Charging Forward: How This Entrepreneur is Disrupting the Transportation Industry – 91 Days Success Podcast


John Smith


[email protected]

Great Lakes Segway – Home


Part of our growth strategy at the time when other Segway dealers in particular decided that this wasn’t the right model for them we’ve had an opportunity to grow by buying assets and resources of other business. And that’s allowed us to have a stronghold in the markets that they previously served.

Hi, and welcome to the 91 Day Success podcast. I’m Jonathan, and today I’ve got the pleasure speaking with John Smith. John actually is an expert in the mobility solution space and owns multiple companies in that area. And I’m gonna let him share with us today a lot about what that space means, why it’s such an exciting space to be in right now.

And also share some of his wisdom and stories that he’s learned over the years as he’s built just an amazing. Group of businesses in that space. John, welcome. And can you give us start with kind of a 32nd elevator pitch of who are, who’s John and talk to us about your businesses in the e mobility space.

Yeah, thank you Jonathan. I appreciate you including me on the podcast today. I started this whole career in the automotive industry and I quickly realized, There was a need for last mile transportation and micro mobility. And my wife and I did a quick Segway tour her back in 2010, and I was passionate about the product from day one, and that kind of turned into a love of how we can bring mobility solutions to our customers.

And we’ve added Segway and electric. And scooters and go-karts and mopeds. So we not only provide fun recreation products, but we’ve also been able to start to, to reach the public safety community and help them with their transportation needs. And that’s turned into quite a, quite an expansive operation.

And we’re excited to be in this. That’s great, and I know you’ve got multiple businesses, again, across the country from various aspects, and I’ll let you explain some of that in particular the two dealerships, the one in Michigan and one in Florida. I know my experience with immobility really is limited to having run in some Segways.

When I was on vacation a couple years ago and doing one of those Segways tours that you talked about, and I know I was just amazed at how effective of devices I thought they were for getting around and that I can only imagine as you talk about the public safety sector in particular, about how much those devices can.

Their staff get around, whether it do crowd management or event management, or just working their beat. Can you share a little bit, a bit about what value do those e mobility solutions bring to that sector and how do they help, our public safety officials and stuff do their jobs better. Yeah.

Thank you. What I see in the public safety space is of course a need to connect, engage with the community, right? And so I we’ve all heard a lot of the news stories and what we’re seeing is this increased. Reaching out in connective tissue between community and public safety.

And so these tools, segueways and electric bikes and Tris are all products that we sell and service and support allow police and fire ems. To engage. They’re not in a vehicle, they’re out in the public on these devices. And it really gives a way to, to start a conversation, to be authentic and within the community.

And that’s been a great tool to help foster some of those relationships and really support those who are supporting our. and meanwhile, they still have a chance to opportunity to respond and do their day job because the equipment allows them to quickly respond to an emergency and still carry out their much needed day-to-day operations.

Now, I know that the mobility solutions have expanded far beyond the segue that I referred to and that you mentioned as well. Can you tell us a little bit about, I know Pedago is one of the main companies that you work with as well. Can you tell us, I, I guess I’ve seen the electric bikes, I’ve seen the Segueways, but I know there’s so many different mobility solutions out there.

Can you tell us a little bit about those, for those of us that maybe aren’t as familiar with what options exist and what type of transportation or. , mobility exists there. Yeah. Thank you. So we do you, you mentioned segway. So Segways we can customize and personalize them for different department needs with utility bags or saddle bags.

And that allows them to carry their day-to-day. And be able to again, respond to an emergency or just be present during an event. The electric bikes we sell are pedago electric bikes, and so they also have utilitarian bags and accessories. We recently started to offer EMS trailers, so they are trailers that attach to the bikes and.

Almost like a backboard type backboard on wheels. So we can haul patients out of trail situations or events and get them to awaiting responding emergency vehicles. And then thirdly a key product that we sell is called the Trik. It’s a three wheeled wedge shape unit that allows. Public safety officials to, to stand up and ride around still engaging with the public.

And in fact we’ve worked with Royal Oak Police as well as Detroit Metro Airport Police delivering tri units. So the, that’s been beneficial in working with those agencies and we’re continuing to. Meet with public safety departments throughout the country to see how we can support their needs as well.

It’s just amazing to hear about all the various things that are out there and I can only imagine the value of some of those. As you mentioned, just even that, that em s cart, the ability to get a patient off a trail or out of a venue or something in. To a place where emergency vehicles can get I, yeah.

