Bon Accord resident Damian Stewart has been riding a wave of success since he decided to get into the bike rental business.
Stewart, an employee with the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) sanitation department, quit his part-time job as a mechanic over a decade ago when his company, Easy Goers Bicycle Rentals, took off.
Stewart, who rode bicycles as a form of recreation, said he started the business without any formal knowledge of the industry.
The 43 year old said he always wanted to be an entrepreneur and when he observed Bon Accord transforming into a tourist hub, he decided to capitalise on the market gap.
He said he conducted a feasibility study and noted that bicycle adventures were a popular attraction among tourists in other countries.
Stewart said, “Me and my wife invested in 15 bicycles to start the business at our (Store Bay local Road) home, because renting a place in Bon Accord was too costly."
The venture was an instant hit.
“Business started very good. The financial returns were coming in, but my bikes were always out, especially between September and May, which was the peak tourist season. So we had to purchase more bikes – right now we have 35 bicycles for rent.”
Stewart said it was his mechanic job that got him into the bike industry.
“I got into selling bicycle parts and repairs when the young bikers in the community and environs started inquiring about parts for their bikes and also repairs."
Stewart said he did not know anything about repairing bikes, but YouTube became his teacher.
“Boy, I had to learn to fix bike by force, I did not want them fellas to know I could not fix bike, so I use to deliberately keep the bikes overnight, and the little idea I have in mechanic and looking on YouTube, ah use to get through."
Bike tours and motor scooter rentals also became added services in Stewart's business operations, which enabled him to create employment for residents in the community.
“I started getting e-mails from abroad about motor scooters for rent, I did not really want to do it but my wife encouraged me to give it a try, so we purchased two motor scooters initially, which was increased to six, and I have no regrets”.
Stewart said bike tours were a popular request by his customers and some people requested trail rides, so he had to familiarise himself with the trails in Tobago.
Stewart said his business escalated the bike culture in the community, as more young men began owning bikes and his home became a popular liming spot for the riders.
Stewart said his success has not made him forget where it all started.
“Some of the guys who did not have money to fix their bikes, I would do it for free and I have made donations to events in the area.”
His community service extended to the formation of bicycle club Team Easy Goers, which has competed in several national competitions.
“Interacting with the guys, I observed there was plenty talent and I started the bike club, which was named after my business.
“The club started with 15 members and we trained from Monday to Thursday and went for long rides on weekends.”
The club has participated in events such as the Tobago International Cycle Classic and Beacon Cycling on the Avenue, in Trinidad, over the years. He singled out Desron Clarke along with James and Mark London as success stories from the club.
Like most business owners, Stewart was not spared from the turmoil of the covid19 pandemic.
“My business was not considered essential so with the Government restrictions, I was closed for months. During that time, I had to primarily rely on my THA salary to pay my bills.
“When I did get the opportunity to reopen this year, the bicycle rental business was slow, because the borders were closed and no tourist was coming and I had to sell some of the bikes.”
Stewart said he is thankful for the Trinidad customers who have kept his business going.
While rentals have taken a hit, Stewart has seen an increase in the sale of bicycles, parts and accessories.
“Since the gyms close, people buying bikes to stay fit and parents whose children were mostly inside all the time, buying bikes to keep their children active.”
A variety of bicycles are on display at Stewart's shop. “ I have in stock: BMX bicycles, which is the most popular choice among the youths; mountain bikes; road bikes; and also bikes for toddlers."
Looking back at his journey, Stewart said, “ I did not expect the business to be so successful when I started, and I have made many friends, locally and foreign, since then."
Recalling one of the lighter moments with a customer, he said, “One day, me and some English tourist were going on a bike tour and when we reach the lagoon in Bon Accord, we saw a cow down in the lagoon and only the head was above the water. Other people were there and wondering how to get out the cow. The Englishman say, 'Let me try.'
"The man jumped on the cow back in the water and squeeze the cow tail real hard, and the cow just spring out of the water. That was a really funny moment, since then we remain good friend."
Stewart said he is hoping life can return to normal soon to meet some of his friends again and make new ones.