Chocolate and Wine Tours; Kayaking.  All part of Frankenmuth Funships with Eric Fielbrandt

Frankenmuth Funships provides a very different view of Frankenmuth. With Chocolate and Wine boat tours and kayaking, Eric Fielbrandt gets guests off the pavement and onto the water. How does he have a family and two businesses without losing his sanity? He shares his unique insights with us.

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Transcript

Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:12] Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the call of leadership podcast, where we talk to those in the Michigan community who answered the call of leadership will hear the powerful stories and get their advice so that we can be better leaders for ourselves, our families and our communities. I am your host Cliff DuVernois. 

Today’s guest is a two time. Entrepreneur in the Frankenmuth area. First he’s the owner of the Frankenmuth Funships, which does those wine and chocolate to boat tours. And the second is the Frankenmuth kayak adventures. Ladies and gentlemen, please. Welcome to the show. Eric Fielbrandt. Eric, how are you?

Eric Fielbrandt, Frankenmuth Funships: [00:00:46] good. How are you cliff?

Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:47] I’m doing well. Thank you for asking. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about where you’re from, where you grew up.

Eric Fielbrandt, Frankenmuth Funships: [00:00:52] Yeah. So I’m actually a Reece rocket. I graduated I’ve, I’ve lived in Reese my entire life actually.  I never,  even when I went away to college, I went to Northwood university and, but live in Reese the whole time going there. so I, I have never left.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:01:12] What did you study at Northwood?

Eric Fielbrandt, Frankenmuth Funships: [00:01:14] Well, my educational background was I started at Delta college, went there and got my associates in graphic design. worked for a graphics company for six years and then decided that I wasn’t necessarily happy with. My possibilities for advancement. I felt like I was already plateaued out at a pretty young age, so I decided while I was working there full time to also go back to school full time.

And that’s when I decided to go back to Northwood,  studied small business management and ended up, getting my degree from Northwood in small business management.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:01:56] This is something that I seem to see a lot in. When it comes to entrepreneurs is they find it easier to build their own ladder versus trying to climb the corporate ladder.

Eric Fielbrandt, Frankenmuth Funships: [00:02:08] Yeah, I would say that’s accurate. I mean, like. There’s especially, I feel like in this area, you can plateau out fairly quickly because  you look at the amount of big industries that there are big corporations that are in this area. And if there’s not people that are exiting that particular business, your room for advancement, isn’t going to be there.

so I kind of looked at it and said, well, , My whole goal of going to work is the same as is anyone else’s, I’m going there to financially better myself. But if you already get to a point where you’re plateaued out, especially at a younger age, it kind of, you kind of almost lose a little bit of motivation to go there in grow, , and that’s kind of where, where I was at.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:03:00] You graduated from Northwood and what happened between when you graduated Northwood and you getting involved with Frankenmuth Funships.

Eric Fielbrandt, Frankenmuth Funships: [00:03:11] Yep. So basically what happened was just about. About six months after I graduated, the economy kind of turned for the worst and they were laying people off at the graphics place that I was at. And my boss basically came to me and said, Hey, unfortunately, we’re going to lay you off. And I said, well, that’s fine.

I can actually. At that point, I had already bought a lot of my own ethics, co equipment. I have a vinyl cutter that does,  signs and banners, stuff like that. I have a, a Xerox printer that prints brochures and business cards and all kinds of stuff. So I, I basically told them I can keep myself busy with finding work like that.

So that’s perfectly fine. I would rather have you lay me off then. Somebody that really needs this job. So long story short, I was still constantly looking for, , work to do in a, in, in management roles, but really didn’t have to actively look because I still had something that I was doing on the side regardless.

Well, what ended up happening is I got on Craigslist, which was a lot. Better resource than it is now. but got on Craigslist looked down there and there was a place that was looking for a manager. I said, well, man, like I’ve always been on boats, out on the Saginaw Bay and fish and stuff like that. And I thought, well, here’s a place in Frankenmuth that has boats that is looking for a manager that wouldn’t be a bad gig at all.

