As the son of an international banker, Adam Sulimirski, president and co-owner of Cruise Car, the world's premier designer and manufacturer of premium low speed vehicles, always loved the idea of a global vision. Sulimirski has lived in Lebanon, London, Germany and New York. His careers have given him the opportunity to travel and see the world. Fifty-five countries to be exact. According to Sulimirski, you can drop yourself anywhere in the world and it's the same people but different faces. It's more about what you do with those worldly opportunities that makes the biggest impact. In Sulimirski's case, it was a chance encounter in Poland that launched his first career.
"I got into my previous career through a cocktail party in Poland," he said. "My dad set up the first western bank in Poland. My parents were always going back and forth between New York and Poland. While at this cocktail party, I met an American consultant helping American-based companies expand into Europe. He told me about a little ceramic company he had that sold products throughout Europe. It sounded interesting, so I told him I wanted to get involved. I took a leap of faith and jumped in. I eventually took over the business and created one of the largest importers and distributors of aromatherapy diffusers, selling to over 8,000 retailers around the country. Over time, the fun was squeezed out because of copy cats. We would set up factories all over the world trying to out create everyone that was copying us. Some of the big retailers like Linens and Things also started teetering. It was time to move on."
After 22 years at the helm, Sulimirski sold the business in 2008 and went looking for a new opportunity. He met Ken Chester, the founder of Cruise Car, a company that, at the time, focused on manufacturing solar panels for golf cars. Sulimirski immediately recognized an opportunity to partner with Chester and provide him with some much-needed expertise in importing and sourcing global products. The ideal was well received, and a new partnership was formed. Sulimirski and Chester spent the next seven years importing Chinese golf carts, putting solar on them and basically trying to navigate their way through an emerging market. They landed some good contracts, but nothing really took off. The government, including the Navy and a local city municipality, loved the idea, but wanted the raw goods sourced from America. As Sulimirski explained, this was around the time when Cruise Car took on a new look and feel.
"At this point in the journey, Ken really didn't want to travel much," Sulimirski said. "It was up to me to figure out how we were going to patch together cars that were all ours. We experimented with used golf carts, ripped them apart, cut chassis, stretched them out and played with modular designs. We said we were 'up-cycling' and everyone embraced it. Two years later, we were audited by the government and told that we needed to use new parts when selling to the government. That's when we switched gears and got our own chassis. We had a great partnership with an authorized Club Car and EZGo dealer, but that relationship went south when one of the partners was bought out by someone and accidentally turned over 51% of control. The new guy didn't get what we were doing. We had to switch gears again. We determined we didn't need partnerships anymore and set up our own shop to be able to bring new products to market. We had the top techs in the area knocking on our door and before we knew it, we were vertically integrated. We started making our own nuts and bolts. We were manufacturing in the United States and getting our raw goods from local suppliers."
This was around the time when Nathan Kalin made the switch from employee to co-owner. Kalin had been with the company in a sales capacity for approximately four years. He got accepted into a prestigious graduate level business program but decided he could learn more by staying with Cruise Car and helping to build the company. Within months of Kalin committing to growing Cruise Car, Chester became ill and was unable to continue working. Kalin and Sulimirski put up the required capital and converted the ownership of the company to them. Under the new arrangement, sales took off as Kalin and Sulimirski continued to staff up and ramp up the business. Sales grew 50% in 2017. This year they're expecting to eclipse that mark.
Success brings options. In Kalin and Sulimirski's case, that means having options to take the company in one of several directions. "We have young partners and young team," Sulimirski said. "We can take this in a couple different directions. We can continue to self-fund our growth and make this into a life style occupation for us all. If we're throwing off cash and we can do fun things with our staff, there's no other reason why we can't crank it up to $100 million or more. Another option is to cash out part of the business to a hedge fund that recently approached us. We might even consider the possibility of opening a shop in California. We're paying an extra $1,000 per car to ship to California."
Success also brings opportunities. For Sulimirski, this opportunity came in the form of a CEO Roundtable, powered by GrowFL. The Roundtable is designed to bring together like-minded individuals to share experiences and to learn from one another in a safe and confidential environment. Participants are leaders representing a diverse group of industries and areas of expertise. For Sulimirski, the experience was priceless.
"It's such a genuine experience," he said. "You quickly realize we all have the same stresses. We talk about how we dealt with a certain employee or a certain issue or how a certain book made an impact. I go in with a notebook and, even if a problem being discussed is not on my radar now, it might be eventually. I get to hear from a guy with 90 employees about the issues he's dealing with. It's a great place to let your guard down and show your insecurities. People get emotional and share a great deal. On a personal level, my involvement with the GrowFL CEO Roundtable program has led to some tremendous results. With a growth rate of 200%, cash flow is a big deal. Based on advice I received from the group, I was able to secure a $1 million line of credit that gives us flexibility and allows my partner and I to maintain 100% ownership of the company. We're using this new line of credit to pursue new business with universities, resorts and various government entities. We're also set to move into a new location that's three times the size of our current one."
What advice does Sulimirski offer up to aspiring entrepreneurs? "Surround yourself with smart people," he said. "I came from ceramics. When I started with Cruise Car, I couldn't tell you anything about a bushing or a bearing. I focused on staffing up with people that knew the industry. I'll defer to other people and then to other smart people. Also, it's important to focus on what you're good at. In years past, we were too quick to move in the direction that the wind blew. We've come back to our core competency. Instead of being left and right, we focus on building great low speed vehicles. We'll do other things if it doesn't take more than 5% of our time. Lastly, it's important to understand that at the core of entrepreneurship is that fact that it's very humbling. The moment you think you got something figured out, it shifts on you. The journey is full of ups and downs. It takes years to get the discipline to know what you can and can't control."
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