Kelly's experience as a steel industry executive provided a solid foundation for building his limo business.
FAIRFAX, Va. — Rory Kelly dreamed of owning a limousine when he was just five years old but didn’t found Fairfax, Va.-based Prestige Limousine until 2006, when he was 48. “I wanted [a limousine when I was younger] to drive my grandmother around,” said Kelly, who spent the 26 years between college and his limo operation climbing the corporate ladder at Skyline Steel, a subsidiary of ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel company.
Door opened by disaster
After Enron Corporation’s disastrous 2001 collapse, Kelly became responsible for keeping Skyline Steel compliant with the government’s new restrictions on publicly traded companies. “I became the internal compliance person and, as a result, I wasn’t liked by my coworkers,” Kelly said. “I wanted out of the steel business because it wasn’t fun anymore.”
In 2004, Kelly’s wife, Mary, bought him a limousine as a birthday present. After consulting with a tax attorney, the Kellys decided to use their new vehicle to start a business. Kelly worked at Skyline Steel for two more years, spending his free time researching the local limousine market, preparing a detailed business plan, adding to his financial cushion and lining up his first customers.
In 2006, at 48, Kelly left Skyline and launched his business. He and his wife chose the name “Prestige Limousine” because it reflected the kind of business they wanted to be and the type of service they wanted to provide.
Prestige Limousine’s revenue rose 40% between 2007 and 2010.
Kelly, now 53, attributes his success to basic values, such as honesty and integrity. He sticks to a simple principle: “Always answer your phone and say yes, then do what you said you would do.”
“You’re always on call,” Kelly said. “I never give myself permission to quit thinking about the business.”
He markets Prestige as a backup service to a core group of 10 other limo companies in the Washington, D.C. area. Overflow from these companies accounts for about 50% to 60% of his business. The rest comes from word-of-mouth advertising.
“I found a niche in the industry that allowed me to reduce advertising and marketing
costs while increasing revenues and profits,” Kelly said. It depends upon “developing relationships of trust, availability and dependability. My core companies know I’m not going to steal any of their clients.”
The Kellys visit the beach to avoid burning out, and Kelly plays golf once a week with his son Daniel, who also works full time at Prestige Limousine.
Kelly believes the positives outweigh the negatives when it comes to being a business owner and an older entrepreneur.
“In 1986, I was going to start a steel company but I didn’t have the guts to do it,” he said. “I was worried about things like insurance and I didn’t have the financial security I have now.”
Be profitable and have fun doing it
For aspiring entrepreneurs, Kelly has these recommendations:
- Prepare a written business plan, regardless of whether or not you’ll need outside financing.
- Think of everything. A business entails small and large details, as well as all aspects of your life (especially family).
- Look at sales on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis, to obtain the data needed to make big-picture decisions.
- Expect to lose money in the first year. Keep overhead to a minimum without sacrificing quality to the customer.
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In the end, Kelly thinks successful entrepreneurship comes down to something he learned during his days with the steel industry. Former Skyline Steel president Dave Clutter taught him this motto: “Be profitable and have fun doing it.”
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Source: Late Blooming Entrepreneurs
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