CEDAR CITY, Utah (AP) — There’s a new small business owner in town.
Caleb Nelson can’t drive a car just yet, but the 14-year-old is already the owner of Romeo’s Rickshaws, a burgeoning pedicab service. The Cedar High School freshman spent his summer vacation pedaling guests, meeting with advertisers, hiring staff and setting schedules for his eight employees.
“It’s just really fun,” Nelson said excitedly. “Instead of sitting at home playing on my phone or whatever, I get to talk with all of these different people from all over the place and just be in that fun atmosphere.”
What began as a passing conversation quickly turned into a full-time project for Nelson — much to the surprise of his father, Cedar City real estate agent and hotel owner Steve Nelson. The idea for the pedicab first emerged when the elder Nelson was discussing possible downtown projects with his wife and the manager of one of his hotels. As a member of the Historic Downtown Economic Committee, the real estate mogul had been developing strategies to draw more visitors and residents to the downtown area.
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He didn’t realize his son had been listening in on the conversation until he came home one day to a PowerPoint presentation pitching the idea of a pedicab business. But he wasn’t entirely convinced, so he proposed a deal — come up with 50 percent of the money needed to purchase two pedicabs for $10,000 and he would partner with his son to get the business going.
“Those things aren’t cheap,” Steve Nelson said. “I figured that would silence him and there was no way he could possible figure out how to do that.”
But his son found a way to raise the money by selling the spaces on the sides of the pedicabs to downtown businesses and restaurants for advertising. In just a few weeks, he had sold $5,000 in advertising, meeting his end of the deal.
So the father and son duo went in as co-owners of the business. They purchased two new pedicabs from a company in Colorado and got the go-ahead from the city. Within a few weeks, Caleb Nelson was ready to go with two brand new rides and a staff of eight employees — who were also his friends.
As a cross country runner and soccer player, he didn’t need much physical training to prepare to pull up to three passengers through the streets of downtown Cedar City. Each cab is outfitted with different gears and cables to make it easier for the pedaler, but it’s still a workout when heading uphill or when traveling long distances.
He did need to learn some basic rules of the road, though, because pedicabs are technically registered as cars. Caleb Nelson’s mom required the young staff go through a basic training so everyone would know how to properly signal and turn.
Romeo’s Rickshaws was ready for business on the opening night of the Utah Shakespeare Festival in June. To capitalize on the Shakespearean theme, Caleb Nelson worked with his grandmother to sew white Elizabethan-style shirts for each of his employees.
“Since I had my shirt, people picked up it is part of Shakespeare pretty quick,” he explained. “So, all of the tourists who come for that were, like, ‘this is so cool’.”
Officially, Romeo’s Rickshaws isn’t associated with the Utah Shakespeare Festival. He did obtain approval from the Festival to operate independently around the premises. Pedalers just can’t actually go on the property due to safety reasons.
“We are thrilled that these young entrepreneurs see an opportunity in making the experience of the Festival guests an even better one by providing their services during our shows,” said Joshua Stavros, USF Media and Public Relations Manager. “It is this kind of spirit that brings people to Cedar City again and again.”
The pedicab service revolves around the Festival. The two shifts per day are scheduled to hit patrons traveling to and from the afternoon and evening performances. Caleb Nelson said most of his rides are from the hotel to the venues or from one of the theaters to a local restaurant or their parked car. Some just want a ride around the block.
This is well aligned with the vision for downtown Cedar City, according to Steve Nelson. The Historic Downtown Economic Committee’s goal is to develop strategies to improve the appearance, foot traffic and revenue on Main Street from 200 North to Center Street and from Main Street to 100 West on University Boulevard. Most of the pedalers’ routes stay within this two-block area.
“It adds another element to an atmosphere,” the elder Nelson said, switching from the role of dad to leader of the downtown committee. “To me, the goal of downtown is create a sense of place where people want to come and be because there’s things to do, great food to eat and activities. This contributes to that overall atmosphere.”
Business has been booming since the company officially opened in June. Instead of paying a flat rate, Caleb Nelson just asks riders to leave a tip they feel appropriate. That can range from $50 to nothing at all, which Caleb disappointingly notes had already happened to him twice. The pedalers get to take home half of their tips before depositing the rest into the business bank account. The business will make up the difference for anyone who doesn’t make minimum wage. While he isn’t sure how much money he’s made so far, the young business owner is optimistic he’ll be able to buy-out his dad entirely by next summer.
As the owner, Caleb Nelson ends up working every day during the summer since many of his high school age employees are on vacation with their families. He’s managed to master the art of stopping downtown foot traffic and convincing them to take a ride. As they ride, he’ll often tell him about how he started the business on his own — often stealing the hearts of older riders, which he joked leads to bigger tips.
Caleb isn’t going to let high school get in the way of USF’s — and possibly his — busy season in August. After school and sports, he’ll still be running a night shift every day until the Festival closes in October.
He’s already planning to be back for next summer. As an incoming freshman, Caleb wants to take full advantage of the four years of business ahead of him.
“If it keeps going good like it is I plan on renting them all through then,” he said.
If all goes according to plan, he will have to hand it off to his younger brother for a few years while he serves his LDS mission.
“But he has to give it back to me after!”
As a father, Steve Nelson sees the value in partnering with his children to help them learn about the value of business instead of just giving them the money. He isn’t surprised that his underage son has managed to launch a prosperous business in just a few months’ time.
“I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a 14-year-old boy that has the drive and just the ability to do what he’s done,” he said. “He’s unique from my other kids. He’s just has that kind of personality. He’s a very goal oriented. He wants to be good. He’s very driven.”
Information from: The Spectrum, http://www.thespectrum.com