Just another of my Million Dollar hare-brained schemes

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He’s back where he started – skippering tourists on Lake Wakatipu – but Wayne Perkins is no one-trick pony. 

Business success in Queenstown doesn’t come easy – never has, probably never will – yet Perkins has had five successful ventures spanning four decades. 

Skippering a hydrofoil, fitting tyres, flogging real estate, running a motel, and now back cruising the lake – Perkins makes business sound a breeze. 

In his latest incarnation, he’s just launched Million Dollar Two to accompany Million Dollar One ferrying punters around Frankton Arm. 

Which is pretty much what the Invercargill lad with the law degree – who’d rejected law as a career – first did on arrival here in 1981, with a grub-stake earned from mining in the Aussie outback. 

Hydrofoil Meteor III was good to Perkins: “It was a very successful business and we made a very comfortable living.” 

After nine years, he became a landlubber again to set up a tyre centre. 

Tyres seemed a natural calling after his interest in motorsport, Perkins says, with a classic British racing green-coloured V12 Jaguar which he drove both on the street and on the track. 

“It was terrifying to drive and it used to regularly set fire to its brakes.” 

Fast forward to 1998 and real estate – which Perkins makes sound so easy. 

Back then, there were 18-22 sales monthly in the Wakatipu shared between 53 salespeople – about one-third of a sale per salesperson per month. 

“For virtually my entire seven-year real estate career, I always had a minimum of four sales per month,” Perkins says matter-of-factly. 

“Real estate is very simple – all you’ve got to do is be self-disciplined enough to make 15 business calls a day. If you do, you’ll be successful – it’s inevitable, you can’t help it.” 

He then stumbled on “an offer I couldn’t refuse” – leasing Stanley Street’s Caples Court Motel, a “fabulously good buy” of a run-down property. 

Perkins made news by paying his motel housekeepers nearly twice the going rate – $20 an hour instead of the usual $11. 

“That certainly caused a bit of vindictiveness from the hoteliers,” he chuckles. 

“It had an absolutely amazing positive effect on our business” – housemaids no longer needed supervising, because they took pride in their work, and there was zero staff turnover, even a waiting list. 

“It was an important lesson I’ve never forgotten.” 

Caples Court did “extremely well” but though Perkins had optioned the freehold, property values by 2007 had “absolutely skyrocketed” and it became “hopelessly uneconomic” to buy. 

With an apartment glut about to drive nightly yields down, “we thought it was time to move on”. 

“We” is second wife Betty and it was their kayak trip on Frankton Arm which spawned the next big idea – “a traditional launch doing a lovely, slow-speed quiet run through Frankton Arm”, Perkins says. 

“We put every dollar into another one of my hare-brained schemes and proceeded with Million Dollar One – it’s been a fabulous success, to the extent we’ve now got Million Dollar Two.” 

Perkins, 56, skippers one launch, eldest son Max, 28, the other. “It’s rather cool to be working alongside your son.” 

This entrepreneur has always shared success factors – so what are his Million Dollar secrets? 

“We strive to be the absolute best – we keep the vessels immaculate, we never skimp on maintenance.” 

Then there’s showmanship. 

“It’s basically a show we do, a performance. Even when there’s a greater demand, Max and I limit ourselves to three cruises a day each because when you’ve done three shows, that’s it – you need time out,” Perkins says. 

“Of all the businesses I’ve run, this is by far the easiest – because I’ve got Betty with me and she takes on an enormous amount of the workload. 

“It’s very much her business as well as mine.” 

And the toughest business he’s been in? 

“Real estate – until I worked out that you had to be self-disciplined.”