Gas prices in Phoenix have been hovering between $3 and $4 per gallon all summer. With some gas stations charging as much as $3.80, some residents are looking for alternate means of transportation now more than ever.
More-affordable options such as the Valley Metro bus system and light rail have become the go-to solution for many commuters. For some, however, irregular or tighter schedules make the use of public transportation difficult.
That’s where small-business owner and Phoenix resident Sam Hom comes in.
Hom is manager of the family-owned and -operated Phoenix Produce Co., a small grocery and restaurant supplier near Central Avenue and Lincoln Street. In 2006 Hom decided to expand his business to importing and selling electric bicycles, turning to his birthplace for inspiration.
Every year, Hom takes a vacation to Guangzhou, China, a large city close to where he grew up before coming to the U.S. in 1950.
“In China, many average people cannot pay for gas or afford a car,” Hom said. “Instead, I see e-bikes everywhere.”
So, an idea was born. Hom and his family began ordering the bikes, in modest quantities at first, from factories in China. And so began Phoenix E-Bike, an electric-bike shop within Phoenix Produce Co.
Hom’s daughter Jenny, who has been helping run the business since the beginning, said things weren’t easy at first.
“We ordered several different kinds of electric bikes before we discovered which ones people prefer,” she said. “For the first two years, we would be lucky to sell five or six of them.”
Since then, sales have increased to 125-130 bikes per year, and the shop offers a more definitive selection of e-bikes, Sam Hom said.
Part of the success and popularity of the company’s bikes in recent years has been due to local news coverage of the company, beginning with small spot on 3TV in 2008.
“They were investigating solutions to high gas prices back then, and that’s when they found out about us,” Jenny Hom said. “Right away, a flood of orders came in. They wiped us out.”
Since then, business has grown steadily, according to Sam Hom.
He said most buyers four years ago were concerned with saving money they would otherwise spend on gas, but now, there are a large number of people who want to be more conscientious of the environment.
“Some people think e-bike stands for eco-bike, and that’s good,” Jenny Hom said. “Maybe it should!”
Jim Stack, a Phoenix resident who has studied and taught classes on energy-efficient engineering, is a longtime supporter and customer of Phoenix E-Bikes. His family owns four and views them as a sort of hobby.
“I buy them, I use them and I show them to my friends,” Stack said. “It’s very easy to sell people on the idea because it’s a simple and fast way to conserve energy and save money.”
Stack is also the owner of an electric car he purchased in 2011. He said he and his wife love it, but they still like to have something smaller and more convenient for short distances.
“A lot of people ride their bike, and they love their bike, but sometimes on a really hot day, you just give up. That’s why it’s nice not having to pedal all the time,” he said.
According to Phoenix E-Bike’s website, all e-bikes available have a 350-watt electric motor, and use a 48 volt battery but allow riders the option of good, old-fashioned pedaling.
Prices range from $395 to $1,000, depending on the size and battery life of the bike. Less-expensive models can run for an average of 10 miles per charge, while higher-end models can last 30-40 miles.
Jenny Hom said the company would like to attract a wider range of customers by appealing to college students. Currently, she estimates the majority of buyers are between 30 and 60 years old, but she thinks that could change as more students discover e-bikes and want to save money.
“I know many students struggle with money and often go into debt,” she said. “They might not have the money for a car, or even the more expensive bikes, but we try and offer models that are affordable for anyone.”
There are some facts to consider before purchasing an e-bike, according to the company’s website. E-bikes are legally treated like regular bicycles and are subject to the same rules and regulations. They also have a maximum speed of 20 mph.
Sam Hom’s wife, Tracy, who runs the grocery side of the business, says she has been happy with her husband’s business venture and prides the company on its customer service. Phoenix E-Bikes offers maintenance for all models and parts.
“Follow-up service is the most important part of a business,” Tracy Hom said. “I feel very comfortable with what we’ve accomplished.”
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