Blog #17

We had continuously updated the Happy Wanderer.  Again we used suggestions and help from our customers.  It changed considerably, and we decided to change the name when we went from 2 motors friction driving back wheel to a trans-axle drive. Lot of power now, but you had to shift.  It was simple to push down a click to First, next click was Second, continue clicking to Fifth gear, which was top speed, 14mph. Reverse was a pull-up click from Neutral.  Very easy to do and the trans-axle made it able to climb steepest hill in San Francisco fully loaded with two people and over 200Lbs of weight in the rear basket.  It was remarkable what that thing could climb. Our test ramp was so steep we had to nail two rows of coarse, expanded metal on it so the wheels did not slip.  The fellows loved testing the new vehicles. We had added width to our frame, enlarged the stainless steel floor panel and filled the dreams of many a person who wanted to drive a loved one or friend somewhere.  Even the large dogs climbed aboard.  The single seat Independence was still our best seller, but the Twosome fit the needs of couples and many men no longer able to drive a car.  The vehicles attracted newspaper photographers and some freebie press releases.  But a lot of marketing money is required to make the public aware.  Advertising is so expensive nationwide.  We applied for Medicare approval of the vehicles and were granted it, however, being an outdoor vehicle, they made it very difficult  for the customer to get it paid for.  By now there were quite a number of smaller electric three wheelers being made that claimed they were indoor scooters so they could easily get Medicare payment.  Having done a number of shows, we learned from the horses mouth that the smaller vehicles were used 75% of the time outside the house.  Very few were truly indoor vehicles.  So then, as now, Medicare is our competition.

We had contacted local politicians our national representatives, but they were too busy to pay attention to a small company.  Because there was a large demand for scooters, US manufacturers had them made in, where else but, China.  They were imported in and sold with Medicare paying the majority of the bill.  Our taxpayer dollars, giving our jobs away and not paying  for an original scooter that is made by Americans.  Our benches came from a Florida Company, our motors were from Ohio, all parts came from this county and they were quality parts.  As time went by, with our government hard at work, we began to lose our suppliers; they too were competing with imports.

It might be best for me to drop this subject.  Some think I’m too harsh on those supposed be representing us.

The single seat Independence and the two seat Twosome inched their way into the hearts of people who need safe outdoor transportation and liked the idea that we carried parts for every item we made since starting the business.  It might not be the same part but a replacement that works.

Blog #16

We did attend the Bike show some of the time and handed out literature to some attendees but most beneficial for us was seeing the trend toward more fuel saving vehicles including smaller cars, and a couple of Hybrid wannabees.  We also learned to do more checking into what we were going to get for any future “sharing booth expense.”

Since we are not “go to government” people, for all the paperwork and infusion into your business it creates , we had to pioneer the Happy Wanderer without the grants, aid and unknowledgeable advice of a political assistance.  We did, however, have to get A GSA contract to sell our vehicle to Veterans and Park Systems.

Although we had given up the add-on-gas kits, we still got inquires from those who preferred gas.  A gentleman from Ohio was into making three wheel gas Mopeds and we saw him and his product at the shows.  He was a one man operation, very honest, and a stand behind his product entrepreneur.  We told him we received quite a few inquiries regarding Gas vehicles and after learning he preferred to do building of his units rather than the marketing, we agreed to offer his Gas Moped to our inquiries and see if it would benefit all three, Manufacturer, Marketer, and Customer. It did. People who wanted a stable gas three wheeler for transportation that traveled 25mph, held 300Lbs, had directional signals and fit Moped qualifications in all states were delighted.

We sold quite a few, carried the consumable parts and our guys could repair almost everything on that neat little gas vehicle or talk a mechanic through the repair. Richard was happy being left to build and improve on his design.  He didn’t like all the paperwork.  We worked with him until he quit the business due to illness in his family. We sold some to the Government through our contract and then they wanted to buy a large number of them.  This caused a BIG Broo-haw-haw at the PI.  JP and I have the same work ethics. We do not have the same philosophy on money earning opportunities.  His stance, they could buy them direct from Richard at a lower cost. Since one order, not too much paperwork and we were the government’s pocket book. “Are you nuts?” I squealed when the employees had left for the day.  My stance: We spent a lot of time obtaining this GSA Contract, and now it’s going to pay off.  To obtain the GSA Contract we had to give a good discount to government.  Now quantity will sweeten the profit.  His comeback, “You see how they change  their requirements as you are filling the order, how they want this and that revised, and if some politician convinces them his state has a better “widget,” order may be canceled.  You are stuck with enough supplies that will take forever to get rid of.   And through us, all these are discounted.  Thanks, but no thanks.”

