Limelight Limousine owner Steve Haim (L), and chauffeur Terrel Hill, who has been with the company for more than 10 years.
Steve Haim got the idea for Limelight Limousine while working at the gas station he already owned. Sixteen years later, Haim still runs the fleet from the same office at the station, with his limousines parked prominently on the small lot for advertising.
What He Did Before: Haim’s original job before becoming a limo operator was owning the gas station in Northridge, Calif. His father started the business in 1981, which Haim took over in 1984.
How He Got Started: In 1997, Haim was inspired to start a limousine operation after an epiphany, which he at first thought spurred a groundbreaking business model. “Well, what happened was I thought I had invented the wheel,” he says. “I was about to buy my second gas station, and was having problems with employees robbing me. And there was this one guy who had a limousine, a solo chauffeur and owner/operator, and he would bring it to the gas station for mechanical work. When he would, he’d open up the Yellow Pages and farm out his work, so I thought, ‘Hey, I’ll buy a limo and he can farm out to me,’ and I’ll park it right here at the gas station so people will want to rent it, like an advertisement.” So Haim quickly sought out a new white Lincoln Town Car stretch and started Limelight Limousine in 1997.
His Marketing Strategy: True to his plan, Haim first marketed the stretch by parking it at the corner of the gas station, where thousands of cars passed by daily. He also put ads in the local Yellow Pages. But it wasn’t until he penned a personal letter to local operators that his business really took off. “I had just purchased this car, and I figured I’d rather work with the local operators than compete. So I wrote this letter introducing myself and how I just bought this car and that I would be available for farm-out work, and that I wasn’t looking to compete.”
The letter resonated with the local operators, and he was soon taking consistent farm-out work. Haim did all the chauffeuring and soon built up his clientele. Today, Haim gets most of his clients through word of mouth, including customers from the gas station. In fact, every invoice he gives at the gas station includes a stapled business card for Limelight Limousine.
Biggest Challenge/Mistake: One mistake Haim concedes is that he did not fully computerize his operation until last year. “I just did everything by hand and that was really stupid. I wish I could’ve been computerized 10 years ago because that would have helped my business. It’s a lot cleaner now, with the emails and confirmations and everything.”
Client Types: Haim has two types of clients: a big corporate account and people who live within a few miles of his station. “I also have the farm-ins. For the local neighborhood, it’s usually airports, and I do a lot of funerals. I have a lot of mortuaries that use us.”
Growth Strategies: “Basically, as I get more work, I buy more cars. Lately, I’ve had to farm-out more than I would like, and when that happens, that’s when I feel like I have to get another car. Typically it’s about every two years I need to buy a car to replace an older one. I usually keep the cars for four years, and then when I make my last payment, I get to work on selling that car. When it sells, then I purchase the new one.”
Advice to Operators: “Make sure you hire the best drivers and treat them well, and make sure they stay with you,” he says. Limelight Limousine has been lucky to have high retention for its chauffeurs, with one who has been with the company for 16 years and another for more than 10. “To me, it’s an easy business. Show up a little before pick up time, smell good, have a clean car, know where you’re going, and have a good personality. It’s like when I fix cars. If I fix a car right and price it fair, I have a customer for life.”
Future Plans: “My future is to mainly just continue what I’m doing,” Haim says. “At the beginning, I would get about two reservations a day, and then it went up to four. Now I’m doing about 15 to 16 a day. I like to concentrate on the small things.”