Todd Rome used to be the president of Blue Star Jets, a company that brokered private jets for hire before founding Moke America, an automotive company based in New York. He founded the company after recently acquiring the US rights to the Moke car, which is now being “assembled in Sarasota by Cruise Car Inc.”
According to Todd Rome, he encountered the Moke while traveling in Europe, where he “fell in love with the car.” However, he felt that the car itself needed improvement. Among those improvements are a “redesign and reengineering of the car,” which took up two-and-a-half years and several million dollars in investments. These efforts resulted in an improved version of the Moke, from “bumper to bumper.”
Todd Rome also headed up another change for the Moke. He made it an electric car. While there is a gas version, Todd says the electric one, retailing at $15,975, is significantly different. He says that while driving the electric Moke, “you feel like a bird. There’s no sound. It’s just you and the road. It’s open, and it’s and it’s an unbelievable feeling.” He adds, “You have to drive it.”
Currently, Todd Rome is busy marketing the new Moke to his luxury vehicle market, which is an audience he knows intimately. For example, he drove Mokes to the Hamptons one summer, just to “let people play with it.” Moke sales went well in the Hamptons and Martha’s Vineyard.
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Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Todd Rome: I had been working in the aviation industry for many years as the owner and founder of Blue Star Jets, which I started in 2001 and moved on in 2016, before founding Moke America. I first fell in love with the Moke car from my vacations to St. Barts, so after selling my first business, it seemed like the right time to start another adventure — and the Moke was the perfect vehicle to embark upon a new journey with.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Todd Rome; I founded Moke America with the idea of, literally, reinventing the wheel. The classic Moke, which was originally from Great Britain, had numerous problems but had an unbelievable look and feel and defined the word cool. The Moke touched cultural points from surf culture to Brigitte Bardot and many other celebrities like The Beach Boys and James Bond.
The old classic Mokes used to rust like crazy. After six months, they would be completely rusted, and the floorboards would fall out. The second problem was the name Mini Moke. The Mini was very small. It wasn’t really suitable for somebody 5’11 or bigger; they could not fit in the car. Another problem with the car was that it was too low to the ground. That’s why it didn’t work for the British military. They were getting stuck every time they were fighting in combat.
So, we raised the wheel. We went from a 13-inch wheel to a 14-inch wheel, so it beefs it up a bit. We re-engineered and redesigned the glass so the glass is larger, stands across farther and is higher. We also decided that we needed to do something about the paint. We implemented a five-step E-Dip process to control the quality of the paint. We also do an undercarriage rust proofing to give it some more life. Like anything else, if you leave it out and treat it poorly it’s still not going to be perfect, but this gives it more life. It took a lot of manpower and strategizing, trial and error, to get it to where it is today.
Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
Drive: You always want to be committed to improving, expanding and growing. We are always looking to include more resorts and dealerships in our portfolio that will grow the brand in markets all over the country.
Visualization: Visualize people using your products daily. Who do you want your target customer to be? Craft the product for them.
People: Surround yourself with a strong team and you will constantly be lifting the brand higher and go further.
Integrity: We took the Moke and made it more environmentally friendly with our electric version. Implementing sustainability into our product got a lot of consumers excited and made everyone feel good.
Elbow Grease: There’s going to be some late nights where you’re going to have to put in the work to solve problems. I mentioned changing the wheelbase from 13 to 14 inches. It wasn’t as simple of a process as it may sound.
Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Todd Rome: As I mentioned above, having integrity and being socially conscious is always important, especially when marketing to young people, like we do. I’ve always been passionate about transportation and if I can turn that into a positive, people will see that and praise that.
Jerome Knyszewski: In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Todd Rome: Staying relevant and cool, while also providing a product of the highest quality. Listen to your customers and offer solutions.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Todd Rome: When people see A-list celebrities using our brand, it makes our target market trust that the product is really noteworthy and builds a lot of credibility. That actually happened organically- celebrities just became fans of the Moke America on their own and we capitalized as a result of it.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Todd Rome: You can check out the Moke America website at www.mokeamerica.com and on Instagram @mokeamerica.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!
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