The PI civil war raged on. And here’s the victorious end of the war scenario.  JP saw that the order was given directly to Richard from the government.  We later learned  of all the annoyances it caused. He filled the order, but was not a happy camper.  We received a lovely greeting from our government a few months later in January canceling our GSA contract.  They said that we did not sell enough product to them the previous year (in which we gave them Richards name) to qualify for continued contract.  Our government at work!

Blog #15

The Veterans at the convention at Swan Lake, NY really enjoyed our little vehicles. Many had the conventional 4 small wheel electric chairs which worked fine most of the time for them, but the Happy Wanderer allowed them to travel away from the paved surface onto the wet or dry grass, through gravel and even on the winding up-down dirt paths.  They said it was a treat to have a personal vehicle that allowed this type of freedom.  But I scarfed the best treat, being invited to dance with a muscle armed Vet in  a manual wheelchair who controlled it better than I did my feet.  Believe it or not, we jitterbugged.  One of my most memorable dances. Sales improved as the Veteran’s Administration began paying for them.  Their disabilities and suggestions provided a number of changes that helped improve the product.

It was the mid to late ’70s. Advertising was very expensive.  We were still novices at some forms of marketing and still doing bike shows.  A man from Italy came to the NYC show and said he was going to do one of the biggest bike shows in the world.  He was purchasing a booth in the Italian Bike show.  Since there were so many bikes in Europe and attendees at this show, maybe we’d like to share booth with him and one other.  We had a number of inquires from Europe and had done no advertising there so thought we’d see what possibilities existed without paying full price for an expensive booth.  Can’t remember which one of us was smart enough to only take two kits over, one for bike and one for trike.  Probably me, as I am the lazy one of this duo. Four boxes of literature accompanied us.  Very heavy luggage.  On arrival, we located our pensione and slept comfortably with much anticipation.  An early morning brought us to the breakfast table  where we sat with a German, a Japanese,  a Russian painter who had a leg in a cast having been hit by a small car, and the cook.  The meal consisted of a danish, a brioche and some goat’s milk (I hope).  We hurried to bus stop and caught the bus to the show lugging 1/2 of our paraphernalia.  We found “our” booth, which was a desk sized little square laden with brochures of every kind.  One could not stand in our booth as the elephantine pile of literature was sandwiched in between 20 other “booths” all full of multi-language brochures.

Our name had been hastily printed with a marker pen among the Menu of voluminous treats.

My grandmother had pounded into my head that the true character of person is revealed in how well they handle adversity.  JP looked disappointed but waited until I was finished reciting every expletive I could think of or make up, then said, “We are in Italy, let’s see the country.” I was glad he didn’t drown!

Blog #14

The local police didn’t know what to do with one when a customer came breezing down the side of the road.  We had contacted every state and sent specs to determine where a Happy Wanderer could be used.  Fifty states, thirty different replies. Some ignored the request.  Medicare was also in a quandary as to what to do with an Outdoor wheelchair.  They finally approved it as apparently a few of our customers had some clout.

Our most ardent  supporters at first were Veteran’ s Organizations.  The NY Paralyzed Veterans invited us to bring the vehicles down to their conventions in the Catskills. Whooee, it was the closest thing to a vacation we’d had since the business started. While we left the the vehicle in the hands of pre-instructed test driver Vets, workaholic JP and I took our first journey in a paddle boat on the lake.  After 20 minutes of sunshine , paddle direction battle, and relaxation, JP dove into the water, swam to back of boat then surfaced with, “You gotta see this!” I gracefully belly flopped in and doggy paddled to the back. We submerged to see the exciting sight.

He was pointing up to the boat’s stern. What was I missing? Being a smoker at the time, I surfaced quickly, he followed with a big smile and sputtered, “We can easily motorize this.”

He survived my drowning attempt.

Blog #13

Introduction of an outdoor wheelchair that didn’t look like a wheelchair was touch and go. You only need one good hand to run the entire vehicle. Pilot had to have strength enough to steer it, but with a 16″ wheel to turn, it was fairly easy.

Although it looked like an adult three wheeler, it had no pedals.  Have a little patience with me; I’m learning to insert pictures.  Save me thousands of descriptive words and you, a lot of my babbling.  Hooray, another new learn.  And no, that’s not me on the HW.  That’s Jean, one of the five fabulous secretaries that corrected my errors before JP caught them.  By the way, as years passed and products were added, we were approached a few times by well known individuals who for a sum of money offered to pose on our vehicles.  It was tempting, but we decided first choice of any photo should be of someone who was truly using the vehicle or in a pinch a family member or employee who so desired to be in the photo shoot.  Our customers enhance our vehicles better than anyone.  They are the true celebrities. And,  yes a few celebrities have owned or are using our vehicles.  Enough said.

