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Portland Press Herald – – Spotlight on Local Business April 2nd, 2009 Designated driver for the run home April 2, 2009
Dan Furst owns and operates a business called Home Runners, which picks up people who’ve had a few drinks and drives them home in their own cars. Furst then uses his portable motor scooter to get back to his own car. Who: DANIEL FURST WHAT: Home Runners LLC WHERE: Scarborough PHONE: 332-RIDE (7433) WEB SITE: www.homerunners.biz E-MAIL: email@example.com AGE: 38 HOW LONG AT THIS JOB: Fourth anniversary was Saint Patrick’s Day Q: So the business does …? A: We’re a designated driver service, with a twist. We pretty much bring people home in their own cars, so they don’t have to take a taxi and get their cars home, and avoid an OUI at the same time. So for a little bit more than the cost of a taxi, people can go out and have as much fun as they want, without any consequences. We either have a car following the customer’s car, or a one-person “team” using a scooter that folds up in the trunk, so the person can scoot back. Q: Where did you get the idea? A: I just came across it reading about how it was being done in London, and thought it could be done here. Q: How much do you cost? A: It’s $20 plus $2 per mile. Around 15-16 miles is the break-even point with cabs. We’re more expensive for short trips, but you get better value the farther you go. … The average trip is about $40-$45. But we’ve done many that were just a couple of blocks, like from Brian Boru to State Street or something. Q: What are your hours? A: The hours are 7 until 2 or later. There are definitely nights when I’m still going at 3:30, but on slow nights I shut the phone off at 2. Q: What’s a busy night – how many calls? A: A typical night would be close to 20 calls. But you can have a night that’s very busy with 10 or 11 calls, because the trips are longer, like an hour and a half. Q: How far do you go? A: Boston, once. Brunswick. We’ve done a loop in New Hampshire. On a regular basis, Freeport, Windham, Saco, Biddeford, is what I would consider normal longer trips. Q: What did you used to do? A: After college I was a stock options trader in San Francisco for five or six years. When kind of like a regulation of the industry there made it more difficult to make money, I came out here on vacation and then moved back here. I call California home but I grew up in (Amherst) New Hampshire and went to California when I was 13, with the family. When I moved back here, I went back to entry level and tried to rebuild, and ended up working for Fairchild and National Semiconductor, and then that sort of led into working on my teaching certification at night, which led me into teaching everything from kindergarten to fifth grade. I taught and did this for about two years. But sometimes I would be up until 3 in the morning, and then have 12 kids jumping on my lap; the two jobs could not coexist. Q: So you’ve kind of specialized in people’s behaviors. A: That’s pretty much been the common thread, a lot of sort of chaotic situations. Things can go from quiet to very intense in a very quick time. But I guess when you’ve been through the fire before, it gets a little easier next time. Q: How was last weekend? A: Steady. Since Saint Patrick’s Day things have been really strong. People are anticipating the warmer weather. Basically they have spring fever, and they’re going out even if the weather isn’t cooperating 100 percent. We’re seeing some faces we haven’t seen for a while, through the winter. And a lot of new customers are coming in, as well. Q: I mean, did anything exciting happen? A: Nothing too dramatic, that I can think of off hand. Q: So you have your regular customers? At the moment we have people who are tied for the record of five nights in a row. Q: Have things slowed as the economy has? A: It’s pretty flat, this year over last. The first three years we grew 30 percent a year. If the economy were stronger, we’d be up. But we’re still more profitable. We’re more efficient and can get more done with less people. Q: How many people work for and with you? A: We have about 10 people right now, and a couple of others still in the “family” we can call up in an emergency. Q: All guys? A: No, a pretty even mix of guys and girls. Q: It seems as if that would increase the risk of shenanigans. A: By and large the people who use us are very respectful. They’re people in their 30s, 40s, 50s. They’re businessmen, lawyers, doctors, very aware of what we do. Of course there are always exceptions. But, we’re in their car, driving them to their home, and one of us is following behind in the “chase” car, and eve ryone has cell phones. Our drivers know that if anybody goes too far they can pull over and end the trip. Q: Does that happen? A: I believe it only happened once. In that case a male driver, I don’t know if his client got too obnoxious, I don’t remember the exact circumstances We just pull over, give them the keys and call a taxi or