When you think of achieving success, you often equate it to being just like the big guys. But one industry veteran has a different philosophy. Phil Restivo, owner of LeGrande Affaire Limousine Service and LimeLite CoachWorks in Santa Clara, Calif., has spent more than 20 years proving that being different is a true key to success.
When most other companies were gearing toward corporate clients, Restivo put his entire effort toward the party car industry. “I’ve always catered to the retail market,” he says. “I never liked corporate work because it was just too political.”
Restivo’s first company, Espresso Limousine Service based in San Jose, Calif., earned over $2.5 million annually operating 32 exotic vehicles without obtaining corporate accounts before he cashed out. After spending a few years in real estate, Restivo returned to the limousine industry. “I just couldn’t stay away. This industry is like a disease,” he jokes. “It gets in your blood and becomes an addiction.” That obsession fueled the creation of LeGrande Affaire, which became one of the largest limousine company’s in the Bay Area in just one year.
It is said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. If that is true, then Restivo must be pleased with himself because his ideas are constantly copied, he claims. “I am always creating new packages or services, and it’s not long before someone else tries to do the same thing,” he says. “But I don’t mind because when everyone is copying me, that’s when I know I’m doing a good job."
Restivo is a firm believer in branding. “It’s all about being different,” he explains. “You have to go above and beyond what the other guy is doing and provide not only a service but an experience. When you do things that are different, you stand alone, and clients will notice. You want those clients to think about superior service whenever they hear your name.”
Creative marketing packages also can help differentiate you from the other guys. “Use your area or the season to create a package that will get people’s attention,” says Restivo. “Don’t be afraid to use your imagination. Many owners are afraid to be really creative and that’s why they don’t get very far.”
Two very important considerations when focusing on the party-car market are: what demographic are you targeting and what is its mindset. Once you determine these, you can advertise accordingly, he says.
“What’s funny about the limousine industry,” says Restivo, “is that most people think that it’s only the rich who rent limousines, but it’s not. In fact, it’s mostly blue-collar workers and people in the service industry who rent limousines for leisure. These are the people who companies should be targeting,” he adds.
Since all work and no play can be a recipe for disaster, Restivo is a firm believer in taking time off to kick back and relax. “I was working seven days a week, without taking time off, and it was breaking me down,” he admits. “It’s important to find a balance in this industry. You want to make money, but when you are living for work, it gets to a point where it starts to control you. Hire competent people you can trust and train them to handle things in your absence. It doesn’t matter what size company you have, you need to be able to take time off and regroup.”
With more than 20 years’ experience as an operator, Restivo has a different perspective as a coachbuilder. “As an operator, I am able to see from both sides of the street. I can see not only from the client’s perspective, but also from the driver’s. This enables me to create an exotic limousine, but one that is still practical from everyone’s point of view.”
Restivo is currently in the process of selling LeGrande Affaire so he can solely concentrate on building limousines with his company LimeLite CoachWorks. As far as what innovative vehicle designs he has planned for the future, he’s keeping those cards close to his vest. I’m sure it’s safe to say that it won’t be anything ordinary.