Remember in previous blog how Sears entrance into the gas kits  changed our sales. Well, they didn’t stay in it too long, maybe 2 years, tops.  And guess who didn’t have mechanics who knew how to fix these customer’s engines if they had problems.  So we got the residue of Sears’ brief affair with gas add-on kits.  It helped us sell off much of the large parts inventory we had purchased to aid our customers. Those most wear-out-able parts, the drive rollers, were sold in lots of 10 or 20 at a time.  I heard their price became very high once they left our stock bin.

Meanwhile, our Happy Wanderer was so unique, the press releases went out again. The pictures were better as were my descriptions.  I had gone all around the barn to get in the front door JP had opened with all specifications.  I am such a slow learner.

We also started doing more trade shows.  A mix of one disabled show, then off to another bike show.  Change of venue began to take its toll.  One year we did eleven trade shows.  The people responded well to an outdoor wheelchair.  It was like a prototype of what we now sell.  It just did not resemble a wheelchair.  It  also could climb significant grades and moved 15 mph.

Blog #12

By ’76, many people had said we did the pedaling for them, but they couldn’t sit on small 3-cornered seat, could we make something more comfortable.  They kept sending in their ideas and pictures of how they converted their tricycle into a motorized scooter.  At first we said no, but their persistence paid off.  We designed the first All Outdoor Electric Wheelchair.  We used their suggestions and our electrical expertise.  It was called, the “Happy Wanderer.”  As with any new product, it took a lot of time and money to get it’s existence out to the public.

Our attachable kits were known to very few at the time.  Bike dealers were familiar with them but they didn’t want to invest in stocking too many.  It was mostly the elderly that purchased our kits as their legs tired more easily with age and they wanted to keep cycling.  Now we were introducing a different product to the market. “Happy Wanderer” was no longer one that fit the bike market.  It fell more into the “disabled” or “physically challenged” (I don’t know the politically correct description for some of us.).

The gas shortage was subsiding, and a customer told us he could by the same gas kit from Sears for less than we sold it for.  Yowzer! He was right.  We discovered our distributor was now selling the kits, we had introduced to USA to Sears in large volume at much cheaper price, but hey, we could have bought ours from Sears cheaper than we paid the distributor.  We called him and he laughed and said, “This will make even more sales for you as more kits get out there.” We had purchased many spare parts for the TAS Gas Engine, and spent a considerable amount and much effort introducing it to public and dealers.  We realized Sears purchasing capabilities were our out of our league, and Mr. Tanaka had depended on his distributor to sell units and understood all are in business to grow and make money.  The dealers quit buying gas kits from us as they couldn’t compete with Sears pricing.  Our business had grown with the Gas products and we now had rented a large garage for building our kits, storage of parts and stock and had employed more people.  Yes, we made more, but had to spend more.  One quick example, our insurance increased due to handling Gas engines.  They went faster than electrics and gas is combustible.  The dealer had wanted assurance we were well covered.  We did some rethinking at this juncture in our journey.  There were other negatives in the scenario now.  We no longer had the contact with customers that we enjoyed before.  We were now busy managing and paper working and dealing with personnel.  Bah Humbug.  For 5 years, no vacations. Also training new people means temporary loss of quality control which is costly to correct.  More Trade Shows which were a break from the regular,but these do-it-yourselvers lugged all the paraphernalia to and from show in a VW Van if within 600 miles of our place.  Sears had taken over our sales.  Our decision was to only handle what we made unless there were ample suppliers to choose from.  We were knee deep in “Happy Wanderer” promotion at this time.

Blog #11

Just got back from water ski trip with family. What a wet blast.  All in family water ski, some fun to watch create a 20′ rooster  tail at  side of their single ski.  This two ski great gramma hardly creates a wake.  I cross boat wake ASAP and get to smoother water.  My youngest calls me Styro.  She says I pop up like Styrofoam out of the water then I ski aimlessly wherever the waves or wind takes me.  Lake Powell in Utah is great skiing, however in the narrow, winding canyons, all boats’ wake bounces from the high rock walls to opposite wall and back.  With other boats traveling “my” canyon, skiing is exhausting.  You’re watching for quick turns around narrow bends, waves from front, cross waves from other boats, 45 degree waves bouncing off walls and the river’s flotsam and jetsam.  Of course I had to go every chance I got.  JP’s not a big man, but his feet are so big, they just fit in the last lock slot.  I tell him he doesn’t need water skis, we’ll just tow him barefoot behind the boat.  Fishing was good but one fool on board knotted the line with almost every cast.  She didn’t catch any fish.

Houseboat was 59 feet.  Slept 13 people and two 100lb. chocolate labs comfortably. Cost, for Houseboat, 6 days; $3900.00 plus gas.  We took family’s Master Craft ski boat.  Wonderful place to go whether you ski or not.

