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Real Lives
The Gift of Mobility

Getting things done in the kitchen
by Keith Landry

A
llan Thieme is the founder and President of Amigo Mobility International. Amigo’s founder has many thankful friends. They are gracious because they have received the gift of mobility. Power Operated Vehicles (POV’s), some call them scooters, are giving people with disabilities the ability to get around quickly and conveniently. Whether they want to plunge into the last minute holiday shopping rush or just relax in a restaurant, Amigo is allowing people to fully participate in society.

So how did a man who grew up in rural Michigan and started a plumbing/heating business at age 22, create a whole industry giving people independence and mobility? Thieme sat down with EnabledOnline.com to tell us.

Thieme built the first Amigo in 1967. Today, there are six different Amigo models and about 30 accessories. There’s also competition. Almost one dozen companies in the United States building POV’s in a multimillion dollar industry. Some famous people have called Thieme a friend through the years. Colonel Sanders of KFC, Ray Kroc of McDonald’s and boxer Joe Lewis all used Amigo POV’s, among other celebrities.

Connie Whalen of Grand Blanc, Michigan is not a celebrity, but she’s been using an Amigo for seven years. "It’s made life a lot more fun. I’ve taken it to South Africa and to Australia and to Europe." Whalen says her POV has taken her back to the soccer fields to watch her daughters play and back into the shopping malls to get things done.

Sy Beare of Farmington Hills has used an Amigo for six years. "Without it, I’d be homebound, and with it, I go where ever I want to go."

Thieme remembers creating the first Amigo out of necessity, when a close family member had multiple sclerosis. He built it in a car garage in Bridgeport, Michigan. He started with the platform. Thieme found the gears and switches at an electrical show in New York. The creator recalls the first Amigo needed improvements and his business stalled after he started Amigo Mobility International in 1968. "The effect of what it would do was gradual. It was slow and jerky and didn’t work well. The first two years, I built a few more. People laughed at it- it was seen as a negative. It was very difficult for the first three years."

The first customers were women with Multiple Sclerosis. They endorsed the Amigo after using it, because it helped ease the fatigue they often felt at the end of each day. "After a year, I saw this really enhanced people’s lives and made them better. Then I tried to set up medical dealers to sell it, and it wouldn’t work- they’d never sold anything like this before. For three years, I couldn’t sell it."


Amigo founder Allan Thieme
Thieme decided to make those who did buy the Amigo his sales force. He established a multilevel marketing plan in 1971, with Amigo users as sales people. "It was that plan of people using it telling others about it, that really built this industry." In the late 1970’s, Thieme says he had 600 people with disabilities selling his POV’s. In the 1980’s, the industry changed, and Amigo POV’s were sold through larger medical dealers.

Amigo still has employees with disabilities today. Duane Schultz assembles POV parts at the company’s headquarters in Michigan. He says he’s used an Amigo for 24 years, the entire time he’s worked there. Schultz believes the product he builds improves the quality of lives for his customers. "They’re a lot happier- they can get outside and go other places-like the mall. They can outpace people with two legs. I get my wife at the mall, and I run her ragged." It’s no surprise that Schultz endorses his own company’s product. He points out the POV’s are good because they are narrow enough to get in and out of doorways and to pass tables in restaurants.

Shirley Beebe is in the sales and marketing department. She’s been working at Amigo 20 years, and believes they’re doing good work to help people. Beebe sold her first Amigo to a woman in Montana with Multiple Sclerosis. "She said ‘Shirley, for the first time, I had enough strength to put lipstick on before my husband came home.’"

Allan Thieme’s company has 65 employees today and they build 450 Amigo POV’s each month. He likes helping people. "When you’re in a wheelchair, people too often avoid you. It’s so rewarding to me to see people get independence."

Thieme won the 1981 Michigan Small Businessman of the Year Award and the 1981 National Small Businessman of the Year Award. That’s not all he’s picked up along the way since creating an industry. "It has given me a much better understanding of people and of disabilities. It’s been a rewarding, humbling experience." Thieme guesses he’s sold 100 thousand Amigos since building that first one in 1967. To his customers, that’s 100 thousand gifts of mobility.

Visit www.MyAmigo.com or email Allan Thieme at althieme@myamigo.com

Click here for more information on Keith Landry and the rest of the EnabledOnline.com staff.


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