The appeal of a celebrity client can be enticing for operators looking to secure big money contracts, but the work comes with a number of unique challenges. Many of the clients have larger than life personalities who make extra demands that can be difficult for operators to fulfill.
Operators who pay special attention to customer service 24/7, and make sure every client is treated like a VIP, can deftly accommodate extra requests from diva-type dispositions, and become valued providers for the upper-echelon of VIP clients.
Julie Salk Dotan, CEO of J & B Transportation in Detroit, Mich., says her company frequently serves rich and famous clients traveling in the area. Because of her company’s tough standards for chauffeurs and regular training, celebrities are treated the same as other clients, with certain accommodations, she says.
of J & B Transportation
in Detroit, Mich., will occasionally get interesting requests from high-profile clients. “We have one singer who eats a popular fast food ice cream cone before a performance, saying it helps the vocal chords,” she says. “And some have our cars go out for food before they take off in private jets. It’s usually pizza and fried chicken. Sometimes the food costs less than the trip, but we’re happy to get it for them,” she says.
“We treat them like human beings. But we do some things differently especially with visibility during pick off or drop off. We have to be low key, so if we are doing a job with a celebrity, our chauffeur knows if the destination is on a crowded street to turn the corner and make the drop off where not as many people are around to recognize the client.”
Chauffeurs must stay calm and professional and not attract attention, Dotan says. If paparazzi or crowds gather, she instructs chauffeurs to put a single arm out to help guide the client in and out of the vehicle.
Except that celebrity clients may be instantly recognized by the public, they are like everyone else, Dotan says. Non-famous but wealthy VIP clients can be just as demanding. “We deal with little requests from a lot of our clients like specific water or special newspapers in the car. We’ve had chauffeurs go and buy food to bring back in the car because a client didn’t want to get out of the car. We treat everyone the same though, and give them respect. We let them know we’re here to assist in any way.”
Celebrities In Small Towns
Oklahoma City may seem an unlikely location for high-end celebrity clients, but Paris Limousine has for 28 years been transporting some of the entertainment industry’s most elite as they pass through the city for concerts and pro sports games. The company was started by James Paris, and now his daughter, Jennifer Paris, works as vice president.
has transported a literal who’s who of today’s big-time entertainers and sports figures, and runs a fleet of 42 vehicles in the Oklahoma City area. Jennifer Paris’
, started the company in 1987, and Jennifer has helped with many aspects of the limo business growing up, including being a young airport greeter for celebrity clients arriving from out of town.
Some of the entertainers who come through the area will have pretty outrageous requests, but it’s not anything the company cannot handle, Paris says. “We had one singer who wanted the vehicle to stop 20 feet in front of every trash can,” she says, “A lot of times we work with security teams. They are always very experienced and we’ve never had any issues. Usually they’ll sit up front in the car, or sometimes they’ll order an extra car for security personnel.”
Crowds can be a challenge for chauffeurs, who are instructed to be mindful when throngs of people surround the car so that no one is ever hurt, Paris says. “You have some celebrities who are discrete and everything goes smooth, but other ones, they’ll be tweeting in the car where they’re going. When they get out of course there’s a huge crowd. We tell our chauffeurs to always be careful, take precautions, and drive extra slow and precise when there’s a group of people around.”
Friendly, But Not Familiar
The two most important things operator Maurice Dean tells his chauffeurs before they pick up a celebrity are: 1) Use discretion; and 2) Be friendly, but not familiar. “Discretion is a common thing, and most chauffeurs will understand that, but the concept of friendly but not familiar is something not all chauffeurs are able to do well. It’s being friendly, so you can talk about the weather or that an outfit looks nice, but without getting into personal or delicate topics.”
Lubov and Maurice Dean have been operating Excelsior Limo
in Los Angeles since 2000.
