Chris King's Green Car and Courier is the only transportation business in town with 100 percent biofueled vehicles. He runs a 14-seat shuttle bus on pure soybean oil, canola oil, even recycled fryer grease sold by the University of Tennessee, and biofuels two vans, two town cars, and a stretch limo with E85 Ethanol available at three local Pilot stations. The biofueled vehicles already emit an estimated 70 percent less carbon monoxide, 55 percent less carbon dioxide, and 30 percent less nitrogen than their gasoline-powered counterparts, but in two weeks King will start shrinking his business carbon footprint a few more sizes—with bikes.
"I'm an environmentalist," he says with an easy grin, "and I'm also a capitalist. The bikes will save fuel costs like crazy."
The plan is to use the $10,000 that accompanies GCC's win as the 2010 Greater Knoxville Business Journal's Business in the Green to kick-start a fleet of bike couriers for downtown deliveries. They'll cover the acreage from Market Square/Gay Street to the far West side of the UT campus, and over to Fourth and Gill. When a delivery involves a business beyond that range, the bikes will bring it to the perimeter of the downtown area, where a van or town car will take over—or the reverse for a pick-up. No more vehicles in the downtown area for GCC unless a delivery won't fit in a bike pack. "We're already getting a great response from the businesses in the downtown area, like [media relations company co-owner] Cynthia Moxley" says King. "We feel like there are also a lot of attorneys downtown who will benefit, and we'll go after them first."
Within downtown, King estimates, a bike can move twice as quickly as a vehicle; even on trips where vans will cover a portion he'll cut delivery time by 20 percent. "We got out and ran it, all the routes," says King.
This hands-on approach is fairly typical for King, who grew up in Knoxville, graduated from Bearden High School in ‘91, and never really cottoned to college. Instead, he pitched himself head-first into enterprises that involved lots of hours and loads of client interaction. "I've been very fortunate," he says.
Out of high school, he started a pressure washer business, eventually landing contracts with restaurants and Pilot stations. A group bought him out, and he got into the small-satellite-dish installation business. The same group bought him out again, dubbed the company Service Net, and brought King on board to run it in Atlanta. There, his job brought him in contact with Coca Cola, and he met a man at a bar who was starting a soda company in Vancouver. "I was telling him my story, and he was telling me his story, and two months later he called and wanted to know if I'd come to Vancouver and help him start it up."
King did. For a few years, he was nominally located in Vancouver in a "flop house apartment," but spent all his time pedaling Jones Soda from an electric blue, biofuel RV. "It was really fun," he recalls. "We'd start at the indie record store and the skate shops at college campuses, and hook them up, take them out in a limo, ride around and make a mess of things."
After three years, Jones moved its base to Seattle; King was still marketing director. "Then they went public," says King. Heavy sigh. "I left Jones when they went into Walmart."
King landed back in Knoxville in late 2005, obtaining the rights to the World's Fair logo and selling T-shirts at the mall, "just to have something to do. I didn't make a dime, but I didn't lose a dime, either."
In 2007, he started examining the Knoxville taxi market, even surreptitiously working at three cab companies for a week apiece before investing in three biofuel cabs. "It was kind of cool," King says. "But I found out quickly that people don't take cabs unless they're drunk or poor here. And while I'm glad we have cabs that serve those needs, that is not the clientele I wanted to work with."
Instead, King segued into the biofuel town car business, with Scripps "single-handedly" subsidizing a green town car business, with King running its execs and managers to hotels and airports. In 2008, King and his silent partner, medical physicist Robbie Alhakeem, "an old friend from the lake," expanded into the shuttle bus business, which hires out for trips like Knox Heritage events or a trip from ORNL to Vonore, Tenn. to check out a new biofuel refinery. And though he's hired four other drivers, King also does a fair bit of the driving himself. "It's one of those, ‘If you want something done right...' things," he says.
King seems almost incapable of sitting still and already has a finger in a second pie. He and fiancee Carrie Fox are exploring environmentally-friendly options for portable toilets. As with GCC, says King, the key isn't being trendy or touchy-feely, but expanding your company's mission to include environmental outreach and sustainability. "A lot of corporations are now building this type of thinking into their business strategy, and if there's a green option for a service, they're required to at least look at it, or take a bid on it—that's where we come in," he says. "In this day and age, you have to be more than just the service you're offering. If you aren't, how are you going to make it?"