NAPLES, Fla. — At 18, Bryan Pease raced cars for fun on a dirt oval track in Illinois. Thirty years later, he's behind the wheel of a Florida-based company called Racing Limos, which has licensees across the country.
The business offers flashy limousines designed to look like race stock cars and trucks. And advertisers can put their names on the side of them. "Sponsors" include the Florida Everblades hockey team and sports pub Beef O'Brady's.
The limos can be rented for birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, trips, or even just a night out on the town. Inside they all have PlayStation 2, DVD and CD players, and trophy cases carrying sports memorabilia. They rent by the hour, with rates starting at $100. Instead of wearing suits and ties, drivers wear racing suits.
"What's kind of happened is that my two career paths in life intersected in this business," said Pease, 48. Early in his career he owned a weekly newspaper in northern Illinois and worked for a cable network in St. Louis. That's where the advertising comes in.
Later he owned Excel, a transportation company with one of the largest non-taxi fleets in Southwest Florida. That's where the limos come in.
After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks slowed travel to a crawl, Pease and his two partners closed the local transportation company, which depended on convention and group business. So Pease headed in another direction, founding Racing Limos in May 2002. "I went from a 100-person company to one," he said. "I worked out of my house to start this thing."
He gives credit to his son for helping him come up with the idea. When he was selling off his transportation company's assets, Pease wasn't happy with the amount he was offered for a 47-passenger motor coach. So he went on eBay to compare prices and see if he was asking too much. There he found a school bus for sale painted like Jeff Gordon's race car. After seven years without a vacation, the single dad proposed an idea to his son, Jake.
He suggested they paint the motor coach to look like a race car and then spend the summer driving the NASCAR circuit. His then 13-year-old son had another idea. "What about one of your limos?" he asked. The two sat down and started to think what a race car would look like if it was stretched to look like a limo. Before they knew it they were drawing up a business plan at their kitchen table.
"The more I looked at it, I said, 'You know, I think this can work,' " Pease said. "Of course now we have 67 locations. We're growing and it did work."
Pease has a trademark on the Racing Limos name. The company also has a patent on its limos, he said. The first racing limo was made in October 2002. It was built on a Pontiac Grand Prix chassis.
Nearly four years ago, Pease brought the limo to a Motor Trends International Automobile Show in Tampa, where people lined up to see it, and to see Pease, whose association with racing has made him somewhat of a celebrity.
Pease had hero cards printed up that pictured the limo and explained the business opportunity. At the automobile show, hundreds of onlookers asked him to sign the cards. "They wanted my autograph," he said.
That's when he really knew he'd stumbled upon a great idea. Early on, he marketed the racing limo by driving it around town and taking it to racing and other out-of-town events from Georgia to California. Pease started offering licenses in January 2003.
He now has an office and six employees, including himself. Pease has limited growth, worried that the licensing might get ahead of him.
The first year, he granted five licenses, turning down another 15. The next year he added 16. The third year, he issued 40. He's added more this year, bringing the total to nearly 70.
The business has spread across the country. It's in such states as California, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Tennessee, and New York. Pease is in final negotiations with an entrepreneur who plans to take the limos to Romania. Future plans may take the franchise to Canada and possibly Madrid.
Pease is working on other limo themes. He's started marketing Hot Pursuit Limos, designed to look like police cars.
Source: Redding Business News