Founding One Hundred Spotlight: The History of Mid Atlantic GEM
By Russell Rankin
In October of 2007 I dropped in on Annapolis with my business, eCruisers, and worked the Annapolis Boat Show that year. I started out just giving free rides about town to huge success. Then I had a real estate agent approach us to put his advertising on one of the vehicles and the rest is history. I was asked by the Eastport Business Association President to present our business to the EBA at the Eastport Yacht Club. At that meeting I met Elvia Thompson who invited me to a Green Drinks, where I met her business partner, Lynne Forsman. And the rest is history again.
Following that 2007 Boat Show, I dropped in on the Navy Football Game the following weekend and was giving free rides up to the stadium from the surrounding area. The problem was I didn’t have permission to be on Navy Property, so eventually I was asked to leave, but not before I got the USNA Contact for the stadium operations. We met several days later signed a deal for game day shuttle operations for the balance of that football season. That led to the NCAA Lacrosse Tournament held at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in the spring of 2008. That led to the USNA Graduation Ceremony. We maintained that relationship until 2014 when it was handed off to buyers of eCruisers. I believe that still continues to this day, except for the pandemic changing everything.
In the fall of 2008 to 2013 and after partnering with Annapolis Green, we sold out all available advertising space for the Annapolis Boat Show, every year, and started our traditional yearly shuttle for the Weems & Plath Tent Sale that continues today through another provider (Charm Cars) that we handed it off to.
From there we worked the Nationals Baseball Games when the new Nats Ballpark first opened up (spring of 2008) and the area surrounding the Ballpark was not developed. We took care of patrons from the Barracks Row area in southeast DC who pre-gamed at those establishments a little over a mile away. That grew into a daily lunch shuttle from that Navy Yard area, and our clientele was none other than the bureaucrats who worked in the US Department of Transportation, and who were enacting the Low Speed Vehicle Laws at the same time. That whole endeavor landed us on the front page of the Washington Post in June of 2009, with a feature article on our operations. History again!
A business reset in the summer of 2009 saw 10 new GEM e6 100% Electric Low Speed Vehicles delivered to Annapolis – the largest one-time purchase of GEM e6 vehicles in the history of the manufacturer (Chrysler at the time). We even ordered a blue one specifically to serve the needs of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel Conference & Visitors Bureau (now Visit Annapolis). This was also the largest single fleet of that vehicle, or any street-legal Electric Vehicle in the State of Maryland, the United States, and for that matter, the world. Nobody had seen the likes of this before, anywhere in the Country!
We began a daily free ride service in Downtown Annapolis which was a huge success, but its longevity was tied to a City Contract that never materialized. Instead the City went with the still failing Circulator System, which we would have, and still could, run circles around today, for a fraction of the cost (can anyone say “Political Football?”).
As a result we shifted our Business Plan toward local and national events, not daily service. We worked major events in 13 different states plus the District of Columbia. We worked two Presidential Inaugurations, US Open Golf, AARP national conventions, National Football League, Major League Baseball, Major League Lacrosse, National College Athletic Association, weddings, youth tournaments and other high profile events in the cities of Orlando, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Boston, Phoenix… and more. We grew to an active fleet of 16 vehicles, the largest said fleet of GEM e6s in the world at the time. We drove more miles and moved more people in GEM vehicles than anyone ever dreamed of doing, all with a perfect traffic and safety record. “Copy catters” soon followed. This took us from doing 90% of our business here in Annapolis, down to less than 10% of our business being done in Annapolis. This continued through 2013.
I hit the “wall” in January of 2014, on a Thursday night in Baltimore, at 10pm when it was pitch black out, minus 4 degrees, working the Baltimore Boat Show. After working 3,000 hours per year, I decided to look into other possibilities. I had divested my majority interest in eCruisers back in 2010, but continued to manage it until I departed/resigned in April of 2014, which allowed for an easy exit.
The frailty of GEM Ownership was getting parts & service, even warranty service. I had become an Accredited Warranty Service Provider for our own vehicles early on, which gave us a huge competitive advantage over any competition. In early 2014, GEM, now owned by Polaris, approached me to become a GEM Dealership, and Mid Atlantic GEM was born. One of our first moves was to become a Founding One Hundred supporter of Annapolis Green. I figured that over the years I had eaten close to that in appetizers at Green Drinks events, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to give back.
In our first year as a GEM Dealer, we were a Top 5 Selling GEM Dealer in the country, and a #1 North of Georgia (GEM’s were predominantly southern tier vehicles), even though our main focus was toward parts and service. We singlehandedly resurrected the GEM Market in the Mid Atlantic region, by focusing 100% on the GEM Product Line, something nobody had ever done. We proved it would work successfully. We now sell and service vehicles all over the USA and overseas as well.
Now, here in 2020, six years later as a GEM Dealer, we have survived several major business challenges over the years, a two-year, near-death health crisis, culminating in a bone marrow transplant in January of 2020. I recovered just in time for the pandemic to arrive, only to then have to go into self-isolation at my home on the Maryland Shore during the spring of this year.
We’ll only miss this year’s EV Show, because of my spouse’s Milestone Birthday that falls that same week (God, Family, Health). I’m sure it will be an excellent event with Annapolis Green spearheading it. I’ve known Lynne & Elvia now for 13+ years and have maintained near constant touch throughout that entire time. It has been one of the most positive personal relationships, and fruitful business relationships in my life. I am very grateful for all they have done and accomplished with Green Drinks and other programs. I cannot say enough good things about them, and their cause!