Dress codes: A colored button down shirt, no tie, and dress pants. “I think it’s silly to ask drivers to put on the ‘cookie cutter’ black tie and white dress shirt to pick someone up at the airport, especially during the summer months when it’s too hot,” says Tim O’Brien, owner of Preferred Car and Limousine. Chauffeur comfort is important, especially on a 10-hour trip to New York City. That’s not to say there aren’t times for tuxedos and ties. Funerals, weddings, proms and business meetings require more formal dress. “No client has ever complained that my driver didn’t have a tie on for an airport pickup, bachelor party, or an Eagles game,” he says.
New Jersey operator Tim O’Brien with his two dogs, Max and Pudgie.
Customer service: “Answer the phone every time!,” O’Brien says. He transfers office calls to his cell phone quite often. When he is busy with a client, he transfers the call to his lead chauffeur, Brendon. If it turns out they are both busy with a client, he transfers the call to another employee. “Very rarely will you get an answering machine with us,” he says.
Marketing strategies: O’Brien offered satellite TV on his first car in 2004, and he has had it installed on his sedans and SUVs ever since. He used to put them on the limousines, but soon discovered it was a waste, since people in limousines prefer to listen to music. The big satellite dishes on the sedans certainly turned heads, and provided O’Brien with plenty of business. “People love to watch TV on trips to New York, especially during football season,” he says. Early on, he invested in heavy advertising in search engines, country club score cards, various newsletters, and oddly enough, phone books. “Older people still pick up the phone book, and it’s not very expensive. It’s well worth the money,” he says. Now, most business comes in via word of mouth and repeat clients.
Origins: O’Brien’s father was a personal driver for a family in Cherry Hill, N.J. for several years. In 2004, he asked his son if he wanted to take over for him. It was a tough decision, as O’Brien had a secure local tractor-trailer job for years, and would definitely be taking a pay cut. After thinking it over, he agreed — with a solid game plan in place. He knew he couldn’t thrive on one car, so he bought a second sedan before he took the business over. His father had other clients, and he’d always get farm-in calls, which he couldn’t do most of the time. He would also farm out his other clients often so he could cater to his contract family. O’Brien hired a retired gentleman to drive the second car, and the business was reborn. “To this day, I still drive that family. They always get first dibs,” he says.
Start-up costs and methods: O’Brien started out by purchasing an additional sedan for $13,000 and allocated another $20,000 to cover the insurance down payment and other start-up fees. From there, he built business by advertising heavily as a limousine company, and then farmed out van and limo work. He later discovered a solution that worked even better. He teamed up with someone who already owned a limousine. Business started booming in 2006, when the company bid on and won a lucrative two-year contract with Toll Brothers, one of the country’s largest builders. At the end of the contract, he was able to buy a limousine.
Lessons learned: You need to be hands on, especially during the early years. O’Brien still personally ensures cars are serviced properly, takes them for regular oil changes, and keeps them clean and smelling nice. He stresses attention to detail. He still drives full time and likes to re-connect with longstanding clients to check on how they think Preferred Car and Limousine is doing and how they can improve.
Biggest success: O’Brien considers the company’s biggest success so far to be the early van contract with Toll Brothers. He says he gets particularly good business transporting large groups of business board members or hockey teams who need to be taken between their hotels and the airport.
Clientele: Most customers he serves are corporate, but they also provide service for bachelor and bachelorette parties and clients traveling to New York City for dinner and a show. They do a lot of work for one of Philadelphia’s major sports teams, and when other teams in the league are in town, they refer the company to them.
Future plans: O’Brien plans to purchase another sedan or SUV, then a limo bus for prom season. “We want to keep growing little by little, while keeping our reputation clean. Moving forward, we want to continue getting people where they need to be, safely.”