Vacations are over for 2009, so you won’t have to skip down to business info for rest of year. (Originally posted 6/24/09)

Blog #10

Here we were in the greatest City on earth, in our little booth, competing with large glitzy booths, beautiful models in designer brevities and the Dealers were coming to Palmer’s booth placing orders with a simple Mom and Pop duo in their K-Mart duds. It was a lot of work , but some of the most exciting experiences of the PI adventure.  I thought we worked harder and longer than any other business people.  Not so. Everyone I met, whether CEO of a large Corporation or small corner Bike shop worked as hard as we did.  They were all enthusiastic about their product, place and customers.  Viva les Entrepreneurs.

A lot of interesting things happened at the Trade shows we attended.  This one surprised even me.  The last day of the show, there weren’t as any people stopping at our booth.  Most were tired and winding down.  Two casually dressed men stepped into our booth and JP, still full of energy and enthusiasm, started answering their questions and explaining our products.  I went to a booth a couple of spaces down and spoke with one of the tricycle manufacturers, got their OEM prices and chatted a while.  He asked what was going on at our booth. “Nothing much,” I shrugged.  He said, “Well, you sure are drawing a big crowd.”  I turned and couldn’t even see our booth for all the people.

I hurried through the booth behind ours to see what was up.  There was JP still talking to the same two men.  I watched the crowd watching the stranger that did most of the talking. Everyone was smiling.  He talked and laughed with JP for about 15 minutes, then shook his hand, took literature given to them and left. JP said, “We generated a lot of interest in our product when those two were here.” Mind you, JP is a true engineer, his curiosity is in the mechanical, electrical and scientific aspect.  He had been chatting with someone who talked the same language he did.  It was the Movie Star, Anthony Quinn, who was generating the large audience.  JP doesn’t know movie stars, he only knows Mr. Tony Quinn.

Blog #9

Time for another phone.  And, another “Discussion.” “What d’ya mean, an 800# where we pay for all calls?” It did free up “his” phone for ordering parts, talking with suppliers, and all non-sales business aspects.  The # in our advertisements changed to our new 800 number.

The gas shortage continued and sales from dealers increased.  Now, some wanted gas also.  We were not about to try and invent a better than established gas engine.

A distributor called us about that time and offered a gas engine that we could sell without too much change in our ad costs.  We ordered two and saw what was needed to incorporate into our marketing.  A Japanese company made the little gas engine that mounted on the front wheel.  It performed very well and when dealing direct with manufacturer regarding any problem, they were helpful and efficient. So we started carrying the TAS bicycle engines.  Fewer, at that time in the US, had heard of their gas engines than had heard of our electrics.  We truly began to pioneer market their product.

It was a good product, and the dealers could give choice of an Electric or Gas attachable kit to their customer. Business picked up. The CEO of Tanaka came to the NYC Trade Show where we displayed his and our product together. He was a delightful gentleman and stayed at the booth a lot of the day meeting people and watching JP and I deal with Bike Dealers and interested attendees.

Blog #8

I just read of the Brazilian plane loss over the Atlantic. 228 loved ones taking life’s final bow. I wonder if those left grieving realize how many  of us share their sorrow. (Originally posted 6/3/09)

Now, that we were somewhat recognized as beginners in the bike trade, we hired teenagers to build some kits.  Prior to this, I answered the phone, sent out a little, now press printed, brochure and if an order came back, wrote it up and handed it to JP who built what was requested. Both of us packed it, I typed a label, called UPS and put our few packages on the back porch for pick up. We knew everyone we shipped to as we included a little note telling them to call us if they had any problems or suggestions on how to improve the kit.  With the advent of sending to dealers, we stopped note sending. It took quite a while to build a dealer base.  Meanwhile, we were doing some paid advertising.  Individual orders were trickling in.

One in particular comes to mind.  We offered two motors when we first started. One was the Deluxe and one, the Executive.  The little silver Deluxe fit most needs as Florida was our biggest order state.  Not many hills there. An order came in from a man who wanted an Executive motor kit.  We always questioned purchaser as to their needs.  If they had limited mobility or were completely dependent on the motor for all their local travel, the heavier, more expensive Executive fit their needs. If they could pedal, had mild hills, or just wanted to motor half the time, the lighter Deluxe model fit the bill.  This guy, had no physical limitations and didn’t need an assist for biking. In fact he had no bike or trike.  Jose was going to strap it on his back and fly.

This order taker thought that was the funniest thing I’d heard since the business started.  And we had already sold motors for Giant Roller skates for Roller rinks, powered a Turtle on TV; (I think of that “Palmer Turtle Power”) and sold a few to Circus clowns, big guys on baby trikes. JP, always the inventor, chastised me for laughing at someone’s dream. You never know.  A year and a half later, Jose ordered another motor.  That shut me up.

A real secretary, high school students, Jack II and girlfriend Barb, working on stock and 10,000 envelopes.  It doesn’t get much better than this.