Most of you probably remember my article on Charm City Pedal Mill. Here is a video with Jason and Amanda talking about what the Pedal Mill is, where the idea came from, and what the tours are like. Sit back and enjoy!
Most of you probably remember my article on Charm City Pedal Mill. Here is a video with Jason and Amanda talking about what the Pedal Mill is, where the idea came from, and what the tours are like. Sit back and enjoy!
Looking for something unique and fun to do on a weekend night, or any time in Baltimore? Look no further than the Charm City Pedal Mill.
You are probably wondering, ‘What is a Pedal Mill?’ Basically, a Pedal Mill is a cycle with pedals and gears, 4-wheels, disc brakes, and a steering wheel like a car. It is powered by people, outfitted with 16 seats for adventurous riders to get it moving. It’s a Rolling Bar. A ride on the Pedal Mill is a great way to spend a night out with friends in Fells Point and Canton.
Pedal Mills are inspired by similar machines in Germany and the Netherlands called Fietcafes. Amanda Linden, the owner and entrepreneur behind Charm City Pedal Mill, first encountered Fietcafes when she was living in Germany, spending time abroad.
Later in her hometown of Milwaukee, Amanda saw some people she had known in high school. Funny thing was, they were going by on one of these crazy Fietcafe contraptions. She started talking with them, and it turned out they had started running pub crawls around Milwaukee with it. “That’s where I got the idea.” said Amanda.
So in August, 2011 she launched Charm City Pedal Mill. She runs the company along with help from a great group of dedicated friends. “Couldn’t do it without them all,” says Amanda.
Using social media and a go-getter attitude, Amanda dove head first into getting the company started. After purchasing a vehicle, she went around to all the bars in Fells Point and Canton, told them about her Pedal Mill, and gave them her business card. “Some people were like this is the coolest thing ever!” However, there were bars that she never heard back from. Now with the success of the company and pub crawls, “Those bars are now calling me saying. ‘We really want to be on your tour!” says Amanda.
The Pedal Mill stops at about 10 bars on any given night. Tours will vary depending upon the time and day. Special requests are welcome.
Amanda is no stranger to the food and restaurant business, having worked in the industry for about 13 years. However, she longed for something more. “I didn’t want to bartend, and didn’t want to manage a restaurant. I had done that before!” she lamented. With Charm City Pedal Mill she has found her true calling, running pub tours in Baltimore. “It doesn’t feel like work at all” Amanda said enthusiastically.
Amanda estimates that there are about 10 other cities that have Pedal Mills running tours, like her high school friends in Milwaukee. She emphasized that this is the, “First one in the Mid-Atlantic, which is kind of cool.”
For those interested in trying out this awesome contraption, it is $25 Mondays-Thursdays to rent out a seat. “You make that up with specials at the bar,” says Amanda. As part of being a rider on the Pedal Mill you will get a special wristband that lets bars know you are a Pedal Mill passenger, and that entitles you to specials. Each bar is different but you typically save 10%-15% on drinks and get shot specials. Tours are generally two miles long, which is great for working off all that beer and food during the night. (When else are you gonna do that, huh?)
You can also rent out the entire Pedal Mill per hour for $155. (Prices are a bit higher on the weekend.) The price goes down per hour the longer you rent it. People rent it out for birthdays, bachelor/bachelorette parties, corporate events, and other special events. “The groups coming out are usually celebrating something.” said Amanda.
The Pedal Mill is equipped with a sound system, so you can bring CDs or an MP3 player and listen to your favorite tunes through the night.
You can celebrate all you want on the Pedal Mill. Lots of people dress up in crazy costumes, “We had a whole crew of pirates last week,” Amanda told me.
One key person who helps run Charm City Pedal Mill is Jason. He fills a number of roles, acting as the main entertainer, head driver, and oversees operations and maintenance. You can see him on board the Pedal Mill most nights. He emphasized that the drivers stay sober, like all drivers should. “You drink, You pedal, We drive!” is the Charm City Pedal Mill slogan. “Never had a bad experience on here.” said Jason when talking about what it is like when they take the Pedal Mill out with customers. Jason fixes the Pedal Mill often, and was doing an alignment when I went to check it out. “He is good with the mechanics of it,” Amanda commented.
The drivers consist of a fun group of people, who all add their special skills to the business. Kevin is an electrical whiz helping fix any issues with the lights or sound system. Jeff is very good with bicycle mechanics. Sarah is the only girl driver, “She’s great, really really good” says Amanda.
