“I was told by my mother never to buy a motorcycle, so I saw a loophole in this clause and bought my first 50cc scooter,” smiles Luke Sommen. “It’s not a motorbike, Mum!” Director of his Sommen Property Group by day, Luke has made a side business of bending the rules – creating a customisable “long and low stretched-out street beast” under the name of Hunter Scooter. “I wanted to have a cool scooter that was fun to ride and could be tweaked to stand-out from the pack,” he says.
Having long harboured a habit of modifying his every possession, Luke found the Australian scooter market to be somewhat stifling. “[There’s only] one of two options: classic vintage-style like Vespa or the common plastic-clad sports scooter. There wasn’t much room in either field to add you own mark to a ride.” So he looked to Japan and was inspired by the lower-lying rides, custom seats, paint jobs and “amazing fat tyres” he saw.
“There wasn’t any major [Australian] manufacturer who could offer this – and that’s what ignited my drive to see what would be possible and street-legal on the roads of Australia,” says Luke, explaining that the safety standards here are sky-high. “It wasn’t going to be an easy task to find a product that looked the part, but also complied to all the statutory requirements.” His initial idea of buying a custom-built scooter from California – and then applying for import approval – crashed when he realised the costs would mean one scooter retailed for $25,000. And so the search for a manufacturer began.
Armed with his brief for a “bare-boned, stretched-out, raw and totally-customisable” scooter, Luke ventured to Asia, where the fourth company he approached was willing to work with his idea. “It had all the internationally recognised certification and the responses were timely and relevant,” he says, noting that WeChat is a handy tool to have in China if you don’t have a translator.
The journey from initial talks through to receiving a sample took more than 18 months. “The advice I can offer to anyone manufacturing abroad is to simplify requests,” says Luke, who suggests using dot points, confirming everything in writing and double- and triple-checking the request is understood before proceeding. “I believe it’s essential to visit the factory before and during production and to continuously build and improve your relationships with your manufacturer,” he adds. “I’ve become very fond of my new colleagues in Southern China.”
As the first of its kind in Australia, the challenges that came with pioneering Hunter Scooter were bound to be plentiful. “Where do I start?!” says Luke, rolling off a list including nine months of compliance testing, quality-control during manufacturing, and finding distributors who weren’t already locked into agreements. “It’s been a hard path since inception, but we love a challenge.”
Their first production of 35 scooters sold out within 10 months – but not without some speedy pivots. “With wholesaling proving to be difficult, we immediately had to change the business plan to one of direct retailing and out-of-the-box thinking via marketing strategies,” says Luke, so pop-up stores and non-industry-related affiliations through retail outlets played a big part in getting their name out there.
The “gentle folk” at the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride – a global motorcycle fundraising event bringing awareness to prostate cancer and male-suicide prevention – also reached out to Hunter Scooter in its early days. “This developed into a beneficial relationship based on mutual admiration and a great cause.”
There’s a second production currently underway and a shipment of 35 scooters expected on our shores in October – the pre-sales for which will see this drop selling out in a matter of months. Despite his success, Luke insists he still hasn’t learned enough. “Be open to all possibilities and continuously research to expand your knowledge,” he says. To which we reply, ride on!