Before the limo industry: At age 19, Ben Zaharie hit $1 million in sales for his construction business. He was on top of the world until the Great Recession struck like the Grim Reaper and put him back to ground zero. Zaharie left Arizona for the tropical climes of Florida, where he stayed until his application at the Phoenix police academy got accepted, at which point he returned to the Valley of the Sun. But law enforcement wasn’t for him. Upon a recommendation from a friend, Zaharie got a job with Penske chauffeuring company executives and customers.
Phoenix operator Ben Zaharie saw success at an early age, but lost it all during the Great Recession. His entrepreneurial drive, experience and passion have helped him build his limo business.
Start-up costs and methods: Zaharie purchased a Town Car to drive for Penske as an independent operator. He built his own clientele and started his company, AZ Sedans, in 2007. He built a website and budgeted Google advertising. He focused on delivering personalized, detail-driven service to retain his clients and acquire new ones. “Being 19 and doing $1 million and having everything you want in life, and then losing everything overnight, makes you appreciate things. Having lost everything, I knew it could be done again, and the people that didn’t have confidence in me motivated me even more.”
Business influences and mentors: Zaharie looks up to Phoenix operator Misgana Kebede from Accent Transportation. “Misgana runs a really good business and I try to learn as much as I can from him.”
Best marketing strategy: “We tried everything from TV commercials to magazines to radio,” Zaharie says. “We recently did an announcement on a local station. But Google advertising has worked best to generate website traffic and new clients. We also get customers from affiliates and word-of-mouth referrals.”
Unique approaches to customer service: AZ Sedans sends a customer satisfaction survey to clients to understand how their experience was and what the company can do to improve. “90% of our business is repeat business,” Zaharie says. He installed iPads in every car and offers free Wi-Fi to clients. Every car is detailed every time it leaves for a run, and after clients exit, chauffeurs wipe down the seats and clean the carpets. The office follows up with a call to the client after he arrives at the airport. “And we don’t just focus on transportation. We have clients [who] may need some errands to be done, and we do it for them, whether it’s setting up an appointment, taking care of clients’ arrangements when they travel out of state, or checking up on their houses when they go out of town.”
What he loves about the limousine industry: “Even to this day I still do a lot of the driving. I enjoy meeting and connecting with people and making friends [with] my customers. I have regular clients [who] I hang out with. You never know who you might meet.”
Advice to operators: “Don’t ever give up, just keep your head up and keep on going,” Zaharie says. “Focus on the positives instead of the negatives. Have passion for what you do, because at the end of the day, you can make millions of dollars but if you hate getting up every single morning, it’s not worth it. I do the job the same whether I make $1 or $100. Everybody has to pay bills, sure, but I really enjoy what I do. That’s a key to success — have passion for what you do and the money will come.”
Plans for the future: Build corporate accounts and grow revenue.
FASTFACTS about AZ Sedans LLC
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Main service region: Phoenix metro area
Types of vehicles: Lincoln Town Car L Series, Cadillac Escalade ESV, Lincoln Town Car stretch limousine, Chevrolet Savannah passenger van
Fleet size: 6
Annual revenues: N/A
Owner: Ben Zaharie
Information: (800) 964-6780