“Traffic and parking were getting crazy and we realized that there had to be some better solutions.”
As you head down the stairs with Michael Stevulak to Scooter Underground, after wistfully looking at the Mazda RX-8 in the Pacific Mazda showroom upstairs, you get the sense that he’s like a kid in a candy store. Once you see the scooters and electric bikes in this lookalike London underground station, you want him to be your best friend. Sporting bright colours and sleek designs, they are the ultimate toy for grownups.
But Scooter Underground is not just about fun. According to Stevulak, “Scooter Underground is more an urban transportation store than a scooter store.”
The idea was born while he and his wife were in Europe. “Everywhere you looked there were scooters, electric bikes, and small cars and, more importantly, special parking spaces for them,” he says.
Returning to Victoria, he began planning and developing the business. Scooter Underground opened its doors in the fall of 2007 after three years of planning and research. Stevulak is no stranger to the transportation business, being a partner in Pacific Mazda for 20 years. He sells cars, but knows the big-picture regional transportation and environmental issues too.
“There has been talk of mass transit in the Greater Victoria area for a long time, but nothing is ever done. The Colwood crawl gets worse all the time. This can’t continue — as we create urban sprawl, we must have cost-effective and environmentally sensitive ways of moving people,” he says. “Scooter Underground is part of the answer to that.”
Scooters and electric bikes need to meet strict Transport Canada requirements but, in sourcing quality scooters and bikes from China, he ran up against “Doing Business in China 101.”
“We wanted to import a German scooter that was being produced in China, but we also wanted to do everything by the book in terms of Transport Canada safety requirements, which can be a long and expensive process.
“We thought we had exclusive Canadian distribution rights, only to see the same scooters being sold by a company in Quebec. Even though we thought we had all our bases covered and had a good working relationship, our first experience with doing business with China was not a good one.”
His biggest surprise, once Scooter Underground was up and running, was his market. He figured it would be about 50/50 male and female and most purchasers would be under 25. Happily, Stevulak says, “we were completely wrong. We have as many customers over the age of 50 as we do under the age of 25.”
As the business grows, Stevulak intends to use the Victoria store as a prototype and then expand either through selling franchises or establishing company owned stores. “We want to be known as the purveyors of urban transportation,” he says.