Operator Profile: TCI Limousine Service of Detroit, Ml

Posted on May 1, 1988 by LCT staff

W. P. Faulkner had looked forward to a peaceful retirement of boating and fishing on Lake Erie after completing his career with the phone company. Finally af­ter 34 years, the day came, the Elba Mar Boat Club beckoned, and W.P. cast off into retirement.

Not wanting to idle away his Gold­en Years, W. P. became Commodore of the E.M.B.C. and spent a busy year at the helm of a variety of boat­ing activities. At about this same time, unbeknownst to W.P., his son Donald was down in Florida eyeing a secondhand limousine and consider­ing a plunge into the livery business.

"Donald had a friend in the limousine business," W.P. recalls, "and one of his limousines was available." The younger Faulkner seized the op­portunity to get into the business him­ self. After purchasing the car, he returned to the Detroit area and start­ed a one-man company called The Corporate Image (T.C.I.).

T.C.I. grew to a four-car operation during its first three years. By mid-1987, though, the fleet of Cadil­lac and Lincoln stretches was be­ coming older, less reliable, and less attractive to customers.

An infusion of capital was needed, along with a few organizational changes, and the family decided to bring W.P. and his wife Jo out of retirement.

"I took over the company last Sep­tember," he explains, "and what I basically did was apply my manage­ment experience to the limousine business. Half of the limo business is management."

Now, W.P. is the company's chief operating officer and Jo handles ac­ counting. The move marked the be­ginning of a challenging new career they had never anticipated. Donald remains president of T.C.I., but he now spends most of his time pursu­ing other business interests.

"We made a lot of operational changes," W.P. explains, "because I think that a car should be perfect when a customer rents it. The look of the car and the chauffeur is very im­portant, and so are the little, details like the glassware,"

One of W.P.'s priorities was to up­grade the company's fleet. He began by refurbishing the four aging stretches but recently decided to replace them instead. "I spent some time trying to put the cars in the kind of shape I wanted," he says, "but I decided that was a waste of time so I traded them all in and am now in the process of putting all new cars on the road.

"We now have two 73-inch stretch­es, two 57-inch stretches, and we're waiting for delivery of another stretch. I hope to have ten vehicles by June, and then I plan to replace them ev­ery two years. We're working with National Coach (N.C.E.) because they are local and easy to deal with."

Why the big jump in vehicles? "As far as I'm concerned," he explains, "you either have to get big in this business...or get out. Especially if you are going to go after corporate busi­ness. And it's very important to keep your fleet up to date. A lot of operators are out there with older cars and that is not the way to attract good customers."

T.C.I, also improved its chauffeur training program. "We got the chauffeur training videotape from Ex­ecutive Professional Chauffeuring School and it is really good," says W.P.

"We had our head chauffeur re­view the test, and he was going to take the test all at one time but he found there was so much information that he had to go through it one part at a time. All of our chauffeurs have learned a lot from it. It's an excellent program."

T.C.I, also set up a driver training course in a local supermarket park­ing lot. "We laid out a course with cones and ran our drivers through it. Now our drivers are professionals," he says. Chauffeurs are required to be at least 25 years of age. They ride along on a training run before taking the wheel by themselves.

To check on driver performance, T.C.I. makes follow-up phone calls to some 30% of its customers to ask how they liked the service and whether they were satisfied. "Another way to evaluate drivers is by looking at the number of calls we get requesting a specific person by name. Each chauffeur has their own card, and when you get return busi­ness from someone who asks for a particular driver, that tells you a lot. They must have been really pleased with that chauffeur."

Rick Delay is T.C.I.'s head chauffeur. He lives on-site and is on-call 24 hours a day. Rick supervises drivers and handles the training pro­gram. Charles Burckart is T.C.I.'s senior chauffeur.

Armed with the right vehicles and professional chauffeurs, Faulkner is poised to begin a serious assault on the corporate market. "I don't think that the corporate market has really been touched by anyone in this area," he says. "You have to really go after them and show them what you can do."

Thus far, T.C.I has attracted a number of sizeable corporate ac­counts including two of Detroit's lar­gest special event promoters. "Now we're busy on weekdays as well as weekends, and we have orders booked six months in advance."

Part of Faulkner's marketing ap­proach is based on his ability to net­ work within local business circles. Having been a phone company ex­ecutive, and an active member of the boating community, Faukner moves easily in business gatherings. He keeps a high profile at the chamber of commerce, the Rotary Club, and business-oriented restaurants.

"You need to talk to people, pass out business cards, and let them know what services you provide," he says. "A lot of business people still think that riding in a limousine is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Then you fol­low up with a letter and let them know what the prices are."

Do corporate customers really need to recline in a 73-inch stretch limousine on their way to lunch or the airport? "The 73-inch stretch will do just about anything, you want," responds Faulkner. "We bought a removable bench seat so that the car can seat either six or eight passengers. With corporate clients, we leave the bench out and leave it as a six-passenger car. If it's a night on the town, we can seat eight people. The main thing is to have cars avail­able so you can handle corporate customers on short notice."

T.C.I. also offers a number of unique services for corporate clients. Out-of- town executives, for example, are in­vited to utilize the T.C.I. office for cleri­cal services. "We turn our office into their office," explains Faulkner. "They can use our phones, copy machine, or whatever else they need."

Videotaping is another service area showing promise. Faukner has developed the concept of videotap­ing certain types of problems for companies such as the automakers so that visiting troubleshooters can get a jump on the solution as they ride in from the airport. "That's one of the areas that hasn't been touched," he says.

Another unique aspect of T.C.I. is the company's detailing service. In a service bay beneath the main office, a crew of eight detailers manicures the T.C.I, fleet each morning and then turns its attention to the inven­tory of two nearby automobile dealers. Cars are picked up at the dealerships, detailed from stem to stern, and returned.

Detailing covers the entire­cluding engine, trunk, interior, and exterior. The detail shop now handles about eight cars each day. In addi­tion, mobile detailing units provide a variety of on-location services includ­ing boat cleaning.

Boating figures prominently in the T.C.I. advertising and marketing pro gram. "We have a page in the publication of the local yacht club, as well as with two other yacht clubs," says W.P. The ads have successfully produced business from the annual formal events sponsored by these organizations, and have led to spin-off L business from club members.

"You have to be selective with your advertising," he cautions. T.C.I. limits most of its ads to publications and directories from the chamber of commerce and the Rotary Club. Faulkner is now experimenting with a campaign urging business people not to drink and drive. "We are point­ing out the liabilities that a company faces when their executives drink and drive," he says, "and we are offering them an alternative."

The alternative costs a customer $55 an hour, but T.C.I. finds the mar­ket supportive. "If someone ques­tions our price, I just tell them that we have a fleet of 1988 limousines and we provide the best service in the area. We never have trouble book­ing, in fact we are heavily booked through the next three months. That's why I'm adding the extra cars. If ten limousines isn't enough, we'll add some more,"

Would W.P. recommend the limou­sine business to anyone else as a form of retirement? "I don't know. It sure keeps you busy. You go 12 or 14 hours a day. When I started six months ago, I weighed 182 pounds and now I weigh a cool 168. That's got to tell you something." Indeed.

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