Tomberlin buys Schwinn Scooters, launches electric vehicle

Publish Date: 
Jul 1, 2009
By Joe Delmont

I'VE KNOWN MIKE TOMBERLIN for nearly a decade and I've seen him in action from his offices in Georgia to his supplier factories in China and Taiwan. Mike's a salesman and a bright-eyed optimist, a guy who could talk a hound dog off a meat wagon, as one of his associates puts it.

But he's a realist, too. Today, he's looking at two huge opportunities to ride the current wave of environmentalism — opportunities that come with substantial risks and rewards. If he can master this movement with his electric vehicles and with the Schwinn scooter business he just purchased, well, he could be sitting pretty. Tomberlin now is rolling out a street-legal electric vehicle, the Anvil, to go with his beefed-up electric golf kart, the E-Merge, that he's been selling with some success in Southern gated communities for better than a year.

Tomberlin is kicking off a national media blitz with appearances on national TV and radio shows, starting in New York and moving across the country. He's talking up the potential of electric vehicles, especially LSVs (low speed vehicles) that can go on roads with posted speeds of 35 mph.

As we reported last month, Tomberlin also has purchased the Schwinn scooter business from Dorel Industries, the $2 billion diversified consumer products company based in Montreal. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed. Tomberlin purchased a collection of Schwinn scooter assets from Dorel and worked out an ongoing licensing agreement, he said. He picked up some parts inventory and some current machines, but he said the numbers weren't significant.

The real deal is that he gets rights to the name, the 400 or so Schwinn dealers located in the U.S. and Schwinn scooter management team. A key part of that team is George Simone, the sales and marketing guy, who dreamed up the Schwinn scooter project and built the business to its present size — something in the neighborhood of $4 million in revenues at wholesale.

That size isn't huge, though. Only about 3,200 units in 2007 and 3,400 units in 2008, according to industry estimates from Power Products Marketing, a research firm in Minneapolis that tracks retail sales of powersports products. Tomberlin said the 2008 orders were more like 10,000 units, but only about 70 percent of the orders were filled. That's one of the problems that Schwinn suffered through last year. Its China factory had cash flow problems and failed to deliver products for Schwinn, as well as several other companies.

Tomberlin says he intends to integrate the Schwinn dealers with his 200 or so powersports dealers and expects to come up with a network of about 500 dealers. While the Schwinn name is important for Dorel because of its huge Schwinn bicycle sales, the scooter business hasn't grown substantially since it was launched several years ago, and it wasn't an important piece of business for Dorel.

Tomberlin and the Schwinn scooter people hooked up about two years ago in China where they both used the same factory in Guangzhou to assemble products.

Simone of course says he likes the deal; it makes the Schwinn brand a much more significant piece of the Tomberlin company than it was at Dorel where the scooter business didn't have much leverage.

"This could be the next big brand," Simone says, "as long as we can execute. The bottom line is that the brand works in this space."

While Tomberlin's electric vehicle business is separate from the scooter business — one is called Tomberlin Automotive Group (TAG) and the other Tomberlin Outdoors — he expects there to be some synergies between the two.

"It's reasonable to anticipate that these two companies will share product to expand the Tomberlin USA boutique format of products," he says. Like an electric scooter, perhaps? "We've already been working on one," he told me, "and we expect to deliver it by the first of the year, most likely."

Inexpensive electric vehicles and economical reasonably priced scooters — that sounds like a nice package. It's a big bite to swallow, but consumer attitudes and market conditions could be right for this kind of power play.