It happened 27 years ago, in the summer of 1976, during the 200th anniversary of the American Revolution and the early years of stretch limousines, Cadillacs graced the avenues, and the largest stretch was a mere 54 inches.
Bruce Cirlin, who would one day head Universal Limousine Distributors, one of the nation’s top limousine sales and distribution companies- and his brother Peter needed work and something that would hold their interest.
They had both experimented with businesses outside of the chauffeured transportation industry but at one point Cirlin expressed his fascination with limousines to his brother. The rest, as they say, is history.
“My brother and I took jobs driving limousines for a company called East Winds Limousines,” Cirlin says. “They were one of three luxury limousine companies at the time. We drove for them for about six months.”
After six months with East Winds, Cirlin had amassed enough industry knowledge to branch out on his own, and at the end of 1977 he and his brother started their own company, Limo-Limo Limited.
“We had about 16 cars after about two years. Our small fleet was a mixture of Cadillacs and Lincolns, stretched limousines and sedans.”
The Cirlins operated out of New York for three years, where they catered mostly to the entertainment industry.
“In I9S0, we had an opportunity to sell the company and gel involved in the sales and financing end. We felt that was really the niche that we were looking for,” Cirlin says. He joined a company called Gaines Leasing, the only company at the lime that built, financed and provided insurance for stretch limousines.
This is when Cirlin shifted his networking skills to overdrive. “Gaines Leasing sold cars all over the country.” he says. “I met all the major operators nationwide.”
During his 15 years at Gaines Leasing. Cirlin built a reputation for honesty and business integrity. These traits helped him to solidify industry relationships that he maintains to this day.
Industry connections and a solid background in sales and finance helped Cirlin to establish Universal Limousine Distributors, which he founded in 1994 with a husband and wife team, Barry and Toni Trabb. The company has offices in Wayne, NJ, and Hempstead, N.Y.
Cirlin attributes his success to industry leaders, such as Barbara Pastelak of Gem Limousine. Bob Verdi of Bermuda Limousine, the late Harold Berkman of MusicExpress and David Klein of Dav EI Chaulleured Transportation. These people, he says, have been customers and friends and have all taught him about honesty in business and how that leads to customer loyalty.
“A lot of people talk about there not being a lot of loyally in this business,” Cirlin says. “They say a person will do business with you, but if someone else is willing to sell them a car for $50 less, they’ll run someplace else. I see the exact opposite. I find that if von build relationships with people and you’re honest with them and do the job you’re’ supposed to do that there is tremendous loyally.”
Post 9/11, Cirlin, an active member and past board member of the National Limousine Association, showed his devotion and respect for the industry through letters sent to practically everyone they knew telling them that Universal was there to help if it was needed.
Operators “took a tremendous hit and suppliers took the same bit,” Cirlin said. And if operators aren’t getting rides, then their cars are sitting. If their cars are sitting, then they’re certainly not buying new cars.”
But Cirlin understands business and economic cycles and encouraged his colleagues to weather the storm.
“We all accepted the fact that there was going to be very little business for a period of time,” he says. “But you hang in there and things start to turn around.”