Everyone in the limousine business has been talking about how the industry is going to consolidate. Well, the trend toward consolidation has had a major impact on the 1997 Top 50 as Carey International’s acquisition of Manhattan International has vaulted Carey’s New York City fleet to 460 vehicles and the top spot in the 1997 Limousine & Chauffeured Transportation Top 50.
“Consolidation is a trend in the business world in general,” says Larry Dunn of Carey Limousine/Johnson-Williams in Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, and 1994 LCT Operator of the Year (large category). There is definitely a trend toward consolidation in our industry. As far as I’m concerned, it started after World War II when supermarkets burst onto the American scene. Since then we’ve seen various supermarket chains. Business chains are a fact of life. We are a licensee of Carey International and our company is global. You can’t be afraid of those things. It’s kind of exciting to be part of a big program.”
Bob Euler, president of King Limousine in King of Prussia, PA, boasts 1997s ninth largest fleet that includes 23 buses and 11 vans. He also sees a trend toward consolidation, especially among companies that are total transportation companies. “I’m involved in the limousine business, but I also have a motorcoach business which I run as a separate entity,” he says. “I see what Coach USA has done over the past year.”
Many of the companies in the 1997 Top 50 have diversified their fleets. In fact, 90 percent of the companies in the 1997 Top 50 have at least one van or bus. According to Craig Del Fabro, owner of Indy Connection/Carey Indiana in Indianapolis, IN, diversification and consolidation go hand-in-hand.
“This is an industry that has more than just proms and weddings,” says Del Fabro. “There are new profit centers to grow and products to consolidate. Before diversification happened, I didn’t think we were going to see consolidation. One led to the other. Diversification gets you in front of the major businesses, airports, and conventions. If you’re a luxury limousine company, no one really gives you a consideration. You are a high-end service that doesn’t really appeal to corporate America.”
Fleet diversification enables you to expand your contact base, something that 45 companies in the 1997 Top 50 have embraced.
“Once you diversify into sedans, vans, and buses you broaden your potential client base,” says Del Fabro. “You will attract the attention of the banks and the financial people. Additionally you’re visible to other companies in the marketplace. You’re also able to become competitive with rental car companies and their brand names.”
Sal Milazzo, president of My Chauffeur Limousine Service in Schiller Park, IL, the 17th-ranked company in 1997, says diversification is a must. “Diversification is on every limousine business owner’s mind,” he says. “There’s no way you can keep clientele today if you’re not diversified. We service top corporate accounts in our area. If we don’t have coaches for their larger moves, they’re going to use a bus company. Clients want one-stop shopping - and that’s what it is these days. They don’t want to call one company for a bus, another for a van, and another for a limousine. That’s why companies have sedans, limousines, vans, and buses. Today’s limousine operator wants to provide the customer with one-stop shopping.”
George Jacobs, owner of American Limousine in Burr Ridge, IL, the third largest company in 1997, recently acquired Hinsdale Limousine, a Chicago-area company with 42 vehicles. Jacobs’ fleet now consists of 291 vehicles.
“Consolidation is here to stay,” he says. “In the past, the industry has been very fragmented. When a smaller company is purchased by a larger company, the smaller company benefits because of the larger company’s established infrastructure. Customers are looking for reliability. It’s more difficult for a small company. Larger companies have more equipment at their disposal.”
Milazzo agrees. “No doubt about it. It’s happening right now. You’re seeing fewer limousine companies, but they’re much stronger.”
According to Milazzo, it’s very difficult for smaller companies to compete. “Larger companies have the resources to do much more,” he says. “New innovations such as global positioning satellite technology (GPS) and digital communication make it difficult for small companies to be competitive. Many companies cannot afford these services because quantity drives price. Larger companies receive price breaks because of the large number of product they buy a major client can call us and they know they’ll get digital, quality communication, new vehicles, and GPS tracking. Many smaller companies don’t have the capital to offer those services.”
Del Fabro believes there will be significant consolidation very soon. “The next few years is when it’s really going to be prevalent,” he says. “A limousine business owner has to decide if consolidation is in his future and what’s the best way to position himself so he can make it work.”
Del Fabro says an owner must determine what he needs to do to make himself an attractive candidate. “If you can’t be a local player and dominate your market in the next few years, you’re going to have a large corporate entity enter your market and dominate,” he says. “The company will have capital, name-brand recognition, and marketing support.”
Del Fabro’s company was recently purchased by Carey International. “You’re either going to join in or fight — but you’d better have a plan,” he says. “If you don’t, you’re going to get run over. Don’t lose out on a lifetime opportunity because you weren’t ready. We made the decision to join. We thought it made the most sense, but for some people, it may not. No matter what you decide, understand that in a few years, you’re going to have a large, well-organized, well-capitalized corporate entity come into your market that is going to be competing with you. It’s going to be a lot different than it has been in the past.”
THE NATION’S LARGEST FLEETS KEEP GROWING
The larger fleets keep growing because these limousine business owners focus on providing total transportation to their clients. “I’ll walk into a company and I start to sell airport sedan service,” says Bob Euler, president of King Limousine in King of Prussia, PA. “However, when I start to talk about limousine service for the CEO, the talk almost always evolves to larger moves. Eventually discussion gravitates to taking 20 people to a baseball game and 200 stockholders to a meeting. You can really satisfy the customer’s needs by providing total transportation capabilities.”
“The big fleets are getting bigger because the client is counting on you,” says George Jacobs, owner of American Limousine in Burr Ridge, IL, “You’ve got to be multifaceted because people want different services.”
The data gathered in the 1997 Top 50 has seen the following changes:
- Total vehicles reported in the 1997 Top 50 are up 3 percent from 1996.
- Total limousines in the 1997 Top 50 are up 2 percent from 1996.
- Total vans and buses in the 1997 Top 50 are down 8 percent from 1996.
- 62 percent of the operators in the 1997 Top 50 reported fleet increases from 1996.
- Only 12 percent of the operators in the 1997 Top 50 reported a decrease in vehicles from 1996.
- Limousines represent 32 percent of the total vehicles reported in the 1997 Top 50.
- Sedans represent 53 percent of the total vehicles reported in the 1997 Top 50.
- Vans represent 9 percent of the total vehicles reported in the 1997 Top 50.
- Buses represent 5 percent of the total vehicles reported in the 1997 Top 50.