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Jax Daily Record Friday, Oct. 13, 201710:00 AM EST

Building a business, one tour at a time

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More than decade ago Gary Sass couldn’t find a job, so he created his own.
by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

Adlib Luxury Tours & Transportation Inc. has grown in the past 12 years from eight customers who took a ride around St. Augustine to a business that serves more than 8,000 tour guests each year.

In 2004, Gary Sass and his wife, Susan, were in the IT field working for international companies and had grown tired of moving their family every few years.

The first stop on Sass' the “Top to Bottom” walking tour each Tuesday is the statue near the Jacksonville Landing depicting Jackson on his rearing horse.

After a monthslong analytical process to identify their best place to put down permanent roots, based on climate, quality of schools and proximity to a beach, they settled on Northeast Florida and bought a house near Nocatee.

Sass thought it would be easy to find a job because “I knew I could do any computer job,” he said.

That’s not what happened.

“I contacted the headhunters, but they told me it would be tough because I was overqualified, so I was faced with creating the perfect job,” said Sass.

The Sasses were lifelong tour enthusiasts — they met on a guided tour when they were working in London for different companies. Soon after they moved into their new home, they wanted to be shown around Jacksonville.

“We looked for a local person who could show us the ins and outs of the city and also knew the history of the city, but there was no Jacksonville tour,” Sass said.

He soon wrote a business plan for a tour company that would be based on personalizing the experience for each group with a focus on also being entertaining.

“It can’t be canned or memorized. It has to be an interaction with the guests. It’s not my tour, it’s their tour,” said Sass.

Adlib Luxury Tours was founded in 2005 when Sass began showing eight guests at a time the sights in St. Augustine. The business has since grown to about 70 tour and team-building programs in St. Augustine, Jacksonville and Amelia Island.

In addition to local landmarks and history, tours may focus on cuisine, wine, arts and culture and recreational activities such as horseback riding and kayaking.

A few years ago, Sass introduced, in addition to driving tours, Downtown walking tours that include a tunnel under Forsyth Street, an underground bank vault and the view from the roof of the Florida Theatre building.

In the past year, about 8,000 people have taken tours guided by Sass or by members of his team of about 20 independent contractor guides who specialize in specific interests or regions.

In addition to a wider selection of tour programs, Sass also added transportation coordination services for small and large groups and what he calls “destination management,” helping meeting planners develop leisure-time itineraries for convention groups.

While the business has grown in terms of services and customers, the staff has remained the same and so has the business plan.

“There’s still just one employee — me,” said Sass.

“And we continue to identify voids in the market and fill those voids to evolve the business with new sets of services.”

Adlib tour guides, from left, Scott Cushnie, William McRea, Michelle Reyna, Stew Angell, Dianne Jacoby, Adlib President Gary Sass and Melissa Stuart.

 

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