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End of an era

Kabuki Kabs is up for sale

After 24 years at the leading edge of the North American pedicab  business, Randal Phipps put the word out earlier this summer that he is looking for a change and the right new owner to take over the successful operation.

"It is time for me to move on and find some new challenges and experiences. I have been doing this a long time," he said.

I told him I was writing this entry, and he asked that instead of calling him Randy – as he is known around the barn – that I use his real name, Randal. I keep wanting to call him Randy throughout, but for him, I will do it.

For me, after 3 months in the barn, I find it hard to imagine the place being run by anyone else but him. Funny, relaxed, and experienced, he truly cares about his drivers and does what he can to help them have prosperous days Randal has been the heart and soul of the operation since he was a 23-year-old ambitious entrepreneur with a bright new idea.

Yet I understand, perhaps better than others, the need to keep things fresh, exciting and challenging as middle age dawns. After all, it was that desire for novelty and challenge that brought me walking into the barn last June in the first place.

He has priced his business at $160,000 for a cash buyer; that's two times '06 earnings with assets included, with the
intent to have this very reasonable price attract the right person who can take the spirit of Kabuki Kabs and make it their own. Randal can provide full details for you via coolopp4u@gmail.com

One of the pleasures of the summer was getting to know Randal. Our bantering conversations were short, usually carried on over the business of paying the lease at the start of the shift or submitting the shift report at the end. We'd talk about our kids, or the news, the crappy weather or our mutual admiration for the interview style of Charlie Rose.

But one day last month I sat and talked with him to get the story of how he started Kabuki Kabs. Sitting with us was his delightful mother, Lee, a former Edmonton high school school principal , a spry and young 80. She pops by the barn now and again to say hi, show off a new hair cut or catch up. The mutual affection and respect - and pure enjoyment of each other's company -- that flows effortlessly between them is a pleasure to observe.

"My mom is a great lady. As an school principal she made an huge impact on a lot of young people growing up in Edmonton. She has really strong values that she has personally infused in me."

Back in 1984, Randal was just 23 and in Slavonic studies at the University of Victoria. ("I wanted to be a spy," he laughs.) He had worked as executive assistant to the UVic student council and been tasked with creating a job data base, linking students with potential employment.

" My mind was really on how to create good, high paying, flexible jobs for young people that would link with their student life."

He saw an item in People magazine about a rickshaw business in some US city - he can't remember where -- but the idea took hold. Victoria's staid city council turned up its nose at rickshaws - too third world. Randal began investigating pedicabs. With start up cash from his mother, the first summer he ran 7 pedicabs in Vancouver's Gastown in 1984. When Victoria saw the successful business model working in a rival city, they gave him license to operate his 15 cabs here in 1985. The rest is history.

Over the last 24 years, many thousands of young people (and not so young) have come through Kabuki Kabs, making good money and having a good time.  In the boom years of the late 1990s and early 2000s, Randal has so many
applicants he had to turn them away. The twenty pedicabs were booked solid on the lucrative weekend shifts with a waitlist of drivers eager to get on. Stories abound about rides and drivers, but one of Randal's favorites is the time a group of celebrating fishermen paid a young female Aussie driver to take a large sockeye salmon (dead) on a tour
around Victoria - a beautiful fish's last hoorah before being consumed.

The common denominators among drivers are self-motivation, a love of being active, a sense of humour, and outgoing personality. "It is the people that have made it one of the best jobs in the world," says Randal.

For years one of Kabuki Kab's selling lines to applicants was getting "buns of steel." Many a Kabuki driver has come in the spring a little soft and pudgy only to leave in the fall a lean, muscular machine.

So I have an idea: I've been telling Randal he could make a killing promoting Kabuki Kabs as a new kind of fat farm. Boot camps and spa clinics charge upwards of $4,000 a week to those trying to lose weight and change their figures. Create a program linking a personal trainer using pedicab driving drills, five days a week, seven hours a day with a proven, balanced diet program, like the South Beach diet and middle-aged women and men wanting to shed pounds is a beautiful place like Victoria could come flocking. 

"Great idea Anne. Why don't you buy the business and do it? “ says Randall who has always joked that I had a fear of overly large couples getting into my cab. (Too true)

“You could solve your phobia : you could sit back there instead and be their personal motivator!" he said.

Hmm, we might be onto somthing. Any investors out there who want to back me?

Meanwhile, Randal is weighing his options and interests. "I didn't complete my underdergrad degree so it's difficult to actually get well paying employment in the area where I have a long history of proven talent -- human resource managment -- so I may go be a ski bum till my knees give out," he says.

But Randal is foremost a responsible Dad. "Considering I have care and custody of two fine teenaged boys I'll likely take a pragmatic path and put my CSC designation into play and become a stock broker," he says.

Posted on Monday, September 24, 2007 at 04:47PM by Registered CommenterAnne | Comments4 Comments

Reader Comments (4)

Mrs. Anne,

My name is Felicia and I am starting a pedicab here the mountainous area of Western North Carolina. Everything has been well-planned and thought through. The bank is even processing my loan application as we speak (I hope to God it gets approved).

Some times I get nervous, anxious, discouraged because I can not fathom how this is going to work out. During those times, I like to read about different pedicab businesses and their drivers.

Today I was particularly nervous that no one would take me seriously because of my age. Your stories of you 3 month long pedicabbing adventure have really turned my mood around. Then I came upon this journal entry (which I haven't finished by the way), and I almost dropped my laptop when I read that the owner of your pedicab company started the company at 23 years old.
Anne!!! I'm 23 years old!!!! And, I still will be when I open for business on March 1, 08. Thank you, Anne. (I even had to call my best friend and my mom just to tell them).

Anne, can I ask you one question regarding the pedicabs? Were they equipped with an electric-assist motor, or not? I have many nay-sayers telling me that no one will want to work for me because it would be too hard to climb the hills downtown with passengers in tow.
October 7, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterFelicia Thurman
Hey Ann i worked with you at kabuki kabs over the summer and remember you telling me that you were writing on Kabuki Kabs. Good job in making it sound as amazing as it really was.

December 7, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterGarratt Wootton
Dear Anne, I was working with you over the summer and I still remember our ride to the warf and the families we carried around. I miss Kakuki cabing and I am thinking of going back to Victoria to do it again. I enjoyed reading your story. Thank you for sharing your story and brigning back all those wonderful memeries. Josee
August 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJosee
I remember well the day in '96 when Randy took a few of his riders on a fishing charter good times.One was a young(16 or 17 yrs)female rider whose contract had to be signed by her parents because of her age.
A few days later Randy bragged to me about sleeping with her after the boat ride. Ironically breaking the same law that protects students from teachers and principals for that matter.Great infusion of values eh?
March 30, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertruther

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