CT Main Street Business Owners of the Year: Wheeling City Tours, New London

by New London Main Street

Spotlight on 2015 Awards of Excellence CT Main Street Business Owners of the Year: Dawn & Kristin Harkness, Wheeling City Tours, New London

Imagine a new and different way to see a city. In 2014, Dawn and Kristin Harkness took tourism in their home city of New London to a new level by creating Wheeling City Tours, bringing Segways to the area. "We thought about what New London needed, and we know what makes a great tour."

Opportunities, Challenges & Major Accomplishments:
• Avid travelers who have taken Segway Tours in locations around the world, the Harkness' began to do research on opening a guided Segway Tour business in New London. They wanted to "get people to see the New London we've fallen in love with", and made connections with local businesses, the Mayor's Office, New London Main Street, and downtown event planners. They even invited the community to help name their new business through a social media campaign.

• The City asked them to draft an ordinance allowing "electronic assistive mobility devices" on city streets, which they did. It was approved in January 2014.

• The Harkness' thoroughly researched the local history of New London and developed an accurate and interesting script. They have extremely high standards for positivity, accuracy, and fun on their tours. Looking to keep their business fresh and exciting, they also provide custom-tailored group games and team-building activities, such as Segway Polo, Segway Croquet, Segway Water Cannon Competitions, and Segway Nerf Blaster Bashes. "We often get three generations on a tour," said Dawn. "It is difficult these days to find activities grandparents can do with their grandchildren - that are also considered 'cool'."

• Kristin and Dawn Harkness are true entrepreneurs. Kristin had a successful career in computer technology, including as a mobile software developer for Kayak and, before that, founded Publish2Go. Dawn is an attorney and has been actively involved in local politics and community development. They know how to make things happen, using their professional successes to develop a smart business plan, funding their start up, and making a profit. In 2015 they plan to hire local New London enthusiasts as tour guides, thus contributing more to the local economy as they grow their business.

• Also in 2015, Wheeling City Tours is partnering with the Custom House Maritime Museum to offer tours to area lighthouses. These partnerships increase tourism to the area - and a new-found love and respect for historic New London.

• The Harkness' have a five-year lease on a storefront location in the rear of 36 Bank Street, which opens onto South Water Street and faces Waterfront Park. Guides lead three to eight sightseers on tours across the city, offering patrons one- and two-hour guided audio tours. Gliding around town, participants often elicit curious expressions from onlookers. "When you're on a Segway," Kristin Harkness says, "you don't just see the attractions; you are an attraction."

• The effect of Wheeling City Tours on the downtown is significant. The visual impact of the tours in motion marks an area that is celebrated and well used. The celebratory feeling of a tour of people on Segways promotes a City in action. The education and inspiration provided about downtown New London to tourists from outside the area makes an immeasurable positive impact on the area. Wheeling City Tours brings hundreds of unlikely guests to the City each year: visitors who then spread the message that New London is a great place to be.
• Wheeling City Tours raises the bar for current and future businesses: New London Main Street now promotes that if Wheeling City Tours can make it here, so can your well-planned start up!

Congratulations to the Dawn & Kristin Harkness!