ABOUT PHOTO: Operator Christine Bennett was a finalist in the 1-10 vehicles category of the LCT Operator Of The Year contests in 2008 and 2009.
SUMMARY: A two-time LCT Operator of the Year finalist lands big name clients with her upscale chauffeured transportation company.
BOISE, Idaho — Most girls just want a car. Christine Bennett had something bigger in mind.
If you're famous and you've been to Idaho, you probably know Christine Bennett.
Warren Buffett and the Rolling Stones call her to chat. Hershey executives send her and her co-workers chocolates at Christmas. Stars send flowers and autographed photos. The walls of her office are all but papered with them.
Bennett is Idaho's Limo Lady. Her SHOWCASE LIMOUSINE & EXECUTIVE TRANSPORTATION is one of the state's most upscale limousine services. Her chauffeurs have driven celebrities from the King of Jordan to Paul McCartney.
"Those people are famous, but they're just people," she said. "And most of them are as down-to-earth as anyone. Warren Buffett drinks Cokes and shops at Walmart."
Bennett and her co-workers handle every detail of their clients' ground transportation in Idaho, and often after they leave by booking vehicles at their next destination. And the service doesn't stop with vehicles. "We're concierges on wheels," she said.
If a club or a restaurant is closed when a VIP client wants to go there, Bennett gets it opened. If the client wants an exotic coffee, wine or perfume, she'll find it.
"If you want 100 cars tomorrow and have a good credit card, I'll make it happen."
When Neil Diamond called at 2 a.m. because he didn't like the pillows at his hotel, Bennett bought him new ones. At one of the few places still open — Walmart.
She has 20 on-call chauffeurs who pride themselves on knowing where to get things and the right places to take their guests. When Sting wanted to try Idaho wines after his show, driver Rob Baker took him to the Red Feather. He left happy, at 2:30 a.m.
"I sent my son to Twin Falls to pick up a Mr. Jordan and take him to Sun Valley," Bennett said. "When he got there, it was Michael Jordan. He was wearing a mink coat and tipped him $100."
Showcase owns four stretch limousines, three Lincoln Town Cars, two SUVs, a truck and a van and can get more on short notice. Stars rarely use the limousines, preferring the anonymity of an unmarked van or Town Car.
The only one to request a limo: Rod Stewart.
VIPs make up about half of Showcase's business; local clients the other half. They vary from teens on prom night to wedding parties to Christmas light tours.
"We've taken girls to their proms, their bachelorette parties, their weddings and home from the hospital with their babies," Bennett said. "That makes me feel old."
Showcase drivers have had their share of interesting encounters. An overweight woman got stuck in a sunroof. A total stranger crashed a limo party, trying to make friends. A client asked a driver to get him a soda at a convenience store, then stole the limo while the driver was inside.
There's little Bennett hasn't experienced in her 16 years with the company. Showcase is the fulfillment of her lifelong dream to own a limousine.
"When I was 6, my dad and I saw some people in a limo at a race track," she said. "I told him that was the kind of car I wanted. He used to joke that most girls would be happy with a car, but his wanted a limo."
Her father, Jerry Gummert of Riverside, Calif., bought her her first limo to start the business. New to Idaho, she'd run a linen business in California and saw a market for a limousine service here.
"It was her longtime dream, and I told her to go for it," Gummert said. "In high school, she was a cheerleader and worked two jobs. She works 24/7. There was no doubt in my mind that she'd be a success."
His daughter runs a tight limo. Drivers wear black suits and are trained using rules borrowed from the Ritz-Carlton hotels: Speak when spoken to. No smoking, no radio. Don't lean on the car. Don't eat or party with a client unless invited and then only with Bennett's permission. Don't talk politics or religion.
"It lends an air of professionalism and raises client's expectations," head chauffeur Dave Weitz said.
Weitz, who has driven celebrities from Billy Joel to Metallica, gets "a gut feeling of how to deal with them. Some are busy and don't want to talk. Others want to know the population, the elevation, the ski areas. ”I've had people ask me to show them the Depot, the Statehouse and the blue turf."
Ironically, Bennett is content to leave the driving to her chauffeurs. Although she can and has handled every aspect of the business, she drives as little as possible.
"I'm not a good driver," she said. "I took the governor the wrong way down a one-way street once."
Source: Idaho Statesman