That’s really cool. So John, I know your business started off in Detroit and you’ve really expanded from there. For those of us that are watching, a lot of us are business owners in that, and we love to hear stories about how your business has grown and how, in your case, that’s turned into multiple businesses in the same vertical.

Can you share with us a little bit about the start of your business and what that looks like now and what some of that, what’s caused some of that? Yeah. Thank you. So I, again, the start of our business was in 2010. Again, just from a little tour operation. And it’s amazing how opportunities present themselves, where one of my customers who rented said, where can I buy these Segways?

And I didn’t have an immediate answer, but I knew that I was gonna help him. His problem. And so I said, I can help you purchase those. And we then found out how we could help him purchase those after the fact. So that turned into just helping customers solve their needs, solve their problems.

And that’s been our philosophy all along, is how do we help solve problems? And as we’ve continued to migrate and we see key trends electric Mobility Solutions. The auto industry has brought us great battery technology and again the trend of the need for connectivity within our community.

I think those two key trends have aligned well with our business growth. So as we continue to offer last mile and micro mobility transportation , and some of these trends emerging really have allowed us to grow but more importantly, been able to support our customers and their needs.

It’s a, it’s been great to see some of that. Tell us a little bit, if you would, about the different businesses now, I know you’ve got and I don’t want to misrepresent here, but I know you’ve got aspects that deal with Segway and you’ve done a lot, if I’m not mistaken, you’re the largest segue repair facility in the United States, I believe.

I know you do a lot with Pedago and some others as well, and you’ve got locations. I believe in Detroit area and Orlando area, if I’m not mistaken. Am I more or less correct on those? Yes. So we are based both in near Detroit in the town, Wald Lake, Michigan. It’s about 30 miles northwest of Detroit, and ironically in Florida, Mount is roughly 33 miles northwest of Orlando.

So we are serving. Both Central Florida and Metro Detroit in location. But we do have customers throughout the country. And on the segue side of our operation, we have become the largest repair dealer and advanced repair dealer. We owned two of three in the country that can do this advanced repair of Segways.

And so that’s made it very beneficial to support tour companies and police departments and individual owners of Segways. It’s, I of course, be, it’s a very niche audience, but because we cast such a wide net, we’re able to serve customers in every state of the country so far in, in doing this.

On the Pentago side we have a more localized within our trade areas closer to our respective dealerships. And so we typically do business with our bikes in those local areas. But we’ve also found a way to in increase our. Offerings by offering the Segway Easy Ship program.

And that program allows customers to receive an in official Segway box to pack their, their needed re repair, needed items in it, send it to us, and then we will fix them and ship it back. So we’ve made it convenient for customers to engage with us and that’s allowed us to serve customers in.

remote places and various places throughout the country, even Alaska and Hawaii. Oh, wow. That’s really cool. John, one of the things you mentioned, and certainly something I enjoy learning about as I talk to business leaders across the United States on the podcast is nicheing down and finding a niche or niche, however you say that word, but finding one that works for you.

You really have defined a very specific niche. What you’re focused on. How do you think that has helped you be, become an expert in that, as well as how do you think that’s helped you nationally gain a recognition because of that expertise? In other words, has that nicheing down been beneficial? Yes, it has.

So part of our growth strategy at the time when other segue dealers in particular decided. , this wasn’t the right model for them. We’ve had an opportunity to grow by buying assets and resources of other businesses, and that’s allowed us to have a stronghold in the markets that they previously served.

So then, if we buy a business in out west then suddenly. Customers that had been doing business with them prior and then we get their resources and and start to have some easy ins with their customers. So having the supplies and customers it’s allowed us to grow quickly and suddenly our main great Lake Segway.

Started to have a national presence and being recognized among customers throughout the country. Very cool. I think it’s just so exciting to hear how that business has grown, and I love, in your case, how that idea and everything really sprouted from just an. . And in event, you know that tour that you and your wife originally went on and how one thing led to another and now years later you’ve got a thriving business with multiple locations and multiple businesses underneath that umbrella.

All supporting that same immobility solutions that we’ve talked about. , as you take a look at the future and we take a look a couple years down the road, what types of trends do you see or changes do you see happening in the mobility industry, John, that you think would be relevant to the, other businesses?

. So I think the auto industry is driving a lot of these trends. But there’s a migration from. Fossil fuel to electric. And that has improved the technology for for bikes and for segways and other mobility devices. That’s allowed us to increase the range and for consumers who rely on those batteries to to build, enjoy the product longer and.

