WHAT THEY DID BEFORE: Emil and Theresa Armendariz own a paint and body shop called Debonair FX, which specializes in creative custom paint jobs and is extremely popular with Harley-Davidson motorcycle owners.
Emil and Theresa Armendariz of Debonair Limousines bring a flair to the Houston limo scene with their custom painted vehicles and customers come first attitude. Photo credit: Hold Still Media
WHY THEY GOT INTO THE BUSINESS: The couple got into the limo industry as a backup business. “I looked at it as being able to do something different,” Theresa says. “We have a prime location and we knew we could approach the market differently. I love having the opportunity to meet so many people. Although I have enough chauffeurs, I still drive a lot. You never know who you’re going to run into and what opportunities you’ll find from being out there.”
START-UP COSTS AND METHODS: Theresa. who describes herself as “really conservative,” paid cash for Debonair’s first vehicle, an older-model Lincoln stretch limousine. She added two more, also older models, so she could “get my feet wet in the industry.” When she realized that business was viable, she went to California and bought a stretch Yukon SUV. Debonair maintains its vehicles in-house.
BEST MARKETING STRATEGY: Most of Debonair Limousine’s clients come from word-of-mouth referrals or by recognizing the Debonair brand, which has a strong following because of the popularity of Debonair FX. Several of the company’s vehicles sport custom designs and graphics, which grab attention and differentiate the company from competitors. The company operates from a building that is highly visible from the heavily traveled Highway 59. Debonair Limo also is building its presence on the Web with Internet marketing and social media.
BIGGEST MISTAKE: “One setback we’ve faced was when we tried farming in and out work,” Armendariz says. “We got burned. We didn’t get paid for some farm-in work and the companies we farmed out trips to didn’t have service that was up to par for our standards. I even had a no-show. So we’re at the point now where, if we don’t have the vehicles, we don’t take the booking.”
One of Debonair Limousine's custom-painted stretch limos.
BIGGEST SUCCESS: Growing the fleet and expanding the business. “You see Hummers in Houston all the time, so we wanted to take a different approach,” Theresa says. “We custom painted an Excursion [SUV limo] and everyone went wild. So we got the Hummer and painted it and added lambo doors, 24-inch wheels, everything.” The company recently added a Maserati to its fleet for high-profile and VIP clients.
UNIQUE APPROACHES TO CUSTOMER SERVICE: “We do anything to please the customer,” Theresa says. “I would rather save my reputation than make a couple hundred dollars here or there. We protect our reputation as much as possible.” Debonair stocks its vehicles with a variety of beverages and mints, and hires chauffeurs who have great personalities as well as service and driving skills.
ADVICE TO OPERATORS: If you think you can do something different, do it, and don’t let anyone discourage you.
FUTURE PLANS: Debonair is looking into adding sedans in the near future to go after hotel work and more corporate accounts.
Fast Facts about Debonair Limousines
Location: Humble, Texas
Owners: Theresa and Emil Armendariz
Main service region: Houston
Vehicle types: stretch limousines, stretch SUVs, stretch Hummers, Maserati
Fleet size: 7
Annual revenues: N/A
Information: (281) 446-8375