Paul Thompson, owner & CEO of Accent Chauffeured Transportation in Santa Fe, N.M., gained experience dealing with high-end clients while running a valet parking company.
Santa Fe, N.M.-based Accent Chauffeured Transportation attracts many tourists to the region’s large collection of art studios and galleries. CEO Paul Thompson’s knack for identifying people’s quirks helps him customize the chauffeured experience to meet their needs.
What he did before: Paul Thompson produced automotive racing programs for networks such as ESPN and Speed TV.
Why he got into the business: After his third stroke at age 30, Thompson quit, improved his health and started a valet parking company in Santa Fe. “I had a lot of high-end clientele on a daily basis, and noticed a niche and need for luxury ground transportation,” Thompson says. He founded Santa Fe Valet and Limousine in 2007 and operates as Accent Chauffeured Transportation, which is the company’s affiliate division.
Start-up costs and methods: Thompson started his transportation service in 2009 with a van he used for shuttle and charter service. He leveraged relationships from the valet side of the business to pick up chauffeured transportation clients, one of whom even loaned Thompson start-up funds and continues to be a client and advisor. He attends industry tradeshows for the educational sessions to learn more about the industry and operational best practices.
Best marketing strategy: Since its inception, Accent Chauffeured Transportation has benefitted from a robust reputation and word-of-mouth referrals. Thompson has brought in an agency to help him develop a more formal marketing strategy for the coming year.
Biggest mistake: “Trying to do everything myself and wear all the hats,” Thompson says. “I’ve learned to hire out my weaknesses.”
Biggest success: Growing Accent’s client base, demand for services, and the purchase of his first minicoach.
Unique approaches to customer service: “Everybody wants to be treated a certain way, and I have a knack for knowing what the client wants and catering to their needs and habits.” Santa Fe’s economy revolves around tourism, as the region is second in the nation in gross revenue of art sales, behind New York City, and Thompson encounters all types of passengers. His main clients are DMCs, hotel concierges and hotel sales staff, so his ability to identify the peculiarities of each passenger is a vital trait.
Advice to operators: “Never give up, and pay your bills on time.”
Future plans: Growing Accent’s fleet to cater to client demand and expanding the company’s ability to offer a variety of services.
Friend and Mentor
When the time came for Thompson to buy his minibus, he searched the Internet for a deal and ended up finding one that belonged to Virginia operator Dan Goff of A Goff Limousine & Bus. Goff answered all of Thompson’s questions about the vehicle and the industry, and convinced him to attend the ILCT Show in Las Vegas the next month. Thompson found Goff’s expertise on minibuses helpful since Santa Fe’s main tourist hub, the historic Canyon Road, is too small for motorcoaches, making the minibus the best option. “We talk two to three times a month, often for hours,” he says of his mentor. “He has a knowledge and passion for the industry, and I wouldn’t be half as far as I am now if it wasn’t for his help.”
Fast Facts about Santa Fe Valet & Limousine (dba Accent Chauffeured Transportation)
Location: Santa Fe, N.M.
Owner: Paul Thompson
Main service region: Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Taos
Types of vehicles: Town Car L, SUVs, Van Terras, ADA vans and minicoaches.
Fleet size: 6
Annual revenues: Under $1 million
Information: (800) 236-1906