So that’s allowed for people to embrace the technology. And we definitely are seeing a lot of people buying electric bikes that didn’t even consider it a couple years ago and it quickly changed the landscape of how people are riding bikes and and MA’s seniors.

Our needing a little assist can ride 60 miles and use the the pedal assist system, the throttle to, to get them around further. And also we’re seeing street scapes change where I know for an example in Detroit, along Jefferson Avenue, they’ve added a bike lane where that was in the heart of the automotive industry down the street from GM headquarters, there’s a bike lane. We wouldn’t have seen that a couple decades ago. It was more how do we get more car sales and how do we get people to, to buy cars and. The thought is, how can we transport, how can people transport themselves or how can we aid them in their transportation?

So that’s been a big shift in, in our thinking as a society. And, we are right at the heart of that trend. . I can imagine, and I can imagine some of the things you’re seeing really are having a dramatic impact in the mobility solution because unlike the vehicle side or even, I know the trucking side that they’re talking about where obviously sometimes, you know those, the, I think of an article I recently read about, trying to figure out how to, John Deere was trying to use batteries for some of its largest tractors and some of the difficulty they run into there just due to different landscapes and weight and run times on the e mobility solution stuff that you’re working on.

It seems like such a natural fit because that same technology, but shrunk down obviously to the appropriate size. Can have such huge value in those areas that we’ve talked about, especially when we’re talking about more municipal areas and the ability, whether it be to ride trails or to be at a venue or anything like that.

I just, I think that’s, it’s so cool to see how all that’s coming together and hear how some of those advances in the automotive world are also driving into the mobility space to drive change there. So that’s really exciting. One of the things I love to always ask John, is as a business owner, somebody who’s had experience in growing a business in that as we look forward economically, I know a lot of people are expecting some rough water, so to speak, over the next year or two economically, and we’re seeing more people considering maybe starting a side hustle or deciding that maybe due to necessity of a layoff or whatever, they actually need to start a business as a seasoned business person.

What advice would you give to someone that’s contemplating that move if they say, Hey, I’m at that point where I really want to start a side hustle, or I want to try to do something or I’m in a spot where I wanna start my own business. As a, an entrepreneur, what advice might you share with somebody in those shoes was?

Yeah, that’s excellent question. So what I’ve found is you need to find, unique, right? And it could be really in any area. As you interact with people and day to day and talk to enough people, I think you’ll find where there are missing links or opportunities to, to help solve problems.

And when you start to identify the problems that you can help. Really be methodical, really think through what it is that, how you can help solve those problems. And then once you’ve done your research and you’ve put a lot of thought and prayer into defining the opportunity, then go and talk to some business advisors.

There’s a lot of free resources. I know particularly in Michigan. With M E D C and small business administration and other resources that you, they can help you find financing and help you define your business strategy. And a lot of these resources are provided at no cost or funded on taxpayer dollars, , so that there are great tools out there that can help.

Business owners and entrepreneurs get started. And some of that we had to learn on our own. But if you want to have a leg up, that would, that’s the place I would start. , to, to get going in the business operation. I think that’s some great advice on getting started and all that.

On that as a follow up question, a challenge question if, I dunno if you’ve ever watched The Apprentice or any of those other shows on tv, but from a reality TV perspective, if we could put ourselves in those shoes for a minute. If I said, Hey John. You’ve got a thousand dollars, you’ve got 90 days to start over.

You’ve got pick industry, pick whatever you want to do. You don’t have to worry about transportation. You don’t have to worry about food and lodging. You’ve got a phone and a laptop and a thousand dollars. What key things would you do in the first 90 days to make sure you were launching a successful business?

Knowing what I know now, . That’s fair enough. I would, I would take some of the advice I shared on the previous question because I, okay. I had to, there were times where I had to spend a lot of money to, to hire folks that, they, they were qualified and great experts.

But I. Feel like I was early on burning cash too quickly, and sure. What you don’t want to do is get in debt quick, right? You want to utilize the resources that you have. And so some of those free resources allow you to really define and anytime people ask me if I should start a business, I try to talk them out of it because I know if.

are persistent and resilient enough, then they’re gonna, they’re gonna see a way to make it work. They’re gonna carry it out and make that business happen. But often I try to dissuade people from starting a business until they prove that they are able and really want to stick to it.

