By Clay Riness —
In early 2017, Brandon Felce and some buddies were traveling around the Eau Claire area to enjoy beer flights at local craft breweries. For those not familiar, a beer flight is a number of small glasses each holding a different beer. The smallish samples allow enthusiasts to try multiple flavors of beer in one sitting. By the second stop, says Felce, it was clear the group wasn’t going to be able to (legally) drive to all the stops they were hoping to make.
He was aware that private entities in some other cities were offering bus tours shuttling groups of customers to wineries and breweries. Thus, customers could taste away without driving under the influence. “I’d seen online that other cities had this service going on, and we thought Eau Claire would be a great place to start one. Once we got going, it kind of took off.”
And that’s how Bus Bros. Tour Co. came to be.
Felce remembers the beginning. “The first tour we ever ran was for a group that was here from Arizona. The very next day, on our second tour, we ran into them hanging out at one of the tap rooms. They came back because they liked it so much,” he says proudly.
A graduate of Chippewa Valley Technical College with a degree in marketing, Felce also knows La Crosse well and considers the two cities similar. Both have a thriving wine and craft beer culture, so it made perfect sense to him and his two partners, Tyler Koxlien, who has been on board since the beginning, and Jacob Rogness, who helps with video promotion and other tasks, to expand the service to La Crosse. Both partners are graduates of UW-La Crosse.
A fan of craft beers, Felce admits that in the beginning he never really considered wine. “It’s been pretty eye opening. I wasn’t a huge wine guy, but the winery side of things really surprised me. We went in at first thinking it was going be public tours where people jump on last minute to hit the breweries. Then it became more special events and private tours … and then wines. Of course, we still do plenty with the breweries,” he says.
“Tyler and I have been best friends since we were 12. We would write and do the artwork for our own comic books and then sell them out of a wagon outside of grocery stores,” he admits, laughing.
Clearly these young entrepreneurs in their early twenties made a bold move. “It’s been pretty hectic since we all have day jobs and we’d all like to put more time into it. But, from what we’ve seen and the feedback we’ve received in the first year, it could become quite an attraction for folks,” he says. “Of course, our vision is that it gets bigger and we come to the point where we can make it our full-time job.”
Felce feels the press has been very helpful in telling their story. While there is currently no brick and mortar location for the business, the company has a strong online presence and markets aggressively through Facebook, Instagram and other social media sites.
In fact, there’s nothing but five-star reviews for the company on Facebook. Well, he admits there is one four-star. “It’s my uncle,” he laughs, “tough guy to please.”
Book It, Dano
The Bus Bros. Tour Co. website features maps of both Eau Claire and La Crosse, noting names and locations of area craft breweries and wineries. Customers can pick the stops they would like to make. Then they choose a date, start time, a location for pickup and drop-off, and book a bus for their tour. Bus Bros. Tour Co. does the rest. The person booking the tour pays his/her fee up front as a deposit, and the rest pay upon tour departure. Customers can book three-stop or four-stop tours. Anything over four stops, opines Felce, gets to be too long of a day. All beer and/or wine, and complimentary bottled water and snacks on the bus are included in the fees.
“We print out the beer or wine menu in advance of a tour, and then customers get a little slip of paper to write down their sample choices. So, when we get to a location, we just hand a stack of them over to the bartender. That speeds up the service so we’re not backlogging any tap rooms,” he says. “We spend about an hour at each location so we’re not rushing through things. You get a feel for each place.”
A minimum of six people is required to book a tour, but each of the company’s two Ford E450 buses is a 14-seat vehicle. “We bought both of our buses used, and they’re very spacious with double seating and a center aisle. We’re in the process of buying a third bus to be kept in La Crosse,” says Felce.
Felce is proud to say that they try and accommodate any reasonable request. “A lot of these are birthdays or events that you want people to enjoy. Quite a few bachelorette and bachelor parties, too. Driving those is always fun.”
Felce seems confident and hopeful about the future of the company. “We’re just really trying to grow and be something that’s fun for the community, keep people off the road, as well as stimulate the economy any way we can. We’d like to incorporate restaurant coupons and other incentives to try and drive traffic to more local businesses. A lot of these folks are from out of town and staying the night, or a weekend. After the tour, some people might want to go have dinner at a nice restaurant,” he says.
He believes things are going very well. All the bills are getting paid. Large expenses, like putting the decals on the buses, are a one-time expense. Not surprisingly, Saturdays are the most popular day for tours. Felce and his partners would like to market more Friday night bookings, a three-stop tour being a perfect choice for end-of-the-workweek fun to kick off a weekend with friends.
“We’d like to further improve the guest experience, acquire more buses, partner with more locations … these are all things we hope the future will bring. And, we’d love to have more than one tour going per day. Expanding our territory isn’t beyond possibility. It’s exciting,” he says.
For more information, visit www.busbrostourco.com or www.facebook.com/busbrostourco. You can also call (715) 533-9396 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Bus Bros. Tour Co. offers gift certificates, which can be purchased through the website.