There is something to be said for being the best. For a limousine operator, it means providing a service to the public that is the pinnacle of professionalism. In society, those who are judged the best at something receive awards... whether it's the champion boxer, the fastest runner, or the most compelling actor. Determining the winners of the 1990 Limousine & Chauffeur Operator of the Year Award is not so clear cut. Operators are judged on industry involvement, chauffeur training and supervision, office personnel training and supervision, customer relations, and innovative services.
In 1989, the award was initiated to recognize an individual who demonstrated outstanding ability in the management of their company and made a significant contribution to the betterment of the livery industry. Steve Spencer of London Towncars in Long Island City, NY was the first recipient of the coveted award. This year, the Operator of the Year Award has been divided into three categories depending on the size of the operation: small (less than 10 vehicles), medium (11 to 20 vehicles), and large (21 or more vehicles). L&C received numerous nominations and the field has been narrowed to three finalists in each category. Judges for this year's award are Spencer, the staff of L&C, and Wayne Smith, executive director of the National Limousine Association.
SMALL (less than 10 vehicles)
Robert and Maria Hamilton, Satisfaction Limousines Anchorville, Ml
The Hamiltons have been the limousine business for seven years and are currently operating 10 vehicles and managing 17 employees in suburban Detroit. They fully train their chauffeurs with special booklets specially designed with company rules and service expectations. Satisfaction has numerous innovative packages and strives for uncompromising customer service. The company's 7,000-square-foot office includes a showroom as well as dispatching and maintenance facilities. The Hamiltons belong to numerous charitable and business organizations including the Make-A-Wish Foundation and MADD. Satisfaction recently received a contract with the Detroit Pistons and Detroit Lions professional sports teams for airport pickups and drop offs, or after-game entertainment.
They have a distinctive flair for marketing their company using numerous "tokens" of appreciation. Some of these include key chains, lottery number choosers, coffee mugs and baby's bibs. Their logo is also printed up on T-shirts, nightshirts, and satin jackets.
Shiela Lambie, Lambie's Luxury Limousines, Kenosha, Wl
Lambie is one of the more active limousine operators in the nation. She is currently a board member of the NLA and an active member of the Illinois Limousine Association. She also belongs to numerous local business and charitable organization. She and her husband Al operate a five-vehicle fleet and manage 16 employees between Milwaukee and Chicago. Lambie's Luxury Limousine uses the credo that "training never ends" when it comes to chauffeurs. The company holds sharing sessions two to three times per month to talk about upcoming local events and ways to provide service more efficiently. Last year, Lambie brought six of her staff to the Limousine & Chauffeur Show in Las Vegas to enhance their knowledge and performance.
Customer service is important to Lambie. The company's computer system contains a confidential dossier on each customer. If one of her limousines is late for an airport transfer, the client does not pay. Working out of O'Hare International in Chicago, that policy can sometimes be a difficult one. This past year, the company switched to a unique system of employee leasing. They handle maintenance in-house.
Janet B. Smith, Allegany/Something Special Limousine, Cumberland, MD
Smith operates a diverse fleet of six vehicles including three stretches, two formals, and one van. She is an NLA member and part of the Cumberland Professional Women's Association. Smith has a unique chauffeur training process which includes two hours of free limousine service for the chauffeur. The next day, the candidate must drive Smith herself around town. She runs the office herself, managing five chauffeurs.
Regarding maintenance, Smith has a program she calls "predictive maintenance." It involves recording data on sounds, vibrations, or temperature readings on the vehicles and predicting possible problems. Her office is fully automated. The company concentrates on airport, wedding, night-on-the-town, and trips home for mothers and newborns. Smith and her husband have been in business for three years. She goes by the motto, "Everyone Is a Celebrity." She feels fortunate that business is doing so well in an area that has a high unemployment rate.
MEDIUM (11 to 20 vehicles)
Randy Bring, Park Avenue Limousine, Delray Beach, FL
Bring began in the limousine business four and a half years ago and has quickly built a solid company. Jumping in headfirst, he is currently the president of the Florida Limousine Association and an NLA member. Some of his other limousine organization affiliations include vice president of the Palm Beach County Limousine Association, the National Safety Council, and Barrens International Network. He is also extremely active in local business and charitable organizations. Park Avenue currently operates 15 vehicles and has 20 employees.
The company has a unique "Chauffeur of the Month" program based on a merit/demerit system. Its training program involves extensive prescreening, videotapes, and assignment to a veteran chauffeur. There is a 60-day probationary period. Park Avenue's marketing program incorporates the company logo where ever possible. Some of the company's more innovative services include airport greeters and a link with Ticketmaster for making limousine reservations for special events.