So I called them in. Sure enough, went in, they called and said,  would you like to come in for an interview, which I’m 99% positive. It was on Easter Sunday. Cause I remember catching flack about going in there and my wife and, so went in there and started talking to, Bevin, Jerry Cabot and more or less found that they.

Weren’t necessarily looking for a manager, but just looking to kind of get out of, , the ownership role. So talking to them more and more,  basically got to the point where, , we more or less told them, Hey, we are really interested in, in doing, in purchasing this from you and went to the Frankenmuth credit union and made it happen.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:05:36] So when you talk about purchasing the business, it’s. It’s a whole other animal than starting a business because most people really don’t need a lot to actually get a business up off the ground. But when you’re talking about buying a business, it’s almost like the equivalent of buying a home. You’ve got your due diligence.

You have to kind of go over, but the books, you have to determine the value of the business and stuff. Where, where did you. Where did you learn how to do this? Or, or where did you get your, your information from? Or did you have a mentor during this time? That was, that was helping you walk through this process.

Eric Fielbrandt, Frankenmuth Funships: [00:06:11] You know, I’m, I’m pretty fortunate because I have a, a very good support staff around me. obviously my wife, number one,   she actually, she’s more behind the scenes where people see me all the time. but she still does all of our, our bookwork.  she does the schedule, she does payroll.

She does all of these things.  obviously I have her and then my mother in law and father-in-law my mother in law actually is an attorney in Frankenmuth. so as far as the legal, yeah, I didn’t. So I have that at my fingertips, which is never a bad thing. my father in law, who’s owned businesses, was able to provide all kinds of support as far as,  what to look for as far as, , Hey, these, these are the numbers in this book,  and, , here’s their profit and loss compared from year to year, things like that, where obviously, , you can look at.

All of these numbers and kind of interpret them in different ways. But , when you actually have a person that has ran a business and is able to look at them with you, they can, they can help you interpret them,  the way you should be.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:07:19] Sure. Having that support system around you is, is always a good thing. Those resources, those family members and those friends. Definitely a good thing. When you took over Frankenmuth Funships, when, when the funding came through and, and you were now the owner of the business was everything, sunshine and roses.

Eric Fielbrandt, Frankenmuth Funships: [00:07:39] You know, there was a, there was way more involved than what I would have thought it to be entirely honest with you. our business, for instance, we actually worked for Bevin Jerry in for, let me think. For four months almost. And we were actually employees of theirs while we were waiting for the liquor control to transfer the license from them to us.

So we were able to kind of see what the everyday business operations were, things like that, which was good. And it was bad,  obviously if you’re going to be the person purchasing this business,  you’re going to want to be there all the time, but until that business gets transferred over, even though you’re there in are going to be the owner, you currently aren’t the owner.

So there was a, there was a little bit of, you wanted to be really hands on and make changes that you wanted to make for the future. But at the same time, you also need to be. Understanding that, Hey, it isn’t yours yet.   they’re the reason why I said there was a lot more to go into it.

Yeah, we have a liquor license actually for each one of our boats. So we hold three liquor licenses right now. we have a department of ag license, which, because we make all of our chocolates in house. We have to have a department of ag,  license,  we have. We have rentals also. So we had two Aqua cycles, which you pedal like a bike.

those also needed to be inspected by the Saginaw County dive team every year. So there was, there was a lot more things to, to it than what I would have even remotely expected. but as far as our first year,  I remember, we actually, they wanted liquor control, wanted to mail us our license. They said, okay, you’ve been approved.

You know, you can’t actually operate until you have this liquor license in hand. Well, the bad part was it was going to be Friday when they were going to. When they basically approved our license. So because it was a Friday, we are going to then miss the Friday, Saturday, Sunday. So we were going to miss a weekend and we felt that it was important to have that weekend,  so we could start making money.

So, Melissa, my wife’s dad is actually a pilot influence down to Lansing, to liquor control, and we flew back with our license.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:10:10] That’s great. I love that story. 

