‘What’s a Segway?’ was the first question people asked when Brian and Sue presented their business cards to prospective customers in Moncton, N.B. Others, familiar with the Segway, associated the two-wheeled, self-balancing, electric personal transporter with warm locales like California. Still others viewed it as a vehicle for high-speed racing activities, rather than as a means of personal transport.
Faced with multiple hurdles, Brian Doyle and his partner Sue Wellwood had to come up with a plan to break into the market by educating the public, not only on what a Segway was exactly, but also on how it could be used for leisure and work activities.
Before they got together, Brian and Sue had each set up and run successful entrepreneurial ventures. A Moncton native, Brian had been involved in part-time work buying and fixing houses, but closed down after the field became competitive resulting in low margins. Sue had been operating a cleaning business in Dixonville, Alta., but moved back home to Moncton in 2009 to take care of her ailing mother.
In 2012, looking for something fun to do for Brian’s birthday in Charlottetown, PEI, they came across a Segway tour. After five minutes on the vehicle, they were both sold on bringing the idea back to Moncton. The tour operator was very helpful in providing details of his venture and the contact information for the Segway company in Bedford, New Hampshire.
After contacting Segway, the couple was delighted to learn that no one from their province had been given the territory for a Segway Experience Center (SEC) – a sort of exclusive dealership. Segway was careful in setting up SECs, so as not to compete geographically. Soon after, they set up the business, looked at regulatory issues dealing with transportation and travelled to Bedford to get certified in the repair and maintenance of the Segway and ordered 10 personal transporters for their new business.
The couple decided that the key to addressing their challenges was to get people to experience the Segway. They decided to offer tours to journalists, city councillors, front-desk staff of hotels, radio talk show hosts and other opinion leaders to showcase what the ‘Segway experience’ was all about.
Touring the town also made them visible to the general public leading to more buzz and market education. These initial activities led to discussions with town hall and parks for offering tourism related tours for both residents and the 1.2 million people that visit the Moncton area each year. The interest generated by these initial contacts also led to involvement with the corporate sector in which the couple used the Segway for retreat training and leisure events.
Among various offerings, the company provides guided Personal Transporter (PT) tours of Greater Moncton’s major tourist attractions including the Fundy Tides. They operate ten PTs which provide enough room for 8 to 9 guests per session. For longer tours, they charge $39 per person for an hour or $69 for two hours. Another popular introductory offering is called a 10-for-10, which allows patrons to try out a Segway for ten minutes for $10. During the winter months, they operate in the snow with their X2 models which have larger tires to provide better traction as well as offer the 10-for-10 in the malls during Christmas time.
In the short period of one year, the company had established itself on sound footing. Brian and Sue exceeded their business plan forecasts and are now on their way to expand their business. With exclusive dealership rights in the province, they are in discussions with offering tours for cruise ship passengers in Saint John, expanding their business to the town of Sackville, offering mobility solutions to law enforcement & security personnel, indoor building transportation and usage by people with mobility issues to name a few.
Nauman Farooqi is a professor and head of the department of commerce in the Ron Joyce Centre for Business Studies of Mount Allison University .
This is the latest in a regular series of case studies by a rotating group of business professors from across the country. They appear every Friday on the Report on Small Business website.
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