Gene Pierpoint, Arizona Limousines, Phoenix, AZ
Pierpoint opened his service in 1979 at the age of 24 and has developed the company into a diverse fleet of 17 vehicles with 16 employees. With a guiding tenet of "Professionals Serving Professionals," Arizona Limousines concentrates much of its business on the corporate market, as well as the resort/hotel business in the Southwest. Pierpoint has also espoused the ideas of national, as well as local, markets for the limousine industry. He is currently a board member of the NLA and president of the newly formed Arizona Association of Limousine Operators. He belongs to numerous business groups in the area including the Chamber of Commerce, Meeting Planners International, and the Scottsdale Visitors and Convention Bureau. Arizona Limousines has been a Dav-El member for nine years.
Pierpoint takes training seriously. He focuses attention on the initial phone contact that his reservationists make with clients through extensive training. Follow-up phone calls and letters are standard. Pierpoint has been instrumental in organizing the "Super Sunday" program at this year's Limousine & Chauffeur Show in New Orleans.
Alan Schlein, Astor-Madison Avenue Limousine, Newington, CT
Schlein has worked his way up from a car washer to an owner in three years. His four-year-old operation currently has 18 vehicles and 35 employees in the Hartford, CT-area. Schlein has been actively involved in limousine industry interests nationally and locally. His company was successful in lowering the state's worker's compensation rate from 18 percent to 5 percent. He is president of the Hartford Area Limousine Operators, vice president of the Limousine Operators of Connecticut, and an active NLA member. His other affiliations include numerous charitable and commercial groups.
He promotes professionalism through chauffeur training that includes monthly meetings, constant memos, and prominent display of customer response and feedback. For the office, Schlein subscribes to the "Customer Service Manager's Newsletter" and requires personnel to read it. The company has never had a vehicle accident or mechanical breakdown and he credits that to constant maintenance and chauffeur training. All maintenance is done in-house. He works on keeping a happy and satisfying work environment at the company.
LARGE (21 or more vehicles)
Harold Berkman, Music Express, Burbank, CA
Berkman has been considered a leader in the industry for years. His operation serves both coasts with offices in Los Angeles and New York. In L.A., Berkman manages 45 vehicles and 125 employees, while the New York operation has 47 vehicles and 105 employees. He is a founding member of the Limousine Owners Association of California and the NLA. The company has a long list of philanthropic organizations to which they contribute service. Berkman also belongs to numerous business groups.
Music Express maintains a high standard of quality for its service and its employees. Chauffeurs are given a comprehensive three-day training course and drug tests are administered prior to training. Office personnel are overseen by several department supervisors. The company has an extensive marketing program directed to high-profile personalities on both coasts. Among the company's innovative services are a special events division, specialty vehicles such as 10 passenger buses, and a special projects division which handles movie or television work.
George Jacobs, American Limousine, Chicago, IL
Jacobs is familiar to most limousine operators around the nation through his position as president of the National Limousine Association. He is also known as an operator of one of the largest limousine fleets in the nation with 175 vehicles. Jacobs has used his skill as a marketer and businessman to build his company over the past 12 years. The company has its own $200,000 phone system and two-way radio frequency, American has an agreement with an airline company and the bulk of its work is airport transfer.
He has an established incentive program for his employees and every department of American Limousine has a manager and supervisor. The company mostly consists of individual owner/operators. Regarding marketing, Jacobs uses billboards in the Chicago area. He belongs to numerous altruistic and business organizations.
John Gouveia, County Limousine Service, White Plains, NY
Gouveia entered the limousine business in 1946 with one used limousine and only himself as a driver. In the ensuing 44 years, he has built County Limousine into a thriving company with 72 vehicles and more than 140 trained, uniformed chauffeurs. He was a founder of the Westchester/Fairfield Limousine Association and is currently a member of the Limousine Industry Council and the NLA. He also belongs to various civic and humanitarian groups.
County Limousine has a direct computer link to the New York State DOT for printouts of chauffeur applicant's driving records. Candidates must pass a five-page written exam on local road knowledge and a physical exam. Office employees are trained by veteran staff members. Gouveia's marketing consists of face-to-face sales and direct mailings. The company's most innovative service is "Instant Service," in which vehicles are stationed in busier areas of New York City and immediate service is provided to customers. All County's vehicles are company-owned and cared for by in-house mechanics who run on a computerized maintenance schedule. They have been computerized for 10 years.