owners of Capt. Mike’s Dolphin Adventure and the Lazaretto Creek Marina — and their daughter, Lisa Scarbrough, marketing director
Iris: Four children, seven grandsons and one great grand-daughter
Iris: I was in customer service with Bell South for 26 years ( Her last title was assistant manager.) and Michael was in construction in Atlanta. He was doing a lot of traveling — four days a week. He decided to do less traveling. We came across this piece of property (the 3.5 acre marina).
Lisa: It was just shrimp boats here. ... (The property was covered with) car parts, boat parts. There were broken docks and all. ... Nobody was keeping up with the property.
Iris: We bought the property in 1992. We moved down here in 1993.
Lisa: We lived on a boat on the property.
Iris: A 37-and-a-half-foot boat
Lisa: A cabin cruiser
when did you start the dolphin tours?
Iris: 1996 ... My husband had the idea of doing the dolphin tours. A friend had mentioned a place in Hilton Head was doing the dolphin tours. We took a ride on it and thought that this might be viable (on Tybee Island). We wanted something affordable to take families out on the water.
did he know about boats?
Iris: He’s always had them. We have lakes in Atlanta. We’ve always had cabin cruisers.
what boats did he have for the dolphin tours?
Iris: The first boat was a 26-foot Navy life boat.
How was the business at first? (Iris): The business started out very slow and Capt. Mike would take just two people out if that’s all he had. When you’re starting a business, you couldn’t afford not to take two people. And two people would tell two more people.
By the second year, we had to get another boat. Around the third year, we had to get another boat. We have five boats now — one 30-foot Navy boat, one 40-foot, two 50-foot boats and a 33-foot catamaran power boat.
do you drive the boats?
Iris: I’ve been around boats for the last 40 years. Do I drive the boats? No. I just ride. I mostly run the office.
what we do
Iris: We take adults and children out to the sound to see the dolphins. We go towards the Atlantic Ocean (but we’re not in the ocean.) We go to the tip of the island so everybody can see the light house.
Lisa: There’s a 99 percent chance they’ll see a dolphin. You can’t promise (100 percent). They’re wildlife.
Iris: But it’s always a nice ride.
more on what they do
The Scarbroughs give charter fishing tours. And they own and operate the marina.
how many boats are tethered in the marina?
Iris: Two shrimp boats, three charter boats and that’s about it. The dolphin boats take up most of the space.
Iris: Fulltime it’s just Michael and I. Part-time, we have five captains, five mates and two office workers.
why we’re successful?
Iris: One of the main reasons I think is Michael is a captain. He can drive the boat if somebody doesn’t show up. And I can handle the office phones and booking the trips. We went to online booking last year. Just go to our website and click on reservations. A person can go online and book the reservation using Visa or Mastercard.
any other reasons why you’re successful?
Iris: We are dependable. We have good customer service and if we tell our customer we’re going to do something, we do it. Also were nice. We’re friendly
Lisa: One of the things mom and ad really did: They appealed to families. When they first started the business Tybee was not on board for tourists. There’s always been charter fishing. You’re talking for a four-hour trip $440, We charge$110 an hour with a minimum of four hours for a charter fishing tour. Dolphin tours are about an hour and 15 minutes. That’s the right attention span for children.
Iris: “Live. Love. And laugh.”
Lisa: You and Daddy created a second career together that enabled them to have more time with the family. (In Atlanta) Dad was gone all the time. I was in jazz, ballet, tap, cheerleading soccer. If Dad was gone all the time, Mom still had me to deal with. They created a second career for themselves.
Iris: Surviving four children.
Lisa: We’ll give her that one. She got to have lots of adventures with all of us.
Lisa: Global domination. I’m thinking of Capt. Mike Dolphin Adventure Key West. I would like to see an expansion. ... Down the road, they’ll be retiring but I don’t know if they know what they’d do with themselves if they did.
Iris: Eventually we’d like to retire.
would you keep the business the same size?
Iris: It’s all we can handle…I know customer service and my husband keeps the boats running .There’s a lot to do. You have the Coast Guard inspections. We’ll keep running as we are until we can retire.
when will you retire?
Iris: He’s been trying to turn in his resignation to me for about three years. But I have not yet accepted it.
how many years have you been married?
Iris: 40 years.
tips for other business operators
Iris: We tell this pretty much to everybody: If you can’t survive on nothing for about three years, you don’t go into business because it takes you three years to get established.
Lisa: They had to self promote. Going to boat shows to promote the marina.
Iris: [In 1993] people had not heard of Tybee Island. It was Savannah’s Beach. ... Getting information about Tybee was a challenge. We were very active in the Savannah Chamber of Commerce at the time.
Lisa: Know how to answer the telephone properly. Mom instilled me in that as a kid.
Lisa: And they’ve helped foster business for other people — like for our jet ski place which is here now (in the marina) and we’ve got two captains who charter their own boats. You go to the marina website and we’re not just promoting the dolphins; we’re promoting the other businesses out here.
Iris: Coco’s (a restaurant at the marina) gets a lot of business from the dolphin tours. (All the marina businesses are listed under the www.tybeedolphins.com website.)
things to avoid?
Iris: Being short tempered.
Lisa: Expecting an immediate return. You and Dad did this for four years before the payoff….And if you’re not going to work hard, you won’t get the payoff…My Dad fixed his own docks. He doesn’t call someone to fix something. He gets up and fixes it himself.
why Tybee Island works for us?
Iris: We’re fortunate. Having been involved in business on Tybee, many of the businesses on Tybee recommend us.
Also, we like the people (on Tybee). They’re friendly, fun to be around. And it’s laid back. This is a seasonal business, primarily from Memorial Day to Labor Day. In the winter, we go to Marathon (Florida) It’s about 40 miles from Key West. But we have people running the office and doing the dolphin tours.
Lisa: This winter was really mild (and so some dolphin tours were held this winter.)
have the dolphin tours attracted publicity?
Iris: In our second year in business, Good Morning America did a dolphin tour in February. When that aired, we started getting calls from all over. From Ohio, other places. ... Somebody said, I’m going to Atlanta to visit my daughter,” and we said, “OK, Come on down.” We’ve also had (publicity) on the Discovery Channel and a good write up in Southern Living and we’ve been on the Travel Channel. People say, If you go (to Tybee Island) be sure to go to Capt. Mike’s.
Capt. Mike’s Dolphin Adventure and the Lazaretto Creek Marina
Address: 180 Old Tybee Road, Tybee Island, GA 31328
Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily for tour of about 75 minutes
Website: www.tybeedolphins.com, and on Facebook
Cost: Adults are $15 plus tax. Children are $8 plus tax.
The 7 p.m. sunset tours cost $18 for adults, $11 for children.