The Logistics behind Creating a Roadster Experience Business

The “Miataland” post inspired me to wonder about the logistics behind building an MX-5 Miata / Roadster vacation experience.

So I’m going to write a few ideas down below, just spitballing, thinking out loud about what it would take to launch and make it successful. It’s worth noting that at this time I do not consider myself a successful person. I have not worked since January of last year, more than a year without a job makes me feel like a total loser. But in that time, and over the past few years I have traveled extensively around the world following various Motorsport events and volunteering there. I also have more than ten years experience working for a luxury ground transportation company providing limousine and black car service in the busiest metropolitan area in the world: NYC. So take my words with a grain of salt…

What would it take to build a Miata Experience business?

I think the first and most important step is to identify what it is that one is trying to accomplish. I made numerous trips to South Florida over the past few years, multiple times per year, and it is obvious that your run of the mill rental car companies do not generally rent MX-5’s. There’s plenty of Roadsters and Convertibles being rented, mainly Ford Mustang’s and Chevy Camaro’s, as well as more luxurious options from Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and others, but not Mazda Miata’s or Fiat 124 Spiders.

Why?

Probably because the Mazda Roadster is not a practical car as a rental. The trunk is too small to fit even one normal size piece of luggage. For a family of two there’s no place to put luggage, other than small carry-ons. That’s no good. So that kind of explains why Hertz and Avis don’t have it, while Europcar may have a few in certain markets. It’s a very specialized vehicle. I think it’s best suited for places like Miami Beach where it could be rented alongside the many Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s, Maserati’s, Bentley’s and other exotics on an hourly basis to cruise Ocean Drive.

That brings me to the main point of renting a Miata. People would rent it specifically for what it is: a Miata. It means of all the options out there, the convertible Mustangs, Camaros, Bentleys, Maseratis. They want the MX-5! This idea is good and bad. Good because there are plenty of Miata enthusiasts around the world. We just celebrated the Millionth Miata rolling off the assembly line in 2016. So there are plenty of owners that may want to rent a Miata on vacation, and plenty more enthusiasts that may not necessarily be owners that want to try one out. Those numbers may be large. Unfortunately, most rental car companies care about masses, and there are far more general public, Joe Blow, than Miata enthusiasts.

So from the perspective of catering to the general public, as a company renting Miata’s you have a lot of challenges to deal with. People will try to cram luggage that obviously doesn’t fit into small spaces of the Miata potentially damaging things. And complain about the fact that things don’t fit. That creates a problem. People treat rental cars like shit. It’s a fact. I find that Miata is a fairly fragile car with relatively high cost of maintenance. Therefore to keep up with maintenance may be quite costly. How do you ensure that people don’t smoke in cars, since most renters would obviously prefer a clean smelling car? It’s tough. I know car rental companies charge extra cleaning fees for smokers, but it’s a concern for a small business to manage. How do you make sure renters don’t leave the car with the top down in bad weather? Again charging high cleaning fees if the car returns wet or moldy… And then take into consideration the low profile tires, the low bumpers that scrape easily on curbs. The fact the car will bottom out on many speed bumps, etc. It’s tough for an enthusiast to keep a small business going just by managing costs from potential damage that customers could cause.

So possible solution for many of the above concerns would be opportunity for offering value added services, something one could charge extra money for. For example: a meet-and-greet service. Pick up your customers in a bigger vehicle, a mini van to bring them from/to the airport with all their luggage and personal effects, extended family, etc. And deliver the car when it is going to be used by up to two people with minimal luggage. The appeal of Miataland to me is the group factor. The idea that multiple customers are in the same boat, all interested in Miatas, and all wanting to do things together on vacation like going on road trips, sightseeing, and dining out. So again, with a larger group there could be a chase vehicle that would do two things. Act as a support system, helping with local knowledge, directions, recommendations, advice, language services. And provide help when things go wrong. Like changing a flat tire, or making sure everyone keeps the tops up in a rain storm. Weather happens, and people act differently when they’re alone vs. being under some kind of supervision. So the chase vehicle idea is a must.

