SAN ANTONIO, Texas – George Mery, president of Elegant Limousine & Charter Services, sees himself as an ambassador for San Antonio. He, or one of his employees, is often the first person many celebrities and dignitaries see when they come to San Antonio, and the last person they talk to before they leave town.
Making a good first impression is what the limousine business is all about, Mery says.
“We drive the celebrities and they have nothing but nice things to say about our city,” Mery says. “When you hear over and over every day how beautiful and friendly San Antonio is ... it is really exciting. Everything is so optimistic and upbeat about our city.”
Mery is a co-founder of Elegant Limousine with his brother, Vincent. It is currently the largest limousine service in San Antonio and third largest in Texas.
Elegant Limousine is the official transportation service provider for the San Antonio Spurs, and was recently tapped to be the preferred transportation provider for the new Grand Hyatt convention center hotel downtown.
Not bad for a company that started just 11 years ago with only one limo. In 1997, the company made just $10,000. Today Elegant Limousine has annual revenues in excess of $5 million and is growing at a rate of about 20% each year, Mery says. The company has 90 employees, including 15 in Austin, and a fleet of 60 vehicles — buses, vans, sedans, SUVs, stretch limos, and stretch Hummers.
The company maintains a 24-hour operation within its nerve center at its office at 5157 Blanco Road, which Mery says is right at the center of San Antonio and just 15 minutes away from anyplace its drivers need to be.
Elegant Limousine always has someone on duty watching incoming flights at San Antonio International Airport and directing its fleet of vehicles — which are tracked in real-time via GPS-tracking on a large flat-screen monitor mounted on the wall.
Mery says the company grew as a result of an acquisition strategy.
“We recognized that this is a people-oriented business and so we went out and acquired the experienced and talented people we needed to be successful,” he says.
Several of the top managers with the company have experience that pre-dates the founding of the company.
One natural byproduct of the limousine business is meeting lots of celebrities. The walls at the Elegant Limousine offices are covered with autographed photos of all types of celebrities and dignitaries, from Mick Jagger and Pamela Anderson to Eva Longoria and Colin Powell.
Mery recalls one time several years ago when he went to the airport to pick up a guest and all he knew was the person’s name was E. Lagasse. Not realizing his passenger was the celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, Mery asked the airport to page him and did not realize what he had done until he saw a large crowd of enthusiastic fans gathered around at the pick-up site calling out Emeril’s catch phrase: “Bam!”
Another factor in the company’s growth, Mery says, is the fact that San Antonio is such an attractive “destination” city that brings tourists in regardless of economic conditions.
“Under the best and worst conditions, San Antonio is always a place where people want to come because there are so many things to do and many things are free,” he says. “The Alamo and the River Walk are the top two tourist destinations in Texas, and they don’t cost anything to visit.”
Mery credits the city’s emphasis on conventions and tourism as the economic engine that keeps his industry in business.
“We wouldn’t survive without tourism, and San Antonio is primed for the next 20 years to grow its tourism business,” he says. “The city is allowing this business to grow. They make our industry worth it. You can own $2 million worth of vehicles and feel secure in the fact that the business is going to continue to be strong.”
Mery notes that his business is carefully regulated by the city. His drivers have to be specially licensed by the city and they are not allowed to respond with less than an hour’s notice so as not to be in direct competition with taxi cab services.
“We are regulated in a very positive way,” Mery says. “I can’t imagine a better work environment.”
Source: San Antonio Business Journal