the police, depending on what the situation warrants. Another time a female driver went to pick someone up and before the trip even started the client became so obnoxious that it was just like better not to do it. There are one or two people I don’t send some drivers to. Typically, to a female they would not be physically abusive in any way, but verbally abusive. It’s just how they are when they’re drunk. So basically I send a guy that can take insults for 20 minutes and knows that the guy appreciates us getting them home safe and staying off the road. But it’s a rare exception, having to make a decision like that. Q: Customers must throw up some times. But then, they’re in their own cars A: Mmmm, we give people a snack pack in a bag, which has water and some kind of snack and information and our business card, and some people have to use the bag. For certain people, on a winter night, in a warm car, after five minutes they’re passed out, or after five minutes they’re getting sick. It doesn’t happen a lot, but it does happen. Q: There must be other drawbacks A: I would say, never knowing what you’re going to get on an given night. For the most part it’s difficult to have the right number of people available. You might have a Tuesday night that’s crazy and a Wednesday night that’s dead. I’m trying to balance out 10 or 11 people, who need to have a steady income, as best I can. But, you also build up relationships with people. You know what’s going on with their lives, from trip to trip. It’s very much a social thing, as much as business. Q: You must need special insurance. A: We do have “non-owned auto policy,” is the term. That’s our biggest overhead. Q: Do people ever cry? A: Yeah, I’ve had that happen. You feel kind of like a psychiatrist or a counselor sometimes. Q: Or a bartender? A: Except the bar would be empty, except for that person. ABOUT SHOPTALK SHOPTALK ALLOWS people to describe in their own words the rewards and challenges of their jobs. In doing so, they reflect the energy, imagination and hard work that characterize the workplace in Maine
Too tipsy to drive? Service gets you, and your car, home – by Kate Bucklin
Dan Furst waits for his next customer in Portland’s Old Port Retrieving your car from the Old Port the morning after a night of drinking is not fun. You have to find a ride into town, remember which parking garage or side street you parked on and inevitably pay either the overnight garage fee or the parking ticket on your window. Although residents in major cities like London, New York, Phoenix and Los Angeles have been able to use a safe alternative that gets them and their car home, the alternative until now in Portland was to drive drunk – stupid, for sure, but it happens. So what if you could pay someone to drive you home in your own car? Would you do it? Dan Furst is betting bar patrons in greater Portland will belly up to such a service. On St. Patrick’s Day, Furst, a Scarborough resident, introduced Home Runners, a variation on the big-city services like Home James USA and Auto Pilots, which operate in Los Angeles, and ScooterMAN in London. In those cities, if you drink too much out on the town you can call one of these services and a driver will arrive on a folding scooter, put the scooter in the trunk of your car, put you in the passenger seat and drive you an d your car to your home. If you drink too much in Portland, you can now call Home Runners for a similar service, minus the scooter. “I read an article about an L.A. business,” Furst said, explaining how he got the idea for the service. “I decided I had to do it.” Furst spoke with an attorney and discovered that insurance for such a service would be covered by the owners of the cars being driven. To cover liability issues, Home Runners clients must first sign a contract before they’re driven home. Maine’s weather ruled out the scooter, Furst said, so he uses teams of two. When a team gets a call, they drive to the pick-up spot to find the car and owner. While one team member checks to make sure registration and insurance is current and has the customer sign the contract, the other maps out directions. The customer is put into his or her car, given a snack and some bottled water and driven home. “We want to make it a cool, personal service,” said Furst, 34, who is a kindergarten teacher in Scarborough. “All the drivers are young professionals.” For $15, Portland residents can get home with Home Runners. If a friend also needs a ride, they can be dropped off at their home for another $5. Residents of South Portland, Falmouth, Cape Elizabeth, Westbrook and Scarborough can use the service for $25. Furst has been distributing fliers in Portland, and said people have been very receptive. “Reaction has been overwhelmingly good,” he said. The service is available from 7 p.m. Thursday to 2 a.m. Sunday. Furst said he he hopes to expand the hours after he gets a sense of what his customers want. Home Runners can be reached at 332-RIDE, or on the Web at www.homerunners.biz.