Dean gives an account of a chauffeur who anticipates client needs: “We have a client that sends shoppers to Rodeo Drive to collect fashion samples,” he says. “They’ll get dropped off at one end of the street, go shopping, and then with arms full of merchandise look for the car. Some chauffeurs park in a shady place nearby, and be over in a second, but others anticipate where the clients are going to come out and are waiting there with the car. The customers think it’s incredible, and it shows you what a chauffeur who really is in tune with a client can do.”
Dean’s Excelsior Limousine, based in celebrity-heavy Los Angeles, keeps a high-end, celebrity-type clientele, serving them with a small fleet of five luxury vehicles and top-quality chauffeurs. Dean got into the industry while still in college driving stretch limos in the late 1980s. While driving, Dean learned a lot about working with celebrities, and believes it gave him the experience to properly train his chauffeurs today for the work.
Chauffeurs need to remember to politely decline offers from celebrities that might cross a professional boundary. He recalls one such instance when he was chauffeuring a high-profile client to another A-list celebrity’s residence. When Dean entered the mansion, the celebrity homeowner quickly invited Dean to sit down for dinner. “He says he makes the best spaghetti in the world and that I just have to sit down and join them,” Dean says. “Well, my client was in the other room at the time, and I can just imagine how mortified she may have been had she come back to find her chauffeur in the middle of eating. It just isn’t professional.”
That doesn’t mean chauffeurs can’t pick up on little details and cues during a trip, Dean says. For example, he once overheard a client express an affinity for Diet Coke during a ride, so during the downtime, he purchased the chilled beverages to put in the back. “When the client came back she was thrilled, and little things like that can showcase your level of professionalism.”
The Celeb-Selfie Appeal:
If you’re going to ask, be professional, polite and quick.
Maria Priestly, owner of Empress Elite Limo in Kennesaw, Ga., says picture-taking is not something she endorses for chauffeurs, but that for smaller operators in smaller markets, there can be instances when a celeb client who is not a frequent patron can be accommodating for a photo. On one occasion Priestly was driving a client who just happened to be her favorite rapper, and she felt comfortable enough to ask for a quick photo after the ride. “I’m comfortable with all my chauffeurs. I let them know if they’ll be driving a VIP celebrity to remember things like do not speak unless spoken to, and that our primary focus at all times is to make sure the client is happy and never feels uncomfortable during the service,” she says.
Priestly says a professional, classy photo with a celebrity who’s agreed to be photographed can be used effectively for marketing to local clients through social media.
Mum Is The Word In The Digital Age
of MonaLisa Limousine
advises operators new to celebrity-type clientele to anticipate challenging requests. “A lot of these clients will assume you’re more than just a limo operator, and that you have the connections at this hotel or restaurant, so be ready to have a little black book of resources to keep your clients happy,” she says.
One problem celebrity clients pose for limo operators is that with the ubiquity of cameras and recorders, a publicity leak easily can be traced back to a chauffeur and spell disaster for a limo company’s reputation. A quick photo of a high-profile client in private can be a lucrative incentive for chauffeurs, so operators must have clear-cut policies on the respected privacies of their clients. Mona Marandy of Mona Lisa Limo in Los Angeles uses confidentiality contracts with her chauffeurs upon hiring, and has a strict “no-contact” clause for reaching out to clients during non-work hours.
“One of the first things I make very clear to our chauffeurs when they’re first dealing with celebrity work is to tell them there is a difference between being excited to meet your favorite celebrity, and keeping your job,” she says. Noting Los Angeles’ propensity for having aspiring entertainers working part-time as chauffeurs, Marandy says she reemphasizes to her chauffeurs the protocols and procedures they learn in training, and to be mindful of them during the job.
During training, chauffeurs are taught not speak to clients unless they have been spoken to, and that they should be courteous and helpful during on-directed jobs, Marandy says. They are told not to break the law for a client under any circumstances, including parking in red zones and other traffic rules. “We don’t use brand new chauffeurs for this type of work,” Marandy says. “Our most experienced chauffeurs will rise to the occasion for these types of clients, and they’ll represent our company with the utmost in privacy and professionalism.”