Eric Fielbrandt, Frankenmuth Funships: [00:10:13] It’s not a, it’s not a bad perk, but I I’ve always told him, , if I was meant to fly, I would have been born with wings. So I’m, I’m better suited on the ground or water,

Cliff Duvernois: [00:10:25] Nice. Absolutely love it. So you, so this happened circa 2012.

Eric Fielbrandt, Frankenmuth Funships: [00:10:32] correct? Yep.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:10:33] And so we’re now in 2020, and obviously it has been eight years. So as far as being the owner of the company, I’m a big believer that the owner sets the tone. You set the vibe for the culture there. What is it about  the wine and cheese, chocolate tours that,  when people come in and experience at what is your ultimate goal?

Eric Fielbrandt, Frankenmuth Funships: [00:10:56] Well, obviously number one, , you’re, you’re dealing with primarily a lot of people that are on vacation. So I always tell people or tell our employees specifically, you have to remember they’re coming here because they want to get away from their normal life. They’re wanting to go on vacation, just like anyone else to have a good time.

So. To ensure that they’re having a good time, honestly, honestly, you give, you can give them wine and chocolate, which, , when you’re feeding people, chocolates and wine, it’s, it’s not hard to make people happy. but then the nice part is,  I don’t, I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but when people are on a boat, they seem to be far happier than when they’re driving in a car.

And it seems like if you were driving down the highway, people tend to wave with one finger. it seems like when people are on a boat, everyone is waving to people. Whether they know them or not, it’s like, Oh, Hey, you’re out in the boat. Hey, I’m on a boat and they want to wave. So for some reason, when you get people, at least even close to water, it seems to put them more in a relaxing situation.

 I always tell my employees, , I’m only as good as my employees. These are in right now. I would say out of my eight employees, I have one that is 21. Everyone else is under 21. And so I tell them,  keep in mind when people walk in and they see a younger generation of millennials, whether it’s right or wrong.

They’re automatically assuming what can this person tell me about wine if they can’t drink it or, Hey, well, these guys are all younger. What kind of tours is going to end up being? And I would say 10 out of 10 times, they. Exceed expectations for the guest, which I don’t have a normal crew by any means they they’re better than I could even imagine.

 but we also have retained. I think four of them have been there for over two years. One of them has been for over three years. So, for a retail atmosphere to retain an employee for that long. I guess, , must I’m. I must be doing something right to keep them happy, I guess.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:13:17] Yeah, I definitely think so because turnover usually, with a seasonal type business, because one in chocolate, your boat tours, you’re basically only able to operate when you can actually move your boats on the water. I don’t imagine very many people doing that in the winter. So to keep these people coming back and working at your company does really say something about the culture that you’ve created.

Eric Fielbrandt, Frankenmuth Funships: [00:13:37] Yeah, and we, we actually run our boat tours. We try to try to start up as early in the spring, as we can, a few years we’ve actually ran in the middle of April. and we try to run till the end of October every year. Obviously,  every year is different. The cast river is, is good and bad. It’s known for flooding potentially in the spring a lot of times, but a lot of times we’ll get,, Rainfalls in the fall, which then now you’re, now you’re getting, you’re pulling boats in and out and, and, and dealing with flooding, which is, which is never good, , but we, I always tell people there’s more to, there’s more to, I guess, in employment than just getting paid.

You know, I don’t think that I’ve ever had an employee that has asked for a day off that I haven’t granted to them, which obviously is. No, if you have the ability, somehow we make it work. obviously they pick and choose when they should take time off and stuff like that. But every Saturday, my wife and I, we order some sort of food for our employees.

And it’s one of those added bonuses that just say, Hey, you know what, thank you for sacrificing your time. obviously you’re getting paid, but it’s one of those things where number one, we know everyone had a chance to eat. Everyone, , is kind of a, had a little extra, thank you.  besides a monetary thing.

So we’ll order a pizza from lazy dog or nacho’s from Pueblanos or,  subway platter or something, just so that, that way number one, we get to eat and we know they have to, so.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:15:11] Hey everyone. When we come back, Eric is going to talk to us about why he was crazy enough to start a second business. He’s also going to share how he manages his life with his two businesses and a family without losing his sanity. But first let’s take a moment and thank our sponsor.  

