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Entrepreneurs Fuel Retro Revival

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By: Sarah Billimore
Date: 2009/12/10

Two Cape-based entrepreneurs are breathing new life into vintage Vespas. In adding a rental division, Scoot Doctor owners, Neil Felgate and Pete Milne will not only expand their ingenious business model but are, at the very least, set to welcome a few more members into the Vespa-loving, “free riders’ club”.

Nestled among towering office blocks in the centre of the Mother City’s CBD are a variety of off-beat establishments, profiting from icons of yester-year. From vinyl records to retro furnishings, owners of thrift or antique and collectables stores survive on our love of high-quality classics.

Through the doors of 201 Bree Street, you’ll find a business attracting collectors of a somewhat different kind – those who wouldn’t blink at spending R89 000 on an Italian-designed classic scooter.

For the last two years, Neil Felgate has customised, refurbished and serviced bikes for Vespa owners living in and around Cape Town, with his first custom build commissioned by local musician, Jeremy Tolly of the band, the Dirty Skirts.

“The idea behind the store is the holistic servicing, repair, rental, maintenance and sales of classic scooters,” explains partner, Pete Milne, who came on board earlier this year to help expand the business and launch a rental division. “Born from Neil’s love of tinkering with engines, it’s the one-stop-shop for all your classic and retro scooter needs,” he adds.

While the flagship store, rental and servicing division is located in Bree Street, Milne explains that all major servicing, customisations and repairs take place at the ‘Spray and Workshop’, “the real engine room and heartbeat of the business”, based in Albert Road, Woodstock.

Meet the Entrepreneurs

Neil Felgate
Age: 29
Q: Previous Occupation?
A: Travelling and exploring overseas.

Q: What has been the most exciting part of the journey?
A: Becoming a respected entity in the classic scooter industry.

Q: Where did the interest in and appreciation for the Vespa brand come about?
A: I bought one in 2000 and started repairing parts of it myself. I purchased one when living and working in the UK and did the same thing. I have always loved tinkering with engines so after completely taking apart two Vespas before putting them back together again I knew a fair amount of how they worked. Friends started approaching me to look at their bikes and very soon, I found myself involved in the business of servicing and restoring bikes.

Q: What has been the most challenging part of establishing your business?
A: Trying to balance good workmanship with affordability.

Q: What future do you see for yourself and for the business?
A: Tripling output and opening branches nationwide.

Pete Milne
Age: 37
Q: Previous Occupation?
A: I was at Touchline Media for a decade, heading up Touchline Photo, SA’s no. 1 Sports Photography Agency. After overseeing the merger between Touchline Photo and Gallo Images, I served as the Gallo Images General Manager and Director for a year.

I then explored the PR space as General Manager at Marcus Brewster Publicity in 2008, before managing a small syndication and news distribution business, in 2008/2009. After 12 years in media the change feels like a breath of fresh air!

Q: What has been the most exciting part of the journey?
A: My journey in this business has only just begun - but getting out of the corporate life and a complete new and exciting path was the initial excitement.

The first rental bike will only be leaving the Bree Street premise at the time of the story going to print, so the most exciting part of my journey is the dream of combining my love for the freedom of riding a scooter, being able to maximise on some World Cup opportunities, my love of the Mother City, an ability to offer a cheaper, greener travel solution (my wife, Nicola, is the CEO of the Green Building Council of SA so I have more than a little green in my veins) and my entrepreneurial flare.

Q: Where did the interest in and appreciation for the Vespa brand come about?
A: I have always loved the freedom and ease-of-use associated with riding a Vespa. It’s cool, sexy and makes one stand out from the crowd, especially if Oros (my bike) – a bright orange Vespa P200x – has a bunch of beaded flowers protruding from the handlebars. I have been servicing my bike for years with Neil at the Scoot Doctor and after getting to know Neil and the business I saw an opportunity to combine my love of Cape Town and all that it offers, the Vespa lifestyle and the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of the 2010 Soccer World Cup in South Africa.

Cape Town is a beautiful city made for scooters whether it be touring from Chapman’s Peak to the Constantia wine route, Camps Bay or just beating the ever congesting traffic. A scooter rental shop presented a business opportunity that was irresistible.

Q: What future do you see for yourself and for the business?
A: I see Neil and I combining our core skills perfectly to establish the premium well-oiled quality scooter rental business in Cape Town, backed up with service excellence and repairs that fits a need for Capetonians and tourists alike - whether they be after custom bikes or a lifestyle of exploring our Mother City.

I foresee branches opening up in Stellenbosch and Seapoint, Green Point or Camps Bay by December 2010 and off-shoots including Scoot Dr. Taxi’s. Although Scoot Doctor vehicles’ are already green in offering 35kms to the litre, I would like to establish a viable electric scooter business in Cape Town.

Q: What would you deem the most outrageous or memorable commission?
A: We restored a Vespa 22 180 for Kurt Schoonraad, the comic and celebrity from the show Going Nowhere Slowly. Kurt loves muscle cars and working on his bike, so it was an honour to restore a bike for Kurt, an icon of free riding and “the journey” rather than the destination, which is exactly what we believe in and what the Scoot Doctor and Vespa brands epitomise.

About the Business:
Q: How much capital was invested in the launch?
A: The investment was R300,000
Q: How long do you anticipate it will take you to recover the initial investment?
A: Two Years
Q: What has the reception been like?
A: Exceptional. It is a very under prescribed industry in South Africa compared with Europe. There is also a dearth of quality repair shops for current scooter riders.
Q: What competition do you face in the market?
A: Other rental companies, some scooter mechanics and some DIY riders. However, the new website will soon even cater for these DIY riders (as in essence that’s how the Scoot Doctor was born) by offering a categorised inventory of parts along with a “how to” for those – like us – that want to work on their own bikes.
Q: How easily have you attracted new business?
A: Fairly easily, although a lot of hard work and good brand identity was essential.
Q: Do you have any plans to franchise?
A: No, but more likely other branches.

For more information, contact:

Pete at the Rental Shop
201 Bree Street
Tel: 021 424-5302
Cell: 083 414-6823

Or Neil at the spray workshop
48 Albert Road, Woodstock
Cell: 072 018 4066