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He's Charlotte's scooter repairman
Tapping into an industry that's 'becoming really mainstream'
You’re reading Transit Time, a weekly newsletter for Charlotte people who leave the house. Cars, buses, light rail, bikes, scooters … if you use it to get around the city, we write about it. Transit Time is produced in partnership between The Charlotte Ledger and WFAE.
A freak accident led Nick Smith to the world of electric scooters. Now, his repair business is booming as scooter sales take off.
Nick Smith, 43, started an electric scooter business in 2019, after he started riding a scooter and finding that it gave him “that freedom of mobility I hadn’t had.”
by Tony Mecia
On 4th Street uptown, inside a small shop off South Tryon Street next to a parking garage, Nick Smith is building a business based on scooters.
Queen City Scooters looks like a mechanic’s shop, with tools and parts scattered on a table. Behind Smith are a couple dozen broken electric scooters — not the Lime or Bird rental scooters that have become popular in Charlotte neighborhoods close to uptown, but people’s personal scooters. They have busted tires, dead batteries or faulty brakes.
Smith’s business is filling a gap in the market: When people buy electric scooters, which cost at least several hundred dollars, they often have nowhere to take them for repairs. Auto mechanics and bike shops typically don’t work on broken scooters, and scooter manufacturers often give no customer support with parts or repairs.
Since he started the company in 2019, he says business has increased, alongside the increasing popularity of scooters. He takes in as many as 50 scooter repair jobs a week, he says, and as one of the few authorized scooter repair shops on the East Coast, some customers come from as far away as Kentucky and Tennessee.
“It’s a booming industry,” he says. “A lot of it has to do with we’re just on the cusp of this industry becoming really mainstream.”
The North American market for e-scooters and e-motorcycles is expected to quadruple in size by 2030, some studies say, as government continues to incentivize alternatives to petroleum-fueled vehicles, battery technology advances and infrastructure in cities becomes more welcoming.
An unlikely beginning: Smith had an unlikely and tragic journey into the world of scooter repair. In 2010, he broke his neck after he pushed back from a barstool and the chair’s leg caught on a missing piece of tile, sending him flying backward.
After an extended recovery, which required multiple surgeries, he was left unable to drive. He moved to Charlotte in 2017 and took jobs stocking the bar and cleaning kegs at restaurants including Peculiar Rabbit and Blackfinn. But getting to and from work was a struggle because of inadequate public transportation, he says.
“My dad said, ‘Why don’t you let me buy you a scooter?’” he recalls. “I said, ‘That’s for kids, Dad. I wouldn’t be caught dead on a scooter.’”
But his dad bought him one anyway.
“My life completely changed,” he says. “I had that freedom of mobility I hadn’t had to that point.”
People would see him on his scooter and ask him where they could get one, and he directed so many people to the scooter dealer that the dealer asked him to become an “ambassador,” to receive a percentage of sales he generated. Instead, Smith decided to become a scooter dealer and sell them himself, because the commissions were higher than an ambassador’s.
When Covid hit, he switched primarily to repairs.
“Customers would come in and shop and would ask, ‘Do you fix things?” he says. “I was just another guy saying ‘no.’ I had so many people ask, I was like ‘There’s got to be something to this. There’s got to be a way to make money on this.’”
Building a business: He taught himself repairs through the internet and manufacturers’ videos.
Most of the problems his customers encounter stem from buying cheap scooters — those that go for as little as $300 online.
“They lead people to believe it is a quality product when it’s not,” he says. “There are products that are manufactured with the cheapest parts. There’s no part support. There’s no way to contact the manufacturer or the seller.”
Smith charges an $80 diagnostic fee. Tire changes go for $75-$125. Brake repair is around $75. Replacing a battery can cost $200 to $400. It’s sometimes tricky to get the right parts.
Queen City Scooters, on 4th Street near South Tryon Street, gives off a car repair shop vibe, with scattered parts and tools.
Queen City Scooters has a 4.6 star rating on Google, out of a possible 5 stars, with customers praising its “fantastic” customer service and fair pricing. One called it “a great local shop vibe in a big city.” Another wrote: “It’s great to finally have a real scooter shop in Charlotte.”
Customers aren’t just people in their 20s and 30s who live in South End and NoDa. Smith says customers come from all over, and he has some clients in their 60s and 70s. He also fixes hoverboards, e-bikes and other two-wheel electric vehicles built by hobbyists.
The business is mostly just Smith, though he has some part-time help. One afternoon this week, a worker named Jeremiah, wearing a Bob Marley T-shirt and jeans, was replacing a motor.
“It’s a fun job, being able to play with toys all day,” Smith says. “I consider myself one of the lucky few who gets to work in a field I have a passion for.”
Nick Smith’s tips for buying an electric scooter:
Don’t go cheap. Electric scooters can go for as little as $300 online, but you get what you pay for. It’s hard to find a quality scooter for less than $1,000. Smith owns several scooters but his main ride from his NoDa home to uptown is a Yume X11, which sells for about $1,900 online.
Understand what happens if the scooter breaks. Despite what they say, many online sellers don’t provide customer support for parts or repairs.
Read reviews online. See what other buyers have experienced, and flip through the first few pages of reviews, which might not be authentic.
Tony Mecia is executive editor of The Charlotte Ledger. Reach him at email@example.com.
State fair by train: Amtrak is running two trains a day to the N.C. State Fair in Raleigh, which runs through Oct. 22. Details and tickets at ncbytrain.org. The station code is “NSF.”
Biketoberfest: Sustain Charlotte is holding its annual “Biketoberfest” on the afternoon of Sunday, Oct. 22. It’s a family-friendly urban adventure, with a scavenger hunt-style walk-or-bike event and chances to win prizes. Details and tickets: biketoberfestclt.org
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