Tourism company expanding business focus to survive

Posted at 4:50 PM, Aug 03, 2020

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — When COVID-19 restrictions shut down thousands of Kentucky businesses in March and April, many owners pivoted to another focus to survive.

We've done several stories on distilleries expanding production to hand sanitizer, which helped some survive months of closure.

While the bourbon industry is already rebounding, some tourism companies that rely on distilleries to be open for visitors have been impacted too.

2019 was a good year for Abe Owen and Horse & Barrel Tours. The home office is located off East New Circle Road in Lexington, near Sam’s Club.

Increasing revenue and more visitors even led to the renovation of an office space, which is now home to a speakeasy.

"It's a nice place. We got a piano. We got a bar. We're gonna do bourbon tastings, wine tastings. We're gonna do events, lunches, business meetings and those sorts of things," said Owen.

But since mid-March, the lights inside The Hub have stayed dim.

"Obviously we go to bourbon distilleries, we go to horse farms, we go to wineries. And virtually all three of those markets were invisible for 6 to 8 weeks," said Owen.

Like many business owners, Owen has a survival instinct and an entrepreneurial spirit.

He sold a tour bus and applied for a PPP loan to help pay his employees and the rent.

Then came a pivot to retailing sanitizing products. Guardian Biotechnology will now be marketing a disinfectant and another spray-on technology that even Owen didn't know about until a few months ago.

"An antimicrobial helps give a disinfectant an added layer of protection that can last up to 90 days," said Owen.

The front room, once home to a gathering place for visitors before a tour started will soon be a retail shop for Guardian Biosecurity.

Another pivot is coming next week when the business expands to sanitizing vehicles by appointment.

"The key fobs, all the handles, everything that you touch. Even the carpet. And then we will disinfect it, and then put the 90 day antimicrobial Armourguard as an extra layer of protection," said Owen.

2020 started as a year of expected business growth, countless miles through Kentucky horse country, speakeasy crowds, and plenty of stories. That's mostly put on hold for now.

"When we get through all of this and we look back, I think it's goin to be more devastating than people realize," said Owen.

While some tours have resumed, business will likely stay slow until a vaccine is widely available.

"We have to move it forward, keep moving it forward as much as we can and still be safe. I mean, that's the most important thing," said Owen.