From the book: “Thinking Outside The Box ” 8/19/05 by Arlene Norman
BIG NIGHT OUT IN PORTLAND BUT HOW DO YOU GET HOME SAFELY? MaineBiz printed this story about Dan Furst and his company Home Runners. It is eye catch hing because it is such an original example of “Thinking Outside The Box” and providing a needed solution to a problem that although recognized, no one else found a successful way to address. Dan is new to Maine; he visited Portland, Maine, fell in love with it and moved here recently from California, where he was a stock options broker. Dan knew of a similar business in California and also read about this type of service in a magazine. He also saw a real need to help people drive home after a night out when perhaps they had a little too much to drink or partied too hard and should not be driving on the roads. Dan visited every bar and restaurant in the Portland, Old Orchard Beach and in all the surrounding area as well as putting up a web site to introduce his service. He also left a supply of brochures and business cards at each establishment so his business looked legitimate and trustworthy. He advertises in local Portland magazines and has been interviewed on radio and TV. If someone in a bar or restaurant thinks a patron should not be driving home, s/he will give the patron a brochure as well as ask the patron if they would like to arrange for a car service that will not only pick them up, but also drive them in their own car right to their door. Their cars will be waiting for them at home the next morning, rather than having to be picked up at a garage or found if the patron has forgotten where s/he parked. When the patron decides they would like to use the service, Home Runners has one of their drivers drive the “working” driver right to the restaurant or bar. The patron is escorted to their car, given a brown bag that holds a bottle of water, munchies, another company brochure and several business cards for referrals and driven right to their door, asked where they want the car put and then the keys are given to the patron. Dan’s growth goal is to handle 50 calls/night and he is considering spreading out to other cities such as Brunswick and Lewiston/Auburn. Also, he now sees a need for his services on snow nights when people may have tickets for an event or plan to go out but they not want to drive themselves out or home later. This whole concept of using restaurants and bars as your referral source, having them ask for permission for someone to use your services is a smart, highly personalized, socially responsible service, produces great tips and is definitely “Outside The Box”.
Maine Switch Article 3/13/07 Chauffeur service is a home run By Karen Beaudoin
Dan Furst’s innovative business will turn 2 on March 17, but he may not have a lot of time to celebrate. Instead, Furst and his staff of 10 will be making sure St. Patrick’s Day revelers make it home safely. Prior to starting Home Runners LLC, Furst, was surfing the web when he came across a chauffeur for hire service that was popular in London and L.A. Using scooters, e mployees got drinkers and their vehicles safely to their overnight stops. The scooter was put in the trunk of a client’s car, the employee then drove the car to its destination, pulled the scooter out and scooted back to the office. “I live in Scarborough and I’ve been pulled over a good dozen times but never gotten an OUI,” says Furst, who figured a similar setup would work in Portland. He wasn’t wild about the scooter idea so started out using a second vehicle, which would then carry the chauffeur back to the starting point. He’s since invested in three scooters to mix in with the cars. “Initially, the only thing holding someone back from using us was that you had to hand your keys over to a compete stranger,” Furst says. His employees have clean safety records and no driving infractions and it didn’t take long for clients to catch on. “Everyone who walks through our door becomes a repeat client,” Furst says. Home Runners makes 20-25 trips on Friday a nd Saturday nights, which is triple what the biz was doing in its first year. Rates, which were dictated by the City of Portland, are flat at $20 anywhere within Portland and $30 for surrounding towns — a bargain considering your vehicle gets home, too. The service in L.A., named Home James, uses original touches like male models as drivers, who affect fake British accents. Furst skipped those fringe benefits but at least one isn’t totally out of the question. “If someone were to come out from London and missed it,” he says, “I’d probably try the fake British accent.” No word on the male models. Home Runners operates from 7 p.m.-2 a.m. Call 20 minutes before you’d like to be picked up at 332-7433
Portland Press Herald Article 3/22/07 Chauffeur service with a twist By KEVIN WACK, Staff Writer Thursday, March 22, 2007
It was the tail end of another booze-filled night in Portland’s Old Port. A group of revelers stepped out of Bull Feeney’s and into the rainy March air. Their mood was jovial, but instead of getting behind the wheel, the bar patrons crowded into the back seat of a nearby sport utility vehicle. Fifteen minutes later, they were deposited safely outside a hotel near the Maine Turnpike. The driver was Dan Furst, a 36-year-old Scarborough resident who is the founder and owner of Home Runners, a taxi service with a twist. The company uses intoxicated bar patrons’ own vehicles to drive them home, saving them the inconvenience of retrieving their cars the following day. The company is modeled after a similar service in California. It is believed to be the first business of its kind in Maine and is winning praise from bar owners and police. “It’s a great service,” said Dale Stockburger, co-owner of Brian Boru’s, a Portland bar that recommends Home Runners to its customers. “It reduces the opportunity for people to say, ‘I didn’t have any choice but to