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President and CEO Beth Thieme shares the incredible story behind Amigo Mobility International, how they weathered turbulent times, and what good things Amigo is doing for the planet.

Podcast Description:

It's not every day that an invention sparks an entire industry.  But this is what Al Thieme did when multiple sclerosis robbed a beloved family member of her independence.  Al decided to build something that gave it back to her.  And his invention, and his company, now helps tens of thousands of people to regain their independence every single day.  But their journey was not an easy one.

Links from the episode

Amigo Mobility International Website:

Amigo Mobility International Facebook Page:


Casey Stevens: This podcast is brought to you by the Stevens Center for Family Business, whose mission is to support the success of family businesses through the generations, with education, networking, and collaboration. 

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: The journey is tough and there are ups and downs and challenges to it, but probably at one of our darkest times, we were pretty low on money.

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: The bank was pressuring us, going to pull the loan and we thought this is it. 

Cliff Duvernois: Hello everyone. Welcome back to Ordinary People, Extraordinary Things. I'm your host, Cliff Duvernois, we would all agree that love is a powerful force, so powerful that when a man saw a beloved family member losing her independence to multiple sclerosis and it was absolutely nothing available to help her, he said to himself, there must be a better way.

Cliff Duvernois: This two-time high school dropout turned HVAC business owner became an inventor. And he built into existence a way that his beloved family member could regain her independence and her dignity. This invention launched an entire industry giving tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people, their mobility every single day.

Cliff Duvernois: Please welcome to the show, the President and CEO of Amigo Mobility International, located in Bridgeport, Michigan. Beth Thieme. Beth, how are you?

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: I'm great. Thank you.

Cliff Duvernois: Why don't you tell us a little bit about where you're from and where you grew up?

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: Well, I was born on the west side of Michigan, and then we moved to Saginaw. I was the fifth out of six children in our family, and we lived in the Saginaw area for the rest of our lives.

Cliff Duvernois: Where did you go to college?

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: So, I went to Central Michigan University for my first two years. I thought I wanted to be a teacher, but then I quickly realized that health and science was my passion. So, I switched to nursing and then I took some more classes and eventually enrolled in nursing school. In the interim, I needed to earn some money.

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: I was working at Amigo and soon discovered that I had a passion for business and because it was healthcare-related and that feeling of helping people, uh, touched my heart, I made the change and stayed in business.

Cliff Duvernois: And we're glad that you did. So, let's talk, you started working for Amigo. Then Amigo was actually a company when you joined it, and it was started by Al. Tell us a little bit about his background. 

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: Al Thieme was a plumbing and heating contractor, so he's a guy who did not love school, but loved to work. So, he quit school early in the 10th grade so he could start a career, and he became a plumber and eventually started his own business. He was very successful at it and loved the plumbing business.

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: Then his first wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. They had six children. She really struggled with mobility and when he pushed her in a wheelchair for the first time, both of them felt there must be a better way. And he promised to build something that would make her independent, would be fun, and attractive to use, and he worked nights and weekends in his garage and created the very first three-wheeled mobility vehicle.

Cliff Duvernois: Now, because he is got this plumbing background, HVAC background, where did he come up with the skills to do at that time? Primarily mechanical. Style work in, in engineering, because you're really trying to build something that doesn't even exist. Where did those skills come into play?

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: You know, I think entrepreneurs, that entrepreneurial mind looks at the end result, what they're going to create, and they’d find a way. So, he relied on engineers, friends, and people in the community to help him fine-tune this vehicle and actually build some of the early versions of it.

Cliff Duvernois: He finally gets this prototype ready. How did he go about starting to get customers? Was it directly selling to retail? Did he try to go out and get some, you know, commercial clients? How did that work?

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: You know, it was, it was a tough journey. People always think from a distance look and say, wow, they made it big, right? It's not, it takes a lot of persistence. He, started by really getting to know people who had MS and were in the local MS chapter. They started to see the amigo in use, and they wanted one. And so, he would build a few more. Really still not with the idea of creating a business, just of helping people.

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: And, then as it grew, um, he went to medical supply dealers. He tried selling it direct himself. The biggest part of our success came when we made the change to having Amigo customers or their family members sell the product.

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: They could speak from the heart about what the product did and how it changed their lives, and their passion could not be beaten by anyone else telling the story. And our biggest sales came from that. We probably at one time had anywhere between two and 400 people across the country selling.

Cliff Duvernois: That is absolutely amazing. And I, I have to go back, and I want to touch back on this because it was, it was something that I was really surprised to hear, but really, Amigo started in somebody's garage.

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: His garage, yes! So, the company started in 1968. I joined the company in 1975 and I started in purchasing. And if you were a vendor coming to visit Amigo and you said, Can I see your assembly plant? We'd put on our coats, run across the four lanes of the Dixie Highway, up the driveway into a two-car garage.

