One of the most successful television and movie location tour companies, On Location Tours allows people the opportunity to straddle fiction and reality, bringing them closer to the shows and characters they love. Here’s how credit cards helped founder Georgette Blau find success.
Where did Carrie meet Mr. Big? Does the Bada Bing! club really exist? Join On Location Tours to find out. Georgette Blau is owner and founder, and On Location Tours is one of the world’s largest television and movie location tour companies.
Operating out of New York City and Boston, the company illuminates guests on what happened behind the scenes of some of their favorite U.S. films and programs. Locations visited by the tour have been featured in “Sex and the City,” “Gossip Girl,” “The Sopranos,” “Seinfeld,” “When Harry Met Sally” and more. For 20 years, the company’s mission has been to create experiences that allow people to toe the line between fiction and reality.
It all began when Blau was walking up a hill in Manhattan and came face to face with the building from the hit sitcom, “The Jeffersons.” “It was this awesome feeling,” she says.
“At that moment, it brought me into the show with some of my favorite characters. I thought other people would want to do that, too – so that was my idea for the business. Each tour gets different reactions, though. For example, “The Sopranos” is a pilgrimage, and people who go on the tour know every line from each episode. The “Sex in the City” tour is more a party atmosphere. They want to be like those girls for a few hours.”
On Location Tours is enormously successful, but it took time and money to get to this point. Some of the tools Blau used – and still uses – to great acclaim are a couple of star-quality credit cards.
See related: Veteran and business owner: Innovation doesn’t stop
Take us back to the beginning of your company – what was opening it like?
When I started On Location Tours, I was an English major right out of college. I didn’t have a business background. We were a niche company, so it was difficult starting. And what took me three years to start would now take me less than a year!
Along the way, there were several surprise costs that caught me off guard. The bus companies I contracted with were a major one. They were very expensive to lease but integral to what we did as a tour company. There were also a number of hidden expenses. I definitely did not expect fuel to cost as much as it did!
So you used credit cards as a way to pay for some of it?
Yes, credit cards have been great at helping our business launch and grow. The cards I have for On Location Tours are the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® and the Business Green Rewards Card from American Express.
In the beginning, I was able to pay the majority of our bills with the cards. Charging gave me a month or so to pay for what I had to spend (without added interest). And they are so portable, both physically and online, making it easy for my employees to use.
Now we change all kinds of things, such as bus invoices, insurance payments, monthly memberships and office supplies. Both of the cards we use have rewards programs, so when we charge with them, the miles and cash back rack up. I trade the rewards in for things that my business needs.
The CitiBusiness card is great because we attend a lot of trade shows, so we use the miles to pay for those business trip flights. When we use the American Express card, we pay for part of the bill with the cash that we earned by charging.
Do you pay your credit card bills in full or do you maintain a balance?
Thankfully we’re pretty debt-free, but sometimes we do have rough months. We are a seasonal business, and January through March is typically slow. That’s when we may use credit cards a little more and carry over the balance for a couple of months. It’s a good way to buy time without a large cost.
See related: How can my small business overcome seasonal cash-flow issues?
Is there anything you wish you could do over?
Yes! I wish I would have hired employees a lot sooner. I was trying to do everything myself in the beginning, and it delayed the growth of the company. Even an intern would have been really helpful. It took me several years to recognize that.
Do you plan to branch out into other cities?
We are expanding! People keep asking about Chicago because there are a lot of shows with a strong following that are based there – like “Chicago P.D.” and “Chicago Fire.” And, of course, there is the classic movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
Any business advice you can share, particularly about borrowing money?
I have learned to borrow very carefully. You have to be able to pay what you owe quickly since there are already so many expenses that you’ll have to deal with. The fact is, borrowing is one more expense – albeit a helpful one.
Credit cards are so important. They can be better than small business loans which often have interest rates of over 18 percent. You may as well use credit cards because they offer a period with no interest. It’s a cheap way to finance your business – as long as you stay out of long-term debt.
You also have to choose rewards credit cards that are good for you. There are so many different cards, so look at the programs carefully before applying.
Lastly, when you get your cards, try to review your statements quarterly and in great detail. I have to admit that didn’t look at mine for a year or so, then found a $9,000 charge that wasn’t right! Another benefit of reading them is that it will help you know where to cut the fat, such as memberships you don’t need.