The limousine capital of New York City lies ten minutes north of Manhattan in the shadow of Yankee Stadium. Dillinger/Gaines, one of the livery industry’s oldest and largest coachbuilders, recently spent more than a year transforming a three-acre industrial complex into a multi-million dollar limousine leasing and service facility called Gaines Service City.
Dillinger/Gaines Chairman Jack Schwartz has been in the leasing business since the ’Sixties, and has long understood the importance of vehicle service. “Dillinger/Gaines has always been synonymous with service,” says Schwartz. “That is part of what-makes us unique,” he adds, “I think we are the only leasing company in the world today that manufactures the product, markets the product, finances the product, insures, the product, and services the product.”
Dillinger/Gaines President Ken Schwartz points out that Gaines Service City represents a concept in limousine distributing that may never be duplicated by other coach-builders. “We have made a very large financial commitment to service the livery industry in the tri-state area,” he says. “This is a unique market, and we think it is large enough to justify our investment, but there is no other limousine market like this in the country.”
For many years, Dillinger/Gaines leasing and service activities have been headquartered in Brooklyn. In late 1984, however, Jack Schwartz found a property that seemed ideal for a centrally located limousine facility. “Not only are we close to the airports,” says Schwartz, “we are close to New Jersey, Connecticut, and Manhattan.”
Dillinger/Gaines spent a year transforming what was once the site of a coal company into Gaines Service City. The project required a massive investment but Schwartz is pleased with the results. “This is one of those few times when something turns out exactly the way you envisioned it,” he says.
Visitors to Gaines Service City are greeted by a sea of limousines awaiting service, bodywork, or detailing. Among the dozens of vehicles are rental cars used to keep customers on the road while their limousines are serviced. The rest of the limousines are recent arrivals from the Dillinger/Gaines factory on Long Island.
Rows of busy service bays stretch along two sides of the limousine storage yard. In one part of the service area, oversize lifts continually hoist limousines for mechanical work. Next door, a half dozen limousines can undergo body or paint work at any one time. Workers repair dents and scrapes suffered on New York City’s rugged roadways, and a paint booth in one corner of the body shop transforms primered surfaces into shiny new exteriors.
Adjacent to the body shop is a second building that was designed and built during the past year to handle every imaginable repair...on any make of limousine. Gaines Service City was envisioned as a comprehensive livery support facility, and it is just that. Drawing on years of experience in servicing livery vehicles, Dillinger/Gaines has unquestionably created the most comprehensive limousine repair facility in the industry.
“Service is the key to the limousine business,” says Peter Cirlin, Dillinger/Gaines Executive Vice President. “Service has always been a part of our leasing operation, and now we have the best service facility in the New York area. People are driving in from more than two hours away for service.”
“We are eliminating the need for a lot of companies to have their own garage and mechanic,” adds National Sales Manager Bruce Cirlin. “An example of that,” enjoins Peter, “is that one of our oldest and largest customers, a company with about a hundred vehicles, has approached us about taking over the total service and maintenance of its fleet. They currently employ three of their own mechanics.”
Established customers who have passed a credit check are eligible for the new Gaines Gold Card. This program identifies preferred customers and allows them to charge any kind of service. A driver can even charge gasoline from the Gaines Service City pump to their Gold Card. “This program has helped us attract a number of new customers including some Fortune 500 companies,” says Bruce.
Another attraction for vehicle operators is that Gaines Service City is equipped to keep computerized service records. Periodic maintenance such as oil changes and brake inspections can be logged in to document a car’s service history and to indicate when future service will be needed. A computerized service program is available to the owners of any make of limousine.
“We have repaired most types of limousine here, and the basic components, are similar,” says Peter. Maintenance and repair services are also being offered to black car operators and fleet drivers.
The demand for service has been very steady according to Service Manager Alex Calzaretta. After the first six months, Gaines Service City is busy enough to remain open on weekday evenings. The facility is expected to operate on a seven-day a week, twenty-four hour-a-day schedule within the next year.
“We operate on a first-come-first-served basis,” says Calzaretta, “we don’t want customers to have to make appointments weeks in advance. If someone brings us a limousine early in the day, we try to get it out the same day. We realize that limousine operators need to get their cars back on the road,” he says.
