When Virginia Tegel read a Time Magazine article featuring kickbikes last March, she thought they looked cool and wanted to try one. So she called around and found no local bike shops that carried any. In fact, no one she spoke to had even heard of them. She soon got in touch with a distributor in St. Joseph, Michigan, who was so passionate about kickbikes that by the time she got off the phone with him she not only had arranged to buy a few but was discussing starting a business. Eight months later, the former special education teacher launched TC Scoot, which has ten kickbikes in its rental fleet and sells, via the company's website, a wide variety of models ranging from less than $200 to more than $400. TCBN kicked back with Tegel to find out how business is scooting along.
Not Just For Kids
My age range of people I sell kickbikes to goes from 7 to 87. I call them an adult-type scooter. They are very stable; the center of gravity is low, so they're perfect for all types of people to ride. They're very good value and quality for the price, and they have features of higher-end bikes, but you can get into them for a lot less than a traditional bike from a bike shop. They are a little bit more of a workout, and they are not going to be for everybody. Kickbikes have less impact on the body, making for a great aerobic workout, and they're ideal for cross training runners and skiers. Also, you can ride kickbikes in dress clothes, with no worries about a chain getting clothes dirty. For women, you can ride in a dress or skirt, because you are operating from a standing position.
Here in the United States our concept of a bike is much more limited than in Europe. Using them for transportation has certainly gained ground in the U.S., but people here are less familiar with different ways to approach biking – that's really what the kickbike is: a unique alternative to a conventional bike. When you have something very unique, people need to become exposed to it and have the opportunity to try it, and that can be very time consuming. Also, I'm a total novice with small business so I had to learn all facets – bringing your product to market, financial operations, maintaining financial records and developing and following up on contacts.
I've tried to create awareness this season. Sales and rentals come when people have an opportunity to try the bikes. I loaned out bikes to nonprofits like the Traverse City Film Festival volunteers, Third Coast Bicycle Festival and have donated bikes to the NMC raffle student event and to the Bioneers for a silent auction. I do not have a storefront. I didn't want to have those overhead costs of having to maintain and staff a storefront yet, so I deliver to people who are staying in condos or hotels in town. I'm working on a Facebook page and am considering Google ads. I've got all winter to sort through and figure out the social networking aspect.
I work with SCORE counselors and am currently taking the Fast Track class through NMC and the MI-SBTDC. I really need to be focused in on my goals and accurately assess if what I am doing is going to meet those goals. They have been very helpful with that. Starting up, you are involved with all of the logistics, so it's hard to keep that other creative brain on and look at the big picture at the same time. That's one of the things I'm learning with the Fast Track class – to be able to do both parts. I've learned that I have a lot more to learn.
In Traverse City we have such a strong bicycle advocacy community. It has become much friendlier to bike downtown TC and the Grand Traverse region. Anytime you can get tourists out of their cars, they're going to see more, enjoy more, and traffic will be reduced. My rentals are geared to people coming to the area for events and tours. I'll deliver the bikes right to you that way you don't have to worry about transporting. The rental rates are low enough that people will have the bike for the day, can scoot around town, do their shopping, visit the beach or whatever, and they don't have to worry about paying for a rental that is just sitting there. I have had bikes on demo to the little local places that provide accommodations for tourists – bed and breakfasts, cottages, some of the smaller hotels, things like that.
The Road Ahead
I've met my goal for sales for the season, but I definitely want to improve in the rentals so I am focusing in on marketing. Some ideas just didn't occur to me until late in the season. I realized I need to capitalize on groups as opposed to individual tourists coming to town, so I'll be meeting with the folks at the Traverse Bay RV Park in Acme. I'd also like to expand my market to people like boaters because these are lightweight bikes that can easily be strapped onto a boat for people cruising into the harbor who want to get around town. Although I can now access more if I need them in a few days, I'd like to increase my fleet and rent to groups coming in town to tour. My goal is to increase sales and rentals and eventually expand across Michigan.
Phone: 231.360.4206, tcscoot.com.