  That’s excellent.  you’re running Frankenmuth fund ships. Everything is going along smoothly. You’re you’ve got the business going,  you’re dealing with all the liquor licenses and everything else like that. And then after a handful of years, you decided to do something which I think would be a little bit crazy.

And you decided to launch a second. Adventure. Why don’t you tell us about where Frankenmuth kayak adventures came from?

Eric Fielbrandt, Frankenmuth Funships: [00:16:49] Yeah. So basically when we bought the Frankenmuth fund ships, we also bought two aquas cycles, which, I guess to paint a picture of what an acquisition tool is, it’s half pontoon, half paddle boat. So it sits kind of higher up in the water where then you don’t have to. Kind of crawl into it. It’s basically like sitting in a chair and then you peddle it like a bike.

And because of that, basically insurance wise, they look at it and they go off of the amount of rentals you have, or the amount of the, basically the amount of money you make off of rentals. So really it doesn’t matter to them. If you have two aquas cycles and zero kayaks, or if you have two Aquila cycles and 30 kayaks.

Your insurance until you get to a certain amount is exactly the same. So we looked at it and said, you know what? We’re, we’re always looking for something to do when we go to a place, you know? Yes, it’s nice to know what restaurants are there and what food,  you can go and eat, but you’re not going to spend all of your time eating at a place.

So we kind of looked at it and said, Hey, we’re already paying for this insurance. Why don’t we just add some kayaks to the whole mix and see what it does? And we basically,  when you go canoeing or kayaking, most of the time you’re getting dropped off at point a returning to point B, , with the Cass River, which we’ve talked about before.

Doesn’t have a normal, current, like a river does. So you actually have the ability to leave from point a paddle upstream, just as easy as you are downstream, turn around and then come back, which offers there’s the ability to rent out hourly, too. Which most of the places,  that are bigger canoeing and kayaking, they don’t have that option because, because their river is flowing one way or the other.

And unless you’re paddling still for an hour, which isn’t going to be very much fun. you’re you’re having to go from point a to point B. So the river itself is, is very calm in very. I guess beginner friendly, which makes it kind of attractive to do both an hourly rental and a trip option, but we’ve, we basically looked at it and said, we are partly crazy to start up a second business, especially since we had just had our second child too.

 so we had kind of a lot going on and in one year, Yeah,

Cliff Duvernois: [00:19:17] Oh, I’m sorry. Sometimes people will go quiet on me and I don’t know that they, that they stopped and answered the question. Okay, cool.

Eric Fielbrandt, Frankenmuth Funships: [00:19:25] I’ll be the first person to admit that I am crazy. So.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:19:28] Excellent. Excellent. So now with the kayak adventures, and I have to say this because it’s, it’s, it’s such a different style of business that one would see inside of Frank EMyth. When, when you initially launched it, was there anybody that said to you you’re either completely crazy out of your mind or you’re smart, like a Fox.

 Eric Fielbrandt, Frankenmuth Funships: [00:19:50] both actually, , I, I had people that told me,  kayaking. Yeah. You see people driving down the highway with these kayaks, but what, why would they want to do it in Frankenmuth? You know, they’re going to want to stay on the main street and not, not go on the river and stuff like that. And.

And then when they found out that we had purchased 26 of them already, then they thought we were even crazier to get that many right off of the shoot, you know? And now,  26 of them isn’t nearly enough.  where this past year, especially with COVID, there’s all kinds of people kayaking, , at one time on the river this year, I counted over a hundred kayaks.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:20:32] Wow.

Eric Fielbrandt, Frankenmuth Funships: [00:20:33] know, and in, at the beginning of, of our whole business adventure and in 2012, I would honestly say if we were running the boat tours and going up and down the river, if it was a Saturday and you seen three or four fishing boats and maybe a half a dozen can user kayaks, I would have considered it a busy day.