It stands to reason that service personnel at Gaines Service City would be far more experienced with limousines than those at dealerships in New York City. The Lead Mechanic, for example, has been with Dillinger/Gaines for ten years. Other service technicians also have specialized limousine training, including a mandatory training period at the Dillinger/Gaines production facility on Long Island.
In many cases, familiarity with Dillinger/Gaines limousines carries over when servicing other makes of limousine. This particularly applies to OEM problems and bodywork, as well as to other common problems such as air conditioning units, electrical systems, and front ends. A specially extended front end machine has just been installed which accommodates stretch lengths of up to sixty inches.
Gaines Service City also hopes to become a warranty repair facility for both the Ford Motor Company and the Cadillac Division since, in many cases, service problems prove to be warranty-related. “We expect to be approved by Cadillac within a few months,” says Calzaretta.
Because Dillinger/Gaines primarily leases limousines rather than selling them, many vehicles return to the company after thirty-six months. Providing convenient service means that these cars tend to be in better condition when they are ready to enter the used car market.
Dillinger/Gaines places its used limousines in many different market areas across the country. “I’m not afraid of a limousine with 100,000 miles if it has been well-maintained. There is always a market for a used limousine in good condition,” says Bruce.
Being a leasing company also means that Dillinger/Gaines has a vested interest in the longterm success of its customers. Says Jack Schwartz, “Most leasing companies take their customer to a bank where they get their money up front. We’re not like that. We don’t make our money up front. We make it on a month-to-month basis. We live with that customer for the term of the lease. We’re always at risk and that is why we’re very concerned with the type of people we do business with. If we don’t do a good job of servicing the customer, the payment is in jeopardy and that is going to affect us in the long run.”
Dillinger/Gaines has become well-known for a complete thirty-six month limousine lease package. Low down-payments of about $3000 attract many first-time buyers to the limousine business. “We have always prided ourselves on the fact that we could help an individual get into his own business with relatively little capital. A lot of these people have been very loyal to us over the years,” says Bruce.
At the same time, the program also appeals to financially established livery operators who prefer to invest capital in an office, or other non-depreciating asset, rather than in limousines. “Leasing is the approach taken by many major corporations,” claims Peter. “It isn’t hard to show the benefits of leasing,” he continues. “One is that you are not tying up your capital. You can build a limousine service at a much faster pace by leasing. Leasing is also popular in many other businesses that rely on vehicles.”
Monthly payments for a new limousine, over a 36-month closed-end lease term, can be under $1300 according to Bruce. Customers are also offered a $2 million liability insurance package for an additional $370 per month. “We send one bill a month which includes the car, insurance, and service here at the service center. It makes it very easy,” says Bruce.
Stretch limousines from Dillinger/Gaines have a track record of reliability and success. “Our car is basically designed for the livery business although we also have a growing private clientele. We have always built a practical limousine,” Bruce continues.
One steady Dillinger/Gaines customer is baseball personality Billy Martin who maintains a chauffeured limousine for local travel in the Big Apple. In one of his early limousines, Martin ordered a custom side bar, and the unit that was developed was so distinctive that it was referred to as the “Billy Bar.” The Billy Bar became extremely popular for several years but it has since been replaced by split consoles that allow six-passenger seating.
“It’s a car that looks very clean but also has a little pizzazz, especially with the polished veneer interiors. The workmanship is impeccable but, at the same time, it’s not overdone. Our customers ask for cars with interiors that are not easily damaged. They also want convenient accessory controls for the chauffeur. That is the way we build most of our cars. We build a few fancy limousines for private customers, but we prefer to build a dependable livery car,” says Bruce.
A dependable limousine, along with an attractive lease program, has created a loyal following for Dillinger/Gaines. The company is recognized as one of the “brand names” among coachbuilders, and the trademark Dillinger/Gaines steel side pillars are frequently seen in Los Angeles, Chicago, and many other cities across the country. In Boston, Colonial Cadillac has served effectively as the only authorized Dillinger/Gaines dealer for many years.
With Gaines Service City as the new base of operations, it is likely that Dillinger/Gaines will become an even stronger presence within the limousine industry. The facility has created a new enthusiasm among both employees and customers, and a number of additional services for livery operators are being considered for the future.
“We have created an extra incentive for everyone to push harder,” believes Bruce. “People that we haven’t seen for awhile come in here and get knocked out because we worked out of such a small place for so many years. We probably could have stayed where we were, but our concept was to offer our services to everyone. I think it’s very exciting.”