With the things mentioned above, not all locations around the US are suitable for a Miata rental business. Places like New York, New England or just about anywhere else other than California or Florida have seasons. And as such there are times where it’s too cold or too hot to drive a Miata. Northern states have cold and snow. Southern states have super hot days, flash flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc. Similarly, places in the Northeast and the West have twisty mountains which would be excellent for a Miata experience. From all my Bear Mountain runs in New York, or the Tail of the Dragon down the Blue Mountain range down in the Carolinas/Tennessee, or the Rockies in Colorado. Or the canyon carving opportunities in California. Those are all fun things to do, which Florida may not necessarily offer because it’s so flat. But Florida has beaches. Florida has the awesome drive along Route 1 down to the keys to Key West. There are places along the coast of the Carolinas, Louisiana, Texas that are exciting because of the beautiful coastline, beaches and ocean views. California is ideal for it’s coastline and the Pacific Coast Highway that stretches along most of the state from Mexico to Oregon with many beautiful charming little towns and massive metropolises along the way. What’s the ideal place to have this business?

To consider location, I would consider something other than good weather, beautiful beaches, scenic drives, etc. A race track! Motorsports parks exist around the US, their numbers rise in better weather states like Florida or Texas. Having a business near a race track presents great opportunities for a value-added service of offering track time to the person or group that rents your Miata. Perhaps even having race-prepped or track-prepped Miatas specifically for track use, since equipment may be different from the street version, tires, roll cages, etc. Plus insurance. Insurance for street and track use is key. So having a business in Southeast Florida, Palm Beach/Broward/Miami-Dade county area would be perfect. You have the traffic of vacationers, domestic and international, arriving en-masse year round. There are accommodation and activities galore in Miami, Miami Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, the Florida Keys, etc. There are interesting drives to take along A1A or Route 1 down to Key West. Exploring the Everglades. Longer road trips to Tampa/St. Petersburg or up to Daytona Beach which could be day trips or multi-day or even event trips. There are plenty of race tracks that could be rented for events. Like Homestead-Miami Speedway, Palm Beach International Raceway or even Daytona International Speedway which is a reasonable distance from South Florida. Except for the occasional hurricane threat, the weather is good year round. Alternatively California is also ideal. Whether Southern around Orange County, San Diego or even the Bay Area up North with San Francisco or Monterey Peninsula are wonderful. There are race tracks: Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Button Willows, Thunderhill, Sonoma Raceway, etc. The weather may be even better than Florida. Except for the earthquake threat there isn’t much to worry about. Drought is a big deal but there are ways to deal with it (cleaning cars). Traffic is a big deal, but there’s a lot of activities to distract themselves with once they arrive there. It’s great!

There are also smaller vacation places that may see less tourists but more enjoyable “get-away” destinations. I think Texas is famous for that. Alabama would be my new pick after checking out Birmingham and Barber Motorsports Park. Gerogia is super cool with Atlanta being a massive airport and busiest in the nation, but Savannah has the charm everyone should experience in their lifetime… still low key enough but very unique. And there’s Roebling Road track which would be ideal for small rentals. There are definitely options.

So having a business like this creates an opportunity to both support the local Miata community by sponsorship and hosting events. But also encouraging the community to participate in the business events by inviting actual owners locally to join the customers on various road trips, cruises, track events, dinner parties, etc.

What would something like this cost?

I think the costs vary based on location. California and Florida may be a pretty expensive place to start a business like this. Not just the costs of buying cars, and a garage, and insurance, and maintenance. But places like Texas, Louisiana, Alabama or Georgia may be much cheaper and flexible. This would allow the opportunity to offer a similar collection like Andrea at Miataland. Buying cheap NA Miatas and turning them into rental cars. NB’s both naturally aspirated and the Turbo Mazdaspeed version. My favorite NC’s or the brand new ND’s and the RF models. I would definitely include the brand new Fiata in this too. I’m sure people would love to compare driving a Miata next to a Fiat 124 Spider or the Abarth version.

I think this would be an awesome business opportunity for someone to pick up and replicate around the world.

Estimated cost of ownership over a 5 year period in the South Florida market. Assuming vehicle mileage increases of 20,000 per year, with 5,000 mile change intervals and 50,000 mile tire change intervals. Data current as of January 2017 and based on estimates provided by kbb.com and edmunds.com

I’m going to add more thoughts as I think of them…. stay tuned!