When Rufus Marye asked himself what he would do if making money was not a factor in the decision, he found the answer nestled between Lookout and Signal mountains.
“I learned from my brother – he always said, ‘Do your passion,'” Marye said. “I came to the conclusion that the City of Chattanooga was my passion.”
Marye, a 29-year-old first lieutenant with the Army National Guard, comes from a family of entrepreneurs.
Next month Marye is launching his own small business, Chattanooga Double Decker, which will provide hour-long tours of the Scenic City via a big, red, double-decker bus.
“I searched around, found a good deal (on a bus) in California,” he said. “It’s been having ongoing repairs. We are not only doing historic tours, but special events and parties as well.”
The goal is to start giving tours on May 30.
“Because we love Chattanooga”
The business’ theme – “Because we love Chattanooga” – matches Marye’s motivation for initiating the project. He wants to share the city he loves with others.
In past decades Chattanooga has evolved into the city it is today. In 1969, the Environmental Protection Agency called Chattanooga the country’s most polluted city.
Since then the area has undergone a makeover that includes an environmental turn around and revamping of the downtown and water front areas.
The city draws nearly 3 million tourists annually, who spend almost $690 million downtown each year.
Marye said he hasn’t seen a downtown tour operation that gives tourists a true taste of the city.
Once he decided he wanted to share his passion for Chattanooga, he needed a way to take people to see the major downtown attractions and the idea of a “British double-decker bus” was born.
Starting the business has cost more than he initially thought – it will be about $50,000 by the time the business is up and running.
Marye spent about $23,000 to buy and ship the bus to Chattanooga. He also paid for maintenance and repairs. “There were several problems with the engine,” he said.
He also put money into a website, which is under construction. Money to fund the start-up is coming from his work with the National Guard and he isn’t taking out any loans.
“I’ve spent all my money paying for everything up front,” he said. “I know that sometimes great business ideas don’t always work out. That’s just business.”
He still has to hire a driver and Marye, who will act as the tour guide, is hoping to strike a deal with MoonPie, a product that originated in Chattanooga.
“(I hope) every tour will come with a complimentary free MoonPie, the original, since we will drive past the MoonPie factory and our tour will give the history of the MoonPie,” he said.
The best part of the project is that it is about love, not money.
“I actually don’t expect to make a lot of money,” he said. “I made the decision . (to do it) to maintain happiness.”
If he gets deployed to Iraq again, that might be an obstacle. And some questions are yet to be answered.
“Even though I’m starting this business, I’ll probably get deployed next year,” he said. “At least I do have another way to make income if this business plan completely bottoms out, but do I shut down or find someone else to run it?”
The big red bus
Hopefully, the business’ marketing plan is built in – the bus.
“It is a big bus,” Marye said. “It will be traveling downtown. That in itself will be good advertising.”
The top level of the bus has room for 33 people, including the tour guide, who will ride at the front of the bus in a seat that faces the other passengers. The lower level has room for about 20 people, Marye said.
The bus will be equipped with a speaker system so passengers can hear Marye’s tour narration and to play music for party events.
About the founder
Marye said he began his love affair with Chattanooga as a out-of-town student attending McCallie School.
He is currently in Oklahoma for training but will be back in town soon to tackle his new business venture. He has recently come back from Iraq and may eventually have to go back, he said.