We had the good fortune of connecting with Steve Chapman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Steve, what is the most important factor behind your success?
Success in any business is like a stew–many individual ingredients come together to form a finished product. The overarching commonality in the success of Salida Walking Tours is in our training motto–Serve the Show.
Everything we do is geared towards delivering a fantastic experience for the guests. Our team is dedicated to constant improvement and guest satisfaction, from an easy-to-use website to informative, entertaining tours to follow-up surveys. If it doesn’t “serve the show,” we tweak it, change it, or delete it.
How we regularly ‘serve the show’ came from a professional football coach, Bill Belicheck. It’s called ‘padding.’ Padding is an old-school task where assistant coaches are required to break down every play, post-game, and they do it for every position. Assistants learn the role of all players (on both sides) and develop a keen eye for weaknesses or activities that do not serve their goal, which is winning.
We do the same thing for every tour. Daily, each guide is trained to do personal padding–what worked, what went over flat, what was memorable? As a business, we do padding twice a year and break down every sentence on every tour. We review greetings, each story, and every word used. In this fashion, we’ve been able to improve our tours steadily and, as a result, in a few short years, we’ve garnered over 500 5-star ratings.
Improvement is not a one-time activity–it is an ongoing process and one that we have built into our team environment. The end result is each of our tours (Ghost & Murder Tour, Outlaws, Whores & History Tour, Brewery Tour, Cemetery Tour, Premium History Tour, and Audio Tours) has a solid 5-star rating on every travel platform.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
We are storytellers. Nothing more or less. The art of storytelling was once how information was handed down among generations. Before social media and nonstop television, storytelling was treasured and a way to come together.
Sadly, much of the storytelling tradition is disappearing. We’re working hard to help guests experience this fun, intimate method of entertainment and, based on their feedback, we appear to be tapping into something special.
Our team studies a lot–theater, fables, and especially comedians to become expert storytellers. More than most professions, Comedians are attuned to the power of individual words and the placement of sentences. Great storytelling can have no fat–not a word or sentence should be included, which doesn’t serve the show. The same is true for our tours.
In the beginning, it was just me—one man delivering one tour. Today, we have six guides performing five shows daily, including the Ghost & Murder Tour, Brewery Tour, and the Outlaws, Whores & History Tour.
To learn about successful storytelling, I went through a lot of trial and error.
The only way I know to learn if a story works is to tell it and then judge responses. With no background in acting or performing, my early tours were a challenge. But, I reviewed every tour, spent a lot of time studying and fine-tuning, and kept improving incrementally.
Today, the entire team critiques each story twice a year (in addition to daily personal reviews) to continue growing as storytellers. We also regularly hop on tours of other guides to offer constructive feedback.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Living in a tourist town, visitors tend to be nonstop.
Typically, I like to start guests off with a drive or a hike.
Salida is on the edge of national forest land, with hundreds of miles of hiking, biking, and off-roading options. In only a few minutes, it’s easy to escape civilization and be deep in the woods. A quick drive up Tenderfoot Mountain provides a glorious overview from 700 feet above the valley for shorter excursions.
After, we usually drop by Cafe Dawn for coffee or head up to Highway 50 and pop into Patio Pancake Place for a hearty breakfast.
Guests usually want some alone time, so I direct them to the river walk where they can stroll in quiet along the Arkansas River or, in summer, to float the currents solo or with a rafting company.
Also, I encourage them to wander downtown. There are enough options to keep anyone occupied an entire day, from art studios to great restaurants and bars to book stores, clothing shops, and quirky specialty businesses.
For dinner, I’m most often at Currents Restaurant or Las Camelinas. Both are top-notch in personal attention and excellent eats, depending on if you’re craving seafood/steak or Mexican food. For dessert, be sure to hit Salida Pharmacy & Fountain–an old-fashioned place serving custom soft drinks and yummy ice cream.
Evenings offer many choices for adult beverages and fun times.
146 Taphouse has 40 beers and wines, plus an outdoor patio where you’ll often find live music. Benson’s Tavern and Beer Garden is a long-time favorite among locals, especially in the later hours. And for those who love great beer, Moonlight Pizza & Brewpub and Tres Litros Beer Company have dozens of local craft brews.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
The list of individuals and businesses who have contributed to our success seems endless.
The staff at The Mountain Mail newspaper and the team at Heart of the Rockies Radio have been invaluable in the media. They quickly saw what we were attempting (promoting Salida, home to Colorado’s largest National Historic District), and they have continuously spread the word of our 5-star rated tours and books.
Downtown Salida has dozens of locally-owned businesses, and we are proud to have created a solid win-win with most of these.
Our guides point out shops specific to guest interest, and many shop owners take a break from their day to visit with our tours. In this way, visitors experience the family atmosphere that makes this town special. We have ongoing partnerships with several shops, those who sell the five books written about the area, including Salida Books, Fantasy Games & Comics, Fat Tee’s, Salida Museum, and Salida Pharmacy & Fountain.
Numerous local researchers have assisted in creating factually-correct stories. These include Joy Jackson from the Salida Regional Library, Arlene Shovald from The Mountain Mail, and Larry Kovacic and Earle Kittleman from the Salida Museum.
Of course, there would be no Salida Walking Tours without our guides. DJ DeJong has been with us for three years, and she ran the Buena Vista operation solo. We now have six guides on the team–all residents who love entertaining and who embrace the fascinating stories that make this town unique.
Finally, our tours would be nothing without the residents who embraced us and who regularly bring family and friends on a walk. It’s one thing for tourists to like what you’re doing, but we’re humbled and flattered by the positive reception locals have given to the tours.