It was a cold day in December 1995, the winter solstice, when Jack Wiswell ran into an old high school buddy, Wayne Oom, at a Christmas party in Hastings Michigan where they both had grown up. Wayne was back in town for the holidays when Jack showed him an idea he'd sketched up on a cocktail napkin.
The crude sketch would be the start of what is now TerraTrike.
The following June, Jack and Wayne joined together as partners to bring the TerraTrike to life under the business name of WizWheelz Inc., an adaptation of Jacks surname. This meeting coincidentally happened on the summer solstice. Being that the two meetings both happened during important cosmic events, the two took this as a sign that the planets were properly aligned for the TerraTrike revolution – or something like that.
The two founders scraped together their personal savings of $1000 each and decided to see just how far they could take this radical idea. They had no investors, venture capitalists, bank credit, deep-pocketed relatives or even a mentor to point them in the right direction. They agreed early on that they would not sell out shares of the company or beg family and friends for money. They did not want to burden any of them if the business failed, and odds were good that it would. Who in their right mind would start a company that built tricycles for adults?
So Wayne and Jack started without acquiring any debt and figuring out things as they went along even though it meant that their limited cash flow and experience forced them to take things very slowly.
They were four years away from drawing their first paycheck and at this time, everyone in their small hometown thought they were crazy. However, with the unconditional support of their wives Lori and Kate, they kept moving forward. It took a tremendous leap of faith from their wives when they encouraged their husbands to quit their careers and follow this crazy dream. Lori and Kate supported their families through some very lean years and are in no small part just as responsible for the success of TerraTrike as anyone.
Eventually, necessity forced WizWheelz to seek small bank loans for the cash flow needed to fund larger production batches, but the modest initial investment and a used napkin, which constituted the total assets of WizWheelz, Inc in 1996, were enough to kick-start this business.
Jack and Wayne welded the first two prototypes in Jacks garage. It didn't take long to realize that welding was not one of their strong points and they quickly found a local professional to help with the fabrication.
By April 1997 the first batch of TerraTrikes was complete and the very first one went to a happy home in Olympia, Washington. TerraTrike was on its way.
The next four years had TerraTrike expanding from Jack's garage to a small industrial incubator in Hastings Michigan and quadrupling their production.
Along the way there were several setbacks that almost fatally crippled the company. They had a seat manufacturer go out of business – disappearing with a large deposit check and the rawmaterials, a welder who tried to hold their frames hostage for more money and a machinist who, after three months of delays, simply decided not to deliver parts that were promised. Despite these setbacks, WizWheelz was able to overcome and move forward every time.
But the toughest hurdle occurred when production was running smooth and the sales outlook was its brightest. Even though business was solid and WizWheelz was doubling its production, the local bank chose not to grow with them. Jack and Wayne soon learned that this wasn't the only bank unwilling to lend money to an internet based company. After the dotcom bust of the late 90's it was difficult to blame them. Jack and Wayne had a plan and an excessive amount of confidence but with no real collateral assets, the risk was too great for most banks at this time. Now they were left without cash to fund their largest production run ever. Components were already on the way and bills were coming due.
Jack and Wayne were frustrated because they were convinced that they had a breakthrough product but they couldn't get it to market without the proper funding. The company was in a crisis - the business needed working capital immediately or it would die and leave Jack and Wayne with huge unpaid bills. They were in too deep to easily back out so the only solution was to solve the problem and move forward.
After a desperate and unsuccessful search of banks, government programs, venture capitalists, and individual investors, they finally convinced someone to take a chance on their crazy, internet-based, tricycle business. Jack, Lori, Wayne, and Kate put their houses up as collateral and Comerica Bank gave them the boost that WizWheelz needed. Once Jack and Wayne had the credit line to work with, parts were purchased, welders were paid, orders came in and were filled, and the bank was paid off earlier than planned. That relationship endures to this day.
Jack and Wayne found out the hard way why the business textbooks say "cash is king"! Without enough working capital, a company with a successful product can be stopped dead in its tracks.
By December of 2003 the business was in full gear, and the hiring of Mike Kessenich as Chief Operating Officer allowed the company to streamline their manufacturing process. By this time, there were 3 different TerraTrike models available and the complexity of the production of these models made Mike's expertise and years experience all the more welcome. At this time, WizWheelz moved into its own building in Hastings.
Over the next three years, the company grew including adding new employees. ￼During this time Ben Williams was hired for assembly as was Jack's wife Lori to handle the accounting. The newest TerraTrike was also added to the lineup during this time. It was named the Cruiser.