Now I would say, realistically, we are seeing probably. Six to eight boats and probably on average, probably 50 kayaks a day. So the river, the river is definitely busier than what it ever has been.  some of them are kayaks, but , a lot of them are people that are coming into town, , and are coming in locally and saying, okay, well, we’re going to go paddle around on the caste river.

Some of them are spending the night,  possibly at one of the hotels or at Jellystone or something. And in coming over to there to the river too. So the nice part is now that people kind of know that the river is there in Frankenmuth, obviously it’s kind of, it’s pulling people. Away from the main street in allowing to, in my opinion, to see all of Frank, both,  everybody thinks that Frank Muth is actually just the one mile strip in town.

But when you look at, when you go up towards DaVinci’s or you go,  down past Bronner’s, there’s a lot more to Frankenmuth than just the tourist area. And I think that people are starting to kind of see that.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:22:05] Now, the question that I do want to ask is, cause this was something that came up when my fiance and I were talking about coming over and kayaking over there is have you seen a sense, businesses are reopening during this COVID 19 situation that we’re in. Have you seen an uptick in business? Has business actually slowed down?

What do you, what do you see over there?

Eric Fielbrandt, Frankenmuth Funships: [00:22:29] You know, in all honesty, archaic business has actually improved. We’ve actually, I’ve done better with the kayaking this year than we ever have. And that’s already.  in your aren’t even all the way through the season. So,  kayak wise with the kayak adventures, definitely a busier season than ever with the whole COVID-19 with our boat tours.

You know, our boat tour is usually what we would do is,  for the wine and chocolate cruise. People would book online or call the day of and say, Hey, , we have two people. We had to do the wine and chocolate cruise. Normally what we would do is we would put them with other people, , and then have, , up to 11 or up to 10 per boat.

And you would have a, a mixture of,  different people this year. What we’re doing is. Without knowing people’s comfort level, we’re putting, if you were to book for you and your fiance, you guys would be the only person on there with the boat, captain and server. So that, that way, as far as comfort level goes, they’re only within their group.

 so obviously because of having potentially two people, rather than 10 people, the fun ships business obviously has been a little bit slower. I think people do like the fact that it is their group, only their group on the boat.  and the nice part is our boats are all electric. So as far as efficiency goes, , we still are.

We still are able to make money with two people on the boat. Obviously we’d rather have 10, but, right now it’s kind of about making people. Feel safe while they’re doing it too. So, even if we have to go through and run this season with a minimal, for the, for the boat tours, it’s better than zero capacity.

So.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:24:14] With regards to running these two businesses. The question that I have to ask is, cause I know a lot of people just have their hands full with. But with just one business, but you’re running to, how do you, how do you balance running two businesses? And as you alluded to before you have a family, so,  how do you, how do you keep your sanity?

 Eric Fielbrandt, Frankenmuth Funships: [00:24:38] good question. you know, I, I get it of all the credit to my wife because in all honesty, she, she keeps me, she keeps me on, on a path that doesn’t allow me for me to fail. And the reason why I say that is like yesterday morning, I had a meeting and, , I’m sitting there making breakfast and all of a sudden she says, You know, if you’re going to go to your meeting, you better get going and get started.

And it’s like, Oh shoot. Yeah, I did forget about that meeting.  I better get going. So, , thankfully for me, she is, she is very, very, very organized where I. I’m the guy that has about 15 notes in his wallet or in his pocket. I get that he’s wrote, like, need to do this need to need to go here.

and obviously after they go through the wash, they don’t really do you much good, but, thankfully for me, I’ll send her a text message. Hey, remind me about this. And in. She does. She does a very good job of making sure I’m where I’m supposed to be, what I’m supposed to be. But,  as far as the business goes, , we ha I give a lot of credit to our staff because even though, like I said before, they are younger, I’ll tell you what they work hard.

And in really, as far as having to manage them, I really don’t have to have to do as much work as, as I probably should.  they, I, I rely on them to do a lot of stuff.  and, but I mean, it is a lot of late nights.  this morning I was up at quarter to six and I think I went to bed last night at about 1230.

