By Lorrie DeFrank
If you call and miss Stephanie Dale, her message will let you know that she is likely out tuk’n. That means she’s working. But you can bet she is also having fun.
Two years ago Dale and her husband, Steven Dix, started Go Tuk’n, a business that uses luxury three-wheeled vehicles called Tuk Tuks to take people on tours and private shuttles around Jacksonville and its Beaches—for now. Eyeing future expansion, the sharp businesswoman secured the exclusive rights to purchase and run Tuk Tuks in Northeast Florida all the way to Alachua and Leon counties from the manufacturer in Denver when she bought her first four Tuk Tuks. She uses the six-seaters for passengers and purchased a fifth that she fabricated into a mobile bar.
“On travels to Costa Rica seven years ago I saw industrial versions of Tuk Tuks. They were cool but I wanted the European versions,” said Dale, whose eco-friendly vehicles are the same as those in Amsterdam and other cities across Europe.
Transforming her dream into a reality took two years and assistance from experts. The JAX Bridges entrepreneurial growth program offered by JAX Chamber was so helpful that Dale said it should be a requirement for anyone starting or growing a business, and to get a college business degree, for that matter.
Because a Tuk Tuk tour operator requires tourism experience, Dale turned her travel passion into a business. With 43 cruises under her belt and acquaintances frequently asking her for travel advice, in 2016 she started a full service travel agency called Carte Blanche Vacations, doing business as Cruise Planners—Steph Dale & Associates, as an American Express travel representative. She previously worked for corporations in learning and human resources, including as training manager for the Amelia Island Plantation and director of training for the Orlando World Center Marriott, the chain’s largest hotel.
Embarking on something as new and big as her own tour operation was beyond her expertise, however. She worked with the Small Business Development Center at the University of North Florida and participated in JAX Bridges’ Cohort 8 in spring 2018 to develop her plans for Go Tuk’n.
“I had to learn all kinds of things I never knew how to do, and I had heard nothing but great things about JAX Bridges,” said Dale, who praised the encouragement of Carlton Robinson, vice president, and Evone Pina, programs manager, of the Entrepreneurial Growth Division. “They pour their heart and soul into helping entrepreneurs have a fighting chance at being successful.”
Dale found creating a capability statement invaluable and said she still pulls out her “jobs to be done” book for a helpful reference. She enjoyed bonding with her classmates, calling the group a sorority and fraternity all in one, and appreciated their honest feedback to her business pitch.
Also useful was the customer journey component that took a close look at defining true customers and what products and services are right for them, she said.
“There is not a single component that I didn’t learn something from,” she said. “Many people have master’s and undergraduate degrees but none ever gave them the information on the practical side of business that JAX Bridges does.”
For example, in response to suggestions from others in her cohort, Dale added programs for kids, such as scavenger hunts and parties, to her business plan. They turned out to be lucrative services.
“For me, the JAX Bridges experience validated that this was a good business idea and the relationships I made have been truly invaluable,” she said.
Today, largely as a result of those experiences, Go Tuk’n is a thriving business that recently consolidated its headquarters from Jacksonville Beach to its existing downtown Jacksonville location near TIAA Bank Field. It offers historic, architecture, public art and brewery tours throughout the Urban Core, including downtown, Springfield, Riverside, Avondale and San Marco. Tuk Tuks are available for private events such as weddings, parties and bar hops in various locations, including the Beaches.
“On the private event side, we can be very creative with our customizable vehicles,” said Dale, who helps brides plan fun weddings with music, her mobile bar license and a backlit Tuk Tuk that doubles as a carriage, and who recently transported four Tuk Tuks full of senior citizens celebrating an 80th birthday. “We can go out with two people or 24, soon to be more.”
To contact Stephanie Dale:
249 Parker St., Jacksonville, FL 32202