Blue Grass captures three of Kentucky's biggest staples - basketball, horses and distilleries — to help make it successful.
Located in the "Horse Capital of the World," Blue Grass Tours
incorporates many of the famous features of Lexington and the state of Kentucky into its business, including horse farms, school athletics, bourbon distilleries and a great deal of history.
The company was initially started in 1978 by Wallace "Wah Wah" Jones, a retired professional NBA player, Olympic gold medal winner and University of Kentucky athletic star. He holds the unique honor of being an All-American in basketball and football under two legendary coaches.
"His name was legendary around here. Everybody knew who he was, and, of course, that opened a lot of doors for us," says Wallace "Wah" Jones Jr., son of Wah Wah Jones and current company president. After being released from a professional baseball career with the Atlanta Braves, the younger Jones came back to Lexington and purchased a small horse farm tour company with his father.
After purchasing their first Eagle motorcoach in December 1980, the Jones' decided to paint the bus blue in honor of the University of Kentucky's school colors.
"We sat it down on Main Street, painted our phone number on it and our phone started ringing off the hook," Jones says. "That's when we really started picking up business from all the colleges."
Blue Grass Tours continues to be a major transportation provider for teams from all levels of education, types of sports and areas of the nation. Using its own experiences in sports and academics, the company has a unique advantage when preparing packages for schools and working with educators.
"We have a really good following here with the University of Kentucky sports; we have Transylvania University, which is right here in Lexington, and then we also have Centre College in Danville," Jones says.
Blue Grass Tours also recently purchased a custom-made $700,000 sleeper coach, designed specifically for the University of Kentucky men's basketball coach John Calipari and his team.
The sleeper coach features Wildcat-blue leather, refrigerators, seven TVs, couches, tables and pull-down bunks that can all be adjusted any time during transit to seat 30 and sleep six, or sleep 11 and seat 17.
"You can actually watch two channels on the DirectTV, watch two movies and play three video games at the same time," Jones says. "We also have a horn on it that plays the University of Kentucky fight song, and the team really likes that."
The new sleeper coach has been a little harder to sell, but is definitely gaining in popularity and has been working out well for the company, Jones says. "We're getting more and people doing it, it's amazing. Once they see this coach, they're like, 'Man, we've got to have that.'"
Even with all of the school-related business the company engages in, Blue Grass remains diversified with tour and event packages prepared specially by the tour department, Jones says.
Some of the more popular excursions include a bi-monthly gambling trip, various equine-themed events and horse farm visits, and trips to local bourbon distilleries. Jones names the "Horses, Hooch and History" tour as the most popular tour offered to date.
"We take groups to horse farms, the distillery and show them around the city," Jones says. "People get a real kick out of it because it's a real combination of everything that's Lexington."
All of the tour buses feature satellite TV and are cleaned following every trip. After recently purchasing two MCI J4500 motorcoaches with seat belts, the company made the decision to make them standard on all future coaches.
Aside from billboards and word of mouth referrals, the company enjoys not having to engage in a great deal of advertising.
"We're very fortunate that we have a lot of repeat customers and don't have to spend a lot of money advertising," Jones says. "We're doing what we've done for the last 15 to 20 years and it seems to work."