So, that’s kind of the norm for me. the bad part is the, the only time that I struggle is when I go from the transition of, Hey, winter, winter is slower for me, obviously, because I have two summer businesses, some are driven businesses. So for me to a, all of a sudden go from this year, especially because we already had.

Yeah, we missed basically two months because of COVID. So we didn’t have kind of a buildup to get ready for the season of, Hey, , Eric, okay, we’re going to start renting kayaks, , and they kind of start trickling in,  you might get three on a weekday and then all of a sudden six on a weekend, starting off we’re now we’re getting, , 15 on a weekday,  30 on a weekend.

When all of a sudden you have to go from doing nothing to all of a sudden having the business of like that without having the buildup. It’s really hard to get used to that.  where. Normally in a normal year, you kind of, you have the buildup, so you can kind of transition in, but , with me,  the store stays open year round.

so obviously we still have where people can go in and do wine and chocolate tasting inside the store, even if they don’t do the boat tours,  they can always go in and purchase wine and they can always go in and purchase chocolate, things like that.  but usually, usually with the. The fun ships, at least you kind of, see a building trend as opposed to all of a sudden, just zero to 60.

Like, it seemed like it happened this year, but yeah, it’s a, it’s, it’s a, more of a struggle than, than I would have thought. But at the same time, it also, , it also gives me the ability to if all of a sudden, , my daughter has. Something going on at school, I can basically block that time off and say, Hey, you know what, we just aren’t, we’re going to do this or this at this time period.

Or have somebody else cover that. So really, as far as missing family-wise, , I can. Always alter it. So I don’t miss those things. as my kids get bigger,  obviously I, my kids are still pretty small right now, so I’m still a cool dad. I’m well, they’re a three and five, so they understand, 

they’re, they haven’t quite figured out that there’s wine at the store, but they definitely know that there’s chocolate. So, but they, they realize, how hard both of us work and, and they do spend a decent amount of time at their grandparents, which we’re fortunate enough that both of them only live, about a mile away from us.

So,  but they, they also know that there’s a lot of. A lot of work involved. For some reason, they, they must either be too young right now or, or still, still like us because they both have said that they want to work for the store. So that’s, that’s kind of a, kind of a, a good feeling.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:29:05] Another multigenerational family business in Frankenmuth.

Eric Fielbrandt, Frankenmuth Funships: [00:29:09] Hopefully they’ll continue that when they’re 15 or 16 and are already bailing on me. So.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:29:17] nice. Nice. If our audience wants to connect with you or follow what you’re doing online, what’s the best way for them to do that.

Eric Fielbrandt, Frankenmuth Funships: [00:29:26] Yeah. So we do have a Facebook and Instagram, for both businesses. we have websites for both also the. Frankenmuth Funship’s website is exactly that w w. Frankenmuthfunships.com. If you’re looking for a boat tour, there’s a white button at the top. You can book right there, shows the schedule everything.

So as far as pain goes, you do it rate right then, that we don’t even have to do it the day of.  Facebook, same thing you could type in Frankenmuth funships. See it right on there. for the Frankenmuth kayak adventures, same thing. The website is actually kayakfrankenmuth.com. And, we have the Facebook page, which is, , Frankenmuth kayak adventures.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:30:05] And for our audience, we will have those links in the show notes down below Eric. It’s been awesome having you on the podcast. I’ve never interviewed somebody. Who’s actually, , basically just running, running two businesses at the same time.  thank you so much for, for taking time out of your schedule, to chat with us today.

Eric Fielbrandt, Frankenmuth Funships: [00:30:23] Hey, not a problem. I appreciate you taking the time to do it for me. 

About The Host

About The Host

Cliff Duvernois

Cliff is the host of “The Call of Leadership” podcast.  He has published over 500 short stories over Facebook, Medium and LinkedIn.  He is a passionate lifelong learner, marketer and philanthropist.  He currently lives in Reese, Michigan with his fiancé Sherry and her two children.

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