America Outdoors Founders Share Advice

During the America Outdoors Conference in December of 2023 in Phoenix, the founding members of the association gathered for a reunion dinner. Thanks to Jonah Grubb, we captured some of their nuggets of wisdom gained from decades of outfitter ownership. Their collective knowledge offers a roadmap for success in the outdoor industry and gave everyone in the room a laugh from time to time as they shared hard-earned lessons, lots of gratitude, and stories collected over the years.  

We thank them for their efforts to form the association so many years ago in the late 80’s and early 90s, for the work they’ve done since, and for this last bit of collective wisdom for the rest of us to enjoy.


AO Founders on the Best Advice They’ve Been Given

  • Peter Grubb: You’re never gonna make any money as an outfitter, so buy real estate that your business needs, that’s how you’ll build your wealth.

  • Paul Breuer: Persistence, persistence, persistence!

  • Matt Polstein: Dwight Lucas taught me about friendship- and Doug Tims about tenacity. The world is run by those who show up. 

  • Brian Merrill- I can teach a monkey how to row a boat, we are hiring for work ethic and personality. 

  • Lauren Wood on behalf of the late Dee and Sue Holladay: Dee liked to find the guest on the trip who was the least comfortable and make them have fun! 

  • Nate Rangel: What Scootch Pankonin taught me was that everybody - from the President on down - listens to somebody for advice and counsel.  Why shouldn't it be us who gives that advice?

  • Bruce Winter- The best advice was to get in on the internet early and [get your domains].  

  • Sheri Griffith: If not you, who?

  • Doug Proctor: Partners Dave and Jeff found a place to lease for $50 a month originally. Jon Dragan said we should control all the property that we need. He asked us, “you sure you don’t want to buy more? ‘Cause you’ll never get it again at this price again.” And he was right. 

  • Becky Wise on behalf of the late Jim Greiner: Do what you love and treat people fairly, and everything will be okay. 

  • Beth Harper: Think globally and act locally.

  • Gary Harper: Stay flexible. 

  • JT: If you ain’t the lead dog, the view never changes.

  • Moira Winter: “What? So what? Now what?” Evaluate, then figure out. 

  • Paul Breuer: Rising tides float all boats. 

  • Frank Lukacs: There are ships that are made out of wood, steel, or iron, but the strongest ships are friendships. Prepare for the worst, expect the best. 

  • Peter Grubb: It isn’t what people say is important, it’s how they make you feel. 

Hear from the first 2 presidents of the association

Additional Stories and gratitude:

  • Doug Tims thanked Grant Simonds for all the help with IOGA. And all his wisdom. 

  • Rob Elliott thanked Tennessee outfitters for their contribution.

  • David Brown thanked the founders for giving him the job and allowing him to work for them for 26 years.

  • Sheri Griffith- AO is the longest marriage I’ve ever had- it’s 34 years. 

  • Susie Hockmeyer: Jon Dragan told us how to run the river over the phone. He said, “you guys are either all gonna die tomorrow or you found one of the best rivers to run. “

  • Doug Tims: Outfitting and guide services are the engines that drive the economies of rural towns in America.

  • ALL: Thank you to Scootch Pankonin for her efforts on behalf of outfitters!

history of ao

America Outdoors formed as a merger of the eastern and western rafting associations, Eastern Professional River Outfitters (EPRO) and Western River Guides Association (WRGA) in the 1991. Since that time, the association merged with Professional Paddlesports Association (PPA) to include paddlesports outfitters and has expanded to include all outfitters such as ranchers, hunting, fishing, hiking, climbing, mountaineering, tubing, heliskiing, and more. The staff and board of the association are grateful to all the pioneers from various sectors for their roles in making the industry what it is today.

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