Because if I can talk someone out of a business then later if they were to. otherwise and I had a few obstacles or hurdles that’s going to make them not want to continue. So I think I’d rather try to , I think it’s really wise ob obstacles here. You face obstacles every day in, in running a business.

And that’s just the nature of it. So you have to be persistent and. . Oh, I think that’s really good advice and I like that perspective because I think. So often, especially if you’ve never done a business before or run a business it seems very easy when you’re looking at it.

It’s wow, these, they’ve got flexibility and they’ve got all these options and that, and until you get in the middle of it and realize that, your entire day can get sidetracked by eight 15 just because of the way life goes and then again by noon. And again, I lo I, I love being an entrepreneur, but it is challenging and I think it’s that I like your perspective.

Discouraging at the beginning and making sure they’ve got that fortitude to push through that. Because there’s certainly times as an entrepreneur when you wonder what in the world you were thinking when you began all this . That’s absolutely great. And so I, this morning it wasn’t sidetracked by eight 15, it was sidetracked by 8 45

Yeah. Absolut. , there was an extra half hour just, I had to put out some fires this morning before this podcast. But it does teach you to stick with it, right? Yes. If you can solve the small problems as you grow your business, you can start to solve larger and larger problems and as you, you start to have revenue and grow, then you can afford a team to help you solve those problems. And that’s why you need a team. That’s why you build a team. And, I think the thing I’ve learned and really we’ve only been doing this is our fifth year full-time into this business.

What I’m starting to really see is how can I build into my team? How can I build into my team? They are customers in a way, right? They’re internal customers and starting to find out their needs and find out how we can help them feel empowered to grow personally and professionally and that.

That adds to their character and their abilities. It makes them more marketable if they choose to move on after working with us. And so I’m starting to see that side of it. How can I empower my team to be the best version of themselves? And, that becomes the win-win situation.

We’ve been able to give back to our staff and our c. And really see people grow. And meanwhile, all that allows me to grow my character and leadership at the same time. . Great perspective, John. I really appreciate that. As such, I want to thank you for your time today. I know you’ve got a lot going on, and I know as we’ve talked in the past there’s always more to do in a day, often than there is time.

So thank you so much for taking time outta your day to share with us today and share your story. Let me just ask one final question as. People, let’s say, someone’s out there and they they’re interested in learning more about these various solutions that exist. We’ll put your website up and information like that, but what’s the best way for them to find out?

Is it to look for a dealer in their area? Is it to contact somebody like you that has a national presence in many ways? What would you recommend to, let’s just say there’s a a public safety official or even. Somebody who wants to start a tour company up there, what sh what should they do next to learn more about how you and your industry can help them?

Yeah. Thank you. Yes it would be our website or contacting us on our website there, our phone numbers for engaging. We have helped many budding business owners, entrepreneurs start to. So they’ll buy a fleet of machines from us as well as bike rental programs. So we’ve sold, oh, I hadn’t thought of that.

We’ve sold the fleets of both and that’s allowed people to, to start to, to make their own source of income and really I can. Impress all the things that I’ve learned along the way onto them, and hopefully that gives them a leg up in the process. So we’ve done some consulting to, to support these tour providers police departments, yet we engage with them.

We give them advice on how to find funding through grant programs. Or getting it through forfeiture funds or other homeland security type financing programs. So yeah we’ve helped police departments and fire departments, et cetera find tools and resources that allow them to be successful in getting the equipment that.

Awesome. Awesome. Again, John, thank you so much for your time today. I appreciate it. And I know as we were talking earlier, I’m sitting in Florida today and you’re in Michigan. If we happen to cross paths as you head down to your Orlando office I’d love to catch up with you as well and see you again in person.

It’s been wonderful to chat with you this morning. And again, thank you so much for your. . Yeah. Thank you Jonathan. I appreciate your time and yeah, I, I’m glad you get to enjoy the sunny weather cuz Michigan is we’re probably sub 20 degrees here today, so I’m sure you’re enjoying the 70 to 80 degrees there.

After nearly 50 years in Michigan, it’s in the winter. I’m really glad to be spending this particular February in Florida . So no, no doubt about that. So yeah, I’ll, alright, thank you everybody for joining us. We really do appreciate it. I’m sorry John, I cut you off there. Go ahead. No, I was just say I try to join you as soon as I can.

get in that warmer. Oh, I look forward to it. Everybody. Have a wonderful day. We’ll talk to you on the next episode. Bye-bye. Thank you.