drive,'” said Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion. Furst launched Home Runners on St. Patrick’s Day in 2005. He’d read an article about Home James, a chauffeur service in Los Angeles, and saw an opportunity to do something similar in the Portland area. At the time, Furst was working as a kindergarten teacher and initially didn’t give up his day job. “I used to say, ‘I do day care during the day and adult day care at night,'” he jokingly recalled. Today, Furst has made it his full-time job. He has a crew of about 10 drivers. They’re generally folks with families and daytime jobs looking to make some extra cash at night. The service costs $20 for rides within Portland and $30 for rides to or from Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Scarborough, South Portland and Westbrook. By comparison, taxi rates in Portland are $1.90 for the first one-tenth of a mile and $2.50 for each additional mile. Last summer, Home Runners picked up 15 to 25 drivers on busy weekend nights, according to Furst. One potential competitor, Elite Taxi owner Walter Davenport , said he likes the sound of Furst’s business. “I certainly encourage it,” he said. “It sounds like a wonderful program.” Around 10 p.m. on a recent Saturday, six Home Runners drivers converged at the 24-hour Tim Hortons near Mill Creek Park in South Portland. The crew sipped coffee and talked about their encounters with drunken drivers. There was the man who crashed his car near the Veterans Memorial Bridge in Portland, then decided to catch the train to New Hampshire to eliminate the chance of getting a ticket. There was the woman who got a ride from Home Runners, but once her car was parked in her driveway, hopped behind the steering wheel and plowed into the back of another parked vehicle. And there was the man who passed out in the back seat of his own car and wouldn’t wake up even when water was poured on his head. The Home Runners driver didn’t have the man’s home address, so he eventually left the man outside a police station, where an officer promised to keep an eye on him. “You really learn drunk behavior on this job,” said Joel Walker, one of the company’s drivers. Business on this particular night was slow, perhaps because of the steady rain. The waiting drivers started guessing about when the first call would come. Sometime after 11 p.m., a cell phone finally rang. The idea behind Home Runners is simple, but its execution can be more complicated. Furst uses a 65-pound fold-up motorized scooter to reach his customers. He then folds the scooter and puts it in the trunk of his customer’s vehicle. After dropping off a customer, he unfolds the scooter and zips back to the bars. But his scooter doesn’t perform well in the rain, so on this night, Furst got inside the car of a fellow driver, Mary Behrens. Tonight it would be her responsibility to follow Furst to his destination, then give him a ride to the next customer. Around midnight, they stopped at The Snug, a bar at the foot of Munjoy Hill. Furst took a set of keys from a man who sai d he’d been charged about a year ago with operating under the influence. Tonight, the man seemed relatively sober, but he said he’s learned his lesson, and he’ll never take the chance of getting another drunken driving conviction. He said Home Runners provides a valuable service. Furst agrees, even though chauffeuring drunken bar patrons is a far different calling than teaching kindergarten. These days, Furst said, he often goes to sleep at 6 a.m. and wakes up around 2 p.m. “Lately I’ve been taking Monday and Tuesday nights off,” he said. “I call it the poor man’s weekend.”
There’s no place like Home Runners Driver service helps those who party too hearty and want to get home safely By DAVID HARRY
A fun night of dinner, drinks or dancing should never end with an arrest or worse because of an unwise choice to drive home. Taxis or the power of sole are always alternatives to taking the wheel, but walking home on a winter night and returning the. next day to retrieve a car is no one’s idea of a good time. For more than two years a local company has stepped forward to keep the fun rolling while everyone stays safe and out of jail. Dan Furst, a former stock trader, musician and kindergarten teacher patterned Home Runners after a company he saw when living in southern California. For $20 for the pickup fee and an additional $2 per mile, Furst or one of 14 drivers will take people or groups of people home after a night of fun. At first blush, it may seem a pricey way to end an evening, but compare the cost of having a cheerful, fully-insured driver get yourself and your car safely home to the cost of a potential arrest (or worse) based on a bad decision that it is safe to drive. The cost of the service has become a bargain valued by many, as Furst said his company has driven people as far as Littleton , N.H., on the northern fringe of the White Mountains, from Portland. The value and peace of mind has also allowed the business, which began on St. Patrick’s Day in 2005, to expand from four to 14 drivers and from Thursday to Saturday service to every day of the week. As many as five teams of two drivers work weekend nights, one to drive a customer’s car, the other following along to bring the driver back. Furst also expanded the service by adding fold-up scooters so drivers could return to Portland themselves. Furst rode one back from a trip to Wells, using U.S. Route 1 because the scooter was not allowed on the Maine Turnpike. “That’s when I learned we needed some extra clothing to ride it,” said Furst about the trip home on a night that was near freezing. The scooters are now as recognizable in Portland as the company flyers and posters adorning walls in bars. Furst said as many as 15 to 20 percent of the calls come from bartenders for customers. Several of his drivers are much less enthusiastic about the scooter, but devoted to the service they provide. Even though they deal with people in varied stages