You might think getting this Pedal Mill business started and getting the permits would be difficult. Amanda told me that generally the city has been receptive because Baltimore is supporting bike initiatives. She also mentioned that businesses are particularly generous in helping each other out. The company partnered with Wedding411 and some hotels to be featured in Where magazine (that magazine that is always in hotel rooms). In addition, Drink Baltimore will run specials for them.
Sounds and looks awesome, right? What are you waiting for? Go get a group of friends together and rent it! Then come back and leave a comment and tell everyone about your fun experience on the Charm City Pedal Mill.
Call (#443-956-6455) for booking a tour or seat. You can also email: email@example.com. For additional info visit: http://www.charmcitypedalmill.com/
Today I was in Clipper Mill and went to Woodberry Kitchen. I saw this amazing Audi R8 when I was walking to and from the restaurant. The car was absolutely stunning, but I liked the license plate. Made, me wish I had one!
If you are looking for a fun weekend Cars and Coffee get together, check out Caffeine Cruiser’s on Sunday’s at The Filling Station in Sparks, MD (14910 York Road). Some people get there at 8am. That might be a little early for some but some show up a little later. Go check it out if you have a cool cruiser, muscle car, exotic, motorcycle, etc.
*Pictures courtesy of Gypsy Jack.
Standard Auto Parts is something of a Baltimore institution. For those of us that like turning a wrench on the weekends and in our spare time, or for that matter for a living, Standard has been a reliable source for auto parts since 1945. It has 5 locations throughout the Baltimore metro area, delivers to over 3,000 shops, and employs roughly 150 people.
Of course this pales in comparison to the big guys in the automotive parts business. Standard is a one of a handful of independent auto parts companies still around in Baltimore. What sets Standard apart? They keep a loyal customer base by providing superior customer service, efficiency, knowledge, and fun.
What do I mean by fun? For their wholesale customers (shops), in July they ran a special where the first 50 orders over $15 received a free watermelon. “Who else does that?” commented Scott Sutton, Marketing Director for Standard. “People love it!” For another more recent promotion, if you ordered KYB struts you were automatically entered to win a Free TV! This sounded so enticing when I got this email, I considered calling Scott to set up my own corporate account and order as many KYB struts as possible. “I have a 42-inch TV in my office ready to give out.” said Scott. That marketing campaign worked! They also were nice enough to give away 50 pairs of tickets to its wholesale customers to the Inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix.
If you need a hard-to-find part and have called around all the usual auto parts stores, Standard most likely has it in stock. If they don’t, they know exactly where to get it and can usually get it to you fast. Also when you call up Standard, you are sure to get someone who knows auto parts.
Standard offers discounts to policemen, firefighters, military, and postal workers. Some discounts are as much as 40% off! “This was one of the many ideas from our countermen that we have implemented throughout the years.” said Scott. Input from employees on how to improve the business is important to Standard.
Even if you are just a regular retail customer, Standard offers a “Low-Price Guarantee.” For instance if you walk into a Standard store and wanted to buy some Wagner brake pads, but you see those pads are less expensive somewhere else, Standard will match it. Most stores will do this, but Standard goes the extra mile. The counterperson will actually call to confirm the price and they will match it.
Standard has been family-owned and operated by the Suttons for over three generations. There are 10 Sutton family members that currently work at the company. This includes Dave Sutton, Vice President, who has been with the company for 27 years. Dave and Scott showed me around the Standard Auto Parts center of operations on Hollins Ferry Rd in South Baltimore.
During my tour I got a real feeling for how the company operates. It is a very efficient operation. When an order comes in from a shop, the average time it takes to get an item or part out the door is 12 minutes. They say they were one of the first auto parts companies that allowed shops to log-on to see statements, invoices, and parts ordered.
During my visit I had lunch at Italianos with Dave, Scott, and Chuck Mosser who is Standard’s Corporate Controller. The menu was huge and I had trouble deciding what to get but Chuck and Dave didn’t even need to look at the menu. Chuck orders the same salad everyday, while Dave knows the menu in and out. The waitress basically knew what they were going to order. I had the Fish & Chips, which were quite good.
As I was getting ready to leave Dave’s office, a rubber band came flying in. Dave quickly picked up a rubber band and said, “Excuse me, I need to take care of this!” and retaliated. He then proudly showed me his extra large rubber band for dealing with particularly troublesome employees. Standard seems like a great place to work.
For over 65 years Standard Auto Parts has been a dependable place to get auto parts. Most likely it will continue to be a family run business and a Baltimore institution for another 65 years.
A: So you are looking for a big investment?
