LCT ON THE LIMO ROAD:
After joining the Houston Area Livery & Charter Association for their holiday party Dec. 8, I did what I usually do after an industry event: Visit a real-life limousine company. The gracious hosts this time were Nick and Matt Assolin, the father-son owner-operators of Nikko’s Worldwide Chauffeured Services in the suburb of Spring, north of Houston.
One of their new Cadillac XTS sedans took me from my hotel to their facility, a one-of-a-kind arrangement: It’s an actual 3,700-square-foot two-story ranch style pseudo-colonial house on 2.5 acres that happens to be zoned commercial. Matt and his family lived in the house while Matt, now 26, was growing up. It’s always a creative experience to see how a house is adapted to an office, let alone a limousine company. The living room, dining room, family room, game room and bedrooms all take on added dimensions of dispatch, reservations, rest areas, offices, storage, etc. Nick and Matt work at side-by-side desks in a former bedroom on the first-floor. To make room for their chairs, Matt simply tore out by hand the floor-to-ceiling closets in each corner.
But lest you think Nikko’s is homey and casual, Nick and Matt make a point to work in suits and ties and preside over their “home-based” business as if it were a high-rise executive suite downtown. Equally impressive is the fact that the suits and ties enable Nick, who founded the company in 1982, and Matt to serve as chauffeurs when needed. It keeps them connected to the core of what chauffeured transportation service is all about. Nick told me he prefers driving some the clients, especially ones who have been with him since the 1980s. “The clients are serious about wanting good, reliable service so they stick with us,” Nick said.
The Assolins do plan to refurbish and polish the place as soon as time and business allows. The delayed work has been good because it’s proof of a growing, vibrant company, but challenging in that they still need more space and a more 21st Century decor. Outside, the driveways and lot provide ample room for fleet vehicles, with plans for a large circular drive to be extended around the house to create a simple “In/Out” traffic pattern.
Nikko’s runs 25 vehicles in Houston and five in Austin. The fleet includes 12 Cadillac XTS sedans (the Assolins have been loyal Cadillac operators for years); two Lincoln MKT Town Cars; three Chevrolet Suburbans; a Cadillac Escalade ESV; a Jaguar XJL premium sedan; and several others, including mini-buses. Nikko’s sits about 12-15 min. from the George W. Bush Houston Intercontinental Airport, which serves the fourth largest city in the U.S. The airport is a hub for United Airlines, which merged with Houston-based Continental Airlines in 2010. About 90% of Nikko’s business is airport/business travel/corporate related, and about 10% is leisure. About 70% of the company’s farm-outs are international, with Asia, South American and Europe becoming bigger sources of business; 30% are domestic. Houston’s biggest industries include oil and gas, hospitals and medical services, colleges, and computer software/high tech. It’s that explosive growth in the software/high tech and video gaming industries in nearby Austin that prompted Nikko’s to add five vehicles there in September, serving what is rapidly becoming the Texas version of Silicon Valley.
The company maintains its luxury image and quality service by preserving its pricing integrity, charging $97 to $101 for a Houston airport transfer in a limousine market where such rates average $75 to $90. Clients know they are getting top-notch attention, courtesy and reliability for that price, the Assolins said.
One of the company’s big contracts is with the Houston Astros baseball team. Over the years, many of the players, owners and coaches have used the personal cell phone numbers of Nick and Matt, along with corporate CEO clients of Nikko’s. Such close client interaction and attention becomes ingrained as part of the overall service approach, Matt said.
Nikko’s saw a growth spurt in the 1990s when father Nick bought and absorbed two local limousine companies. Son Matt, who grew up in the business, joined it full time after graduating from the University of Houston in 2008.
Nick and Matt have big plans for an as-yet unannounced new chauffeured service division that capitalizes on one of the region’s growing industries. Stay tuned, as we’ll be hearing more from this multi-generational family business (Matt and his wife have a new baby boy) that is structured and primed to endure.
— Martin Romjue, LCT editor
The more casual and coarse society gets, the more chauffeured service can gleam with a counter-couture-culture.