When Mike Mannelin first arrived in Kodiak 25 years ago, he lived in the homeless shelter and searched for employment on the docks and in the job service center.
He has come a long way since then.
In March, he and his wife Erin launched Do North, a new car rental business that seeks to provide newer, more durable vehicles in the Kodiak rental market.
Mannelin said he noticed that options for new, durable rental vehicles were limited on the island, so he purchased four brand-new F150 Ford SuperCrew Cab 4x4 pickup trucks.
“It was a way to get our toes in the water,” he said. “Everybody’s renting used vehicles and there’s all these small rental companies. Nobody was stepping up with new cars. We thought there was an opportunity there.”
Mannelin said his intention was to start with four vehicles and scale up. Then the coronavirus pandemic threw a wrench in the plan as visitors to the island slowed to a trickle. But Mannelin remains optimistic.
“When you start something like that, you know what the risks are,” he said. “Our trucks will still be new when we start recreating again.”
Mannelin said he has been in touch with construction companies and other essential businesses in town to see if there is a need for vehicles, but he was surprised to see his first customers were locals using the trucks for sightseeing or transporting equipment across town.
The trucks are currently parked near the former Taco Bell/KFC restaurant. The added visibility has helped Mannelin reach his first customers, even as COVID-19 has kept many people indoors. Interested renters can find more information at www.donorthcarrental.com.
You might recognize Mannelin from Orion’s Mountain Sports, where he worked as a retail associate before the pandemic forced a temporary shut-down of in-person store operations. That is just one of the many jobs Mannelin had held on the island.
Mannelin first arrived in Kodiak after his friends came to the island to work as commercial fishermen, and urged Mannelin to join them, promising bountiful remuneration.
“I made it here with 47 cents in my pocket,” Mannelin said. “I moved into the homeless shelter and worked my way out of it.”
After spending the summer working for the borough as a lawn mower, Mannelin returned to Minnesota.
“It was a really hard summer for me, and then I went back down south, and I was like, ‘wow. I want to be back up there,’” he said. “The Lower 48 changed for me after that.”
He began returning to Kodiak every summer, working in commercial fishing, construction, shipping supply — any job he could find. Now, together with Erin, he was guided by the same open-minded spirit as he sought to launch a business of his own.
“We were throwing a wide net and trying to pick something that would fit with an investor. I’ve been considering a whole bunch of different business ideas, but this one was the easiest one to make happen right now. It’s a good business plan, because enough people have been asking for decent rental cars,” Mannelin said.
The new business fills a gap in the market created when Budget, one of two companies offering vehicle rentals at the Kodiak Airport, closed in January.
Gary and Stacy Peterson, who owned the Budget rental operation in Kodiak, also operated the long-term parking area at the airport. The fate of the parking area remains unknown, while Alaska Airlines, which owns the airport building, is still in talks to lease the space previously used by Budget to a different rental company.
For the Mannelins, Do North is a way to provide a service to Kodiak locals and visitors, while supporting their life in Kodiak. The pandemic may slow business down for a while, but they intend to see this business through.
“We’re not going anywhere. We’ll be here longer than the virus,” Mannelin said. “The island is where we want to be.”