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Medical conditions add stress for operators juggling personal and business lives. Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2006, an Iowa operator thrives despite challenges.
The Swartzendruber family takes a ride in one of their stretch limousines. Despite coping with MS, Shanna leads a full life running the company with her husband, Lore, working as a Hertz rental agent, and parenting her two children, Cayman and Tybee.
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — In a business that demands constant dedication, attention and insane hours, Shanna Swartzendruber, owner of Xquisite Limo in Cedar Rapids, Iowa has an even tougher workflow than the average operator.
Because of the tremendous costs of medical appointments and medications, Shanna maintains her 9-to-5 job as a Hertz rental agent for the medical insurance provided in addition to running the limousine business. She and her husband, Lore, also manage a mobile home park for additional income. As if all this wasn’t enough, the Swartzendrubers have a one-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son.
A typical day
During the LCT phone interview, Shanna was overheard ordering a Miller Lite beer at the end of a hectic day. Meanwhile, her kids screamed in the background while Lore tended to them while also answering questions with Shanna. Shanna no longer drives for safety reasons, so Lore takes her to Hertz each day, a job Shanna has held for more than a decade. Lore also administers a syringe injection every other day, in addition to the assortment of 25-plus pills Shanna takes daily. It is unlikely she would pass a DOT drug screen with such a medication regimen.
Their fleet of five vehicles, which includes limousines, Lincoln Town Cars, and a Ford Excursion, is driven by five part-time chauffeurs and Lore. The couple shops for groceries together, with one pushing a cart for business purchases and the other pushing a cart for personal groceries. They run their company from home.
Operator Shanna Swartzendruber makes the most of life, work and family, including attending the 2011 International LCT Show in Las Vegas.
The couple uses cell phones to conduct their business and forward calls to each other based on availability, but they strive to answer the phone live 24/7 despite the fact that only the two of them conduct business transactions and manage the daily operations. Screaming children can cause one or the other to have to duck out of a room just to find silence while taking an order or conducting business.
The company performs 80% corporate work and 20% retail work, so the number of calls received after business hours are minimal. Shanna enjoyed working as a chauffeur until having a bad episode one day last year, resulting in dizziness and a loss of balance. Disappointed, she knew it was time to hang up the chauffeur’s hat for good.
Surprisingly, when the Swartzendrubers bought their first limousine, they did not intend to start a business. Seven years ago, Lore bought a used limousine purely for fun and to drive it around in what Shanna refers to as a “crazy time” in their life. The limousine was the family car before Lore decided to pay the $50 annual fee the city of Cedar Rapids charges for an operating license.
Living with MS can be mentally and physical challenging and exhausting. The medication causes Shanna to have memory problems and lapses so she relies on hundreds of notes she makes for herself and for Lore to read so that nothing falls through the cracks. That’s important given the rigors and details of running a 24/7 business.
In 2009, Shanna was hospitalized for six days, leaving Lore to care for the businesses, a toddler, and to check after Shanna. On “bad” days, Shanna uses a cane to help her walk. Her balance control is affected, so Shanna describes frequently “smashing into walls on the way to the bathroom.” Despite the seriousness of this condition, she laughs it off. She relishes comments from her Hertz co-workers that say they are eager for her to get a “Hoveround” so they can stretch it for her. Shanna does not take offense to these types of jokes but readily accepts the reality.
Shanna and Lore Swartzendruber run a five-vehicle fleet in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Despite having to stop driving in 2009 because of MS-related symptoms, Shanna remains active in every other facet of the family business.
When asked about the future of Xquisite Limo, Shanna says, “Being diagnosed with MS doesn’t have to a be a stopping point in your life. In fact, having any disease should not be a stopping point.” When first diagnosed, Shanna says she thought it was the end of the world. The couple added their first bus to the fleet in March and plan to continue growing the business. While Shanna doesn’t ever see herself leaving Hertz because of the medical insurance and the fact that she has a “pre-existing condition,” she plans to grow the business as much as she can. The long term plan includes handing it over to her children, described by Shanna as “cute, loud and obnoxious.”
This insures they will have jobs and a secure future. Shanna says that most people believe that limo operators are rich but in reality, “We are buried in loans.” Their plan is to build a solid financial infrastructure while the kids are growing up so the kids can some day take over a solid company.