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First Class Customs Inc. founder and CEO Jay Glick (R) takes the hands-on approach of a boutique builder, making sure each Sprinter van is built to spec and giving his cell phone number to each client.
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — First Class Customs has taken three limousine industry trends of recent years, and turned them into a viable business model.
First, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van is taking over as the limousine of choice for the business, corporate and VIP markets, says First Class owner and founder, Jay Glick. Second, client preferences for chauffeured vehicles are becoming more specific, with operators spending more time choosing the best vehicles for their customers. Third, economics and market dynamics have forced limousine manufacturers to choose profitable niches, while efficiently producing luxury vehicles that stand out in a sector becoming more competitive again.
To sum up the First Class strategy: “You can’t have every vehicle be a one-off. At First Class, we template it and recreate it, using a mass technology approach in a small boutique volume,” Glick says. This process enables First Class to design and produce products on a smaller scale but allows clients to customize without having to change key body structures, exterior colors or basic vehicle design themes. It also allows First Class to provide replacement parts with consistent quality while offering vehicles with a refined finish at comparatively affordable prices.
“Bigger is not better anymore” in the chauffeured vehicle market, Glick says. The industry trend toward limo buses and Sprinter vans has created demand for boutique-style manufacturers who are more accessible to customers, which is much more challenging for large manufacturers, he says. “As a small builder, customers benefit by having direct access to sales, technology, and management. Many of our customers have my personal cell phone number and contact me directly with technical questions or product information.”
Glick, who takes customer calls in evening hours and on weekends, is quite used to these demands as a longtime limo operator, and devotes the same attention to his vehicle customers.
Glick formed his company as a new entity in June 2013 after buying out the assets of another vehicle manufacturing company, First Class Coachworks, he had started with a business partner. He is well known throughout the limousine industry from his 14-year career as owner of LimosDirect.com, a leading reseller of chauffeured vehicles worldwide, and as the owner of First Class Limousine of Englishtown, N.J., a 25-vehicle limo operation geared toward the weddings, proms and retail markets.
Glick builds Sprinter vans with multiple interior floor plans and designs in four main categories: 1) shuttles; 2) business class/mobile office versions, similar to the look and feel of a private jet; 3) Versions with perimeter seating; and 4) Private custom versions for CEOs and VIPs.
Since the 2014 Sprinter model was introduced in September, First Class has been making about six per month, bringing its half-year total in 2013 to 30 units. The company aims to max out at 100 units per year, so as not to lose its focus on quality as a small-scale builder. About 30% to 40% of its business comes from the high-end VIP sector. “My biggest customers are coming back and buying additional units,” Glick says.
All Sprinters are designed and built in Springfield, Mo., in two buildings with a total of 30,000 square feet of production and office space. The plant is the former home of Springfield Limousine, a smaller stretch limousine manufacturer once owned by the late coachbuilder John Bumgarner (1944-2009).
“We always want to be small enough that we can give our customers the attention they deserve,” Glick says. “We’ll never be the least expensive option, and will always be on the higher-end because of the quality of our materials, fit and finish. We’re not basing our position on price. We’re going after the larger operators who want the most elegant products and the smaller operators who focus on high quality.”