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The management team of La Fleur Transportation consists of (L to R): Michael Lander, COO; Michael Paige, operations/compliance manager; Patricia Frierson, CEO; Darth Lander, Co-CEO; and Darryl Carroll, sales/customer service manager.
LOS ANGELES — Patricia Frierson came up with an unusual investment plan to launch a charter bus operation.
On Aug. 9, 2003, the then-55-year-old widow was working as a late-shift employee in a sulfuric acid factory in Carson, Calif., and had been living for three years at an Econo Lodge motel. Going through a period she calls “troubles in life,” that night, she hit the jackpot — as in, winning $91 million in the California Lottery.
Unlike most lottery winners, the former nurse’s aide who couldn’t get credit wasn’t the winner-take-all type. Frierson opted for annual payouts, starting at $2.28 million and rising to $4.64 million by year 26, when she will be 81 years old. Frierson bought a house with coastal views, a dream car, some horses, and many of the things found on an “if-I-win-the-lottery” wish list. She appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show in October 2003, and again for a 10-year lottery winner update in October 2013.
Loved The Limo Life
What made Frierson stand out among lottery winners is that in 2008 she bought a Krystal stretch limousine.
The limousine, and some seed money from lottery winnings, led Frierson to her real interest. She started La Fleur Limousines, which bears her maiden name that means “flower” in French. The company eventually built up a small fleet of four stretches, three sedans and two SUVs. “I really wanted to be in a limousine company,” she says. “But we didn’t do much business. There were a lot of limousine businesses out there. It went downhill. Some people worked hard, others didn’t.”
Rather than rest on the security of her winnings as the recession slammed the limousine industry, Frierson pursued the more profitable charter bus sector. Like a growing number of operators, she saw the higher demand for more group transportation, and how it could benefit from chauffeured luxury practices adapted to charter bus service.
Changed Her Outlook
La Fleur bought two new Caio 54-passenger motorcoaches in 2011. In late 2012, it started the process to purchase a bus company, California Touch of Class, with the deal closing in February 2014. “The guy owning the bus company was losing it and going out of business, so I decided to take over,” Frierson says. “I didn’t want the company at first, but then changed my mind to make the money to help La Fleur stay afloat.”
Early last year, La Fleur Transportation acquired a fleet of 14 2010 LZ Falcon 45 56-passenger motorcoaches, which were new unsold inventory leftover from when the bus manufacturer BCI went out of business, says Michael Paige, the operations and compliance manager for La Fleur. This year, the company bought four 2014 Grech Motors cutaway-chassis luxury buses, which Paige says have proven just as profitable and busy as the motorcoaches. The new Grech models feature sleeker bodylines, a front row panoramic window, and roof-mounted condenser coolers that improve air conditioning, he adds.
Getting Big On Buses
Manager Michael Paige and owner Patricia Frierson with Larry Olivarez, senior sales executive at Grech Motors, who handled La Fleur’s purchases of four Grech buses. The company has been a loyal client of Grech and previously, Krystal Enterprises.
The investment in the buses turned out to be on-target, since the mark-up is higher than on limousines. The motorcoaches have attracted transportation contracts from the military, casino industry, and chartered tour providers. Big name casino clients include Pachanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Calif., and Valley View Casino in Valley Center, Calif. Charter trips often consist of excursions to San Francisco, Las Vegas and Yellowstone National Park. California Touch of Class also serves as an affiliate to larger bus operations in the Southern California region.
The standard rate for a La Fleur motorcoach is $675 on a five-hour minimum, and then $90 per hour thereafter. “Sometimes there are no buses here, especially when the military wants them all,” Paige says.
La Fleur’s location provides ideal access to major Southern California routes. The company spans two lots off East Slauson Avenue in south Los Angeles, just east of the 110 Harbor Freeway, a major north-south artery, and a few miles south of downtown and its connections to the 10 Santa Monica, 101 Hollywood, and 5 Santa Ana freeways.
On the lots during a recent weekday, workers washed and repaired buses, which are parked and maintained on the property. The company plans to add a 2,000-gallon fuel tank. Co-CEO Darth Lander
sees plenty of room for the fleet and company to grow. The motorcoaches are outfitted with leather seats, Wi-Fi, plug-ins and digital screen TVs. For marketing, Lander plans to place QR codes onto the buses that can be photographed and scanned to get more company information.