Holding the Reins on a Livery Service in the Wild West

Posted on March 1, 1985 by LCT Staff - Also by this author

Phoenix doesn’t have an NFL football team, major league baseball team, or an NHL hockey team, but as the ninth largest city in the U.S., the city does have plenty sunshine, an NBA team approximately named the Suns, and a fast-growing limousine service named Wild Bill’s.

A former Slingerland drum sales manager in Chicago, Bill Gray longed for an opportunity to get back to the city he had loved during his college days at Arizona State University in Tempe, a suburb of Phoenix. His limousine business has given him that chance. After spending about ten months researching the livery industry, attending a chauffeur school, and reading business books, Gray set up a business address and positioned himself in the yellow pages before eventually giving notice to his employer in Chicago. Like many newcomers to the limousine business, Gray’s venture was a gamble at first; but, it is now paying off with increasing passenger volume throughout the Phoenix area.

Bill Gray made his first run on December 31, 1983. Starting with two Moloney limousines, Wild Bill’s grossed $1,800 in its first month. Compare that with the $30,000 gross Wild Bill’s just had in the month of December. Now, instead of just two cars, Wild Bill’s has a fleet of eight which includes his first two Moloney Cadillacs, one ’79 stretched Lincoln, a ’79 formal Cadillac, a ’54 Bentley, and three Rolls Royces.

At first, Gray acted as owner, manager, and chauffeur in his business. Says Gray, “In the beginning I got lucky and landed one big steady customer who began booking my service Monday through Friday; eight hours a day. Because of that, I was able to expand my operation.” At the present time, approximately 60% of Wild Bill’s volume is corporate, and his accounts include businesspeople, real estate developers, and entertainers. His office is located near the Scottsdale airport giving him the opportunity to garner lucrative business from vacationers, charter airline passengers, and affluent visitors to local Arabian horse ranches.

What has made Wild Bill so successful? One major reason is the personal selling of his service. Bill belongs to a variety of business associations and also has two people who call on corporate and major account prospects. One of those is Steve Zea who recently incorporated his own limousine service into Wild Bill’s: bringing in an estimated $100,000 worth of business. “While some operators are content to ‘Let people’s fingers do the walking,’ we are cutting back on our Yellow Page advertising,” Gray said. “To be successful, you have to go out and ask for business.”

Another area in which Gray works hard is to develop wedding business. Local organizers in Phoenix have put together a special wedding promotion day, usually in January, at which wedding-related services show their wares to hopeful brides and grooms. “It’s not uncommon to have 3,000 people attend these functions and we make sure we have our Bentley and Rolls Royces in prime locations,” hints Gray. “We encourage potential customers to sit in our cars and see what they’re like. We also rent a booth and promote our service with a drawing for a free three-hour limousine ride, and we pass out literature about our company.” Claimed Bill, “We received at least one phone call a day for three months after the show.”

No limousine service can be successful, though, without the number one element, chauffeurs. Gray is particularly proud of his crew of twelve drives and his company experiences very little turnover. Recently, Bill turned the complete chauffeur area to his head chauffeur, Jeff Hurt. “To stay competitive with our rates, we have decided to treat our chauffeurs as independent contractors rather than company employees,” says Gray. Jeff Hurt acts as the head contractor and is totally responsible for hiring, firing, training, and disciplinary action. All chauffeurs are required to provide their own beeper, three-piece black suit, solid black tie, black shoes, black hat, Thomas Map Guide, and a can of Ozium air freshener. Gray says this does put a burden on the chauffeur but, at the same time, it makes them more responsible.

Gray and Hurt require that chauffeurs adhere to tightly structured procedures while on the road. Chauffeurs are required to call the office four times during every run. The first call, made when the car leaves the barn, alerts the office that the car is en route to meet the customer. The second call is made from the pick-up point, and the company requires that the limousine arrive a full fifteen minutes early. There is a ten dollar fine for tardiness. The other calls are made upon customer drop-off, and again when the car returns to the garage. Chauffeurs are fined for missing any one of these calls. Although this may seem strict to some, it has meant customer satisfaction for Wild Bill’s Limousine Service.

Chauffeurs are trained to “Go that extra step” to provide top-rate service. They are taught to make a point of noticing the brand of cigarettes a customer may be smoking and make sure a fresh pack is properly placed in a crystal ashtray in the car when a customer returns from dinner. Chauffeurs stop to get a rose if they are driving for a wedding or anniversary event. Whatever it takes, within reason, they are taught to do in order to insure a satisfied customer.

Since customers are required to pay the hourly rate, plus a 15% gratuity, upfront, it is typical for chauffeurs to receive extra tips at the end of an evening for their diligent efforts. A solid volume of business, coupled with healthy earnings, makes the extra effort pay off for Wild Bill’s chauffeurs.

Wild Bill’s farms out its preventive maintenance program to a mechanic who inspects the vehicles, and changes the oil, every three-thousand miles. For only $6.95, the inspection covers the air cleaner, front wheel bearings, differential, U-joints, belts, horses, alignment, oil and gas leaks, power steering, coolant, brakes, shocks, battery, wipers, signals, lights, tires, and air conditioning. All of the belts and hoses are replaced before the summer months. “A breakdown is the last thing I want in this desert area,” says Gray.

What does the future hold for Wild Bill’s Limousine Service? Gray says he is doing away with his formal limousine and plans to add more stretched models. Says Gray, “At least when we have a stretched limousine, we can always send it out at the formal rate if a customer requests a formal. We sure can’t send out a formal when a customer wants a stretch.” Phoenix has recently gone the cellular phone route and, already, two of Wild Bill’s cars have new-type telephones. More cellular phones will be added in the future looks since many customers demand them as an en route business tool. Other plans include the addition of several more cars through a lease-back arrangement that Gray is structuring with a Phoenix developer. All in all, the future looks bright for this one limousine service that focuses on appearance, discipline, and hard work in the Wild, Wild West.

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