I think I mixed free time very well with the job ...

Geoff Higgo

BIRKENSTORY #17

Geoff Higgo - car rental operator and free spirit

The first thing you notice when you meet this youthful, athletic 60-year-old is his long, red hair. His friends say he’s bull-headed and a free spirit, while he himself thinks he’s a simply a lucky devil. After a number of crazy business ventures, the father of four now runs an unusual car rental company in Cape Town together with his partner Monika, who comes from Germany. Geoff loves Birkenstocks and nature. In an effort to reduce his business' carbon footprint, he likes to provide his customers unconventional ways to save money and help the environment at the same time...

Geoff Higgo and his four siblings grew up in Camps Bay, a little coastal village just outside of Cape Town. What was once considered to be the wrong side of the tracks is now one of the most expensive property locations in Africa. The Higgos were a nature-loving family that enjoyed spending time together at the beach, up the mountain, fishing, surfing, swimming – anything as long as it was outdoors.

Surfing in the navy

Geoff has had a number of professions. After leaving school, he worked as an electrical engineer on a submarine for four years. The navy was tough at times, but Geoff nevertheless had a lot of fun and free time: “I’ve never surfed as much as I did back then. What I learned the most in the navy was surfing. So that was a fabulous education!”, he says, laughing.

From carpentry to cookery

In 1986, he went to San Francisco for two years to lay decking for the houses at the marina together with a carpenter friend. “Probably the best job that I remember having was when I was in San Francisco,” says Geoff, rhapsodizing.

Upon returning to Cape Town, he went into the food service industry and ran a number of restaurants. Among other things, he was offered a stake in an à la carte restaurant in Kristenbosch, the world’s most famous botanical garden. “I had the perfect job for three years – the best work hours and fantastic food,” he enthuses.

The university of life, or: starting anew out of principle

At some point, Geoff had had enough of kitchen work and he opened South Africa’s first independent backpacker hostel in Cape Town. This was followed three years later by Daytrippers, the first provider of bike tours.

Geoff was never afraid of failing – he thrived on the challenge. His motto: “You kind of grow bored if you spend too long in one profession.” Spurred on by his success, Geoff opened another backpacker hostel, St. John’s Waterfront Lodge. And as luck would have it, this is where he met his partner Monika, with whom he started not only a car rental company, but also a family.

Philosophy of happiness

Geoff is a free spirit with his own approach to life: “Since having a family, I have only worked two days a week. I spend the rest of the week with my kids, taking them to school and going to the beach. I haven’t worked a full week since I gave up managing restaurants 25 years ago.”

Geoff firmly believes that you have to work hard for happiness, endeavoring to do your best and seeing things positively every day. “I remember telling my daughter Leya when she was eating breakfast, the horizon was just starting to go pink and I just said: ‘Just take 15 seconds to have a look at the horizon, how magical that is!’” His family is his greatest joy – Monika, the kids, and spending time together are his reason for being. And then there’s the uniqueness of Cape Town: “You can see nature from absolutely everywhere in Cape Town. You can look up and see the mountain, see the open spaces, see the sea and I think that helps create the atmosphere that Cape Town is something really special. I can’t think of any other city quite like it,” raves Geoff.

“Don’t ask Google, ask Geoff” – what their website claims

“Geoff knows a lot about the world. You’re better off asking him rather than Google,” says Monika, grinning. Their car rental company Around About Cars has about 150 vehicles and their business extends far beyond South Africa. Most of his 15 employees come from the nonwhite ethnic groups. “Many of them had little or no training,” explains Monika. “We gave them full vocational training and they are now the most reliable and most committed employees you could ask for.” The two of them took an unusual approach to environmental protection, too: as Cape Town has a water shortage problem, they offered their customers unwashed vehicles at discounted prices. Only the cars’ interiors were cleaned, while the exteriors remained dirty. This enabled them to reduce their water consumption by 80%.

Geoff and Birkenstocks: Milano, Milano, Milano ...

Geoff came across a Birkenstock ad when he was in San Francisco in 1986. And it really did say something about “funny” German sandals. “I was quite intrigued,” he says, laughing. So he tried on a pair of the model Milano – and hasn’t worn any other shoes since. “I love quality and good products. They’re so light, your feet are free, and they don’t get sweaty. I also like the strap at the back,” he says. “I wear them every day – when I’m out walking, cycling, everywhere. I’m an extreme user.”

Particularly in the early days, Geoff got asked about his Birkenstocks a lot: “I always used to think people were probably thinking ‘Is that person German?’”

A habit becomes stylish

Geoff already had long hair when he was young, but he had to have it cut when he joined the forces. He then let his hair grow again in the mid-1980s and hasn’t had it cut since. Like his Birkenstocks, his hair became a distinctive feature of his.

Occasionally, this results in customers mistaking him for a regular employee and asking for the manager. In which case, Geoff turns to Monika, grinning, and says: “Over to you, darling ...”

More information: https://www.aroundaboutcars.com

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