Mike Duda and general manager Brian Crowl in Kona, Hawaii. Duda started the company there, but lives in San Diego where he runs a single vehicle.
Growth strategies: As Gold Coast Town Car Service prospered in Hawaii, Duda looked to the California coast to see if he could start another branch there and resettle his family on the mainland. After looking at companies to purchase, he invested in a small company in San Diego, bringing his fleet size up to 10. Duda owns one Chevrolet Suburban in the San Diego location, which he drives full time along with one other part-time chauffeur.
Success strategies: “I think my honesty, integrity and a lot of hard work has made me successful. Every day I remind myself that anything could change at any minute so I have to stay diligent.”
Marketing strategies: “Mainly grassroots and hitting the pavement and introducing myself and the business,” Duda says. “I’m big on knowing who I’m dealing with and putting a face to the name. I joined the local chamber at both of our locations. I’m learning more about social media, and Yelp really has helped us with our five-star rating. For San Diego, I’m slowly meeting other operators and offering my services as a backup to their business. I’m happy to work with any company and I do not steal their clients.”
Types of clients: Gold Coast services a lot of visitors from the West Coast who own vacation properties in Hawaii. In San Diego, Duda chauffeurs many Japanese business people who know of his company from Hawaii.
Start-up costs and methods: Duda bought a limo company in Kona, Hawaii, after working his way up to an ownership position at an Outback Steakhouse there. “I really had no money at the time but had great credit. So I used a line of credit plus the original owner of the limo company carried a portion of the loan.”
Why he got into the industry: Showing people around Kona already was becoming a favorite pastime of Duda’s when friends started joking he should get paid for his tours. “I loved showing people around our island and people loved going for the rides,” Duda says. “And this was during my free time just showing friends around.” His knowledge of the landscape made him a valued guide, which carried over to when he started chauffeuring. “I’ve even taken people that were born and raised here to places they never even knew existed on the island.”
Learning experiences: “To make sure that when you take a reservation you write down a.m. vs. p.m.,” Duda says. “I made that mistake once in the beginning. Another mistake is not growing the business with the times. I’m finally getting limoanywhere.com incorporated into our operations.”
Biggest success: Duda says that holding onto the Hualalai Resort in Kona has been very important to the growth of his company. “They keep us very busy with the homeowners coming and going. The holidays can be pretty tough for us there as everyone comes in and leaves at once because there are only a few mainland flights each day. It would be nice if we could spread the volume out a bit more,” he says.
Customer service approaches: Duda says he always strives to give personalized service. “I know when my guests want to chat and I know when I’m to remain quiet and drive.”
Limo industry favorites: “Meeting new people,” Duda says. “It seems that almost every person [who] has been in my vehicles, I find something in common we can talk about together. Usually travel or food is what we talk about but it can be anything.”
Future plans: Duda would like to grow the San Diego fleet from one to four vehicles soon. “I do like to be a small, personalized service though,” Duda says.
Advice: “Be honest and true to the business. This includes your clients as well as your employees.”
Gold Coast Town Car Service
Location: Kona, Hawaii; San Diego, Calif.
Main service regions: Island Of Hawaii; San Diego area
Vehicle types: Lincoln Town Car sedans, Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Denali SUVs, vans, and a stretch Lincoln Town Car.
Fleet size: 10
Annual revenues: $400,000
Contact info: (808) 756-7375; (619) 717-0808