NM: We were in this tech accelerator, and the culmination of that was a demo day. All tech companies in the accelerator, we all gave 7-10 minutes pitches and demos to a room full of investors. In addition to all the people we were meeting with and talking to throughout the summer. That kicked off the process of, ok we are out here we are live now. Now we want to raise a little venture capitol to grow the business and expand. On day 1 we made money on our first transaction. We really need to be widespread to make a lot of money. So taking venture capitol will help us accelerate that process. So that’s what we are in the process of doing right now.
A: Have you had a good amount of people interested in the business?
NM: Yeah, you know it’s always a process and a time consuming thing of people digging into your business finding more about it, finding more about you. Your growth, and all of that stuff. It’s going well so far. We are meeting with a lot of people interested in the idea and the space. Meeting with a lot of individual investors and venture capitalists. We are definitely hopeful, it continues to go well.
A: If I rent my space for $10, you guys take a 20% commission?
NM: Right, we take 20% and the rest goes directly to you.
A: You get a check?
NM: Right now we send you a check. We are working on integrating the ability to get PayPal payments or Direct Deposit payments in your bank account. So you will have the option to get whatever you want. If you want a check mailed to you, that’s fine. If you want direct deposit in your bank account, that’s fine as well. That 20% we take covers all the operating fees and credit card costs, all that maintenance. We want to keep that as low as we can, because we want the community to benefit from it. If people aren’t making money on this, then we are not making money on this either.
A: How are you promoting and getting the word out about this?
NM: We love to talk to people like this. A lot of what we do is local focused, we want to build up Baltimore we want to build up DC. We go to commuter areas. We talk to people, we go to football games, talk to people, pass out flyers.
A: So Guerrilla Marketing
NM: A lot of grassroots type guerrilla stuff, because buying Google Adwords for us, it’s expensive and it’s not relevant for us. Not too many people Google search “Where can I rent out my parking space?” not a big thing. Once you get out there and talk to people about it, they see the value of it. That’s what really does it for us.
A: I assume you are trying to use Social Media?
NM: Of Course! Both Adam [Z] and I, and the company are on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, everything. We encourage friends, people who use the service when you book space. “Hey I’m using this” or “Hey, I just made a bunch of money using this!” Particularly with our early users if you refer your friends or neighbors.
A: You get a discount?
NM: Right, you get a discount. So you know we really want to encourage people’s friends to sign up. If they don’t want their neighbors to sign up with the same spot, but maybe their friend on the other side of the city. The more spaces we have available the more we will focus on bringing people in. For most people with their parking spaces they have found money. The Worst Case Scenario it’s exactly the way it was before. The best case is you start making a bunch of cash on your driveway.
A: Since the Grand Prix, which was about a month ago, you have had no problems with people saying “Oh this person was causing problems in my parking space?”
NM: So far we haven’t! We have built in as many things as possible, in our terms of service. We have backs-ups if there are any issues, we are there to handle them as quickly as possible. So far you know the community aspect of it naturally protects itself. It is bound to happen if we get big enough, there will be a bad experience for someone. We will do everything we can to protect from that.
A: Yeah, with Couchsurfing at first you think, “This is really weird. I don’t know if I want to do this.” Then you try it out. You realize the community aspect does work itself out somehow.
NM: Even with Couchsurfing you can see if people have hosted before. We are building in reviews as well. You can see on both ends of the spectrum. So you can see this person has used our service 10 times and this person has 15 thumbs-up, it is a great space. A little thing goes a long way. Protecting people’s reputation on the website. Providing that extra level of security.
A: Do you have anything else you want to tell me?
NM: I think we covered it! Working out of the accelerator with these other companies, our concept is simple. You can sit down with someone and in 2 minutes they know what we are doing. It is not some crazy ad-technology, where 2 months later they are like what are you talking about? How does it work? There is a community marketplace for parking. We want people to share their parking spaces with one another. It’s straightforward!
A: Where did you come up with the name, ParkingPanda?
NM: We first built the prototype, the initial version of the product, at the Startup Weekend Baltimore which is a weekend long start-up business event, where you create a business, Friday night to Sunday night. Buying a domain name is very difficult, everything you think is cool or good is taken. We were looking and couldn’t find anything. I don’t remember who said it, but someone said, “You guys should get a mascot!” I think Adam [Z] might have been like “the ParkingPanda” and it became a running joke throughout the weekend. Then ultimately, we were like, this is fun, people love Pandas. It fits with us, our attitude, the way we approach the business. It turned into a great marketing thing, people love ParkingPanda! When it gets out there people recognize it. So we just went with it. After start up weekend, we actually won the start-up weekend event.
A: Do you get money from that?
NM: We got a little money to help us incorporate. Once we incorporated the company got money. Adam [Z] and I didn’t collect anything from it, but the company did. So that led back into our marketing and building out the site.
