Aces Limousine in Buffalo, N.Y., got its start when son Michael Zlotkowski (R) was about to graduate college and enlisted the help of his father Peter (L) to help him with a business plan to embark on a new career.
What he did before: Aces Limousine Owner Mike Zlotkowski first got into the industry in high school, when he worked for a family friend who owned a limo company. He cleaned vehicles, chauffeured, and learned about daily operations while apprenticing there throughout college. When his father retired, he also became a chauffeur at the company. As Zlotkowski approached graduation, he realized that what had started as a side job could be turned into a fulfilling career. “But me and my dad took a hard look at the company we worked for, and the customer service wasn’t very good, and we said we can do better than this, and treat people like people, not just dollar sings,” Zlotkowski says.
Start-up costs and methods: Midway through college, Zlotkowski and his father made a business plan and approached banks and vehicle dealers. In June 2005, they opened Aces Limousine with a 120-in. Lincoln Town Car stretch built by Royale.
Best marketing strategies: “At first we did almost everything,” Zlotkowski says. “We got a lot of farm-in from local guys. But we also put our car out with a banner, trying almost anything we could to get our name out. We did radio, we did the phone book, and we built a website, which was a basic one just to get our name out there.” The response was good and enabled Zlotkowski to pay bills and keep the company going. “When we first started, both me and my dad took turns driving, and it enabled us to pay [for] the car and insurance, and allowed us to grow, too.”
Growing steps: Within two months of starting Aces Limousine, Zlotkowski bought his second car, a 200-in. Hummer stretch limo, during the mid 2000s as SUVs gained popularity. Zlotkowski’s father had made his career in the finance industry and was able to draft business plans that accounted for one new purchased vehicle per year of steady growth.
Client types: Aces Limousine serves mostly a retail market for social nights out, weddings and parties. “I would say we probably do 75% retail, and the rest corporate,” Zlotkowski says. “It fluctuates, and sometimes we land a big client that can make it 50/50, but they come and they go.” Aces Limousine has corporate clients they handle on weekdays, but the weekend retail work is the most profitable, he says.
What’s best about business: “Hey, this is a fun business. We get to run some of the most exotic cars in the world, and we want people to have fun just like we do,” Zlotkowski says. “I love the cars, and I’m a numbers guy so I love running numbers. And I love the variety and the fact that we get to meet new people every day.”
Advice for operators: “Know what you’re getting into,” Zlotkowski says. “Don’t get too big too fast, and watch your money because you’re the only one in full control of it.”
Success tips: “We empathize with people and don’t treat them just as numbers,” Zlotkowski says. “We know our corporate clients personally, and I don’t put them all on a pedestal just because they’re big money guys. Maybe they are used to having a very rigid demeanor, so small things like knowing their favorite drink, or having wine glasses and champagne in the limo if they’re going out for an anniversary, are the little things that they appreciate. It gets them to loosen up.”
Future plans: Aces Limousine plans to pursue the limo bus market and more corporate work, and get a coach-style bus with forward facing seats. “We’re talking to our clients and getting feedback on what they want,” Zlotkowski says.
Aces Limousine Service Inc.
Location: Buffalo, N.Y.
Owner: Michael and Peter Zlotkowski
Main service region: Buffalo and Niagara Falls
Vehicle types: Sedans, SUV, stretches, SUV stretches, limo bus, mini bus
Fleet size: 9
Annual revenues: $500,000 to $600,000
Information: (716) 204-4863