Keeping the business afloat from behind the scenes…
BY OLIVIA CAMERON- The co-owner of Glass Bottom Rentals, where locals and visitors alike can voyage out past Boca Grande’s sandbar, might not be able to keep up with her husband and his love for adventure. However, Katie Koher isn’t lost at sea when it comes to managing the business.
Katie spent her childhood in the small town of South Hadley, Massachusetts, where her upbringing inspired her career path. “I have always had an interest in business, even as a child,” she said.
“My brother and I used to sell lemonade in front of our house many weekends each summer. That interest certainly carried over from childhood to now, as I still really enjoy the ins and outs of running a business.”
Her fervor for business melded with her love for the beach. She recalled her fondest vacations in Cape Cod each summer.
“This is certainly where I get my love for the ocean from,” she said.
The summer before her senior year at a performing arts high school, Katie met and eventually fell in love with Aaron Koher, who co-owns Glass Bottom Rentals with her. They married 15 years ago, and they credit their successful partnership to the responsibilities they took on.
“We learned how to solve life’s problems and issues together, and we were always there to support each other through ups and downs,” said Katie.
Katie and Aaron decided to relocate to Florida in 2006, where she opened a retail store the following year. However, the recession was not kind to her business. In 2009 she reverted back to her comfort zone of retail and found a position with a local shoe store, Journeys, in the mall.
Throughout her career, Katie has looked up to her parents, who taught her to take control of her finances and plan for her future.
In 2013, Katie was offered a position as district manager with Journeys in Pennsylvania.
“I ended up running 19 stores while living in the middle of nowhere. It was a huge lifestyle change. Without the beach, I felt homesick,” she said.
Aaron became a stay-at-home dad for their two daughters while Katie’s position drained the time away from her kids.
“I had a wonderful job, with a title I worked very hard to earn, but in the end it wasn’t worth it for my family,” said Katie.
With the family’s return to Florida, Katie became an office manager at her parents’ business, GJC Window & Door. In his attempt to find a position he was passionate about, Aaron drew on his experience in water sports to open Glass Bottom Rentals at the north end of Gasparilla Island.
“It didn’t make sense to come back and not take advantage of living in Florida,” said Katie. “Before we decided to open the business, we knew we had to bring Boca Grande and the ocean into the equation.”
Their efforts to get the idea off the ground became worthwhile when they found the right spot on the map. “We stumbled onto our cove location after talking to every business on the island,” said Katie.
Equipping the business with specially ordered kayaks and other gear took six months.
“We didn’t open the business with a lot of seed money,” said Katie.
Their glass bottom of the kayak is made of the same material as bulletproof glass, and has always been safe and popular in their rental business.
While Aaron runs customer relations and day-to-day operations, Katie handles the marketing, paperwork and outreach behind the scenes. Her position as office manager for GJC on weekdays coincides with the work she does each weekend for the rental business. “I couldn’t spend ten to twelve hours each day in the sun like the tour guides,” she said. “They battle the elements but never complain.”
“Leaving a company that I was with for seven years to move back home and start a new position with my family at GJC and with Aaron at Glass Bottom Rentals had a lot of uncertainty. The risk was worth the reward. I am able to work with my family every day, to spend more time with my kids, and to do something that I am truly passionate about.”
As co-owners, Katie and Aaron believe a business should be built on a solid relationship with the community. They are aware that not everyone can afford a tour or rental, so they’ve managed to hold different events and offer free paddles for kids to invite people to join the fun.
However, running Glass Bottom Rentals hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the pair. In 2018, the unbearable red tide resulted in an unexpected eight-month closure of the business.
“We take advantage of nice weather and clear water when we can,” said Katie.
Her relationship with Aaron, however, has propelled her successes.
“In 18 years of being together, we have lived in three states, moved ten times and had two children! We really learned how to be adults together and manage whatever life throws at us,” she said.
After years of searching for a place to call home, Katie knew Boca Grande would capture her interest since the first time she crossed the bridge.
“It’s always held a special place in my heart,” said Katie.
Katie and Aaron own two rescue dogs that also enjoy paddling through the water. One in particular enjoys kayaking and camping out just as much as they do.
Katie and her family try to catch the sunset every Friday evening.
“You can get into a routine where it’s easy to get lost in the tasks you’re trying to complete. But, everyone needs that down time. We realized not to take living so close to the beach for granted.”
Katie credits the success of their business to Boca Grande.
“The location makes our business. You cannot have clear glass-bottom kayaks without the beautiful, blue and crystal clear waters that Boca Grande offers. It is the perfect pairing for a hopefully long and successful business venture.”