The article is referring to how Mr. Grugin came to spend about three months researching and finally becoming an “amateur importer” to purchase the bike directly from the Chinese company that builds it.
It’s a story of communication, bureaucracy, international trust — and considerable determination on his part.
“It’s fun and the kids love it,” said Grugin, a retired Clinton middle school principal who has lived here for a decade and recently retired from a second career at Kirkwood Community College. “I think it was worth all the effort I went through to get it.”
He first noticed a surrey bike in the Coralville Fourth of July parade last summer. His wife, Cathy, has had two knee replacement surgeries, but the couple rented a surrey in St. Paul and enjoyed pedaling it together. Richard was convinced they needed one for themselves and the grandkids.
Local bike shops did not carry the unusual bike and the surreys he found online usually started beyond his price range at $3,000. He found a used one for less, but the deal fell through.
Then Grugin was referred to a website that has direct Chinese connections. There he could purchase a new surrey bike for $1,000. Shipping to Chicago would be only $150 more, plus there would be a $50 fee to use PayPal for the transaction.
It sounded like a bargain.
But as meticulous retired guys often do, Grugin kept researching and learned he would have to contract with a customs broker or “forwarder” in Chicago to guide the surrey through U.S. customs. That would be another $469. Shipping to North Liberty would add a whopping $459 more.
He would also have to sign over his power of attorney to the customs broker, just for this particular transaction.
Grugin brought documents and aired his plans in front of his weekly retired-guys coffee group at Liberty Doors for discussion. He received encouragement.
One guy was the retired owner of a moving company and confirmed the shipping plan looked credible. Another had an I-Pass Richard could use on his trip to Chicago to pick up the bike and save the last leg of shipping cost. “That’s networking,” quipped Grugin
One guy was the retired owner of a moving company and confirmed the shipping plan looked credible.
After dozens of emails with a friendly Chinese customer service rep named Lisa who sweetened the deal with headlights, upgraded trim and other accessories, he finally ordered the bike in late November. He received regular updates to track it across the Pacific by ship to San Francisco, then by rail to Chicago.
Everything went smoothly, and after Christmas, he and a grandson drove to a Chicago warehouse and picked up a 225-pound metal crate with the bike inside — which just barely fit into the back of his mini-van.
Back home, it took considerable effort just to unscrew and open the metal container. Then he spread the approximately 50 pieces of bicycle onto the garage floor.
“I could see it was well made and pretty heavy-duty,” he said. There were only a couple of small glitches during assembly. After emailing descriptive photos to Lisa, she shipped two missing parts immediately.
Bottom line, he ended up with a $3,000-plus bike for about $1,800, counting the Chicago trip expense to pick it up. The neighbors and other friends have shown interest and have suggested Grugin should become a Chinese surrey bike importer.
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