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Across a span of six decades, Andrus Limousine has chauffeured clients for just about any occasion, at every stage of life, from cradle to grave.
A big breakthrough into the retail limousine market came during the historic 1964 tour of the Beatles, when Andrus Limousine provided transportation for the British rock band during their three-day stay in Milwaukee in early September of that year.
“That was our first real commercial adventure,” James Andrus says. “We had to acquire stretches from other companies so we could have five cars to serve them for three days. We kept on going and expanded on that.”
From there, Andrus Limousine grew in both the limousine and funerals markets, and now has a fleet of six hearses, five stretch limousines, five Lincoln Town Car Executive L sedans, two Yukon XL SUVs, a 15-passenger Ford van, a 23-passenger mini-bus, and two body removal vans. About 10 years ago, Andrus Limousine had as many as eight hearses.
Andrus Limousine works with 26 Milwaukee area funeral homes, which means they do business with most funeral homes in the region. To handle the transport of bodies and funeral caskets, James and Jonathan Andrus must be licensed as funeral directors, although neither actually owns a funeral home. During the last 15 years, the Andruses have observed a trend in the funeral industry toward more cremations and fewer funerals.
“Thirty years ago it was rare to have someone cremated, but it is not rare today,” James Andrus says. “In that instance, if a family should opt to have a cremation with no church service, there is no need for a hearse. At one time, we would do 250 hearse runs per month with eight hearses; today with six hearses we’re lucky if we can get 150-160 per month. That side has changed a bit.”
As the number of funerals declines, so does the need for funeral vehicles. That means many funeral homes prefer to rent hearses and limousines from chauffeured transportation operators as needed, or contract for vehicle service, instead of owning the vehicles themselves. “In viewing the fact we’ve been here as long as we have, and seen many operators come and go, we just kept building on it, acquiring cars from funeral homes when they decided it was time to go to a livery service, and rent instead of buying their own vehicles,” James Andrus says.
The strongest asset to building consistent customer service is having some long-term chauffeurs on staff, Jonathan Andrus says. “We can build relationships with repeat customers. It’s a comfort zone for many clients talk to the same driver and see the same face. The [chauffeurs] know the customers’ whole life histories and customers know the drivers’.”
Andrus Limousine guarantees its punctuality and vehicle performance. “We’ve all heard horror stories, about how a customer orders a black car and white car shows up,” Andrus says. “We tell people to come look at the cars, look who you are renting from, and get to know your vehicle, so you know what will show up. They end up booking with you right away.”
With Andrus, there are no phone tree or voice mail hassles, since company policy is to have a live voice answer each call 24/7, with 95% of calls fielded by family members.
“If we’re here to answer the phone and take care of the funeral business, we are in a good position to answer phones and take care of the limo business as well,” James Andrus says. “We’ve never used an answering service. You take mobile phones with you if not on duty.”
Flexible pricing in a tough economy
Like most operators, Andrus Limousine has had to navigate the difficult recession, seeing some of its prom and wedding business decline. To keep and gain clients, Andrus stays flexible on pricing and goes below full rate when needed.
“We try to price ourselves to be affordable to everyone,” Jonathan Andrus says. “We won’t gouge. We’re here to take care of you. We want to be here for another 46 years.”
For wedding clients in particular, Andrus says the company tries to be sensitive to the fact that the day is special for the bride. “You have to get down to reality. Do you want a car to sit in the garage or get out on the road? We put prices where they need to be to keep everyone happy and still make a profit.”
In addition to James and Jonathan Andrus, the company employs several other family members, including Margaret Andrus, wife of James, and their two other children, Stephen Andrus, fleet and maintenance manager, and Jane Andrus, who handles bookkeeping and phones.
Despite a strong family effort behind him, the elder Andrus shows no signs of letting up on leading his operation, as he reaps the success of the Andrus formula: Answer the phones live, focus on customer service, and offer the best equipment.
“One of most gratifying things is when someone comes in to order a limousine for their son’s or daughter’s wedding, and they tell me that I drove them for their wedding when they got married,” James Andrus says. “It’s a good feeling. It happens quite often. That’s what keeps you working.”
SIDEBAR: Keeping Your Operation Top Quality
Operator James Andrus offers the tips below based on his 46 years of livery experience:
01 If you rely a lot on affiliate farm out work, you better be on top of your game to satisfy an affiliate, or you will not keep that affiliate for long. It takes more effort than it did in the past. You have to push harder to not only get business but maintain it. Business doesn’t just come to you.
02 If word spreads that you are not reliable, you are in trouble. Keep a high profile and maintain everything you’ve got: equipment, morale, employees, etc. Everything has to be tuned and top notch. It must be that way at all times. It’s not a hit or miss.
03 Never cut corners in any part of the operation. “It’ll catch up to you,” Andrus says. “The first time we bought hearses, I got the S&S, the most expensive brand name. It was something that was often not found in livery services because of its costs. We bought those to make sure people have the best cars available. To this day, we buy the best vehicles.”
ANDRUS LIMOUSINE FACTS
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Owner/founder: James Andrus, CEO
Key managers: Jonathan Andrus, affiliate manager; Stephen Andrus, fleet manager
Fleet: 22 vehicles
Annual revenues: $1 million-plus
Overall business mix: 40% funerals/60% chauffeured transportation Non-funeral business mix: 70% corporate/30% retail
Service regions: Greater Milwaukee, Chicago, O’Hare International Airport, southeastern Wisconsin.
Web site: www.andruslimo.com
Information: (877) 705-5466
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