Christell Ayers started with a single Lincoln Town Car six-passenger stretch “that was a piece of junk,” she says. Now, she operates eight vehicles, including the Lincoln MKT and MKS sedans, Lincoln Navigator SUVs, and a new 14-passenger party bus.
Customer service approaches: All A-List Limousine chauffeurs go through a week long training session, so they know how to drive, and more importantly, learn how to become a concierge in the car. “Our chauffeurs know and are familiar with the areas we service,” owner Christell Ayers says. “They all can tell clients about different points of interest, like the Willis Tower or John Hancock, and can recommend which restaurants are the best.”
Client communication: Ayers has seen customers increasingly want to text their drivers. “Customers like to know who their driver will be, and we are finding more and more they want to be able to text their chauffeur, saying things like ‘Okay I’m coming out.’ So we’re flexible, and that’s a key part of our business. The rigid old way of doing things is no more.”
Applied technologies: “We use Limo Anywhere and it’s made a big difference. We can keep our clients info on file for future trips, so they book easier and with less hassle. We’re working with other companies to see if we can come up with an app, but we don’t have one of those yet.”
Business loves: Being able to watch her business grow as a result of hard work and decisions has been one of Ayers’ favorite rewards. “I’m excited about it and haven’t looked back,” she says. “I always wanted to have my own business, and now I do. Every day is a new day.”
One of the trademarks of A-List Limousine
is that all chauffeurs wear a bright red tie and dress in formal suit attire.
Business origins: Ayers managed a banquet hall and convention center for 20 years in North Chicago, putting on weddings, plays, concerts, and other group events. When an opportunity came in 2009 to purchase an existing limousine company, Ayers took the chance. “It was right at the bottom-out period of the economy, and people were looking to sell. I had always wanted to own a business, and my experience at the convention center gave me a lot of contacts who needed transportation,” she says. Combined with the help of the original owner of A-List Limousine, who had built up a sizeable clientele, Ayers jumped all in and started with a single Lincoln Town Car stretch.
Marketing moves: “We were fortunate because the previous owner gave us his clientele. I remember we sent the original letter to 288 people who had been traveling with him, and said that A-List Limousine is not going anywhere, and it’s under new management and going into phase two.” Ayers embarked on a grass roots campaign, emailing clients regularly, picking up the phone and helping spread the message through word of mouth.
Trade show advantage: Ayers came to her first International LCT Show in 2009, the same year she bought the company. “That first show I saw people who were really making money in the industry, and that’s how I learned about affiliate work,” she says. Ayers handles about 10% farm-in and farm-out, and she’s looking to do more.
Lessons learned: When Ayers went to her first Show, she learned quickly how top operators run their fleets. “I was talking to some of the big-time CEOs in the industry, and they asked me what kinds of vehicles and model years I had. When I told them, I learned we were running vehicles too old for five-star service quality. Now, all of our vehicles in the fleet are kept within two to three years of brand new.”
Advice: “Go to LCT Shows and find a mentor, someone to teach you what they have already learned. Also, write out a business plan that details the marketing you’re going to do and the projected revenues. Focus on where you want to be five years from now.”
A-List Limousine Service
Location: Chicago, Ill.
Owner: Christell Ayers
Main service region: Greater Chicago and Milwaukee areas
Fleet vehicles: 8
Vehicle types: Sedans, SUVs, limos, party buses
Annual revenues: $200,000
Employees: 10 I/Os
Contact: (800) 729-5110