Sometimes in life, it’s one vision or idea that leads you somewhere and takes you to a totally different place, one far more incredible than previously imagined. Upon arriving in Jacksonville in 2011, that’s exactly what happened for Jacksonville Beach resident and entrepreneur Billy Chenowith.
“I moved to Jacksonville in 2011, to start an off-site airport parking company with a few friends of mine,” Chenowith said. “I didn’t know much about the parking business, but they did, and I helped where I could.”
Once the groundwork was established, the business skyrocketed and soon enough, Chenowith and his pals had more than 10 hotels they were running a round-trip shuttle service for, taking passengers to both Jacksonville International Airport and the port for cruises. It was in this moment that the wheels started to turn and ideas began to flood his mind with what might one day be possible.
“Running that business with my partners Shaun Nicholson and Russell Nicholson [brothers] taught me everything I needed to know about the transportation industry,” said Chenowith, who now owns local transportation company, Beachside Buggies.
Working for the parking company gave Chenowith the experience he needed, but the idea for Beachside Buggies, a company now rivaling Uber, Lyft and local taxi companies, came from his travels.
“I play professional beach volleyball and traveled the country for tournaments noticing a trend of minivan and electric vehicle shuttle companies popping up all over the beach cities. This service was mostly for tourists,” he explained. “I had been trying to figure out a way to work at the beach when one of my friends (Justin Phipps) brought up the idea to start a free ride services all over the country. Jacksonville Beach isn’t very well-known for tourism, but I figured I would give it a try. The hotels quickly jumped on board and the locals went crazy for the free rides.”
That’s right, Beachside Buggies is a FREE transportation company that takes people all around the beach bars, hotels and restaurants. Drivers aren’t paid an hourly wage or even a per-trip commission. In fact, they work for tips and tips alone.
“It’s great for the locals especially,” said one member of a group of five who asked to not be named as we were headed to drop them at Lynch’s Irish Pub. “I mean sure, it’s something cool and unique for visitors to the beaches. But for the locals, it’s great because it can all be arranged without even making a phone call. You’re not waiting for hours and when you have a group like this, each person can just chip in a dollar or two and the driver gets paid decently. It’s quick, cheap, easy and, best of all, it’s supporting something local.”
Yes. You read that correctly, transportation with Beachside Buggies can be arranged without even talking to someone.
“We just released our app and riders will have a familiar feel to requesting rides,” Chenowith said.
To recap, you download the app, book your ride, pay via the spare change from the week and get to roam the beaches and not have to worry about wait times for cabs, sketchy Uber drivers or getting pulled over for drunk driving. But there’s one question that remains … how does a business like this actually make money? Sponsorships.
“My first two large sponsors were Lynch’s Irish Pub and The Law Office of John Phillips. They’re both still with me and love being part of the of the transportation solution in Jacksonville Beach, I had never anticipated competing with Uber or taxi drivers, but that’s what happened,” Chenowith explained. As for what’s next for Beachside Buggies, he said, “We now have two carts in St. Augustine and we plan on expanding to a few more heavily populated areas, but I want the service to always have a local feel with friendly drivers, so this expansion will take time. I’d like to thank all the locals at the beach who always use us to stay safe and have fun. Without their loyalty and excitement for the atmosphere we bring, I wouldn’t have a job.”
By Grant Gunderson | Contributor