River-rafting company owner Joy Staveley talks about the struggle to stay innovative amid government regulation.
Name: Joy Staveley
Employees: 25 seasonal employees, 4 year-round
Location: Flagstaff, Arizona
How did you become a small business owner?
Canyoneers has been around since the 1930s—it’s the oldest river company to go down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. My husband got involved back in 1956. Then when the owner retired, he sold the business to my husband.
I met my husband on a river trip in 1978. He proposed to me the third night out on the trip, and I accepted a week later, and we were married within a month. I wore several different hats—I was the bookkeeper, I was the secretary, I was the reservations manager, I was the one that cleaned the passengers’ sleeping bags on the weekend. The amount of work we did in those days was pretty incredible. Over the years, the river business really came into its own. And then after being in the business for over 30 years, my husband finally gave the title of president to me because he was semi-retiring. That was about seven years ago.
What’s the best thing about running your own business?
You have the creative ability to try to make things better and unique, and something that would set yourself apart from the rest of the pack. You tend to work a lot harder when it’s your own business than if you work for somebody. But I think that the gratification you get is definitely worthwhile.
What kind of business climate does Arizona have?
Well, Arizona just raised the minimum wage, so there’s that. I wish the state would stay out of what private businesses pay their employees, because we know what’s important and of course we want to accomplish that. But you have to look at the whole pie—we always give year-end bonuses, we give discounts—and the government just looks at the base pay.
Then there’s income tax. I think our governor has a really good handle on that issue, so I’m very optimistic there. Obviously lowering the state income tax will be helpful.
Why did you get involved with NFIB?
I’ve been involved with NFIB forever, for almost 30 years I think. NFIB is one of the few trade organizations for businesses, especially small businesses, that actually has grassroots efforts that work. They are an extremely effective operation. They poll their members on a regular basis, and then they respond accordingly by fighting for their interests on both a state and federal level. I am extremely involved politically, but I don’t have enough time to fight all the battles. My congressmen don’t read all the bills, how can they expect us to? But I feel like NFIB isn’t one of those places where you pay your dues and they forget about you. They are constantly representing us. And I appreciate them greatly.
What advice would you give to other small business owners?
Think really carefully before you start a small business. Make sure you have the capital and the cash flow. Try very hard not to get too deeply in debt. I know sometimes you have no choice, but try very hard. Be careful, go slowly, but if you’ve got a passion for something and an idea, throw caution to the wind if you have to and just do it. Because that’s what entrepreneurship is all about—people with a great idea that want to see it happen.