situation and determine what amount of money you can set aside every month to go toward your business marketing. Identify your goals, target audience, and determine what marketing avenues you’ll use, such as Facebook, Google Ads, television, and/or radio commercials.

Related: Low-cost ideas to market a new business

Step 9: Get Insurance

All businesses have risks associated with them, and when you add alcohol to the mix, there is an increased likelihood of accidents happening. A few of the common types of insurance for a wine tour bus includes:

  • General liability insurance to protect the business from property damage or bodily injury.
  • Liquor liability insurance will be needed if you plan to serve alcohol during the trip.
  • Commercial Property Insurance covers any damage costs to the business’ property, such as furniture, equipment, or roof.
  • Commercial Auto Insurance covers car accidents if employees get into a work-related accident while driving on the job.

Related: Common types of insurance a business may need

Step 10: Hiring Employees

Before filling the position for the job, you’ll need to first take action to set up payroll. Each state operates differently, but in general, the steps to hiring an employee includes:

  • Applying for an Employer Identification Number
  • Determine if a state or local tax ID is required
  • Decide if you want to hire a worker as an independent contractor or employee
  • Make sure new employees fill out and turn in a W-4 form that is fully completed.
  • Schedule pay periods to factor in coordinate tax withholding from the IRS.
  • Create a payment schedule that includes holidays, vacation, and leave.
  • Determine if you will administer payroll in-house or through a third-party service.
  • Decide who will manage the business payroll.
  • Find out state and federal requirements for how long to retain records.
  • Report payroll taxes on a quarterly or annual basis.
  • Learn relevant labor laws to ensure the protection of workers and their rights. This includes veterans, international workers, and people with disabilities, to name a few.

Next, start the hiring process to find the perfect employee. You should determine based on your budget how many hands you will need on deck. Will you be running everything yourself from bookings, running your social media account, driving the bus while simultaneously pouring the wine, and telling your customers all about the history of where that bottle is from?

It’d probably be in your best interest to require those you are interviewing for the bus driver position to allow a background check to ensure they have a clean driving record and a commercial license to drive.

Related: Hiring your first employee

Step 11: Set up an Accounting System

A business can’t keep track of money owed, outstanding balances, and cash flow without an accounting system established.

Setting up an accounting system for your auto repair shop is critical to your business’s long-term success.

Staying on top of taxes not only keeps the business in compliance with tax reporting but the numbers can also be used to track and monitor trends and cash flow in the business and maximize profits.

Related: Setting up accounting for your business

How Much Can You Potentially Make Owning a Wine Tour Bus Business?

Many factors affect a wine tour business’s potential earnings, including the number of busses, number of employees, and even its location.

A wine tour business can charge $600 an more for a 3-hour tour, which typically includes 2-3 wineries, or $1,500 for an 8-hour tour, which can cover 5-6 wineries.

Assuming just 2, 8-hour tours per week at $1,500 each, the potential annual revenue would be $156,000.

Things to consider before starting a wine tour bus company

Just like Russel Crowe’s character in the movie A Good Year, there are things to consider before operating a wine tour bus business. The location, the wine being served, and how many employees you will hire are a few things to consider beforehand. Most importantly, do you have the tenacity to be successful? If there’s a will, there is a way in an industry that will always draw in the social drinker and wine enthusiasts. If you’re willing to keep going when the going gets tough, then wine not take the next step and start your business?!

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