of intoxication, they say 98 percent of the calls go very well and can be huge fun, as most customers are garrulous and grateful. Some, like a woman recalled by driver Joel Walker, may forget they are riding in their own car and compliment the driver on their taste in vehicles. At length, Walker just thanked her for the compliment. Her next question was how her car was getting home. Adam Ward, 28, who has driven for more than two years for the company, watched a woman punctuate breaking of an engagement by throwing the ring in her boyfriend’s face. “So much drama can happen in such a short time,) said Ward, who was partially drawn to the company because he has all too often seen the consequences of driving under the influence as an EMT Deirdre Mullen, a driver since March, said it is not uncommon for the people she takes home to start thinking she was out partying with them. That is due in part to the cheer left over from an evening out and because Home Runner s drivers will talk, sing and joke with the passengers. It is also not uncommon for people to request specific drivers. Walker, who is now working in Vermont, but drove for more than two years, recalled “the Pearl Jam group” of USM students he often brought home during the summer. “They had me crank up Pearl Jam and they would try to sing,” he said. Furst said his clients are most typically people ranging from 30 to 50 who are very aware of the consequences a suspended license or criminal charges would have on their careers. As the service has expanded and word-of- mouth advertising has created more trust, Furst said the number of women calling for rides has also risen. Furst said he tries to pair women and men in teams, which makes drivers like Mullen feel a little more secure as they work. Also, while drivers are encouraged to make the job as fun as possible, they are not allowed to enter the home of anyone they take home. As Home Runners has grown, the base for people cal ling for rides has also extended beyond the Old Port bars to people calling from restaurants. Furst has also tried to target corporate holiday parties and last year shared a booth with the telecommunications company Sprint at the Maine Brew Fest at the Portland Expo. Home Runners services are available from 7 p.m.-2 a.m. seven days a week. Riders need to call 20 minutes before they expect to leave, and be aware that 1 a.m., closing time, is the busiest time of the night. Trips originating in Portland, Falmouth, Westbrook, Scarborough, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth all cost $20 plus $2 per mile to the destination. Trips originating in other towns begin at $30 with the same mileage charge. For more, go to www.homerunners.biz or call 332-RIDE (7433)
New service offers drinkers, and their cars, a ride home By CHARLES McMAHON firstname.lastname@example.org Article Date: Monday, June 30, 2008 PORTSMOUTH
Most downtown patrons who indulge past the point of sobriety battle with the notion of either getting in a cab, hoofing it all the way home or getting behind the wheel of their own vehicle. Dan Furst hopes to throw out all of those options and has brought “Home Runners” to the Port City. Furst’s business not only provides a safe way home for anyone too intoxicated to drive, but also ensures patrons that their car will also make it home with them. According to the 37-year-old businessman, Home Runners works in two ways. The first scenario involves a team of two drivers who will meet you at your car. One of the drivers then drives you home while the other follows behind. In the second scenario, one of the drivers will meet you at your car and puts a suitcase-sized bag in the backseat or trunk. You are then driven home. Afterward, the driver folds out a scooter and motors back into town. In both cases, the patrons are also provided with a complimentary snack bag full of crackers and a water bottle. “The bag comes in handy for people sometimes,” said Furst. Since its local inception on May 22, Furst said he’s received a handful of calls and is optimistic that more people will see the logic behind the service he provides. “I feel from what I’ve heard from everybody there’s a need for it in Portsmouth,” said Furst. The idea for Home Runners originated in Portland, Maine, on St. Patrick’s Day nearly three years ago, said Furst. Having moved from California to Maine in 2000, Furst said he was astonished to see how much drinking and driving was going on. Home Runners LLC, better than a taxi company, Home Runners picks you up and drives you home in your own car. No more worries about O.U.I.s, overnight parking fees, round-trip taxi charges, vandalism or theft. You end up safe at home with your car in the garage… the way it should be. Furst said Portland is very similar to Portsmouth in that around almost every corner there is a bar or restaurant that is frequented by tourists and locals. Among the many people that use his service, Furst said it seems to be people in their late 20s or early 30s that have either already had past drunken driving experiences with police, or can’t afford to get busted due to their dependence on their jobs. The fee is comparable to a one-way taxi ride. As the summer progresses, Furst anticipates his business and fleet of drivers will continue to grow. Furst and his employees have been busy putting up posters at various local venues. “I guess there’s a coolness factor and a convenience factor,” he said. Home Runners is open every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night from 7 p.m. until 2 a.m. Prices range from a $20 flat fee, plus $2 per mile, for pickups in Portsmouth; and a $30 base fee, plus $2 per mile, for pick ups in surrounding towns that include Lee, Durham and Hampton Beach. For more information call 818-RIDE or check out the website at http://www.homerunners.biz. “It’s a friendly reliable service with good people,” said Furst. Fosters Daily Democrat Portsmouth New Hampshire June 30 2008