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Towson woman launches Charm City Designated Drivers

Anabel Teuten set out to provide a good example for her teenage daughters as they approached driving age. Now, she's hoping that virtue will translate into a successful designated driving business.

"When my oldest daughter got her driver's license and was learning to drive, I started looking at drinking and driving from a different perspective," said Teuten, a Woodbrook Village resident. "Not so much the legal limit point of view, but sort of a zero-tolerance point of view — especially for me as a parent trying to model behavior that I want my kids to emulate."

The result of those efforts is the newly formed Charm City Designated Drivers, a membership-based service Teuten started earlier this month to provide safe alternatives to driving drunk or better options than taking a cab by offering a chauffeur-type service using the customer's own car.

"I think one of the reasons people choose to drive when maybe they shouldn't is because they're so reluctant to leave their car behind," Teuten said. "It might get towed, you have to get up super early in the morning, you have to get a ride — it's very inconvenient."

On a typical Charm City DD call, Teuten or one of the firm's small stable of drivers will get a ride in a follow car to where the customer is and then drive the customer home in his or her own car.

Teuten's husband, Peter, who is in charge of dispatch, said the company prefers a membership model for the business so they can have a credit card on record, appointments can be made in advance and insurance information can be viewed online before pick-ups.

Memberships cost $50, which provide a discounted rate and priority service should calls get backed up. For members, rides under 10 miles cost $40, non-members are charged $50 for the same ride. Additional fees are added to each ride for stops and mileage beyond 10 miles.

According to a map on the website, the service covers Canton and Federal Hill in south Baltimore to Shawan Road in Cockeysville to the north. The service area is bounded by Bel Air Road to north of Kingsville in the east, and Interstate 83, Reisterstown Road, and Interstate 795 on the west.

Teuten came up with the idea when her daughter, Ally, was 16. Ally, now 18, just finished her freshman year at James Madison University, and Teuten said the hold-up was because of difficulties finding an insurance provider.

She ultimately cleared that hurdle by partnering with the St. Louis-based designated driver service, Scooter Guy, and its owner, Michael Oliver.

Oliver said that because the designated driver industry is relatively new, fledgling companies have more success securing insurance by partnering with existing businesses. Now, Oliver said she'll face two typical issues as her company tries to grow.

"The hardest thing to do is to explain what you do in a short elevator speech … and have people get it," Oliver said. "You're going to spend half your time explaining what you do, and then try to get them to remember the name. The second hardest part, and they're very closely associated, is for people to understand that you don't need to be falling down drunk to need the service."

Both Teuten and Oliver acknowledged that the targeted demographic customer base are not what would come to mind first. People's initial thoughts drift toward the twenty-somethings but Oliver said services such as this typically succeed when they target people ages 35-55 with families and careers.

"They're the ones looking at this as a good service to use to protect what they've built," he said.

The first rides from Charm City DD were provided earlier this month, and since then, Teuten has spent much of her time trying to market the business. Early calls have been from friends and friends of friends, but she's gone door to door at bars trying to educate servers on the service, and she hopes eventually to partner with liquor distributors for support.

But no matter how quickly the business grows, Teuten's ultimate goal of setting a strong example for her growing daughters has been a success, she said.

"I do not have one sip of alcohol if I'm going to get behind the wheel, and it really has translated," Teuten said. "They really seem to be responding to the fact that we're setting really good examples … but we really do need to set an example for them because they do what you do, not what you say."

Oliver said that extra motivation will take Charm City DD further than businesses that might just be out to make a few bucks.

"Her passion about providing something better for her kids because it does take a while to get through those two barriers," he said. "If you're short-sighted, you don't get through those two barriers. That's why she'll be successful, because she has a longer-term plan."

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