Sharron Gay, a single mom of three, used to be another frustrated commuter on the hourlong route from her Coral Springs home to her Miami accounting job. Racing to and from work to pick up her girls at school or get them to their after-school activities every day was a huge source of stress.
Gay took her situation and turned herself into a problem solver for moms and dads with the same headaches. Now Gay runs a shuttle service, Mom’s Taxi Service, that transports children to and from home, school and extracurricular activities.
Here’s how she did it:
The big idea
Mom’s Taxi Service offers shuttle service weekdays to preregistered kids age 4 to 17 to and from school, after-school activities, athletic events and doctor’s appointments. The company has two 15-passenger vans and three drivers and offers services in Coral Springs, Parkland, Margate and Coconut Creek. Prices range from a one-way pickup up to a mile away for $10, to a week of round trips up to eight miles away for $110. Emergency school pick-ups are $35.
Gay’s former accounting job in Miami meant she sometimes ran late to pick up her kids - Paris, 20, Sierra, 12, and Thea, 10 - from school in Coral Springs. Often she had to call friends begging for help. Once she asked her fiance, Michael Botting, to leave his job three times in one week to get her youngest.
That was December 2010. Botting gently suggested that she might be ready for a life change to decrease her stress and rebalance her life. Gay stopped at a coffee shop to think, and had an epiphany – she knew there had to be other moms out there with the same problem. She would start a business to help them.
Gay’s aunt and uncle ran a school transportation business in North Carolina. She consulted them, and started talking to parents after school and on the ballfield to learn about their needs. She found there was no similar service in Broward.
"There are traditional taxis, but moms don’t want to use a taxi service because they feel the need to know the driver, that it’s going to be the same person every day," she said.
Gay also researched Zip codes by household income and education to see where the service might be most needed. She found similar shuttle services in other states and formed a coalition with other mom business owners who still touch base to exchange ideas.
After buying a 15-passenger 2006 Ford Econoline van in March, Gay tried her hand at booking clients, driving and marketing so she would know each end of the business. In May, she launched a website and found her first client – a neighbor’s child. Gay slowly began to build her clientele. When she hired her first driver in June, she looked for former educators and those who have experience with children. Her drivers are required to have a chauffeur’s license, background check, a clean driving record for 10 years and a CPR certification.
A second adult in the vehicle walks each child to the door as they are dropped off and calls the parent to confirm drop-off. Seatbelts are required for all passengers, and the drivers inspect the vehicle after each route to ensure that all kids are out.
The first van was $15,000. Commercial liability insurance is $5,000 a year for each vehicle. Website, logo development, brochures, advertising and promotional materials ran about $20,000. Gay has not yet turned a profit.
Gay had her van wrapped with her logo and her business name and contact information. In May, before school let out, she drove the pick-up line at Coral Springs elementary and middle schools, choosing a different school every day.
"It gave me visibility, because I was like a moving billboard," Gay said. "I started getting calls, which gave me confidence, because I knew the business would work. People started booking me for the next school year."
Gay started driving the van everywhere – to the soccer field, the grocery store and on errands. When she had no pickups planned, she parked it at a nearby mall, and bicycled home. When she parks it, Gay attaches a bunch of magnetic business cards to the van’s exterior for people to take with them.
She’s tried some limited print advertising and has a Facebook page.
Gay will purchase a third van in September and is looking to expand to other areas. She’s had a lot of interest from Weston, Miramar and Boca Raton. She’s also looking at franchising the business.
After naming the business Mom’s Taxi Service, Gay learned from the county that she couldn’t use the word "taxi" because she had registered as a van/shuttle service. Now she is in the process of coming up with another business name, which will require revisions of her logo and promotional materials.
Balancing work and family
Gay typically rises at 5:30 a.m., fixes breakfast for the girls and is out the door by 6 a.m. She picks up a van at a nearby depot, inspects it, reviews her route sheet and starts her route. She arrives home around 10 a.m. to return calls, do paperwork or attend networking events. At 1 p.m. she’s back in the van for school pick-ups. Then it’s after-care pick-ups and extracurricular activity shuttle services until 6:30 p.m., when she drops off the van and inspects it for lost items.
Gay heads home to cook dinner, check homework and pack lunches for the next day. When the girls go to bed at 9:30 p.m., she heads back to the computer to print the next day’s routes and handle any other business matters until 11:30 p.m. or midnight.
Advice for other moms
"Do your research – you’ll never be able to anticipate everything, but you’ll feel empowered to reach your dreams and goals," Gay said.