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: And I very proudly would open the door and say, this is our plant. We got up to a hundred Amigos a month built in that little two-car garage. We were so excited when we could finally build, and afford to build a building on the same side of the road as the office and we didn't have to make that run across the highway, 

Cliff Duvernois: And I bet you your vendors when they would go into the garage, they were probably really surprised thinking it was going to be some kind of like, you know, GM facility or something else like that. But nope, here we are. 

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: Yeah, we were, we were small. Small but mighty back then.

Cliff Duvernois: Yeah. Well, a hundred units a month. That's impressive. Mm-hmm, that's very impressive. Out of a garage.

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: It is. And, it really speaks to the fortitude of the people who surrounded us in the very early years. Um, we didn't have a lot of glitz and glamour to offer or a lot of perks and benefits. People came to work because they wanted to work, and they loved the mission.

Cliff Duvernois: I think that's absolutely critical, especially when you're just starting out on some kind of an adventure, is being able to communicate that vision. Because a lot of people, when you share with them and they see what it is, and you were talking before about the, you know, your customers becoming your best sales force that is out there.

Cliff Duvernois: And so, this really creates it as people think, wow, I'm part of something special versus just I'm getting a paycheck.

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: Right? Right. People, people wanna join forces if you have a definite mission. And our mission is improving lives through mobility, and it's very important to us that, it affects the quality of what we do.

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: The engineering of what we do and the future of what we do. We always surround ourselves with that mission and say, does this fit our mission? And does everybody understand that mission? And it really leads to a lot of synergies and growth in the business.

Cliff Duvernois: I think it also applies to when you truly understand your vision or your why of why you're doing it, this is what carries you through the lean times.

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: Absolutely. We go back every once in a while, and we read the, uh, testimonials from our customers and it’s so inspiring how we've changed so many people's lives. You know, some of our favorite famous customers were, um, Ray Crock, who built McDonald's. Colonel Sanders, Uh, Joe Lewis, Tony Fields, Um, Richard Pryor, Um, and now today, Itzhak Perlman. He plays every concert around the world, sitting out in his a. Amigo.

Cliff Duvernois: There's an awesome commercial right there.

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: It is. He loves it. And seeing people become so active, independent, and really truly living a normal life with the amigo is a huge motivator for all of our team.

Cliff Duvernois: Certainly, what I like to do is I want to go back and I talk, 'cause I know that we were sharing before about, you know, the company's just getting started. It's just starting to get some traction. You're getting some sales, you're doing a hundred units a month, which is still impressive. 

Cliff Duvernois: Things really start to take off, right? You were, you're seeing your business grow like crazy. You're able to get the building across the street. Everything seems to be just all fine and hunky dory, but then apparently there was some kind of a Medicaid change or Medicare change that happened that kind of threw you guys off guard. Why don't you talk to us a little bit about that? 

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: So, our sales were growing in healthcare by 50% a year. And you feel almost at the time, maybe a little invincible and you're focused so much on keeping up with that growth that I don't think you always stop and look at the outside threats. But in the eighties, late eighties, there was a company that came into the marketplace.

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: They actually visited Amigo to see if they wanted to get into the marketplace. They were going to buy a franchise and then decided not to, and they were named Scooter Store. And um, well they named their company after they left and started the company, but it was called Scooter Store. And I'm sure everybody's seen the commercials.

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: You can get one free, at absolutely no cost to you. And when you hear something from the government that's free, it's never free. There is always a cost tied to it. But they went around it. They found a loophole in Medicare that said the government will pay a hundred percent of the cost of a joystick chair, but very little for a three-wheel vehicle. And so, people would say to us, why don't you build joysticks? We absolutely could have, but you don't put a person into a joystick chair until their mobility is extremely limited because you want them to move, hold their arm, arms up, and swivel the seat; movement is life. And so, we wanted to encourage that.

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: And even the enticement of government money would not take us to where they wanted to be. Uh, after many years, I'm going to think 20-plus years, the government did shut them down.

Cliff Duvernois: Oh, wow.

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: And we're still here. 

Cliff Duvernois: And with that, we're going to take a quick break to thank our sponsors. When we return, Beth is going to share with us how Amigo Mobility survived those turbulent times, the creative ideas that allowed Amiga to be able to stabilize and grow their business, and how Amigo is helping to keep obsolete and broken motorized carts in landfills.

Cliff Duvernois: See you after the break.

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Cliff Duvernois: Welcome back to Ordinary People, Extraordinary Things. Today we are talking with Beth Thieme from Amigo Mobility International. Now, before the break, we were talking about this really tough period in Amigo's history, basically. Your competitors figure out a way to sell your product, uh, for free, uh, at the taxpayer's expense, which Uncle Sam was not happy about.

