At Age 24, She Started a Multi-Million Dollar TV & Movie Tour Company
In 1998, Georgette Blau was fresh out of college and fresh to New York City. She rented a room on the Upper East Side and started a job in publishing.
Then one day, as she was powering through her neighborhood, she saw a building she recognized from the long-running sitcom “The Jeffersons.” She’d always been a lover of classic television and movies, and couldn’t believe this iconic building was so close to her apartment.
When she got home, she pulled out a a book of famous filming locations in NYC. As her fingers turned the pages, an idea began to formulate.
“I said to myself: ‘New York is the most filmed city in the world,’” Blau explains. “And I was shocked there wasn’t a tour [of those sites].”
A Girl, a Plan and a Van
Though Blau had majored in English, and had no experience running a business, she felt like she was onto something.
Using her book, the internet and on-the-ground research, she sketched out a 2.5-hour tour route to some of New York’s most iconic filming locations. She also brainstormed how the business would work.
Ten months later, Blau launched On Location Tours. She chartered a 14-person minibus and led three tours a day on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets were $15 per person.
She advertised by leaving pamphlets (without permission) on the counter at the Museum of Television and Radio (now The Paley Center for Media), as well as trying to get on weekly listings in magazines like Time Out New York.
For the next year-and-a-half, Blau continued to grow her business, and also ran herself ragged: working in publishing during the day, performing administrative tasks at night and leading tours on the weekends.
“I was exhausted,” she admits. “I wanted to leave my job but I was really afraid.”
In September 2000, she reached a breaking point — and asked herself what was the absolute minimum amount of money she needed to survive.
The answer? $1,200 per month, more than half of which was her rent. Luckily, it just so happened she was already earning about that amount by doing her tours on the weekends.
Eager for that extra 50 hours a week to build her company, she quit.
She used her savings to purchase a van for approximately $8,000, painted it like the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine, and started offering three to four tours each day. Though she sometimes hired a driver, she often was a one-woman show who did everything from booking tours to driving the van.
A SATC Explosion
Blau’s business grew steadily, and she eventually hired a full-time assistant to do billing and reservations, plus a few part-time guides. One of her biggest entrepreneurial regrets is not hiring more help — including interns — sooner.
That’s because, in 2004, HBO featured On Location Tours on a special behind-the-scenes episode of “Sex and the City.”
Business exploded. Tours were sold out for weeks and weeks.
“We lost so much business because I wasn’t ready for it,” she says. “But it was a good problem to have.”
Over an intense two-week period, Blau interviewed hundreds of people and hired four new tour guides. At the end of that year, she declared she’d never lead a tour again — and instead would focus on developing the company.
Three years later, On Location Tours brought in $2,461,454 in a single year.
How On Location Tours Works
Blau says choosing a new tour to launch is “an exact science.” She and her team perform tons of research, including considerations like:
- Are there enough people watching the show or movie?
- Are the locations interesting? And “clustered” in nearby parts of the city?
- Has the shown been around for at least three seasons?
Yet, despite that planning, not every tour is a success: They had to scrap the “Real Housewives of New York” tour because they weren’t getting enough group bookings.
“With our ‘Sex and the City’ tour, it was often five or six women booking together,” Blau explains with a laugh. “But with ‘Real Housewives,’ it was one woman hiding and watching it on her own.”
Most of the other tours have been hits, though, with the “Sex And The City” tour still running every day. In total, the company has 45 employees, including dozens of part-time tour guides pulled from the local acting scene.
To get to this point, lasting for nearly two decades in a changing tourism scene, Blau credits “a combination of luck and hard work,” as well as the ability to “roll with the punches” while still sticking to her original mission.
“The process and the progress and the way it was being built was always changing,” she explains. “But my idea, my vision, of passing the doorsteps of TV and movie places — that always remained.”
“You just have to be a real survivor.”
Susan Shain is a freelance writer and digital nomad. She covers travel, food and personal finance (basically, how to save money so you can travel more and eat more). Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.