Operations

One-Car Operator Competes On The Boutique Level

Posted on February 13, 2013 by

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To and Fro owner Luis Valdez can tap an affiliate network for access to premium chauffeured vehicles, such as Cadillac Escalade SUVs and Bentley sedans.
To and Fro owner Luis Valdez can tap an affiliate network for access to premium chauffeured vehicles, such as Cadillac Escalade SUVs and Bentley sedans.

What he did before: Luis Valdez, owner of To and Fro Limousine Concierge in Thousand Oaks, Calif., previously worked as general manager for another Southern California limousine operation where he oversaw a fleet of 30 vehicles and 40 employees.
 
Why he chose the limousine business: “I got into this industry because of the people — I love talking to and connecting with people,” Valdez says. “It’s very exciting, never boring. We meet new people and learn about their lives. It’s a new adventure every time.”
 
Start-up costs and methods: Valdez founded To and Fro Limousine Concierge in 2010 as a limo brokering service with no owned fleet vehicles. This approach saved him on overhead but required a strong affiliate network. “GCLA monthly meetings and the LCT annual shows are the best way to get your name out there and build your network, especially if you’re starting out and establishing your company,” Valdez says. In the company’s second year, Valdez bought his first vehicle, an eco-friendly CNG Lincoln Town Car Executive L sedan. He equipped it with USB phone chargers, iPads and Wi-Fi for passenger entertainment. He runs it in the Los Angeles region, which has a decent CNG fueling infrastructure.
 
Best marketing strategy: Valdez uses innovative marketing such as metal business cards, social media and web marketing. To and Fro’s website features a simple, clean design from Valdez’s wife, a graphic designer. In particular, positive client reviews on Yelp.com have been the company’s greatest new business generator.

Keys to success: “Aside from offering high-tech amenities, it all comes down to good old-fashioned customer service,” Valdez says. He surrounds himself with “qualified, very smart people,” who help him develop new marketing strategies and prospective client goals. Jes Cooley, Valdez’s friend and operations manager, has been a major source of support for Valdez and the company.
 
Unique approaches to customer service: To and Fro enjoys a wide variety of clients including corporate travelers, film and TV productions, doctors, high-profile celebrities and leisure travelers from retail niches. A boutique approach allows the travel experience to be adapted to each client’s individual needs. “What happens sometimes when a company gets bigger is that something is lost in the growth, and customers become numbers,” Valdez says. “With a boutique, you really get to focus on each individual customer and their needs.”
 
Advice to operators: “Establish your support team, which includes affiliates, family and friends to encourage you to keep going even when you think you can’t,” Valdez says. “Also, if you’re an owner/operator starting out and want to buy a vehicle, buy something from a current limo fleet, because not only should the vehicle be in good condition, you also can get farm work from the company you bought from. And keep your company growth manageable, take your time, do your research before adding more vehicles too quickly.”

Plans for the future: Valdez wants to add an SUV to his fleet and is considering adding in-vehicle printing options for the iPad in case clients need to print boarding passes or itineraries during their trips.

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