Besides the splashy celebrities-arriving-in-limo scenes at red carpet openings, there’s plenty of other good news coming out of the industry.
Best of all, operators can help make their own good news. They can work toward changing laws affecting the business, sponsor charity events, offer innovative ideas, distribute freebies and brainstorm other newsworthy ways to get their names in the headlines.
The people we’ve chosen to spotlight have taken chances, gone above and beyond in their charity work, or have pursued new and exciting ways to secure business in an ever tighter marketplace.
Here are just a few of the current well-known industry newsmakers, listed alphabetically, that have put themselves in the public eye to further the industry.
Cheryl Berkman heads up Music Express in Burbank, Calif. Her other locations are in New York, Washington and San Francisco. Music Express is “the name” in limousines for the entertainment industry. When you see those red carpet arrivals, you can be sure Berkman is on top of the action. She’s also been very high-profile in her charity work, taking a leading role in the Make a Wish Foundation, and she is first vice president of the NLA.
Rick Brown, president of La Costa Limousine in Carlsbad, Calif., is newsworthy in his capacity as president of the Greater California Livery Association. “It’s been kind of a whirlwind year,” he says. In January he was elected president of the board of the GLA. And at his company, “We celebrated our 15th year of business in February and we cracked the 50-car barrier.”
Concerning the GLCA fight in Sacramento over taxi/limo legislation, Brown says. “Suddenly I’m thrust into the limelight and I had to react fast.” He credits the GLCA board with bringing together Northern and Southern California operators and for the legislative gains that have been made.
“They do all the work. It’s not my doing – it’s our doing.” He jokes. “Unless it’s a screw-up, then it will be my fault.”
Brown’s company is also known for offering the latest in technology. La Costa has a satellite uplink to track and verify airline flights, offer vehicle tracking for its entire fleet and is staffed 24 hours a day.
“Basically, we have a state-of-the-art computer system.” La Costa pages drivers assigning them their jobs. And, he says, “We’re looking to putting in Drive Cam to monitor safety.”
According to Brown, “Most of our business is corporate and high-end. My biggest advice is that you show up on time with a clean car. Under promise and over deliver.”
Barbara Chirico of Gem Limousine in Woodbridge, N.J., was NLA president during the Sept. 11 attack. She was instrumental in helping the New York City area recover by getting people around when they most needed transportation. Her acts of caring put an empathetic face on the entire industry. Chirico was honored at the 2002 LCT Show with the LCT Leadership Award and was cited for helping the industry garner SBA disaster relief fund monies, which helped hundreds of operators stay in business post Sept 11. She also signed the first management contract with the NLA and Bobit Business Media, which bolstered the nonprofit association’s financial stability.
Donald Kensey of Au Premiere Limousine Service, Inc. in Bellmawr, N.J., is a small operator who for many years has helped the industry fight for operator rights on important issues. He’s been the president of his local association and was on the board of the NLA. He was one of the key people who helped bring together the South Jersey Limousine Association and the North Jersey Association to form a statewide group, which finally had the clout to have the sales tax removed from all new limousine sales and repairs. The association also passed a “limo law” that improved safety in the state and established criteria for what constitutes a safe vehicle. He has continually fought for the rights of operators and has testified in hearings. Kensey was also the legislative chair when the NLA passed its first legislative bill, HR2546.
NLA Lobbyist Barry Lefkowitz is leading the effort to get passage of HR2662, which would eliminate the national gas guzzler tax on stretch limousines that has added $1,700 to $2,100 to the cost of new vehicles. The tax has been a thorn in the side of the industry since it passed in 1990. The new bill has been included in the language of the Senate version of the Highway Trust Fund Bill, but there’s been a holdup because of a funding disagreement with the White House. Backers of the bill hope for a compromise deal before the election in November, or they could attach it to other legislation.
Two years ago, Lefkowitz was also front and center in getting President George W. Bush to sign into law the first bill that was strictly for the limousine industry. That bill, HR2546, the Real Interstate Drivers’ Equity Act of 2002, is the legislation that prohibits states from enacting jurisdiction regarding interstate travel. Before the bill passed, vehicles crossing state lines could be subject to fines ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 for not following local laws.
Lefkowitz also helps state associations with local legislation.
California Wine Tours & Transportation in Sonoma is head up by Mike Marino, who, as a single company owner made one of the private industry’s largest fleet buys, effectively acquiring all his competitors in the wine tour business in Napa and making him one of the largest limousine and tour company operators in California. He offers a “one-stop shop,” providing not only transportation to and from airports, but going the full mile, from wine tours to hot-air ballooning to dinner to lodgings. His personalized wine tours of the Napa and Sonoma regions are sometimes available at budget prices, but always offer the ultimate in luxury.
Tom Mazza, formerly the executive director of the NLA and an award-winning editor of LCT, is a business consultant for the industry and also writes a newsletter, available on the Web at www.tommazza.com. He works out of Tom Mazza Consulting in Philadelphia and is a professional speaker. Mazza has written several books, including “Stretching It: The Story of the Limousine” and “The Complete Guide to Operating a Successful Limousine Service.”
The new executive director of the NLA, Fran Shane, took over the reins on Dec, 1 2003. He says, “The great thing about limousine owners is that they are the American dream. They provide a service that makes people feel good, build a business from the ground up, and are the kind of risk takers that would make most people pass out from the pressure.”
He adds, “One of the most interesting things about this business is the misconception government officials have about limousine company owners. They see the big beautiful cars and assume the owners have deep pockets ready for the picking whenever they need extra tax dollars. The government folks get fooled by the shiny cars and see dollars.”
Shane believes that “the secret to a successful association is great service. At the NLA our great service begins with our government affairs and lobbying efforts. When we are able to defend our members against aggressive lawmakers, oppressive regulators and self-important government officials, we are providing a valuable service. While we can’t win all the battles, we can at least let them know that when they mess with NLA members they’re in for a street fight.