While it’s hard to pinpoint the exact origin of the Moped, it is estimated that the concept of motorized bicycles has been around since before World War I. The invention a motorized bicycle is thought to have originated in Sweden in 1912 with the Douglas, a chain-drive two-wheeled vehicle that had pedals. In fact, the word moped is a portmanteau of "motor" and "pedal", and was originally coined in Sweden. However around the same time the Douglas was being developed, a business owner in Charleston, SC was also building bicycles with motors that he would rent to sailors stationed in the area who wanted to explore the town. The business and businessman would eventually be the inspiration behind Port City Moped, a small business on the Isle of Palms in South Carolina. The founders, Jordan Chaplin and Dave Jarman took the idea that was started by Jordan’s great grandfather, and developed it into a well-run business. The two met while working at Enterprise Rent a Car, and together they took an old idea and made it new again. Today, the team specializes in rentals, sales and repairs of mopeds anywhere in the Charleston area.
How did you get started with your business?
The idea for the business actually came to my partner and co-owner Jordan Chaplin after learning about his great grandfather. You see, Jordan was raised on James Island and his great grandfather owned the first Schwinn bicycle dealership in the city of Charleston. It was called Brauer’s Bike & Hobby. The shop opened in 1912 and was located where the College of Charleston Bookstore is now. Brauer’s Bike & Hobby rented bicycles to sailors. His great grandfather had the idea of attaching a small motor to the bicycles. These pre World War I bicycles are actually considered the very first mopeds in the nation. Well, unfortunately, the shop closed but then Jordan and I started collaborating, and Port City Moped LLC was formed. We are making it the premier moped sales and rental company in the “low country.” Currently, we run the business between Jordan, a mechanic and myself. We specialize in 49 cubic centimeter mopeds for tourists to explore the islands. We also started to expand our sales line as well because the demand grew as more people wanted to buy them after renting. Rising gas prices also helped fuel our growth as well.
How did you fund your business in the beginning? Have you taken on any additional funding since?
We were self-funded. We used every penny we had to open the business.
Who was your first customer?
I remember the first customer. They were a young couple who were visiting the islands. Their names were Adam & Kayla. They were the very first renters we had.
Running the Business
How did you learn to run your business?
One of the best ways to learn any business is to work for someone else. For Jordan and me, our learning took place while working at Enterprise Rent a Car. We both worked there for several years, and we knew there was a huge market when it came to tourists visiting Charleston, and more specifically, Isle of Palms. When working at Enterprise, Jordan and I had the idea to rent mopeds, and well, the business idea grew from there. We gained as much knowledge and training when it came to rentals as we could while at Enterprise, and so when we started, we started with a fleet of 10 Lance and SYM mopeds.
What was the biggest mistake you made in your first year?
The biggest mistake was not having a larger investment pool when we first opened. We scratched and clawed our way through the first year. We opened doors in November 2012, but the problem was that it happened to be the slowest time on the island. We were getting prepared for Spring, and wanted to make sure we gained experience with a customer here and there before getting bombarded. I didn’t account for two months of rain/hurricane like weather during that time of the year. It was the worst start on the island for any business in years. At one point we had $300 in our checking account and needed customers fast. We will never underestimate weather conditions again.
What’s the smartest thing you did in the first year?
Putting our story in an Intuit Quickbooks contest that handpicked ‘unique’ businesses that were true entrepreneurs. We were picked out of thousands of contestants and won a $5,000 grant, which we invested into 6 brand new 49cc mopeds.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running your own business?
Riding to work every day knowing that you are providing a service that is extremely enjoyable. Our success directly reflects how we treat customers. We have complete customer satisfaction where our customers typically don’t want to return moped because they are having such a good time.
What’s the most difficult/challenging thing about running your own business?
The success of the business lies on your shoulders. There is no one else to blame or turn to for answers. You have to be in charge of inventory, finances, customer service, sales & service. Moreover, you have to be willing to work a year or two without a steady income, or any income at all.
What’s the most surprising thing about running your own business?
That I started a moped shop. I never thought growing up that I would want to do that. But mainly, how happy I genuinely am about my job and the fulfillment I get every day meeting new, adventurous customers.
What business owner or entrepreneur do you admire most? Who is your role model?
My father is the entrepreneur I admire most. He went into an extremely difficult industry in office solutions (paper, printers, ink etc.) and has grown his business for over 30 years with roughly 40 employees.
It may sound out of the ordinary but my wife is my role model. She has been battling a rare autoimmune disease Myasthenia Gravis for the past 5 years with over 8 ICU visits, being put on a ventilator 5 times and almost losing her life earlier this year. We were expecting our first child and it wasn’t clear if either were going to make it at one point. During this horrific time she completed her masters in nursing from Georgetown University with a 3.7 GPA (completing some classes from her ICU bed), continued to work part time and gave birth to our baby girl. Never complaining about how she felt, or used her disease as an excuse. Knowing how fragile life is, she pushes me to have a positive outlook while always remaining strong for my family. That is a key component that tends to get overlooked when running a business, your attitude.
What I’ve Learned
If you could go back to when you were starting your business, what advice would you give yourself?
I would tell myself to conduct more research on choosing the right products to carry and to always have a nest egg to fall back on if you have a tough month or two.
What do you wish you had known before starting your business?
It’s not as flexible as you think. If the doors aren’t open, money isn’t coming in. But more importantly, I wish I had more experience working on motorcycles. That would have helped in the servicing of our rental fleet.