Mike Podesta, owner of A Touch of Class Limousines, with two guests attending the PGA Tour Event at the landmark Greenbrier Resort
in White Sulphur Springs, W.V.
Start-up costs and methods: Podesta’s initial startup costs were about $20,000 in legal fees to first get approved by the West Virginia Public Service Commission. Then, he bought his first stretch limousine for $37,000 in February 2002. “This is right after 9/11 though, and a lot of companies had gone bankrupt,” he says. “That same car would’ve cost me $55,000 before. So I made a big down payment to keep my monthly operating cost as low as possible.”
Best marketing strategies: Podesta works with his local newspapers and TV stations and forges his network based on relationships. “I am an old-fashioned guy when it comes to all this new technology,” he says. “The best and most economical tool for me has been the National Limousine Association and personal networking through trade shows.”
What he did before: The child of a Catholic-Italian family, Podesta first got business experience in his family’s restaurant business. He learned to work hard for everything he earned. After graduation from college, he worked in restaurant and hospitality management and attended culinary school, which led to him working as a chef at the prestigious Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.V. From there, Podesta went on to open his own restaurant and catering business in 1989 in Clarksburg to much success.
How he got into the limo industry: “After being in the restaurant and catering business as long as I had, I had begun to cater a lot of weddings and handle bookings for limos for bridal parties. It was a natural tie-in to my restaurant and catering operation,” he says.
Mistakes and lessons: Looking back, Podesta says he’s learned to always have a backup plan in place in case of an emergency and advises operators to “remember one thing: Just because you have a driver that your very special client likes or prefers, that is not always the safest driver to send. Do not let clients’ likes or wants jeopardize the safety of your operation.”
Biggest success: The proudest moments at Limousines By A Touch of Class come from its special events work in the local hospitality and transportation industry, such as providing catering and travel means for President Clinton and his press when they visited Clarksburg, and working with the French delegation at President Obama’s G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Types of clients: Limousines By A Touch of Class caters mostly to high-end corporate accounts with mixed-in airport service and wedding clients.
Customer service approaches: “Pay attention to detail and do your homework,” says Podesta, when separating yourself from the competition. “Listen to the customer and exceed their expectations.”
Client referrals: Podesta still nets most of his referrals and leads through local and industry word-of-mouth and through networking with affiliate members in the NLA.
Future plans: Podesta says he would like to build a new garage facility and grow his fleet from four to seven vehicles. And, “I would like to increase my affiliate network and continue to maintain the quality of service that my clients expect.”
Limousines By A Touch Of Class
Owner: Philip Podesta
Location: Clarksburg, W.V.
Year founded: 2002
Main service region: West Virginia, Western Pennsylvania
Vehicle types: sedan, vans, stretches
Fleet size: 4
Annual revenues: $300,000
Contact: (304) 624-3101