I'm not sure if this is what they meant by a "vortex." Staring straight down at a 45 degree angle on the side of a rock in the back country outside Sedona, Arizona. "So you test tires for the tire companies, huh?", I ask Mike Peach, our driver and guide. "When do you do that?"
"We're doing it right now, Mike," he answers back, a slight grin apparent under that wide brimmed hat. He's been driving this stretch of treacherous trail for 23 years. Me, I've been on it for 23 minutes. I swear to goodness gracious I hear screaming in the distance. "Sounds like they're having fun, "Peach says. Oh sure they are.
Peach works for Pink Jeep Tours Inc., which is based here in Sedona. A multi-million dollar operation that started with two jeeps and a real estate developer over 40 years ago.
"When I bought it, it was hokey-jokey, western, blah, blah, blah," says Peach. Shawn Wendell and I are walking past part of his fleet of 70 pink jeeps at headquarters in "uptown" Sedona. Wendall says, "We brought great value to the company. We made it more of an educational experience, but kept the thrilling part."
Wendell is the CEO of Pink Jeep Tours. He's owned it for about 20 years now. A native Texan, he graduated from college in the Lone Star state with an economics degree and moved right into real estate. When it bottomed out in the late 80's he went looking for something to do. He found the Pink Jeep company, talked it over with the then owner, and bought it. He didn't figure he'd have it for more than a few years. That was 5 or 6 million customers ago.
The business is pretty simple really. Load up custom designed and constructed Jeeps, they do that themselves right in Sedona, with 6 or 8 folks. Take them for rides into some of the most beautiful country you've ever seen, the Red Rocks outside Sedona. Take them to places and up the sides of boulders they'd likely never go on their own. Explain what it all means in terms of geology and nature. They love it.
"Is there something that surprises people?," I ask Mike Peach. "That the vehicle can do what we do, " he says, laughing.
Working in conjunction with the Forest Service, each tour is about three hours. Over 150,000 people a year take the tour, with another 50,000 or so taking a similar ride to the Grand Canyon out of Pink Jeeps' Las Vegas operation.
It has become successful beyond Wendell's wildest dreams, except, it fits right with what his father always preached to him. Have a dream, work hard at it. You will succeed.
"I never knew after college going to school what I was going to do. I just knew that if I tried hard enough, I could probably make it," says Wendell. He has. And here's his answer to the overriding question---why pink???: "The original owner went to Hawaii in the late 50's, and when he saw the jeeps they used at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel to carry customers around, he said, 'I've got to have me some of those.' So he came back to Sedona, and painted two Jeeps pink and used them to show people real estate." Wendell explains.
"Would you ever change the color?", the reporter wants to know. "Are you kidding?" he says, " It's our brand. They really pop." They certainly do.
You can see the video version of our Pink Jeeps Tour, Monday, on "Power Lunch" between 12 and 2 eastern time.
We'll see you along the road. Just look for the Pink Jeep.
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