DALLAS, TX -- Eric Devlin, president and owner of Premier Transportation Services, may be the only guy in Dallas praying for game-day gridlock at the new Cowboys Stadium.
The vision of 100,000 fans descending on Arlington at once is sheer beauty, says Eric. "If they're going to sit in traffic, they might as well sit in style, comfort and enjoy themselves in a limousine."
Dallas Cowboys games at Texas Stadium typically brought Premier $5,000 each in revenue. Monday Night Football games, playoffs and showdowns with the Washington Redskins or Philadelphia Eagles were worth $10,000 or more.
He expects bigger and better in the bigger and better venue this fall.
He can use the business. Recessions and limos aren't exactly a winning combo.
Devlin is weathering the downturn by hustling new clients, giving extra care to existing ones and finding opportunities in competitors' misfortunes.
"You can't cut back on customer service. You can't cut back on your vehicles' maintenance or insurance," he says. "So unfortunately, the only way to hold your own is to absorb other companies' losses."
Premier was recently named national operator of the year by trade magazine Charter Tours at the National Limousine Association convention in Las Vegas.
[LCT CORRECTION: Operator Of The Year in the 31-50 vehicles category by Limousine, Charter & Tour at the 2009 International LCT Show in Las Vegas]
Devlin's goal is to break even this year with $5 million in revenue, which would be off 10 percent from a highly profitable 2008.
A typical trip in a sedan from downtown to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport costs $79.52, including tip, tolls and airport fees.
Devlin, a 1989 marketing and management graduate of Baylor University, started the business in 1996 with two town cars and two other people – his partner Jim Stowe (whom he later bought out) and a reservationist. "I would sell, Jim would drive, and she would dispatch and handle the phone calls."
Premier now has 45 vehicles and 60-plus employees. Stowe still chauffeurs 25 hours a week. "He's an older gentleman who loves the business and has stayed with it," Devlin says.
Referrals roll in
Premier has eight trees of customer referrals that are at least six people high, Devlin says. "That makes us aim for perfection, because if you mess up on Person Six, there won't be a Person Seven."
One of those started with Colleen Barrett, retired president of Southwest Airlines Co.
"She said she'd give us a shot," Devlin recalls of his five-minute cold call in 1996. "So we put our very best chauffeur on her first trip."
Devlin's timing was perfect. Barrett was being treated for breast cancer and needed to be on time for her appointments.
"I just couldn't rely on cabs," she says. "Finding Premier was the best stress reliever I ever allowed myself for my personal well-being."
She personally paid for most of her ground travel because she doesn't drive and didn't think that should be the airline's problem. Herb Kelleher can drive, but most of us are grateful that he often doesn't.
In the last 13 years, the dynamic Southwest duo have collectively logged 115,206 frequent-rider miles with Premier.
Says Barrett: "They are efficient, productive, on time, proactive in terms of customer service delivery, excellent about flexibility as to changed schedules, reliable, etc. – sound familiar?"
Three years ago, Premier set up a network with ground transportation operators in other cities that now accounts for about a quarter of its annual revenue.
"Our clients appreciate the one-stop shopping," Devlin says. "And when we call our associate in New York, we're a $15,000-a-month client, not a $100 transfer."
Limos have become big deals for high school proms, quinceañeras and Sweet 16 parties.
To make the typical six-hour, $1,200 prom service more palatable to parents, Premier will make a second circle to pick up and return parents for an outing while the students dance the night away.
Source: The Dallas Morning News/June 11, 2009