In 2008, Capital City Scooters in Columbus, Ohio, opened its doors despite a lack of scooter inventory.
Instead, it opened to service scooters and sell tiki items, shop memorabilia and apparel. This may not seem like a solid start to a business, but to Capital City Scooters co-founder and owner Caitlin Didier, this was big news. Weeks before the shop opened its doors, Caitlin’s husband and business partner, Gary Didier, suffered a fatal heart attack.
“To be totally honest, I was ready to go with him. He was the absolute love of my life,” said Caitlin. “It didn’t even occur to me that we would open.”
All Things Scooters
Two years earlier, in 2006, Caitlin and Gary purchased their first scooter and fell in love with all things surrounding the two-wheeled vehicle. Like many of Capital City Scooters’ customers, the choice to buy a scooter came from a need for an efficient way of commuting around town. And, like many of Capital City Scooters’ customers, owning a scooter looked like tons of fun.
“My husband purchased a scooter for work, and I wanted one, too, because they looked so fun,” said Caitlin. “So, we bought a pair of scooters for our fifth wedding anniversary.”
The Didiers took a 700-mile scooter trip to Kansas after they purchased two Honda Metropolitans, and soon after the trip, the two discovered a local enthusiast group in Columbus called the Columbus Cutters.
It was there that they met fellow scooterists and attended the Scoot-A-Que scooter festival. The Didiers immersed themselves in Columbus’ scooter culture, and after meeting lifelong friends through scootering, Gary and Cailtin founded their own scooter enthusiast club, the Easy Peasey Scooter Posse.
It Takes a Community
Gary was working at a scooter shop in Columbus when the owner approached him with an opportunity to set him up with a scooter franchise. Gary and Caitlin jumped at the chance and began plans to start a scooter shop with a focus on the scooter community and lifestyle.
Caitlin began looking seriously for a place to open Capital City Scooters and quickly drew up a business plan the store would sell Sym Scooters first and then expand to Genuine Scooters and eventually Vespa.
“We found a great space about a mile from our house,” said Caitlin. “We spent two or three months renovating the inside to get everything ready to open.”
One week before the shop’s slated opening date, Gary passed away and Caitlin found herself in a tough place. During that time, the scooter community stepped up and joined Gary and Caitlin’s family to help support Caitlin and Capital City Scooters.
The Columbus Cutters and the Easy Peasey Scooter Posse both attended Gary’s funeral, and in the weeks after, pitched in to help Caitlin and Chris open the shop.
“Scooterists stopped by in those weeks and helped put up a wall or paint or do whatever we needed help with,” says Caitlin. “The show of support was astonishing.”
Additionally, Chris Dieder, Gary’s son, offered to move to Columbus to help Caitlin open and run the shop’s service department.
“Chris has an automotive technology degree,” explained Caitlin. “Four days after the funeral, Chris got in his car and moved up here. He’s been pivotal to the success of this shop and the service department. He’s really helped build our clientele here. He’s a saint.”
On Dec. 22, 2008, Capital City Scooters had its soft opening, but the shop had no scooters to sell. “We weren’t able to sell scooters until May 2009 when we were able to show that we were signed on as a dealer,” said Caitlin.
That didn’t stop the scooter community from supporting the newly opened shop.
“A lot of people came out and bought T-shirts, tikis and toys or anything else we had to sell around the shop,” said Caitlin.
More Than a Shop
Capital City Scooters is currently a SYM and Genuine dealer and carries GMax helmets and Fly Race gear. The shop also carries goggles, balaclavas, scooter covers, trickle chargers, locks, chrome accessories and more.
“When we designed the shop, we wanted it to be a destination for scooterists and embody the scooter lifestyle,” said Caitlin. “So we have a little sitting area with coffee, and on Saturday mornings it will be filled with scooterists hanging out before going on a ride.”
Capital City Scooters is also active within the local community and supports local businesses, festivals, clubs and events. The Scoot-A-Que opening meet-and-greet is being held at Capital City Scooters, and this year marks the event’s 16th anniversary.
Community is everything for Capital City Scooters. In the winter, the shop shows movies to combat cabin fever. During riding season, the shop encourages riders to play scooter tag, a game that involves taking pictures of your scooter at a local landmark, posting the image to the shop’s Facebook page and challenging others to replicate the picture.
Capital City Scooters also partners with local businesses such as Mikey’s Late Night and Jeni’s Ice Cream, who both rely on vehicles that Capital City Scooters services. The shop also partners with the Columbus Crew fan club and Ohio Roller Girls. Word of mouth drives the majority of sales, and Caitlin points out that the shop receives a lot of word of mouth support from the LGBT community in Columbus.
Beyond marketing through word of mouth, Capital City Scooters advertises in locally owned businesses and has a strong social media presence on Facebook, Yelp, Foursquare and Google+. Early on, the shop marketed to Ohio State University’s campus, but found that the market wasn’t there.
“I don’t know if it’s because so many of the students are transient or cash-poor, but we just haven’t had a whole lot of luck marketing towards students thus far,” said Caitlin.
Capital City Scooters even extends beyond the scooter community. “I actually have customers that come in to town once a month to see a local band playing next door at Rumba Café, and they’ll always check to see if I have new tiki. They’re not scooterists I’m they’re tiki destination. It’s not paying the bills but it’s a lot of fun,” said Caitlin.
Capital City Scooters Today
Capital City Scooters has recently hired a third employee because things have been busy around the shop. “We’ve pretty much doubled our sales every year since we’ve opened,” said Caitlin. But, sales are only one way that Caitlin measures her success. “Sometimes I stand back and think, ‘Would I ever know this person if I didn’t have scooters?’ and I don’t know if I would.”
Caitlin and the Capital City Scooters team go beyond the sale to complement the scooterist’s lifestyle and build relationships with the passenger scooter community. “I don’t think I’ve met a more amazing type of person than a scooterist. They’re just so fun and adventurous and loyal.”
It’s those feelings about her customers that drive her dealership’s business. “Be honest and passionate about your work,” said Caitlin. “Our customers feel that when they bring their scooter in for service or repair, they’re not going to be taken advantage of or charged for unnecessary work. I’m also a low pressure sales person and encourage people to buy what they love.” And, when customers love what they buy, business repeats and in Caitlin’s case, a community forms.