One of Andrew Goodyear's clients, a recent amputee, didn't want to leave the house because of the stress of having to maneuver out of a...
MIAMI — One of Andrew Goodyear’s clients, a recent amputee, didn’t want to leave the house because of the stress of having to maneuver out of a wheelchair and into a car.
For another customer, the trouble came when she tried to help her husband from his chair into a car, but wasn’t strong enough.
These are situations Goodyear understands well.
“Having a van is so important to having a life,” said Goodyear, a quadriplegic and the owner of Wheelchair Getaways franchises. “I have so many customers who said, ‘I can’t go out.’ They said it’s like letting them out of jail when they have a vehicle that they can get in and out of easily.”
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An accident at 17 tossed Goodyear from the back of a car, breaking his neck. It paralyzed him from chest down, leaving him with limited use of his arms and no use of his fingers.
“When you’re 17, you don’t have perspective to understand that life goes on,” said Goodyear, now 44.
But Goodyear managed to parlay his injury into business success.
He opened franchises of Wheelchair Getaways, a van-rental company, in southeast Florida and later went into business with Movin’ On Mobility to customize vans for people with disabilities.
“When someone says, ‘I just got injured; it’s my first time with a power chair,’ you just feel the sense of relief in their voice when they know somebody else knows what’s going on and can really guide them,” said Goodyear, of Tequesta, Fla.
It was a trip to South Florida for a wedding in 1988 that started Goodyear thinking about going into the van business. He had graduated from the University of Virginia and was working as a commercial real-estate analyst.
He couldn’t find anywhere to rent a van, and calls to medical-supply companies, rehab centers and local chambers of commerce didn’t help. Those places did, however, say they’d often get calls with the same requests.
He spoke to a friend about starting a van-rental company in Washington, but soon decided that while he liked the business idea, he didn’t care for the cold weather. So he moved to Palm Beach County in 1990.
Meanwhile, his friend had seen a magazine ad for Wheelchair Getaways.
“I said, ‘Why reinvent the wheel?’ ” he recalled. “I ended up being the second franchise.”
So he started the business in February 1991, with the rights to Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. In 2004, he expanded to the Fort Myers and Naples area.
Altogether, the company has more than 20 rental vans and three full-time employees.
The company delivers vans to people’s homes or drops vans off at the airport.
“The customer service is very specialized,” he said. “It’s not a situation where you can throw someone the keys and say, ‘Your car is in A9.’ You have to show them the safety equipment. It takes a significant amount of time to make sure you’re comfortable.”
It was while trying to grow his rental fleet that Goodyear met Rod Alt in 2003.
Goodyear wanted Alt’s company, Movin’ On Mobility, to customize a couple of vans. Within a year, Alt would buy out Goodyear’s partner in the rental business and Goodyear bought a share in the customization company.
Movin’ On Mobility brings in far greater revenue than the rental company.
Revenues for Goodyear’s Wheelchair Getaways was nearly $600,000 last year, a number that has been holding steady for the past few years. The Movin’ On Mobility locations he has a stake in brought in about $1.6 million last year.
“People can rent before they buy,” Alt said. “If you get a new injury, you may just need one for a few months to go to the doctor. When they start to recover, then they might need the vehicle for every day.”
Of the partnership, Alt said: “It’s probably easier for customers to relate to Andrew. People tend to kind of associate with him because of his disability. They know he can relate to what they’re feeling. I’m probably more technical because I’ve done all the work, but Andrew has lived it, so we’re a very good fit.”
When people have questions about vans, Goodyear drops by their house to show them his own. He also goes to rehabilitation centers to help market the business.
On a recent morning, Goodyear’s van sits parked near two of the company’s rental vans, outside the storefront in an industrial park along Interstate 95 in Dania Beach.
Goodyear eases into the driver’s seat, using his teeth to help grip the seat belt and push it into place. The hand controls allow him to use his left hand to push down to his waist for gas and forward to brake. He slips his hand into a “tri-pin” to steer.
His elbow hits the Digitone, with different beeps indicating functions: a turn signal, horn, high beams or wipers.
Goodyear would like eventually to sell the business and focus on raising money, even starting a foundation to donate wheelchairs and vans.
For now, he continues to speak about his disability, talking to “the newly injured.” He still remembers the people who came to speak to him after his injury.
He takes on the role of guest lecturer at Florida Atlantic University, helping nursing students learn about spinal-cord injuries, taking them to his house to show them how he modified it.
And he coaches 12-, 13-, and 14-year-old boys in the Pop Warner football leagues, trying to help them learn “life lessons,” he said. “It’s about never giving up and having a winning attitude. There will always be adversity.”