David and Stacey Glazier's Fleet Transportation service sees opportunity in a popular ski market.
MALVERN, Penn. — The first thing that strikes you about the countryside surrounding Celebrity Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation is its unlikelihood as a home to a major limousine operation. On the day we visited, the rolling hills in the Main Line region about 30 miles northwest of downtown Philadelphia were in full fall-colored bloom amid mansion-esque colonial homes tucked on all sides by green laws and thick trees. It’s the type of rustic, scenic place you instinctively associate with hearth-warming images of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
Homes average about $660,000 in the region, considered a historical enclave that consists of several small towns that follow the former main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad. It parallels U.S. Route 30, a road first built in 1792 as part of the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike and is designated as a portion of the "Lincoln Highway" when that transcontinental highway system was established in 1913, according to Wikipedia. The rail line, from which the area got its name, was central to creating the Main Line communities which in the 19th century became home to many sprawling country estates built by Philadelphia's wealthiest families, Wikipedia reports.
While many limousine companies are housed in very practical industrial and commercial parks, for Celebrity owner and founder Dennis Adams, the semi-rural location makes perfect sense, as it lies in the heart of his client base. Celebrity, founded in 1991, occupies two immaculate buildings on a sloped lot, where all vehicles are housed and maintained and employees run the 50-plus vehicle operation connected to a global affiliate network. When construction work on a nearby suburban turnpike interchange is finished in Fall 2012, the faster access will save Celebrity about 20-30 minutes on most airport runs.
On this day, Adams was in an optimistic mood, reflecting the ruddy, cool, sunny fall afternoon; his company was handling 100 client runs that weekday, about 30 more than on an average weekday and far more than the 30 runs Celebrity averaged per day during the depths of the Great Recession. Adams pointed out that while the economy may be slow, success in luxury transportation all depends on the type of clients being served and how well they are doing; in his case, pharmaceutical companies and financial firms. Celebrity revenues so far this year are up 16% compared to 2010, while its rates are about 10% higher than the competitive average for area chauffeured transportation companies. Adams is a strong believer in maintaining solid price levels while delivering good value.
Adams took me and LCT assistant editor Michael Campos on a walk-n-talk tour that demonstrates how Celebrity in many ways captures the state and direction of the chauffeured transportation industry:
Entrepreneurial: Adams recently opened “Celebrity Automotive,” a full-service repair shop for his vehicles with a full-time mechanic. The shop saves Celebrity time, costs, and labor, as parts can be acquired in-house and vehicles can be repaired and serviced immediately. What’s more, chauffeurs can get their personal cars fixed at discounted rates. Adams estimates that his investment in the repair shop will pay for itself within a year.
Big bus-savvy: Don’t tell Adams that motorcoaches are too expensive and complicated for a limousine operator; he’s gone full bore ahead with brand new, top-of-the line Van Hool 57-passenger motorcoaches stocked with all the creature comforts and technology options that readily exceed your average business class airplane cabin. Buses are equipped with WiFi, 110v power ports, plug-ins for iPods, and DVD players. He bought the two buses since May for about $500,000 each from ABC Companies. The black, understated buses all come equipped with three-point seatbelts, giving them strong appeal to corporate clients who expect safety and sophistication in their travels. The all-in hourly rate for a Celebrity motorcoach is $175, with day rates variable. So far, he has 40 reservations for the next two quarters, enough to clear a profit beyond the operational costs. Booked trips include Christmas parties, senior trips, and corporate events. He describes his foray into bus service as “a leap of faith,” and advises any operator to start with not one, but two motorcoaches to ensure a back-up is often available. He plans to order a third bus in about three months.
Mini-bus market: Adams told us the “bus business is exploding.” In addition to the motorcoaches, Celebrity operates multiple vans and mini-buses ranging from 12 to 33 passenger capacity. More brides are choosing mini-buses instead of stretch limousines, Adams said. The only bus Celebrity has sold recently was its limo bus; it only went out on Friday and Saturday nights, and it often ended up ferrying drunken, sick clients who spilled beer all over it. Sprinter vans also are proving popular. Shuttle buses have black leather interiors, while all buses have Celebrity’s website printed on top so departing clients can look down from the upper floors of office buildings to see if their bus has arrived. Adams said he borrowed the idea from Chicago’s George Jacobs of Windy City Limousine. Stretch limousines, however, are another story. Celebrity’s six and eight-passenger Royales “rarely go out,” and with only about 60,000 miles after a few years, should last a good while longer.
Green vehicles: Adams also has invested in two Royale Lincoln MKZ Hybrid L sedans, stretched six inches beyond the standard MKZ. The MKZs are “out all the time,” and there are plenty of single-rider clients with luggage to justify the vehicles, he said.
Fleet planning: Adams just acquired a batch of 25 2011 Lincoln Town Car Executive L sedans, ensuring he has enough sedans for the next two years. This allows him time to see what vehicles other operators will buy to replace the Lincoln Town Car. So far, clients and chauffeurs don’t seem to like the crossover styled Lincoln MKT successor to the Town Car, Adams said, so he is looking at all options. He predicts operators will end up with a “hodge-podge” of vehicles to satisfy different client preferences.
Management/teamwork: While Celebrity has two-full time dispatchers and one part-time floating dispatcher, along with two full-time reservationists, all employees are linked into the call/reservation system via phones and/or headsets so any one of them can pick up a reservation call as needed, ensuring that a live and trained Celebrity employee, including Adams, is available to talk to customers. After 10:30 p.m., all calls are handled by the night MOD manager on duty. Everyone is trained as a chauffeur, just in case extra demand comes in while all chauffeurs are out on the road. In fact, on the day we visited controller Sharon Wonder had to bolt from her desk and chauffeur a last-minute run that came in. Adams said a strong sense of teamwork and an ethic of helping one another out is a great morale booster for his organization. “Every call is answered after no more than three rings,” he said. “Everyone is back up.”
Employee pay and gratuities: Adams has devised a formula that he said should pass muster with labor and wage audits, and properly compensate chauffeurs for their gratuities. The formulas involve calculating base hourly pay rates and “tip credits” to arrive at an average hourly pay rate of $12.80, and an additional $6.63 per hour for overtime. Clients have the option of adding the 20% gratuity, ensuring chauffeurs have incentives to work hard and provide good service. A stack of feedback surveys from clients indicate high ratings for Celebrity chauffeurs. All new chauffeurs attend an in-house training program after a rigorous screening process, most recently displayed in a Celebrity job fair.
Finally, as a CEO and leader, Adams understands one of the most important principles to business growth: Strong marketing. Adams worked for 15 years at Dun & Bradstreet, so marketing comes naturally for him. He knows how to sell his business with an easy-going conversational style. Adams proves that the best marketing is simply a matter of just talking about a beloved business from the heart, sans any signs of a script or sales pitch. He also reveals an important management principle that is taped to his desktop computer in his office: “Make difficult decisions quickly and move on.”
LCT CELEBRITY WORLDWIDE DENNIS ADAMS PHOTO GALLERY HERE.
— Martin Romjue, LCT editor
— Photos by Michael Campos, LCT assistant editor
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