Join Us! Florida Companies to Watch Awards Celebration
Thursday, November 14, 2019
Hard Rock Live, Universal CityWalk, Orlando, FL
Individual Ticket: $150.00 each | Corporate groups of 10 or more $140.00 each
RSVP by October 24, 2019
25% Job Growth
As native Floridians, we have always dreamed about owning the most pristine and exciting airboat tours in Orlando. After years of searching for the perfect location, we discovered the beautiful shores of Cypress Lake at the headwaters of the Everglades and Wild Florida was born.
Just 45 mins from the Disney area, we offer beautiful day tours, relaxing sunset tours and exciting night tours for guests of all ages. Travel deep into the protected swamps, marshes and rivers that make up the Headwaters of the Everglades. Get an in depth look at the gators, birds, eagles, trees and plants as you glide through endless miles of beautiful wilderness. See for yourself how good it feels to be in the middle of nowhere and what Florida looked like 1,000 years ago!
Included in the price of your airboat tour, explore our amazing gator park full of zebras, watusi, deer, tropical birds, emu, lemurs, monster alligators and much more. With over 200 native and exotic animals, there is something for everyone! Discover the Hawk Swamp boardwalk through a pristine Florida cypress swamp ecosystem. Don’t forget to try our delicious barbeque restaurant with smoked chicken, pulled pork, and even fried alligator!
Groups of all sizes or individuals are welcome. We offer amazing packages for meetings, incentive travel, students, corporate team building, family reunions and birthday parties. With over 2200 square feet of air conditioned meeting space and 1500 square feet of covered deck overlooking the swamp, we can accommodate any group and provide an incredible venue in a beautiful, natural setting. Day or night, we are prepared to offer an experience you will never forget!
Family, Airboats and Gators – The Perfect Combination to Thrive in Central Florida
Beginning in the corporate finance world, Sam Haught quickly found that being bound by a boss and the four walls of an office wasn’t something he could see himself doing the rest of his life.
“I stopped working for Goldman Sachs and started doing real estate development in Central Florida, which crashed 2008,” he said. “We were left with a bunch of dirt and we weren’t sure what we were going to do with it. We started looking at alternate ways to use the land instead of developing it for residential and commercial.”
Haught decided to explore tourists’ attractions and planned to use the land to create a ‘Dude Ranch.’
“If you don’t know what a Dude Ranch is, it’s where people can come out and ride horses and pretend to be cowboys while they’re on vacation,” he laughed.
Coming from a family of avid hunters, fishers and outdoor lovers, the idea of a Dude Ranch eventually evolved into doing airboat eco-tours.
“As a family, we very interested in the outdoors, airboats and every other boating activity you could think of. We loved it and wanted to share it with guests from all over the world,” Haught said.
Nine years later, Wild Florida is a successful family-owned business operating as the first, and only, eco-adventure park in Central Florida that combined airboat tours with a world-class alligator park.
“Our family has a very strong entrepreneurial spirit,” he said. “We’ve always wanted to do our own thing, so it was an easy decision to start something together.”
Around the same time Wild Florida came to fruition, Haught was presented with the opportunity to reenter the corporate finance world and declined.
“I think I made the right decision,” he laughed. “I’m a lot happier here than stuck at a desk. It’s been a real journey and I still have that offer letter. I framed it so I can go look at it every now and then and remind myself that I made the right choice.”
When it comes to working with family, like his fellow CEOS’s Jordan and Daniel Munns, who are also his brothers-in-law, Haught says it’s the best and the worst part.
“It’s great because at the end of the day, you can trust that person. If it gets tough, quitting and walking away is a lot harder to do when you’re family.”
Keeping a Competitive Edge and Looking Toward the Future
As the only attraction offering both airboat tours and an alligator park, it’s easy to stand out from the rest of your competition. But for Wild Florida, they’re still committed to delivering the best experience at the best price.
“We wanted to be a half-day attraction, so we started introducing some of the animals that we had been raising on our ranch at Wild Florida. It started with zebras and water buffalo and that’s where the vision took off,” he said. “While people were waiting to take an airboat ride, they could see our animals and alligators on property.”
To Haught and his family, providing a half-day attraction for families was just as important as making it financially accessible.
What has really made us different is that our airboat ride includes free admission into our gator park,” he said. “It has turned us into the only half-day attraction with all the Florida outdoor things people are looking to do in one spot. At our park for around $100, you can take a family of four on an airboat ride and walk through our gator park.”
For Wild Florida, their eyes are set on opening their safari park expansion this fall.
“We’ve been working on it for about a year now and we’re creating a brand-new product that will really catapult us to the next level,” he said. “It’s going to be awesome.”
Wild Florida’s Company Culture
As a family owned business, it was important for Haught to make everyone feel as if they were all part of the same family.
“Essentially, we want to adopt all of our employees into that family and make sure they understand our love for them, and understand our love for what we do,” he said. “We really want to distance ourselves from the corporate feeling.”
Possibly the most defining aspect of their company culture is being closed on Sundays, a decision Wild Florida has stuck by despite negative feedback and critics.
“A lot of people thought that would be our doom because in the tourism market, Sunday is a big day. You make a lot of money on the weekends,” he said. “Several big tour providers, like Expedia, said we can’t sell you because it’s too hard to block you out on a certain day. We said well, that’s what we want to do, and we own the place so that’s what we’re going to do.”
Haught says not only do his team members enjoy knowing they never have to work on a Sunday, but their animals benefit from the day off too.
“They get to enjoy a day free from the normal operations of our busy attraction,” he said.
And the tourism partners refusing to work with them in the beginning? “Now, most of these major players are exclusive partners with us,” he said.
“A lot of our employees that started with us are still with us today. That covers everything from airboat captains to the cashiers at check-in,” Haught said. “They’ve been with us for long periods of time and I think that speaks a lot to the environment we have here.”
What it Means to be an Honoree
“It is so refreshing and validating because it’s easy to sit down here at Wild Florida and feel like we’re a bunch of rednecks, goofing off and trying to make money,” he said.
“When things like this come up, it opens our eyes to the bigger picture and helps us understand that wow, we’ve really built something here. We’re incredibly thankful and so thrilled that a little mom-and-pop airboat operation would even be considered for something this big, it’s incredible to us.”
Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
When asked what he would tell aspiring entrepreneurs, Haught says prepare for the long haul and don’t expect the ‘Shark Tank overnight success.’
“I don’t think that’s something that people should count on. Prepare for the slow, steady climb to get to where you want to be. Be willing to tough it out,” he said. “Have enough money to support you through the long haul too. The quick success can always come but if it doesn’t be prepared and financially stable to be able to hack it out.”
Notable Community Involvement
“Recognizing how vulnerable our business and families are to severe weather, our hearts have always gone out to those affected by storms,” Haught said. “Starting as far back as hurricane Katrina we have mobilized to serve those in need.”
Wild Florida was active in the life saving efforts when Hurricane Harvey flooded Texas, using their airboats to rescue hundreds of people that were stranded. After this, Wild Florida created the Wild Florida Airforce, where they have brought their airboats to the site of every storm to hit the Southeast.
“When hurricane Florence swamped the Carolina’s, our team rescued a family of five that had been swept from their car and clung for life in rapids for eight hours,” he said. “The only way to reach them was by airboat and we were lucky enough to be there.”