Franklin’s Charging Shows Us What EV Charging As A Small Business Looks Like

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When it comes to both gas stations and EV charging, the big names get most of the attention. Tesla, Electrify America, EVgo, and others are what people think of first for EV charging, largely because just about everyone has either charged at one or seen one.

But, on the gas and diesel side, the vehicle fueling industry isn’t as dominated by the big names as one might think. Sure, there’s often a sign out front that says something like Shell, Chevron, Sinclair or Buc-ee’s, but the station itself is often owned by a local family. Many run only one station, or just a few locally or regionally.

As expensive and difficult as EV rapid charging can be, it seems like something only the big dogs can really do right, while everyone else has to stay on the porch and hope the big players get it right. Two charging stations I recently visited challenge this assumption and show us that it doesn’t have to be like this. EV charging is something that local families can get into without taking a corporate job at one of the big players.

A Superior Charging Experience

Before I tell the story of how this local business got started, I want to first share my experience charging at both Franklin’s locations. Everything went about perfectly for me, and went almost perfectly for everyone else. Any imperfections were addressed by almost obsessive in-person customer service.

My first experience with Franklin’s Charging was in Hot Springs, Arkansas, the company’s second location.

One thing that makes this location great is that it’s right next to (and in some ways surrounded by) Hot Springs National Park. It’s just outside of the famous Bathhouse Row, and is close to an array of restaurants, tourist shops, and other places. So, if you’re the kind of person who likes to get out and walk around while you charge, there’s no shortage of nearby places to see while you stretch your legs.

Unlike many site owners I’ve seen, Franklin’s stays on top of machine maintenance and makes sure ChargePoint does what’s needed to keep the machines in peak condition (or at least close to peak). This meant that both myself and the Tesla that charged while I was there got maximum speeds!

If you text the owner’s phone number, you can get a PIN needed to access a waiting area with a nice couch, bathrooms, and adapters for Teslas to charge on CCS or CHAdeMO. The interior of the waiting area is clean and nice, too.

While working equipment and a nice place to take care of human needs puts the Hot Springs station above most I’ve been to, the main location in Little Rock is even better.

Like the Hot Springs location, the Little Rock location has solar panels providing shade and protection from the rain, clean bathrooms, and a nice place to sit and take a break. But it also has snack machines and a small snackbar/cafe that’s open part-time! It has a clean look, modern decor, and an inviting feel.

Another great thing in Little Rock was the recently upgraded ChargePoint station. While ChargePoint is still working out some bugs to get it to work with Teslas, I saw my first non-Tesla NACS station here, and from what I can gather, it’s among the first anywhere. Because ChargePoint is still squashing some final bugs, it wasn’t able to charge the Teslas that were there yet, but adapters were readily available.

On top of the dedication to customer service it must have taken to be almost at the top of the waiting list for NACS cables, the station’s owner, Jeff Franklin, was almost obsessive about making sure that everyone got a charge. When on site, he talks to everybody to make sure the charging session starts, everyone knows what they’re doing, and that everyone has whatever adapter they need to get the job done. When off site, he’s only a text or a call away, and he can usually be there if any in-person help’s needed with any of the gear.

Unlike most stations, there’s someone who makes it his personal mission to keep everything running, too. Staying on top of multiple charging station manufacturers (including one that’s in bad financial shape and another that’s in worse shape), service teams, utilities, and everything else is a lot of work. Nonetheless, one person usually watches out for all of this at hundreds of sites in large companies. But, when there’s one guy watching two sites, a lot less can fall through the cracks.

A Small Business, Tesla Investor Success Story

As far as I know, this is the only small business focusing on EV charging. I know that many small businesses out there do something else, like sell food, sell gasoline, or provide tourist services and have EV charging, but it’s different when it’s charging first.

What’s even more impressive is that this isn’t a story of a local company finding some big city investors with deep pockets to take a risk on EV charging. Jeff, the owner, made his first money teaching high school biology and other science classes, and then invested some of his savings in Tesla like many other people here both reading and writing at CleanTechnica. With some smart moves buying and selling at the right time, he got enough money together to be his own investor, paying cash for the locations, for the buildouts, and for all but one charging station!

If that’s not inspiring, you probably have some kind of disorder worth asking your doctor about.

I wish I could say that the charging station has been a wild financial success, but we’re not at that part of the story just yet. As you may know, most charging stations don’t see enough business yet to cover the bills, so it takes a very forward-thinking businessperson to get into EV charging at this point in the EV adoption curve. That having been said, the utilization rate is steadily and quickly climbing, especially in the last year or so, and is rapidly approaching the breakeven point on the way toward profits.

For those who decide to jump in and get started, if you do an excellent job and become the go-to place for EV drivers, you’ll have an edge over the more timid people who jump in later once it’s an easy profit situation. Jeff is happy to help people considering getting into EV charging, so don’t be afraid to look him up online if you want to get some of his hard-earned wisdom. Like me, he believes in the concept of locally-owned infrastructure.

Most importantly, though, the Franklin’s Charging story shows that you don’t need to be a big company with big investor firepower to get into the game. Local businesses that do this will own a big chunk of the future! However, it requires putting in some serious work.

All images by Jennifer Sensiba.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1999 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba