Horse, buggy service downtown facing hard times

Horse, buggy service downtown facing hard times

July 13th, 2010 by Ellis Smith in Business Around the Region

Name: Chattanooga Horse Trams

Location: The barn is located behind The Terminal on East 14th Street.

Products/services: With a presence at the Tennessee Aquarium and the Chattanooga Choo Choo, he gives tourists and locals alike a quiet and romantic way to get around town. He runs four horses, four carriages and six drivers Thursday through Sunday. One-way rides are available. Moving more slowly, giving a more scenic look at the town, and enjoying a quieter ride are all important parts of what make horse trams fun, according to owner Mark Neal.

Age: Mr. Neal has been providing a green form of transportation and entertainment since 1992.

Staff Photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press Junebug, a 14-year-old Belgian draft horse, pulls a carriage with driver Vickie LaRose and owner Mark Neal down Market Street on Sunday. Mark Neal is selling his 14th Street stable facilities near the Chattanooga Choo-Choo and relocating his horse-drawn carriage tour business to a more distant location.

Startup investment/annual sales: $250,000 to buy the business, annual sales are $100,000 to $165,000

Biggest hurdle: Trying to maintain a green business while Chattanooga's local and tourist population is increasingly hanging onto its hard-earned dollars. He works a second job and is selling downtown stables. He is trying to expand his marketing by partnering with local businesses and reaching out to locals with gift certificates.

Challenges: Streamlining the business to remain profitable.

Lesson learned: Rising costs create a problem, and with the cost of food and other inputs going up, the challenge is to keep prices for customers reasonable, he said. The key is finding a way to ride out economic turbulence while keeping one's customer base.

Five-year goal: Sell the barn and move the horses to the Chattanooga Choo Choo to keep overhead costs down.