Sundance Cabin Rentals: We are pleased to continue our ‘Local Merchant Spotlight’ series this month where we’re bringing you another stellar small business and one that has really made a splash since opening and that is Tank Town USA located just outside Blue Ridge on Hwy. 76 in Morganton. For those that don’t know you, would you introduce yourself and give us some brief background on what you were doing and where you were living pre-Tank Town?
Tank Town USA: Well, the short version is I grew up in Atlanta until I was 15 at which time my family moved to Blairsville, GA. I was a 1993 graduate of Union County High followed by Young Harris College and ended my college career at UGA where I graduated with a B.A. in History. Even though times were good for job seekers in the mid-90’s they seemed to always be tough for the Liberal Arts types, so in 1999 I shipped out on a commercial cargo ship working in the engine room. Since I was single, foot-loose and fancy free I traveled the world working for various shipping lines as well as the U.S. Navy (as a civilian mariner) on military supply ships for about 8 years. I also did a stint in the Marine Corps Reserve as an aircraft hydraulics mechanic. Around 2007, I moved back to the Blairsville area and in 2010 started a family. I continued to sail on commercial ships until April of 2013, when I opened Tank Town full time.
Sundance Cabin Rentals: Where did the idea for this business come from?
Tank Town USA: I’d love to say that I thought of it myself, but the reality is I saw it on the internet! Around the time my son was born in 2010, I was on Yahoo Finance, and they had a headline that said “Guy makes money driving tanks” about a business in England doing essentially the same thing I have going now. I watched that and thought it was something I’d be good at doing too. Four years later here we are…
Sundance Cabin Rentals: Very often when I ride by your place on the weekends I seem to always see you all entertaining a lot of people. Can you give us some idea as to where your customers are coming from? It seems I saw somewhere on the web a list of different media outlets who had featured Tank Town USA. It seems that word is really getting out well to the masses about your business. Any that you care to mention here?
Tank Town USA: I’d say probably 85% of my customers are from the Atlanta area or Florida. They either know about Blue Ridge and Tank Town or randomly stumble across me once they arrive here. That last 15% are the ones that are coming specifically for Tank Town and have no clue about the North Georgia Area. I’ve had groups that are planning to move on to a different area for the remainder of their vacation, but in the end stay locally because of how much are area has to offer. As for the media attention, it has been interesting and exciting to have so much interest in Tank Town. Obviously, tanks completely destroying cars lends itself to video and makes for a great story so I have to admit that I’m not entirely shocked it’s happened. While the media attention is great and definitely appreciated, the most satisfying development lately is that now I am seeing the word of mouth reservations. I’m hearing lots of “My friends came and did this last summer. They said we just had to come and do it”. When I hear that, I know I’m on the right track!
Sundance Cabin Rentals: Speaking of your customers, do you serve primarily individuals, groups or a good mix of both? What types of groups have you served?
Tank Town USA: The main portion of the business is usually between 2 and 4 people followed by our group events that are both private parties and corporate events. We do get lots of parents and grandparents bringing the kids out for something exciting, but the overwhelming majority of participants are in the 40 to 60 year range. Even if you care nothing about the military or military equipment, just about everyone wants to experience driving a tank as it is like nothing else you will ever drive. I’ve had professional heavy equipment operators tell me it’s the coolest thing they’ve ever done on a machine.
Sundance Cabin Rentals: How has the business evolved since your opening and is there anything new coming on the horizon for Tank Town USA? Also, what has been the most memorable experience for you thus far?
Tank Town USA: I suppose the most surprising thing has been that my business is pretty well split between men and women drivers. When I started my research on how to open a business like this, I ran on the assumption that it would be predominantly male oriented. Once I opened, I quickly realized that women were coming out to drive in pretty big numbers, and they were really enthusiastic about the experience. As for new and exciting things coming up? Well…everyone will just have to wait and see!!! Actually, I’ll be expanding my vehicle fleet and hope to have some heavier tanks in the near future so that will be a different twist on things. As for my most memorable experience, I’d have to say it was our oldest Car Crusher who was 91 and a WWII D-Day veteran. It was raining and cold that day, but he didn’t let that slow him down!
Sundance Cabin Rentals: It’s no secret to many of us who live in the area just what a popular tourist destination Blue Ridge has become but for those who may be reading this and aren’t all that aware of what this area has to offer, what are some things you’d encourage them to come and see and do, aside from experiencing Tank Town USA of course.
Tank Town USA: Definitely Tank Town first! Really though whenever I leave the area for travel and come back home, I’m always struck by how beautiful and relaxing the area can be. There is a lot to be said for having a vacation here locally where you don’t have to force yourself to do much of anything or fight traffic just to go out to dinner! Having said that, I’m always partial to the Ocoee river rafting tours. I’ve been down the river with most of the companies, and they all do an equally good job of making it an exciting adventure. Of course, in Blue Ridge itself, I have to tip my hat to the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce. For the last 15 years or so they have had a vision of what Blue Ridge could become and have worked tirelessly to develop it into a true destination spot not only for North Georgia but the Southeast as well. In the last couple of years, we are really seeing the end result of a lot of hard work on their part. Specifically though, I am really impressed with the quality of the restaurants that are now open. We have places that offer menus comparable to what you would find in a major city. As a long time area resident, I never thought I’d put the words “Blue Ridge” and “upscale” in the same sentence, but amazingly we really are there!