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Relax and Ride: Gary Grant builds businesses on wheels

Gary Grant founded Relax and Ride Carlisle, a shuttle service to BWI and Dulles Airports for business travelers from the Carlisle, Mechanicsburg and Harrisburg areas. - (Photo / Jason Malmont)

Local entrepreneur Gary Grant writes down his goals on an index card at the start of each day and carries them around with him. He also carries a mantra:

“People are not their behaviors.”

It’s a phrase he uses to remind himself how he got his start as a business owner and informs how he deals with his clients.

Grant has spent the past four years building his reputation in the transportation industry around the region. Despite occasional changes in direction and the high stakes of being a novice entrepreneur, Grant has remained forward-looking, adaptable and optimistic.

Unlike his negative outlook on life before starting his first business in 2013, Personal Care Transport, he’s motivated today by his goal of becoming the first name people think of for transportation in Central Pennsylvania.

He’s learned both from his own experiences and interactions with his customers that being dealt an unfortunate hand doesn’t have to define a person. What matters is having goals and a vision to achieve them.

Today, he’s running three different transport businesses: Personal Care Transport, Central PA Winery & Brewery Tours and, his newest venture, Relax and Ride Carlisle.

After serving in the military, Grant headed to college later in life at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tenn. He went on to earn a master’s degree in education at the University of Maryland and taught special education in Edgewood, Md. Grant moved north to Carlisle for a new teaching gig, but he soon realized it wasn’t the right career path for him.

In the meantime, Grant found employment in warehouses in the area through temp agencies, hopping from job to job. He felt unfulfilled and unmotivated and knew he had turn things around.

One day after leaving work at a water treatment company, Grant decided it was now or never. He made fliers for a transportation service he had in mind and started handing them out at local hotels in the Carlisle area, a national trucking hub where he knew many drivers stayed during trips.

The same day, he got his first driving job: he met a trucker whose rig had broken down and who was staying with his wife at a Days Inn hotel in Carlisle. Grant offered to drive them home to Caseyville, Ill., the next day. During that trip, he got a call to transport a friend’s pets from Williamsport to Austin, Texas. After those two trips, he never looked back.

“I knew it was destiny,” Grant said.

Grant hoped the pet transport service would take off, which explains the logo for Personal Care Transport. Embroidered in red on Grant’s black fleece vest, it features a cartoon dog happily poking its head out of a car window.

But “it never grew legs,” he said. A setback like that might deter some, but it only pushed Grant to build his business transporting truckers.

With no prior entrepreneurial or transportation experience, Grant, 48, has had to learn quickly and remain on his toes. “As a business owner … you are always going, always trying to think about how you can make some kind of revenue and stay focused,” he said.

After his first two trips, he secured a lawyer and obtained the proper license through the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. Today he remains the only business in the state licensed by the PUC for transporting truckers, said Dave Hixson, a PUC spokesman.

Grant has established business relationships with national trucking companies with local offices through persistence. Recently, when major client USA Trucks unexpectedly shuttered its Carlisle operation, Grant was reminded just how important his network is as a small business. He already knew could not rely on one client, so Grant is almost always in networking-mode.

He brings clients lunches, donuts and handwritten thank-you notes on a regular basis. In search of prospective clients, Grant sends postcards every few weeks to trucking company headquarters around the country, knowing at some point their drivers could pass through Central Pennsylvania. For the local offices, he brings pizzas.

As the face of his brands, Grant has to be soft and kind but also firm and persistent, a philosophy that fits with his positive personality. The pizzas-and-postcards approach has paid off, too, having won over a number of clients. From drivers who need to get to an orientation or simply need to get home, Grant has taken people all over the East Coast and Midwest. Sometimes companies call on him to move trucking equipment, too.

Included in Grant’s PUC license is a certification to transport people to airports. Over the past few years he had occasionally driven business travelers to airports around the region, but it wasn’t until a few months ago that he decided to dedicate more resources to growing that business, which he christened Relax and Ride Carlisle.

“I’m confident that it’s gonna be a game-changer for the business travelers in Central PA,” Grant said.

Currently, Grant makes trips to Dulles International Airport on Monday mornings and Baltimore-Washington International Airport on Tuesday mornings, with return trips on Thursdays and Fridays respectively. For $178 round-trip or $99 one-way to Dulles and BWI, and with online booking, Relax and Ride will pick up travelers at three designated spots: the Crown Plaza Hotel in Harrisburg and Wal-Marts in Mechanicsburg and Carlisle.

Grant chose the days because he found them to be the busiest for traveling and the pick-up spots for their central location, but he’s flexible. For example, if a group of seven or eight travelers wants to catch a ride from another location on a different day of the week, Grant would accept that reservation if he was available, he said.

As with Personal Care Transport, Grant’s ultimate goal is to establish strong relationships with local consulting companies whose employees travel regularly, with his competitive pricing being a selling point over Uber, Lyft or even other chauffeur companies. A commitment to reliability is also central to Relax and Ride’s approach. For early-morning travelers flying from Harrisburg International Airport, Uber and Lyft aren’t easily available at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. in this area, Grant said. Relax and Ride, on the other hand, would show up at 4:45 a.m. for a 5 o’clock scheduled pick-up.

Having invested money in marketing materials, billboards and a revamped website, and with help from contractors, two part-time drivers, an intern from Dickinson College and his fiancée, Grant hopes companies eventually will book his services in tandem with booking flights.

Other plans for Relax and Ride include a secure Park-and-Ride lot for travelers to park their cars, an expanded scheduled and transports to other regional airports like Philadelphia International Airport. He’ll maintain Personal Care Transport, as well.

Now a seasoned entrepreneur, Grant has developed some business savvy, with practical tricks like magnetic decals for each of his businesses for his van. One day, the van could be for Relax and Ride, the next, Central PA Winery & Brewery Tours. Plus, Grant stays on the pulse of developing technology, acknowledging the not-so-distant possibility of driverless vehicles in both the trucking industry and in his own transport services.

He’s also learned financial responsibility, avoiding purchasing on credit for his business whenever possible. One exception was his new van, which he considers, at $25,000, a worthy investment. It has air conditioning, which his old van didn’t, a necessary amenity for his winery and brewery tours, another business he hopes to ramp up in the next year.

Constantly looking forward, Grant sees himself and his fiancée 10 years from now in an oversight role, comfortable financially and with a fleet of five to seven vans and a team of drivers — or even a driverless fleet altogether. But today, he knows it takes dedication, “baby steps” and a roll-with-the-punches attitude to achieve that vision.

“I know the sacrifice. If you’re not in your business, somebody else, a competitor is taking over what you’re doing,” Grant said.

Becca Oken-Tatum
Becca Oken-Tatum is the web editor for the Central Penn Business Journal. She also coordinates and writes for CPBJ's monthly Young Professionals e-newsletter. Email her questions, comments and tips at [email protected].

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