Cliff Duvernois: You and Al during this time were struggling to really define a new direction for Amigo, and it was during this time that there was an extreme emphasis on sales, like, what can we do every single day just to sell one more amigo? Uh, Beth, if you would, walk us through how you and your team, uh, survived those very turbulent times.

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: You know, our backs are up against the wall a number of times. It's, it's not all uphill, you know, or downhill or however you want to characterize it. The journey is tough and there are ups and downs and challenges to it, but probably at one of our darkest times, we were pretty low on money.

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: The bank was pressuring us, um, going to pull the loan and we thought we're, we could be done. This is it. This is it. And you know, it's a huge responsibility not only for yourselves, I mean the personal hit is hard, but when you look around at your people and they're paying mortgages, and car payments, and raising families, there is a really added, uh, burden and blessing to where you don't want to let the team down.

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: And I will say that. I remember coming back from a particularly tough bank meeting with Al and just looking at him and saying, you know, we could just get sad and drown in these feelings, but every day, let's work on sales. Just one more amigo. Just one more. And it kind of changes your focus to moving forward rather than drowning.

Cliff Duvernois: And one of the things that come to mind when you say that is, it's also important too, to remember that you have to keep your focus on what's truly important. And for any business out there that's sales, you have to have that sales pipeline coming in. And it's really easy to. either,

Cliff Duvernois: I don't want to say complacent, I'll say comfortable with, you know, how everything is going today and Oh, I, you really don't need to do it because it's going to take care of itself. But I have to agree that your decision to say, you know what, let's focus on sales. What can we do to sell one more unit today? Let's dig ourselves out of this. I think that's just absolutely brilliant.

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: Thank you. And you know, I think on, on the other side, the finance people will say they're, they're going to look at the cost side and let them do their thing. But I think our role was to build sales.

Cliff Duvernois: And I also think that from the employee standpoint because employees can feel when a company's in trouble, so to see you putting in that extra effort too. Move the ball forward, you know, grinding just that much harder and we're not going to give up. I, I think, would also help to inspire them to sit there and say, wow, if they're not giving up, then neither am I, because they've already bought into your vision. But like we talked about before, knowing that why helps to really carry you through.

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: Right, I, I remember walking into accounting at one point and we had a young accountant there and then we had a guy who had been with us for a few years. The senior accountant, the young one put up his hands and said, we are burned toast.

He had looked at the incoming invoices that day and it was just, we're burnt toast. You know, he, he, he left, he, he didn't see the vision and wasn't willing to go on the journey, which is fine, we respect that. But the guy who stayed with us has been with us for 33 years now, and we always talk about those tough times and, and shake our heads a little bit. Smile. There are some laughs, but there's a huge amount of gratitude for Mike that during the darkest days and he knew what the numbers were and he stayed with us, and that, that's just something we'll never forget.

Cliff Duvernois: I also think too, that going through these really tough times, has helped you to kind of get a little bit more perspective, because we talk about recessions, we talk about, you know, the pandemic shutting down the world. And so, it's almost like, you know what, we went through this before. We had tough times before. So, it gives you a little bit of perspective like, okay, so last time we focused on sales, maybe we should focus more on sales this time or something else like that. So how is that kind of play into your vision of the future?

Cliff Duvernois: Because obviously, it's, it's easy to say everything's going to be roses, but you and I both know that you're going to have tough times. You're going to have; those struggles in there. So how does that play into that?

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: Um, you know, it's coming because there is no perfect world. And so I. We address it earlier and we look at what we think is coming. How do we shore up this business by getting into different markets, so you're not solidified and 90% of your business is this market, but investing in other. Opportunities that take you a little out of your comfort zone maybe, but launch you into other markets. And maybe some are a little bit more recession-proof than others and, um, but I think staying with the same old gets you into the same old problem.

Cliff Duvernois: Yes, yes, yes. I, I definitely would agree with that. Cause I could see a lot of people focusing on what's working now. And then just thinking that's always going to work. 

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: Right. And I, you know, I think the advice that we share with people is not because we've read books or we think it's because we live through mistakes, and we learn the hardest way possible. Um, and I think when you do that, you never forget that that's true and you really, uh, work to preserve these good times. 

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: But the lesson that we learned during that tough time was when you are growing is when the time you need to think about reinventing yourself. What is the next thing you can get into? And um, so we, we've really over the years, kind of stepped back and said, We're good at, he. But what are we really good at? We're good at batteries, motors, wheels, chargers, and controllers. How can we use those components to improve lives through mobility? So, it launched us into the grocery business.

