Like a lot of businesses, Northside Auto Sales gets unsolicited faxes offering all sorts of deals. Many end up in the trash can.
However, Richard Butler saw one recently that piqued his interest: A distributor in Atlanta was selling small motor scooters. With gas at $4 a gallon and no demand for the SUVs on his lot, Butler saw an opportunity.
"We thought there would be a good demand for them," Butler said. "We started out with just one or two. We sold more and more."
Butler now has about a dozen of the Peace Sports scooters in front of the car lot at 3278 Cleveland Highway starting at $895. The Chinese-made scooters come in two sizes, one with a 50cc engine and another with a 150cc engine.
The smaller model, which does not require a motorcycle driver's license, gets between 85 and 90 miles per gallon of gasoline. It will reach a maximum speed of 35 to 40 miles per hour.
The larger scooter will reach speeds of 65 to 70 mph and gets 50 to 60 miles per gallon.
The used car dealer has not advertised the scooters, other than parking a few out front. That has been enough to draw a steady stream of interested lookers, some of whom leave as scooter owners.
"Right now, we're selling more scooters than cars," Butler said.
A month into the scooter business, Butler is taken aback by the success of the fledgling enterprise.
"I would have never thought I'd be in the scooter business," he said. "But you do what you've got to do. When times are hard, you go with the flow. Demand is good and you sell what's in demand."
His buyers have ranged from young people in their 20s to a woman in her 60s who wanted the scooter to drive to work.
One man who was eyeing the larger model on Friday said he was looking at one for his commute to Cherokee County each day.
Even after a month, Butler is finding problems of supply and demand. His distributor cannot keep pace with the sales. "We can't just call and say we need six of these or 12 of those," he said.
A test drive of the smaller scooter revealed that the unit has good pickup and is easy to control. The scooters do not require gear changes and have an electric starter. It has a full complement of headlights, taillights and turn signals and an annoying horn that yields a very European-sounding beep.
The scooters require a title and under Georgia law the driver and passenger must wear a helmet.