By: Daniel Tossounian
Having covered several businesses in Honolulu’s downtown -Chinatown district I decided it was time to range further out from the city’s inner core and ended up on the Waikiki strip, more specificity 2463 Kuhio Blvd #F., the home of Waikiki Moped and Car Rental. For the purposes of this article, I restricted my coverage to the moped end of the business, and I was accommodated in this effort by co- owner Roger P. Whitmarsh, Co-Owner and on site Manager who was kind enough to grant me an interview.
Now I must at this point admit that for many years Mopeds and I had an adversarial relationship, to be more specific these two wheeled low powered vehicles and I never seemed to have much use for one another. It could be attributed to an unfortunate experience I had had on in my early adult years when I was literally dumped off a moped, I had recently paired with …much like a bad date, the result of which rendered me disinclined to engage in anymore similar two wheeled relationships. However, in my later years the relationship had been unexpectedly rekindled when while living and working in mainland China I discovered the convenience, practicality, and sheer fun of tooling around on two wheels, that being the low powered fifty CC version of two wheels…aka moped.
The relationship moreover flourished into a full-fledged love affair as my two wheeled companion enabled me to easily visit parts unknown in the Middle Kingdom…places of interest not so accessible to the usual tour bus or taxi. Upon my return to the states, I have been compelled to continue my fifty CC partnership and noticed that I was far from being alone in this regard. In the last several years of my comings and goings to Hawaii, I have observed a steady increase in many of my fellow islanders darting to and from on these diminutive, little scooters they themselves apparently aficionados of this highly economical and convenient way to get around the city and even parts beyond if the spirit beckons you.
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Moreover, the term economical is not hyperbolic. For as low as $799 to around $1,100 one can obtain an inexpensive Chinese made import that more than does the job. If one does not mind putting out a little more coin, better known brands like a Kimco, Yamaha or the iconic Vespa can be obtained albeit for a considerably higher price starting from $4,000 to around $7,000. Whatever one’s decision, ‘mopeding’ to coin a phrase is a relatively cheap and easy way to gain access to a surprisingly large range of local destinations on island. Students, visitors, retirees, and people on tighter budgets, as well as folks who just like the fun of two wheels are increasingly opting for this low velocity yet charming mode of transportation.
Waikiki Moped and Car Rental, while not offering mopeds for sale per say nevertheless offers islanders and visitors the use of these fun and iconic little two wheelers for a reasonable price. Being a lover of moped riding myself I could appreciate the service this business is offering its customers. I approached Rodger P Whitmarsh, the company’s new business partner, at their rental office, which resembles a charming little beach hut and had a little friendly chat.
Me: What made you want to get into the moped business?
Ahh well my partner was in the rent the rental car business…and during the covid they took a hit too.
Me: So, may I ask how long has he been in the rent a car business before you joined up with him?
Oh, we’re talking since the 80s.
Me: Oh, so we are talking quite a while.
Me: Did you feel especially attracted to this kind of business? What would you call it …moped rental or sales and rental?
Rental, just rental…
Me: Ok then rental of motorbikes for recreational use. Are your customers visitors or locals …which are the most?
Mostly visitors, we have some locals that are starting to come out.
Me: The reason I am asking is that some of the answers I have gotten about that have surprised me as some businesses I assumed would depend on tourists …aka visitors have relied on most locals. But in your case, it is visitors you rely on for most of the business.
Me: Ok then so you are in the business of renting small vehicles to island visitors…so we can safely say you are in the fun business, for both visitors and locals who want to enjoy a nice ride around the island on two wheels feeling the wind and sun on them
(Smiling)Yeah …pretty much yeah.
Me: Well, let us talk about the current events with regards to the pandemic.
Did you feel at all afraid to start up in this time of crisis?
Oh yeah …very afraid. But I just went for it…especially cus there were a lot of people who failed during the thing. During the pandemic.
Me: Yes, I have read that 40 percent or more restaurants and other businesses requiring personal physical contact have been closed or are still shuttered due to covid. Right now, we are in Waikiki, and it seems to have revived somewhat. I remember last summer when you could go down the Kuhio Ave and there were almost no people to be seen.
Oh yeah …it was like a ghost town. I know cus I worked here and could see myself how it was.
Me: So, we are you a partner in the business then?
No, I wasn’t yet I was still working for my future partner.
Me: So, you saw how it was
I saw it yes, maybe one or two cars pass by…that’s it, that’s it. Empty …just empty.
Me: And places like this?
Down and down, they were closing. All closed.
Me: We’ve for sure never seen anything like it have we?
Me: Ah well did you have faith that things would turn around. Those things were going to come back.
I took a leap of faith…and you know it worked out.
Me: Yes, how are things working out?
Yeah, well in the beginning I was so nervous and scared because of what happened you know to everybody else but like I said I just took that leap of faith and said it’s either now or never …so I went and now business is flourishing. I started off with ten bikes, three months ago. And I got thirty now…and I might need thirty more for the summer (laughing)
Me: Ah, ha-ha ok well you have the tide turning in your favor. Visitors are up due to vaccines and testing.
Yeah, yeah, I make sure I got my vaccination. I got my card up here to let everybody know. Because I deal with people from all around the world. So, I gotta make sure I’m good.
You know although things are getting better, I’m not counting my eggs. But it seems but to be getting better.
Me: You seem to have a healthy caution, for lack of a better word.
Me: Finally, before wrapping up I would like to ask…do you feel you are part of the solution so me you are a business that helps people have fun you are helping everyone get through this crisis?
The people are coming here after being locked down for over a year to have fun …and I provide that for them. And the service we provide is the best, we got five star and we treat people like ohana that is the goal. I think we did it.
Me: It is a great way to see the Island.
Yeah, we hear stories upon stories when they come back.
Me: Well, it is definitely a different way to see the island than the more traditional way of the car or tourist bus.
Me: So, before we conclude what do you say to others thinking about taking that ‘leap of faith’ like you did. Is it worth it?
Yes, yes, it’s worth it. Just take the leap cus you never know if you don’t.
Me: Sounds like a good place to conclude…just take the leap!