With the Cruiser model, WizWheelz had come out with an affordable, value rich trike. It revolutionized the industry and they sold very well, propelling it as the company's best selling trike to date. It won the 2006 Trike of the Year awarded by Bentrider ￼Online Magazine. It is now named the Tour II Base.
Later that year, they moved operations to a nicer facility in Kentwood, MI. The larger warehouse and production area, as well as much needed office space allowed room for the business to yet again grow – but that extra room was short lived. Just over a year later WizWheelz rented an adjacent warehouse space which more than doubled their footprint.
Not comfortable in relaxing on the success of the Cruiser, the company saw a flurry of new models introduced over the next few years. By 2007, the line had grown to include 8 different trikes – The Cruiser, Tour, Zoomer, Zoomer Elite, Sport, Race, Edge and Tandem. However, a new model that would again revolutionize the industry was on the horizon.
To prepare for the next genesis of WizWheelz, Jeff Yonker was hired in 2007 as the Marketing Manager. His years experience with brand marketing as well as his digital advertising background was essential in once again moving the company to the next level.
It was also at this time that TerraTrike was officially established as the brand name while WizWheelz would become the parent company name. "￼Part of the Solution" was also introduced as TerraTrike's tag line and a large re-branding campaign followed including the launch of a new website.
In the Fall of 2007, TerraTrike introduced the new Path model. The trike once again stunned people with its simple 3-speed internally geared hub, high level of components and unheard of price tag of $999. Never before had a trike of this quality be￼en available for under a thousand dollars. It once again took the industry by storm and shortly thereafter an 8-speed version was introduced to the demand of customers (now named the Tour II 8 Speed).
Again, the next couple years were heavy growth times and TerraTrike added several new employees including Jessica Kessenich, Steve DeJonge and Kelli Brueker.
Then it happened again.
In the spring of 2010, TerraTrike released its a new model – The Rover. This model featured a "one size fits all" frame, quick disassemble, tighter turning radius and a much higher seat – and AGAIN at an unheard of price of $799. The higher seat allowed for a new segment of people to enjoy triking.
TerraTrike had brought triking to the masses. The Rover was a huge success and has cemented TerraTrike as the world's largest manufacturer of trikes.
With a vision of constant innovation, TerraTrike is poised to release yet more revolutionary products in the future while continuing to give their customers value and superior customer service. They've never considered themselves part of the biking industry and it in turn has shaped the direction of their marketing. While others try to put out the most expensive, high-end trike available, TerraTrike continues to bring value to their line through competitive prices and quality features.
Over the years, Jack and Wayne have learned a lot - the most important piece of advice is 'believe in what you're doing and don't quit!' There have been many frustrating times where it would have been easy to give up but they fully believed in their products and had tenacity, vision, and a passion to make it work and along the way developed a company mantra which carried them through those tough times: "Failure Is NOT an Option".
They agree that the best moves they've made have been in the hiring of employees. Jack and Wayne are very cautious and deliberate in this area but they also consider themselves lucky. Each one of their employees has been an exceptional addition to this project and the founders regularly say that these people are the company's most valuable assets. This group of talented individuals makes working at TerraTrike headquarters a fun and exciting experience every day.
The employees of WizWheelz have strived to develop this company in harmony with the planet, the community, and their own lifestyles. They believe that simplicity in design is paramount whether it's a physical object like the TerraTrike or an idea like a business plan. Team members strive to take a corporate retreat most years and set out to tackle a new adventure each time. Besides some epic trike rides, they have also hiked and camped in deserts and canyons in Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon and California, climbed a 14,000 foot mountain in Colorado, hiked the slot canyons of Death Valley, tent-camped on a freezing snow-covered mountain, surfed in the Pacific Ocean, and hiked into the Grand Canyon where Wayne narrowly dodged a rattlesnake bite (don't tell Kate).
Future plans include repelling into deeper slot canyons, sea kayaking, whitewater rafting, spelunking, sailing the open seas, and whatever else sounds interesting. The trips are an effective team building tool and creative outlet as it takes people away from their daily tasks and frees their minds to dream up the next model, product, or direction for the company. Several of the TerraTrike models have been developed around a campfire in some remote region of the Utah desert while gazing at constellations to the sound of coyotes.
WizWheelz is committed to producing the most innovative, comfortable and earth friendly human powered vehicles in the world. We try to give back more than we take from the planet and humanity in general. That's how we are Part of the Solution.