In addition to her full-time job running People Express Worldwide
, Pickus also owns “The Sweet Life,” a catering company specializing in healthy meals, and sweet dessert baking.
Biggest success: The ability to run two separate and profitable companies in lines of work she enjoys is what Pickus finds most fulfilling. The Sweet Life is her professional catering/private chef business. “Cooking was always a passion of mine, and once the limo company got off the ground, I was able to go to culinary school at night.” She earned her cooking degree 18 years ago, and completed a three-month internship under the tutelage of Wolfgang Puck at the Spago restaurant in Las Vegas.
How she got into the industry: People Express Transportation was started by Pickus’ ex-husband more than 25 years ago. Pickus assumed control of the company after the divorce, and led it to increased prosperity with affiliates in more than 450 cities worldwide. People Express is a certified woman-owned business. Pickus jokes about how she came to own the limo company. “He started it, and I’m finishing it.”
Start-up costs and methods: The company began with a 1989 Mercury Grand Marquis. “We started advertising in the local papers, but now we don’t do any type of advertising. Everything is word of mouth.”
Industry changes: Technology has been the most drastic change in her business, Pickus says. “Back 25 years ago, we were handwriting our reservations. Now with all these softwares for limo companies, it’s totally changed the business.”
Client types: People Express has a 90% corporate client rate. Through her networking in the cooking community, and from appearances on the Food Network, Pickus also will routinely arrange transportation for celebrities such as Betty White, Guy Fieri, and even former Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown.
Customer service approaches: “We try to roll the red carpet out for everybody, and I don’t care if my customer has used me for one year or 100 years, they are always a VIP.” Pickus says keeping clients and affiliates happy is a priority, and that if a service incident occurs, she immediately looks to rectify the situation. “If there’s an issue and it turns out it was our mistake, I’ll really work to save the customer. I don’t dismiss their concerns.”
Learned lessons: Be patient when stressed. “It’s so important not to lose your cool, especially when things go wrong, I think you have to have a lot of patience and I’ve learned to keep a level head during stressful situations.”
Future plans: Focus more on affiliate work. Pickus has cultivated networks that extend into many cities in Europe, and she would like to reach more locations. “I’d also like to get us more involved in charitable organizations and give back to the community.”
Management techniques: Pickus thoroughly interviews and vets her affiliates, so she can be confident they handle her clients based on her standards. “They interview us too, just as we interview them. We make sure we’re on the same page. You have to have a good trust level with your affiliates. If you don’t have that, you don’t have anything.”
Advice for operators: “Keep a personalized touch. Treat your affiliates and clients the way that you would like to be treated. That’s what I want and what everybody else wants.”
People Express Worldwide
Location: Solon, Ohio
Owner: Eileen Pickus
Main Service Region: Greater Cleveland
Types of Vehicles: Sedans, SUVs, stretch limos, shuttle van.
Fleet size: 10 vehicles
Annual revenues: $1 million
Information: (800) 745-3007