Ecopreneur Profile: Diversified livelihood allows Brett and Tawnee Dufur to live richly
“Follow your dreams and do what you love, creating community wealth in a living economy. Explore, listen and share. Help others see the interconnections. Realize that all the solutions we need are here now, and do what we can to help others embrace the real life and what can be.” With an “Earth mission” like that from Brett and Tawnee Dufur, how can you go wrong with your business, or life?
The following ecopreneur profile, drawn from my ECOpreneuring book, is an example of how some of the most successful ecopreneurs follow their passions, not the profits, while navigating their often diversified enterprises that thrive with a triple bottom line.
Books, bikes, canoes. Publishing, tourism, outdoor recreation. Family, friends and fun. Like nature’s diversified geography providing the Missouri River backdrop for the scenic town of Rocheport, Brett and Tawnee Dufur’s ecopreneurial life reflects the strength in diversity. Despite the sleepy town with a population a dash over 200, 15 minutes outside of Columbia, Missouri, the thirtysomething husband-and-wife team has created a laboratory of innovative, ecopreneurial ventures that keep life and livelihood blended and blooming, locally focused, yet reaching audiences and customers well beyond the river’s touch.
Brett’s first venture started in 1995, when he wrote and self-published the first guidebook for the Katy Trail, the longest rails-to-trails project in the United States, 225 miles along the meandering and mighty Missouri River. It remains a best-seller to this day. “What I discovered is that people are hungry for the opportunity to connect with a sense of place, and that’s what this guidebook is all about,” explains Brett.
This guidebook introduced Brett to Rocheport and sparked his passion for local commitment. “With publishing I knew I could be based anywhere, thanks to the Internet and shipping options. Rocheport delivered such a strong sense of place blended with nature, a place where I could walk out the front door and just keep walking without worrying about fences or property lines. This place immediately felt like home.”
Brett’s Katy Trail Guidebook, now in its ninth edition with over 35,000 copies sold, prompted him to officially start Pebble Publishing, nurturing the business into a leading purveyor of books exclusively about Missouri. “When I first started working out of a house on the bluff overlooking Rocheport, self-employment was like tumbling down a big hill,” admits Brett. “I welcomed the challenges and recognized early on that no one else was doing what I was doing. Boxes of books lined the walls and served as chairs. I didn’t even know what a P&L statement was until several years later.”
Flash forward through the years and experience deepened while new ideas germinated. Brett’s wife, Tawnee, joined him as a partner. Creating a business that enabled Tawnee to use her natural resources degree without needing to commute out of Rocheport, the couple purchased and renovated the Katy Trail Bed & Bikefest, blending green practices with hospitality. “At first, I admit the B & B business idea didn’t appeal to me since B & Bs typically are such luxury resource and energy hogs,” Brett comments. “Then Tawnee and I thought maybe we could create earth-friendly lodging that reflects our own low-impact lifestyle that still delivers a comfortable experience.”
Doing the renovations on a lean budget, the Dufurs were pleasantly surprised to find that most of the energy-saving changes, such as compact fluorescent bulbs and calking around windows cost less than $15. “Our personal beliefs stood in sync with the bottom line, and we realized this is a no-brainer way to do business,” Tawnee says. Today, the Dufurs have found that their B & B guests appreciate their green B & B initiatives. “It is one thing to talk about something, it’s another to provide an experience where someone uses a lowflow showerhead for the first time and loves it. We think of our guests as being on a ‘field trip’ when they are here, taking ideas and new approaches for their lives back home.”
Simultaneously Pebble Publishing grew to offering 12 titles plus others sold through Missouri Gold Booksellers, a distributor of over 500 Missouri books. Needing more space, the company transformed an old brick 1917 gas station building into an attractive retail store, publishing house and book warehouse. As with most ecopreneurial businesses, restoration provides a central framework for how businesses operate. “The retail storefront brought years of publishing work full circle and allowed us to directly connect with the people who enjoyed our books,” explains Brett. Additionally Brett launched Mighty Mo Canoe Rentals. He offers guided interpretive floats by canoe or kayak on the Missouri River, tapping into the rapidly growing interest in experiential travel and ecotourism. “Mighty Mo is the only canoe rental on the Missouri River and the Lewis and Clark Trail this side of Montana.”
These business ventures add up to a solid, diversified income mix, with 50 percent of their income stemming from their oldest, established venture of Pebble Publishing, about 30 percent from the B & B and 20 percent from the canoe business, getting away from lots of earned income and focusing instead on passive and royalty income.”Our diversified income mix is always in fluid change from year to year, especially as some of our newer ventures get established,” explains Brett, with the B & B running at double the previous year’s volume. Rather than playing the distant stock market, the Dufurs are building long-term equity locally by investing into fixer-upper properties they plan on using as rental income.
The Dufurs still keep open to new opportunities, particularly those that enhance and involve their local Rocheport community. “When I started the canoe business, I wanted a more earth-friendly shuttle vehicle option than a gas-sucking huge van. Then a friend suggested biodiesel,” adds Brett. This idea evolved into a local cooperative of six, adding up to enough fuel for Brett to run the diesel shuttle van and heat his home.
Brett’s passion for Rocheport prompted him to run for mayor, and he is now in his second term. Ever modest, he sees his all-volunteer role as mayor as a means to effect change, particularly in a small town like Rocheport. “Small towns are like balls of clay, where everyone can have an active role in shaping its destiny,” Brett explains. His goal is to see Rocheport, recently voted “One of America’s Top Ten Coolest Small Towns” by Frommer’s Budget Travel, evolve into a top ten “greenest small town,” starting with community programs to help residents with easy, efficient green changes, similar to what the Dufurs did at the B & B.
Never seeing money as a huge hurdle, Brett emphasizes the personal aspect of business loans. “We’ve done it all when it comes to raising money, from taking out Small Business Administration loans to maxing credit cards to borrowing from friends and family,” explains Brett. “Remember the majority of our country is burdened with needing to turn a decent interest rate on their investments. When interest rates are down, it is easier to compel business associates or friends to loan our small business money rather than putting it into a faceless CD.”
Sowing their passions into their businesses has been a lot like creating a garden for the Dufurs, a garden that now includes their young son and daughter, Everett and Naomi Jane. “We’ve been sowing seeds for a long time now, and our ‘garden’ is starting to create abundance both for us and this community,” concludes Brett.” I look at success from the perspective of the three ‘I’s: identity, working on what you truly want to be; interactions, meeting lots of interesting people; and income, to pay the bills and provide enough to reinvest in my family and business. We’re not business superheroes, we’re simply being who we want to be, putting our heels down in this town where we want to live, work and raise our kids.”
Photo: Courtesy of Pebble Publishing