Living with Livery - Industry Old Timer Has Seen it All

Posted on June 1, 2003 by Albert Neal, LCT staff editor

An opportunity to enter the livery business came knocking on John Patti’s door more than 10 years ago and he hasn’t looked back since. In the late 50s, Patti ran a business in Buffalo, N.Y., that provided mortuary services, along with hearses and limousine rentals, to local funeral homes.

Business was good but he realized that the mortuary business wasn’t for him. So when his wife Camille began chauffeuring for a local promoter, Patti began to ponder the possibilities. Two years later, in 1961, the Pattis agreed to leave the funeral business and venture full-throttle into providing luxury transportation.

Buffalo Limousine Service slatted with five formal Cadillac limousines. At the time, there were no stretches.

The firm’s early clients included the Beach Boys, Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, but while chauffeuring the music industry’s greatest was one thing, finding a niche in the business world was another. Patti first realized this after gaining a contract to provide limousines for a major corporation based in western New York.

“That was the first-ever corporate deal we did involving more than one car.” Patti says. It involved six limousines doing staggered transfers among the airport, local restaurants, meeting facilities and the firm’s offices.

“After that, we got excited,” Path says. He realized that if his company could serve one corporation’s ground transportation needs, it could easily serve others, so business surged. Yet, the ultimate affirmation that his company was on the map came much later.

“Our first sales milestone happened in 1990 when we hit $500,000,” Patti says. “That was an accomplishment in a market like this. From there we just zoomed up.”

Of course, there were lessons Patti had to learn before this accomplishment: In 1984, he had a fleet of 26 vehicles that he eventually had to trim to 14. Greenness, Patti says, led to that overindulgence.

“It was inexperience. If a guy wanted a white car, you’d go buy a white car. If a guy wanted a stretch with a side bar, you’d buy that. And we weren’t really utilizing our cars. Now we maximize them. In other words, I do more business now with the 14-car fleet than I did with a 26-car fleet.”

Experience has also taught Patti that a full-time operator needs vehicles that are practical.

“Our longest stretch now is a 10-passenger, 120-inch limousine. Anything longer is just not practical. You only get maybe two days a week use out of it." In 1984, Patti founded the Limousines Operators of Western New York, and, as its president, successfully fought legislation by the state targeted at imposing a sales tax on local livery businesses.

“If we had lost, it would have spread to the whole slate of New York, including New York City. In those days it was quite a big deal.” Patti later left the organization, disgruntled over the direction it was headed.

Instead, he started another organization called the Niagara Frontier Livery Association in 1988, which only has a handful of members but has been effective. “We meet once a year but we’re all on call in case any crisis comes up,” Patti says. “Then we hit the grindstone.”

Patti also served on the board of directors of the National Limousine Association for two terms in the late 1980s and has watched the community of owners and operators grow closer over the years.

“Years ago, nobody knew each other.” he says. “No one knew who was in Texas, in California, or in Chicago, but through the organizations, magazines and annual shows, everybody got to know each other. It made the country a lot smaller—and a lot more competitive,” he says.

Today, Patti acts as a consultant for Buffalo Limousine Service, which is now run by his daughter and son-in-law, Carla and Frank Boccio.

The new generation has increased sales at least 25% for the last three years and is doing an excellent job at running the company, Patti says.

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