Take Advantage of Summer Tourism With an Inner Tube Business

An investment of less than $50 can set you up in a summer business of renting inner tubes to eager vacationers.

| March/April 1982

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    Rainbow Bob's pickup can haul a goodly load of low-cost "boats," purchased from area truck stops, tire dealers, farm co-ops and service stations. The "Superstar" rope seat boosts the Bowlings' profits. 
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    A "super tube" — fitted with a rope seat — will often bring in as much as $40!

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When my husband Bob and I finally made our move to a country home deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains, we were immediately faced with the need to find a way of supplementing our suddenly reduced — as a result of our relocation — income. Part-time work was scarce (in fact, employment of any nature was pretty danged hard to come by). From what we could see, the area's biggest industry was tourism since the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers lured in great crowds of sweltering city dwellers on sunny summer weekends.

Those wide, mostly shallow rivers can sure look appealing on a hot afternoon, too. However, (as we'd discovered to our own disappointment), the few waterside businesses that offered rental canoes and/or kayaks charged pretty hefty prices and a lot of would-be river rats were left stranded on the banks for lack of cash. Well, where there's an unfulfilled urge, there's usually a way to turn a profit. Perhaps, Bob and I decided, we could bring in weekend money by selling inner-tube rafts to the shore-bound sailors!

Investigating Business Potential

We promptly scrounged half a dozen used floaters from a local gas station, patched and inflated the tubes and invited a few friends to join us on a "reconnoiter day" by enjoying trips down several sections of both the Potomac and the Shenandoah. While doing so (and having one heck of a good time), we noted the best places to park when putting in for a downstream ride, the water levels at which each section of the river could be best enjoyed, the locations of dangerous deep spots, underwater hazards, and rapids that should be avoided, the approximate time required to drift each different tubing "trail" and the best techniques for coming through the faster (but still safe) sections without bumping our bottoms (well, at least not too often). Our toes were shriveled by the end of the day, but we were confident that we could both sell our "poor people's rafts" and give the purchasers the information they'd need in order to have safe and pleasant excursions.

Getting Down to Business: Decoding Local Laws

As we were checking out the waterways, we'd asked various riverside vendors about licensing requirements, and later drove to the county seat to obtain the necessary Business Franchise Certificate — from the State Tax Commission — at no cost. Then, with legal matters happily out of the way, we set about locating a supply of low-cost tubes.

After calling area truck stops, tire dealers, farm co-ops, and service stations, we visited the first of the potential suppliers and were able to purchase 12 more junked tubes — of various sizes — for $2.00 each. We patched the leaks and, since the thought of hand-pumping the pile of deflated rubber rings was far from appealing, asked the owner of our neighborhood gas station if we could pay him for the use of his air hose. The gentleman told us to use the compressor without charge, but we insisted that he agree to accept payment if our business prospered.

Our initial stockpile, then, consisted of 18 rafts. We priced small ones at $4.00 apiece, marked the river-runners from truck tires up to $8.00 each and decided to let our single "monster" tractor tube go for $15.00. After color-coding the valve stems to identify price categories (using nail polish), we packed the goods — upright and in rows across the bed — in the back of our pickup truck, tied them in place and set off to a previously spotted double-wide shoulder on a heavily traveled riverside road. For a total investment of $46.00 ($24.00 for tubes, $9.00 for patches and glue, $3.00 for nail polish, and about $10.00 for the gas used in our preparatory trips), we were in business.

6/26/2015 3:17:24 PM

Hi, Great article. Really liked the story and after reading it i had to buy a inner to buy to have fun in the river like i did when i was a kid. :) What kind of rope do you recommend for the seats ? Do you know where how how i can find instructions to make a rope seat like this one http://www.motherearthnews.com/~/media/Images/MEN/Editorial/Articles/Magazine%20Articles/1982/01-01/Take%20Advantage%20of%20Summer%20Tourism%20With%20an%20Inner%20Tube%20Business/it2.jpg ? Brs

Randy Dowd_2
1/4/2010 9:23:51 AM

I used to run a canoe trip outfitter business much the same as you are doing with inner tubing. What I would suggest is that you meat the customers at the end leave their cars there and bring them back up to take off on their river run then. This way it doesn’t matter when they get in you won’t have to be waiting for them. Also have you ever thought of renting tubes out for going down the toboggan hills in the winter? They are fun smooth easy on the body and go like stink! Good luck in the new year!

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