Turning a Lowriding Hobby into a High-Rolling Business

“I was always into cars,” says Troy Staehler, founder and CEO of Rollerz Only, the world’s largest car club for lowrider enthusiasts and Lowrider Magazine’s “Car Club of the Year” for six years running. “They’re show-off cars. It’s about who has the best car, the coolest, the baddest.”

Lowriders are vehicles that have been modified so their chassis rides a few inches above the ground. Owners typically customize their vehicles with fancy body art, blow-out stereo systems, engraved bumpers, or backlit interiors. For example, Staehler’s current ride is a 15-passenger van emblazoned with the Los Angeles-based club’s eye-popping logo. (He also owns a ’58 Chevy Impala convertible that’s arctic white with candy cane rims and red interior.) He and other enthusiasts compete for trophies at car shows across the country.

The club, which now has 73 chapters in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, keeps Troy and his wife Nicole traveling up to 32,000 miles a year. The GoPayment Blog recently caught up with the couple between car shows to ask how they turned their hobby into a successful small business.

GoPayment: How did Rollerz Only get started?

Troy Staehler: It started as a hobby. We owned a hydraulic and lowrider parts and accessories shop, which we decided to close in 2003 and focus full-time on making the club a business. There wasn’t enough time to do both.

Why did you choose the club over the shop?

Troy: I wanted to build a new kind of club that was different from old-school clubs, which had a lot of rules and restrictions. My rules were: Make it look nice and get along with everybody. If you have a good heart, you’re in. If you’re a troublemaker, you’re not welcome.

Nicole: I’ve always been into accounting, so I wanted to help Troy keep it a club, but make it a business, so we could create a future for our children.

How do you make money?

Troy: We charge chapter dues and sell products such as custom T-shirts, hats by New Era, and one-of-a-kind shoes (designed exclusively for Rollerz Only) by Etnies to members and fans. Sometimes members complain that we sell products to fans, but I tell them I don’t want to be a car club that nobody knows. I want to be recognized worldwide like Coca-Cola.

Nicole: Production companies call us looking for lowriders to use in TV commercials (Burger King), hip-hop music videos (50 Cent, Snoop Dogg), movies (Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle), proms, and sweet 16 parties. We find the cars and handle the rental arrangements.

What roles do you each play in the company?

Nicole: I keep the books, fulfill the orders, plan pre-show parties, book rooms for our members for big shows. We hope our 17-year-old son will take over the business someday. Right now he’s mostly into rap.

Troy: My big thing is getting more exposure for the sport. I like to go to a show, buy a booth, hang up our T-shirts, and just talk to people. I interact, keep the peace, make sure our members respect the cars and the culture.

Is there a “bad boy” vibe around lowriding?

Troy: When I was growing up, it was considered a hobby for gang members. Now it’s more of a family atmosphere. The wives come to the car shows and cook a big barbecue. People bring their kids, who maybe build their own bikes. For some of these kids, it opens their world. I feel a big part of what we do is change the scene from negative to positive.

You’ve used GoPayment since last year. What do you like about it?

Nicole: It’s so easy. We use it for all our credit card transactions when we travel. Funds are transferred to our bank extremely fast. We like being able to text or email a receipt to customers. They love that. And, it’s definitely a great conversation piece for us.

Troy: It’s as fast as a cash transaction. With PayPal, it could take as much as 10 minutes to complete a sale. GoPayment takes about 30 seconds. They pull out a card, slide it, and it’s a wrap.

About Kristin Ewald

Kristin Ewald, a former Time Inc. editor based in California, has written frequently for the SMB audience. She is also a small business owner who helps companies write and produce user-friendly websites.
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