A: Were there domains that you thought were really good, but they would not work or were not available?
NM: For the longest time we wanted ParkingSpace, we tried a million different things, but they were all taken. We didn’t let ourselves linger. We went to check and if it was taken, we were like “Eh!” That’s the way domain names work now, it is hard to get them. That is why you see all these ridiculously named companies. ParkingPanda is a little bit ridiculous but it is fun and it works.
A: It took a while for me to come up with my Blog name, Adam’s Auto Advice. When I thought of it though it was like “Oh! That’s great!”
NM: That’s what happens when you build this out in a weekend. We are happy with it, it has worked out great. It is recognizable, we have our little logo which is a car Panda.
Adam: Is there a demographic you are trying to target?
Nick Miller: The thing is that it is parking space as opposed to Airbnb, which is apartments, makes it more broad and widespread. So anyone can use it. Early on we are targeting sports fans. You can use this at the Ravens Game. I went to a Ravens game on Sunday and I used the service to get a parking spot by the Ravens Game. If I come back, I will do it again. If you have repeat users you have the potential for them to tell their friends and stuff like that. As we move into commuters, it becomes a more broad set of people. So it starts from hardcore fans and grows out from there.
A: I actually went to a concert at Rams Head Live the other night. One of my friends is a Bass Player. I went to the show with another friend and his car got towed. I was like “Oh S#$*! I should have used ParkingPanda!”
NM: Free parking is great, and it can be free or really cheap but you risk getting towed or ticketed. Particularly if you don’t know the law. If it is 2 hour parking, in DC that what it is like. When I was down there for school, there is street parking but it’s all only 1-2 hour parking. It is enforced strictly there. At the same time there are a lot of townhouses there and driveways and stuff like that and the people who live in them actually have permits to park on the streets. So they can park on the street for as long as they want and leave their driveways open to rent to you. So you don’t need to deal with the trouble of the ticket or towing. They don’t tow the cars down there, they boot the cars down there. So you just can’t move it!
A: There are some other parking websites that are kind of similar but they are focused mainly on garages. Do you see yourself competing with them or are you offering a different thing?
NM: There are things like Craigslist, but there are a couple of sites like Parkwize. It will let you reserve in a garage before you ever go out. In some ways we think what we are offering is different. They offer you the ability to reserve a space and know exactly where you are going. We also offer the ability to save you money and to avoid the traffic associated with the garage or the parking lot, and the idea it is peer-to-peer so you are supporting your community. Someone can be renting you driveway when you are renting someone else’s. So it is like back and forth community.
A: Do you see ParkingPanda really catching on? Maybe become like… Zipcar or something like that?
NM: We hope so! We think there is a big enough market and a big enough need for it. If you look around lately the sort of peer-to-peer community model, a company like Airbnb where you are renting out someone’s room in their apartment as a hotel, that company is now worth over a billion dollars!
A: Oh wow! I did not know that!
NM: Then there are the car sharing services like ZipCar and RelayRides, where you are renting your neighbor’s car. Those are catching on and starting to do really well, so right now is a great time. People really see the value of earning a little extra cash with their assets and with helping out the community in general. If people are willing to let you share their car, I feel like there are people who are certainly willing to let you use their driveway. You have to be confident in letting someone get behind the wheel of your car, but your driveway…there is a pretty low barrier to entry there.
A: You need to trust someone to use Airbnb, for staying at your place. I personally have never used Airbnb, but I have used Couchsurfing before. I am sure you have heard of that!
NM: I have Couchsurfed myself as well.
A: I actually told my mom about ParkingPanda and she was like, “We should use that!”
NM: That person may not be willing to Couchsurf, but your driveway is so much easier.
A: So you used to work for LivingSocial? Can you tell me about that?
NM: Back when I was in Georgetown I started at LivingSocial as an intern one summer, and I started there when it was about 15 people. It was still a Facebook application developer. I was there during the shift of developing Facebook applications into the local commerce and group deal space. They were already working toward the local commerce space, but I was there when the company grew very quickly. When I graduated from Georgetown, I almost stayed but I was planning on going to Grad School in NY. I left to go to grad school in NY, I ended up deciding I did not like the program I was going to go to, so I went to work for another start-up in NY.
A: What was the company?
NM: That was called GroupCommerce.
A: What do they do?
NM: They are similar to LivingSocial as they are in group commerce and local deal space. They are not consumer focused like LivingSocial is. They provide the technology for newspapers and publishers. For example the New-York Times has a group deal program, and GroupCommerce provides the infrastructure to support that. So I worked for them to develop that structure, then left to start ParkingPanda.