We dabbled in that for many years, but it really, in the early two-thousands, we made it a huge focus of our business. And today it's the biggest part of our business. But it also launched us into industrial, um, material handling carts, into the aviation business, uh, into, uh, contract with a large automotive company as a tier two supplier. So,, it has really helped our business change and, and evolve over the years.

Cliff Duvernois: And plus, it's opened up other revenue streams. for your business. So, you're not just solely dependent upon selling an Amigo, you know, you could sell different parts of it to different industries.

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: Correct. And then my husband, who is a true visionary, he, um, he has genius ideas. Every once in a while, that really changes. He has hundreds of ideas, but genius ideas, crazy sometimes it's hard to tell the difference, right? And I thought it was a crazy idea, but now we say it was a genius idea. He asked the question, what happens to all the motorized carts when they're done when they've hit the end of life?

They were being thrown into landfills. So, we decided, uh, we created a program where we bring 'em back. We bring our own brand back. We bring our competitor's brands back. We have recycling centers in Las Vegas and Michigan that take them apart and they harvest the good parts because maybe. Six months before it was going to be thrown out, a new component was put on that. So we harvest, test the goods and sell them as re-certified parts on the service market, and then we properly recycle the remaining plastics and steels that are, are used. And it's phenomenal business.

Cliff Duvernois: It is. And what I'm thinking about here as you're sharing this, is, is the power of asking the question, what if, So before you were talking about how you had, you know, one car, but now you're thinking, well there's, you know, what if we could branch out into these other areas, What if we could take these components?

What if we brought these carts? At end of life. And I think there's a lot of power in asking yourself what if. And because you know, somebody will come along like you made a comment up before your, you said, oh, I thought he was crazy to do this. Right? And a lot of the times people say, Well, what if this? And somebody will come along and say, oh, that idea is crazy. Oh, that idea will never work. Well, you may be right, but what if it. What would that look like? And now you say that you know, it's become a big part of your business. You're keeping all these products in landfill and everything else like that. So, I think there's a lot of power in being able, to ask that simple question. 

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: You know, we've gone, uh, through a program for entrepreneurs that really has helped our business, and our group leader has helped us identify that you know, we always labeled Al as an entrepreneur, but now we label him as a visionary. And I'm the integrator. And when you pair visionaries with integrators, it's a pretty healthy balance because, um, I think visionaries are like the stars up in the sky. You hook yourself up to a star and you can fly the integrators kind of bring some, uh, they don't fly away.

Cliff Duvernois: Okay.

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: And, and that's, that's kind of what I picture l and I as, um, he is the idea guy. I'm creative, but he's the bigger visionary. And any business needs to either have one in their business or have an advisor who's a visionary that they are.

Cliff Duvernois: Because I think a lot of that would go back to like we were discussing before, where the business was going well for you, uh, but then you were getting ready to hit. You had this dry patch and you guys were just going to be really struggling after that.  So having somebody be able to come in and ask those types of questions or be able to see the bigger vision and say, you know what, this is good for now. Very happy with this. So, what if we could do something else, right, and start moving in maybe a slightly different direction or open something else out so that way when this particular avenue, might dry up? We never know. So having that ability to have that vision, to be able to say that I, I think would be important and good for any organization that's out there.

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: We've worked very hard the last few years to formulate our one-year, three years, and 10-year vision, and we start by saying, What does our company look like in 10 years? What are the revenues? We paint this picture of what we envision, and we put that up there, and then within three years, where do we need to At that point to get to the ten years? And then at one year, what do we need to do this year to get to the three years? And having that, um, it's not really a formality, but it's, it's kind of a little bit of a structure to get our thinking farther out rather than just next year. You know, we, um, we're a very entrepreneurial-based company, so we used a system called EOS, an entrepreneurial operating System. And it was developed by a guy in Michigan, Gina Wickman in the Detroit area. And I will tell you, uh, for an entrepreneurial company, it is a very valuable system that's really kind of helped us plot out our future.

Cliff Duvernois: Beth, if somebody's listening to this interview, they want to check out what it is that, uh, you and your wonderful company are absolutely doing, uh, whether that's online, uh, what, what would be the best way for them to connect with you?

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: Our website really captures the type of work that we do and the culture of our company. And it's www my And I also want to mention that my husband kept daily journals from the beginning of the business till today, and they captured all the stories and memories that we've gone through. He has, uh, published a book that will be coming out soon. it's called, There Must Be A Better Way.

Cliff Duvernois: That's great. So, uh, Beth, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today. I really do appreciate it. And, uh, thank you again.

Beth Thieme, Amigo Mobility International: Thank you, appreciate being here.

Cliff Duvernois: And for our audience, visit Click on Beth's interview to get the links that she mentioned before. You can also hear other interviews from Ordinary Michiganders who are doing some pretty extraordinary things.


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