What they did before: Before founding SB Chauffeuring & Tours in Santa Barbara, Calif. in 2007, Tony Talia owned a shop that sold accessories for women. His wife, Maria Yepez, has a degree in hotel management with a minor in business, received training as a concierge, worked in the hotel industry, and also once owned a business. In their careers, the couple developed customer-centric service philosophies. Talia speaks four languages, which qualifed him for a brief stint as a tour guide.
Tony Talia and Maria Yepez draw on their multilingualism, experience in business management and customer service skills to offer chauffeured service to the corporate, wine tour and wedding markets.
Why they got into the business: In 2006, Tony and Maria booked an airport transfer for their honeymoon trip. After reflecting on the service, they believed they could do better, especially with their combined backgrounds of customer service and business management.
Start-up costs and methods: Talia and Yepez started with a Toyota Avalon. In 2008, they added a Lincoln Navigator L and a stretch limousine to focus on the region’s wedding and wine tour markets.
Biggest mistake: Starting with an Avalon sedan and an all-white fleet. “It was hard for us to sell the Avalon, and we got hurt having white vehicles because corporate clients didn’t want them,” Yepez says. “White vehicles for weddings and wine tours were fine, but it wasn’t until the first ILCT Show we went to that I learned corporate travelers couldn’t use us because of our white cars. I learned this at the women’s breakfast. We changed our fleet to black and changed the Avalon to a Town Car. I have learned a lot from the educational sessions at the Show. It’s why we go.”
Best marketing strategy: LSB Chauffeuring & Tours tried many marketing angles, from advertising in the Yellow Pages and magazines to Google AdWords. The company discovered the Internet works best. Social networks and user-review websites, mainly Yelp and WeddingWire.com, drive new business. They have redesigned their website several times and offer a mobile-optimized version for smartphones and tablets. Word-of-mouth referrals from satisfied customers generate new clientele. The company’s name also helps attract international clients because they identify more companies whose names say “chauffeur” instead of “limousine.”
Unique approaches to customer service: Flat rates instead of hourly rates for transporting wedding guests from reception back to hotel; complimentary champagne and beverages; car decorations for bachelorette parties; red carpet and Just Married sign for weddings; group photos that can be put on CDs and magnets that are mailed to clients with a Thank You card and discount offer for future service. “We look for repeat customers,” Talia says. “We treat our customers like VIPs. It doesn’t matter if they pay less or more. We get a lot of repeat customers from the photo magnet because they keep that picture on their fridge and see our name and call us.”
What they like about the industry: Talia and Yepez enjoy getting to know customers and driving them. Talia has a passion for cars, driving and serving as a tour guide when needed. “It feels good when you do your best and make people happy. It’s a fun job. I love it,” Yepez says.
Advice to operators: “Don’t buy white cars!” Talia says. “Focus on service, go to the ILCT Show before opening your business because it will help you avoid heartaches and headaches, and focus more on online advertising, especially with the target market in town.”
Future plans: Expand service to smaller hotels in the region, enhance email marketing efforts, and buy a new vehicle. “We might have to go with the Lincoln MKT Town Car. We don’t really like the look, but you have better benefits going with Lincoln. Cadillac is not as comfortable, and the Chrysler 300 is not a good fit for us.”
FAST FACTS about SB Chauffeuring & Tours
Location: Santa Barbara, Calif.
Founded: February 2007
Main service region: Santa Barbara County
Types of vehicles: Lincoln Town Car Executive L, Ford Expedition SUV Limited EL, and Ford Expedition Stretch Limo SUV
Fleet size: 3
Annual revenues: $123,000
Owners: Maria Yepez & Tony Talia
Information: (805) 563-5132