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Ilan Kaufmann of Suave Sedan in Billings, Montana, uses a Cadillac XTS livery sedan. (Photo by Felicia Frank, Billings365.com)
One to 10 vehicle operators still dominate the limousine industry as the core business demo and bulk of LCT’s audience. Within that majority, single-vehicle operators serve as the go-to workhorses of chauffeured service. After all, success boils down to client experiences — one vehicle, one-chauffeur at a time. Despite the wave of mergers and slow economic growth, one-car operators rule ground transportation like never before as on-demand networks hungrily sign them up.
So I was curious: How do traditional one-car operators survive in this mix, especially ones not moonlighting for Transportation Network Companies (TNCs)? I recently found two operators in opposite markets who prove one-car operator-chauffeurs can thrive amid TNC-saturation.
Back To Basics
I met Ilan Kaufmann of Suave Sedan in Billings, Mont., last year at the International LCT Show when he showed up at the LCT booth with a pad holder from the first LCT Show in 1984 in Atlantic City, N.J. The original attendee ran a three-car limousine company in Santa Rosa, Calif., from 1981-2001, which included his first sedan, a 1982 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham. Kaufmann was featured in the September/October 1985 issue of then-Limousine & Chauffeur Magazine. He retired to Montana in 2001, worked various jobs, and re-entered the limousine business this year with a new Cadillac XTS livery sedan. Local competitors protested his permit application with the Public Service Commission, but he won out.
Kaufmann credits his one-car success to three factors: 1) A top-shelf luxury sedan with all amenities; 2) A sophisticated website design (www.suavesedan.com); and 3) Customer service that beats that of a TNC. He’s built up a corporate clientele that now spans five companies, an FBO, a performing arts center, and airport runs.
Factor No. 3 defines success for a one-car operator most of all, says Kaufmann, who gained experience early in life serving wealthy clients through his mother’s catering service. He now serves as a chaplain for his local V.F.W. post and as a bugler in the local Honor Guard. “I don’t regard this as work,” he says. “I put on a suit and tie and serve people. My one-vehicle (permit) limit doesn’t bother me. I have no plan to expand or hire. I understand this business is 24/7, but I don’t mind. To me, the whole concept of vehicle for-hire service is your life.” Kaufmann recently landed a strong corporate account and looks forward to his young operation growing. “When you call, I’m the dispatcher and chauffeur as well. I offer reliability and understanding of the job. No one else is involved.”