At the age of 24, Jon Lockin owns and operates a small fleet of buses, having revolutionized transportation home from Statesboro's bars. He has also been pictured in Forbes Magazine.
"I could make money a thousand different ways, but I choose to make money in a way that makes me feel good about myself and makes me feel good about what I'm doing in the community," he said.
Now a Georgia Southern University senior, Lockin owns the bus service Blue Goose, which specializes in hauling tipsy people - many of them GSU students - home from bars and restaurants. Less than four years ago he started the company with two folding electric scooters.
Lockin had the germ of the idea when he arrived at Georgia Southern as a freshman. He had seen a TV report about a British company whose employees would ride gas-powered scooters to bars and drive people home in their own cars after stowing the scooter in the trunk. Intrigued, he didn't know if it would work in small city like Statesboro.
But after having a few drinks one night, he called a local taxi service. When he heard the $38 fare for his 3.4-mile ride home, Lockin says, he decided that Statesboro was just the place for an alternative form of sober transportation.
Incorporating as Gnat Taxi LLC, he ran with the exclusively scooter-powered business model for only a few weeks. His twist on the idea was to use two electric scooters and keep one charging while he rode the other. The initial fee for his driving service was $20-$25 plus $2 a mile. As he points out, a carload of celebrants could make it home safely for that one price, with no need for a trip to fetch the car home the next day.
He still owns the scooters and thinks the concept was great. But the "Gnat Taxi" name initially confused people who called expecting a cab, Lockin says, and he saw a greater demand. So he punted and modified his game plan.
By the fall of 2008 he had obtained a license for a taxi service and bought his first bus, previously property of the Air Force, through an auction of government surplus items. It was blue, and recalling a pink Cadillac his grandmother had called her Pink Goose, Lockin started offering the bus service under the Blue Goose name, while keeping Gnat Taxi LLC as his corporate identity.
He also adopted a $3 per person flat fare, which remains in effect, with a minimum of 10 riders required for a run. More than three years and thousands of riders later, Blue Goose operates four secondhand buses and owns a fifth. They range from 15 to 44 seats and are equipped with standing rails for additional passengers.
Help from family
Lockin has not done it alone. His father, Dave, helps with financing and advice and is an officer of the corporation. Dave Lockin is a fleet sales manager for Hennessy Auto in the Atlanta area and also operates his own auto-related business.
With his father's guidance, Jon Lockin has obtained the help of lawyers and accountants to keep Gnat Taxi LLC and Blue Goose legal and financially sound. And he says that his mother, Jennie, taught him "how to punt."
At Georgia Southern, Lockin's major is psychology, but he seems to be a natural at business. As children, he recalls, he and his brother, Matt, operated a carnival in the basement of their home in the Gwinnett County suburbs. They would sell other kids tickets to play games - such as shooting at targets with a Nerf gun - and award prizes.
Lockin's interest, he says, has always been in commerce instead of what people tend to think of when the word "business," is used to describe an academic subject. That, to his ears, has to do with maximizing corporate profits.
"My company is a corporation, obviously, but I don't really view it in much the same sense," Lockin said. "I try to look at it what I would say are resources - what you have to work with and what you can create or accomplish with that resource. That's how I view business."
His photo in Forbes
Lockin's little bus line won't land him in the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans any time soon. But his innovative use of resources netted him three sentences and a photo in the magazine's Dec. 5 edition. He was one of five "micro-entrepreneurs" from five states named in a story about how they are using military surplus items purchased from online auction sites operated by a company called Liquidity Services.
Lockin denies the number Forbes attributed to him for his business' annual gross revenue. The reporter or editors, he says, made an overestimate based on a comment he made about the dollars he can turn in a peak weekend.
"I don't make six figures," Lockin said.
Fall brings his two biggest weekends: Bid Night, when the fraternities and sororities invite new members, and Halloween weekend. On a Halloween weekend, he said, Blue Goose has moved 1,000 people. That would obviously bring $3,000 cash before expenses.
Although Blue Goose offers other services, such as transportation for weddings, the bar business remains its biggest revenue source. It's tied to the comings and goings of the Georgia Southern student population, and he said he has sometimes made nothing for four months during the summer.
Not without struggles
Fall semester 2011 also brought an unexpected small shortfall. In addition to closing during Christmas break, Blue Goose did not run during the ordinarily profitable last two weeks of school because of "an insurance glitch," as Lockin describes uncertainty that arose from a technicality discovered in his policy.
He has been working this out with his attorney and insurer and plans to resume service with full coverage when the new semester begins.
Blue Goose employs two local drivers in addition to Lockin, and his father comes to Statesboro to drive during peak weekends. They also keep several bouncers on call to ride the buses on nights when he expects a bellicose crowd; for instance, when there's a mixed martial arts fight on TV.
The company will haul groups of 10 or more people to bars for the same fare it charges to bring them home. Blue Goose also allows riders to bring their own alcoholic beverages onto the buses, where, Lockin said, the open-container law does not apply behind the white line that separates driver from passengers. The drivers always check ID's to make sure those bringing drinks aboard are of legal age, he said.
"The police have been very kind to us and very accepting of what we do," Lockin said. "I think they genuinely appreciate what we do more than anybody. They see where we make a difference."
He portrays his business as saving both lives and reputations.
"That's the way I'd like to measure my success," Lockin said.
Professor Luke Pittaway, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and Learning in the GSU College of Business Administration, is impressed with Lockin's attitude and accomplishment. The center offers courses for traditional students as well as programs for people already in business.
"Really successful entrepreneurs do things because they've got a passion for something, and he's got a passion for what he does," Pittaway said. "And typically, they might use the financial side of things to kind of judge their performance, but they're not necessarily motivated by the financial side as an outcome."
Observing that Lockin fills that bill, Pittaway has expressed interest in having him talk to an entrepreneurship class.