Michelle Evans Masters Business and Bikes

Michelle Evans defines herself in many ways: a mother of a 20-year-old, a fun-loving fiancée, a passionate start-up business owner — and a biker girl.

Motorcycle Maven Blazing a new path in business, and in life By Zandra Wolfgram Originally published in the Oct/Nov 2010 issue of 850 Magazine

Michelle Evans defines herself in many ways: a mother of a 20-year-old, a fun-loving fiancée, a passionate start-up business owner — and a biker girl. And although she’s not much for labels, the following definition trails her e-mail signature:

Biker Girl: n. A girl, woman, who rides motorcycles of any brand or origin. She is not afraid to take control of her destiny, or to take risks. She is gifted with a strong desire for adventure and fun, and finds both atop a bike. Biker Girls are not the property of anyone but themselves, and will not be intimidated by social mandates of what girls/ladies/women should and should not do.

At 39, the petite, blue-eyed blonde is a self-professed tomboy who grew up riding mopeds and racing go-karts. When she grew up, the Tallahassee native joined a local motorcycle-riding club and become an active volunteer. A state-level officer in the Florida club invited Evans to create an alternative to Daytona’s annual Biketoberfest celebration for Northwest Florida.

Evans spent time riding along the Florida coast and settled on Mexico Beach as the location of choice for the event.

“I really had to sell it,” she said. “There aren’t many hotels that want to welcome a bunch of motorcycle riders.”

The event was coined The Party in the Panhandle. After the first year, 2006, the host hotel, the El Governor, hosted a barbecue for the group, and soon locals began posting signs welcoming them back each October. The event continues to sell out each year, with proceeds going to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Today, millions of dollars have been raised for the charity by bike clubs across the country.

Evans isn’t afraid to kick things into high gear or operate at one speed — as long as it’s fast. The Tallahassee native, who calls the Okaloosa County town of Shalimar her “home base,” worked in banking for a few years before shifting into hospitality. She quickly rose through the ranks, holding finance positions in various hotels and resorts. In 2008, she co-founded Premier Island Management Group, a resort management company in Pensacola Beach.

Now, with two businesses under her biker belt, the hospitality executive is revved up about realizing one of her longtime dreams — owning a motorcycle resort.

The opportunity fell into her path, so to speak. While mapping out a motorcycle road trip, she stumbled upon The Lodge at Copperhead. Located 80 miles north of Atlanta, Copperhead is a scenic, 40-acre resort community located in the Appalachian Mountains near popular motorcycle routes such as the Dragon’s Tail, Cherohala Skyway and Blue Ridge Parkway.

On the bike trip, she and her fiancé, Anthony Cassulo, learned Copperhead was going to auction.

“We ended up falling in love with it and bought it,” she said.

The couple is marketing to a niche of riders who seek an elevated lodging experience.

“We want Copperhead to be the Ritz Carlton of motorcycle resorts,” Evans said. “There isn’t anything like this in the country that we know of.”

An unpaved road is of no concern to an adventurous spitfire like Evans.

“I’m passionate about blazing a trail that others like me want to go down,” she said. She also is passionate about providing great experiences. “Copperhead is an opportunity for me to create a place where everyone feels welcome.”

What are the secrets to a smooth ride to success?

“I’m very goal-oriented. I set my sights on something and pour my heart and soul into it,” she said. “In this day and age, I don’t think you see that level of commitment any more, whether it is related to business, relationships or friendship.”

Though Evans admits female executives are few and far between in the hospitality and banking fields, she is convinced that being a woman is actually a benefit when navigating a male-dominated industry.

“My skills have balanced those of male counterparts,” she said. “My ability to communicate and relate to others has kept me from remaining under the glass ceiling.”

For Evans, being dependable shouldn’t be underrated.

“Whether you are male or female, what you do is what matters,” she said. “My homeowners can count on me; they know if I say I’m going to do something, I do it. And when I solve a problem for them, they carry my flag, and that opens other doors.”

Whether it’s an open door or open road, Michelle Evans is ready to go full speed ahead.

 

TALKING SHOP WITH MICHELLE EVANS

What kind of motorcycle do you ride? I ride a 2009 Harley Davidson Street Glide. I have just the one, but my fiancé, Anthony, has five, and I ride all of his, too.

What is your favorite bike-ride route? So far, it would have to be Little River Canyon in North Alabama. However, there are many Georgia roads. And as soon as I recoup from recent surgery and get back on my scooter, I hope to make some new favorites.

What is the best business advice you have received? Don’t let your emotions get the best of you in tough situations.

Give three words to describe you. Charismatic. Loyal. Street-smart.

What has been your biggest challenge in launching a start-up company? Overcoming the perceptions and culture created by prior owners.

What did you learn about yourself? I do actually have patience.

What was your biggest setback, and how did you overcome it? The economic downturn. We haven’t overcome it yet but have streamlined our business and operated more efficiently to allow us to continue until improvement comes.

What do you enjoy most about what you do? The smiles on the faces of my customers and employees.

What would people be surprised to know about you? I didn’t graduate from high school. I got a GED and then went on to graduate Florida State University, cum laude.

What is your favorite form of communication? E-mail. Because I’m a business owner. I work at times others don’t.

What are your business pet peeves? Useless e-mail is at the top of the list.

Finish this sentence: What the world needs now is … To take stock in educating our children. I am reminded every day how our children are graduating high school and college without being able to spell, write neatly or speak correctly.

In your free time when you are not riding your bike, what are you doing? I love the water and doing anything on it. I also like to sit and catch up with close friends over a glass of wine. Of course, I love to travel and have done some, but not nearly enough.