How often have you witnessed some idea in action, profitability in motion, and thought, “I could do that?”
That is exactly what Dan Peterson of Burdick did. He followed through on that idea and made it into a 10-year business.
When Peterson took his wife, Linda, to Branson, Mo., for her 50th birthday, he observed buses bringing people directly to venues as he walked through a parking lot. He thought it was a great business model. Linda told him she thought they were busy enough.
After they returned home to the farm, the idea stuck in Dan’s head like a catchy song, and he had to give it a try. Linda eventually relented.
The couple formed Heartland Travel LLC in 2002. They work out of their home in Burdick. They started with sparsely attended bus trips to Branson. Over time, word of mouth advertising grew the business. The Petersons have organized five trips for this upcoming year: April 17 through 21 in Nashville and Memphis, Tenn., July 16 through 22 in the Wisconsin Dells, Aug. 9 through 12 in Colorado Springs, Colo., Nov. 2 and 3 at the Women of Faith Conference in Kansas City, and Nov. 16 through 18 in Branson.
They have also organized previous trips to San Antonio Texas, Yellowstone National Park, and Chicago.
What has made Heartland successful?
It starts with meticulous planning by Dan. He admits there is more work that goes into the planning than he originally thought. About a year ahead of time, Dan is on the phone most of the winter months talking to museums, restaurants, and other attractions arranging tickets for large groups. Even more time-consuming, is planning lodging, which usually does not come together until six months prior to the trip.
Making the task of planning easier is having a reliable bus driver. The Petersons use Allen Shellman for most of their trips.
Integral to this planning is allowing for extra time for things to go wrong.
“You strive for perfection,” Dan said. “But perfection doesn’t happen in life.”
Bus drivers appreciate that Dan schedules doable times on his minute-by-minute travel itineraries; sometimes it is needed.
In one instance, the bus suffered an electrical failure coming down from the Teton Mountains. Dan was able to reschedule events on the fly.
In another instance, a hotel had no record of a purchase Dan had made. Dan had brought the canceled check with him and the problem was solved instantly.
While he is setting up events behind the scenes, Linda is the voice, the tour guide for most trips.
“It works because of Linda,” Dan said. “She has personality to keep people comfortable and entertained.”
Linda’s connections were also crucial to gaining clients in the early part of the business. As a former Marion County commissioner, 1992-2000, she had a vast rolodex of people in Marion to contact.
The other reason Heartland Travel is successful is because the Petersons know their clients; getting to know people is their favorite part of the job. It also goes deeper than knowing which people need an aisle seat on the bus.
More important than to his duties with Heartland Travel is Dan’s work on the farm, and he structures trips to fit the schedule of a farmer — April after planting, late July and early August between harvests, and November when everything is complete.
It is also about striking a balance between having an affordable trip and a memorable trip.
“We don’t want to spend a ton of money,” Dan said.
But there are some things worth the cash, like dining at the Old Faithful Inn and watching the geyser erupt every hour and a half, or eating at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island and receiving a tour of the world’s longest porch.
“When you’re that close to something, go ahead and do it,” Dan said. “Linda’s mom traveled with us that first year. She made me understand how important that trip was — that was one of the most important trips of her life.”
The payoff for the extra work for the Petersons is developing regulars and friends like Thelma and Larry Blosser of Marion. The Blosser’s, as one example, travel with Heartland every year.
“That’s a been a surprise to me,” Dan said. “ I figured people would travel with us one year and then three or four years later would travel with us again.”