Operations

One Car Wonders Show The Way To Better Service

Martin Romjue
Posted on October 1, 2015
Ilan Kaufmann of Suave Sedan in Billings, Montana, uses a Cadillac XTS livery sedan. (Photo by Felicia Frank, Billings365.com)
Ilan Kaufmann of Suave Sedan in Billings, Montana, uses a Cadillac XTS livery sedan. (Photo by Felicia Frank, Billings365.com)

Ilan Kaufmann of Suave Sedan in Billings, Montana, uses a Cadillac XTS livery sedan. (Photo by Felicia Frank, Billings365.com)

Ilan Kaufmann of Suave Sedan in Billings, Montana, uses a Cadillac XTS livery sedan. (Photo by Felicia Frank, Billings365.com)
Ilan Kaufmann of Suave Sedan in Billings, Montana, uses a Cadillac XTS livery sedan. (Photo by Felicia Frank, Billings365.com)
One to 10 vehicle operators still dominate the limousine industry as the core business demo and bulk of LCT’s audience. Within that majority, single-vehicle operators serve as the go-to workhorses of chauffeured service. After all, success boils down to client experiences — one vehicle, one-chauffeur at a time. Despite the wave of mergers and slow economic growth, one-car operators rule ground transportation like never before as on-demand networks hungrily sign them up.

So I was curious: How do traditional one-car operators survive in this mix, especially ones not moonlighting for Transportation Network Companies (TNCs)? I recently found two operators in opposite markets who prove one-car operator-chauffeurs can thrive amid TNC-saturation.

Back To Basics
I met Ilan Kaufmann of Suave Sedan in Billings, Mont., last year at the International LCT Show when he showed up at the LCT booth with a pad holder from the first LCT Show in 1984 in Atlantic City, N.J. The original attendee ran a three-car limousine company in Santa Rosa, Calif., from 1981-2001, which included his first sedan, a 1982 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham. Kaufmann was featured in the September/October 1985 issue of then-Limousine & Chauffeur Magazine. He retired to Montana in 2001, worked various jobs, and re-entered the limousine business this year with a new Cadillac XTS livery sedan. Local competitors protested his permit application with the Public Service Commission, but he won out.

Kaufmann credits his one-car success to three factors: 1) A top-shelf luxury sedan with all amenities; 2) A sophisticated website design (www.suavesedan.com); and 3) Customer service that beats that of a TNC. He’s built up a corporate clientele that now spans five companies, an FBO, a performing arts center, and airport runs.
Factor No. 3 defines success for a one-car operator most of all, says Kaufmann, who gained experience early in life serving wealthy clients through his mother’s catering service. He now serves as a chaplain for his local V.F.W. post and as a bugler in the local Honor Guard. “I don’t regard this as work,” he says. “I put on a suit and tie and serve people. My one-vehicle (permit) limit doesn’t bother me. I have no plan to expand or hire. I understand this business is 24/7, but I don’t mind. To me, the whole concept of vehicle for-hire service is your life.” Kaufmann recently landed a strong corporate account and looks forward to his young operation growing. “When you call, I’m the dispatcher and chauffeur as well. I offer reliability and understanding of the job. No one else is involved.”

Las Vegas operator Ricky B. Head uses a 2015 BMW 740Li sedan to serve his growing corporate clientele.
Las Vegas operator Ricky B. Head uses a 2015 BMW 740Li sedan to serve his growing corporate clientele.
Profitable Move
Such complete control is one benefit for one-car operator Ricky B. Head in Las Vegas, Nev. LCT readers might recall “Big Rick” as the celebrity chauffeur from the mid-2000s VH-1 series, “Flavor of Love.” Since 2005, Big Rick ran an operation of two or three vehicles, including a sedan, a SUV and a stretch. He’s earned his chauffeur street cred in the town where what happens there stays there, especially in limos.

This year, Big Rick transitioned to working as an affiliate for LimoLink, a DMC that arranges luxury limo service worldwide. He sold his vehicles and bought a 2015 BMW 740Li. Big Rick’s workday involves taking LimoLink clients among meetings, hotels and airports in the long wheelbase sedan. Las Vegas has become a 24/7 corporate destination as much as a leisure gambling mecca. Big Rick reports he’s earning more profit with one car than with his previous limo fleet.

“If you pick a niche, pick something that will be beneficial,” he says. “With a business clientele, you can zero in on having business seven days a week. It took me some time to figure that out. I’m making more money because of my knowledge and experience.”

A one-car operation involves far less hassle than running two or three vehicles, Big Rick says. You don’t have to hire and manage other chauffeurs. “I concluded that with Uber coming in, you can get ahead as a one-car company if you have complete control of service, looks, and timing so you can get repeat requests. We try to please the customer. You can only do that if you have 100% control.”

As an experienced chauffeur for celebrities, CEOs, jet-setters and VIPs, Big Rick draws on his accumulated wisdom. “When customer(s) are repeat requests, that means you are doing it right,” he says. He recites his stellar-service checklist: Make eye contact, smile, wear a suit and jacket, hold the sign up high. Don’t run your mouth. Make sure the car is clean with a current newspaper and Fiji chilled water. Know the routes around any traffic. Don’t long haul your clients. Keep the rearview mirror in an up position; clients don’t like being looked or glanced at. Don’t communicate unless asked to. Always be available and arrive at least 15 minutes early for scheduled pick-ups.

“Saying yes to your account receivable clients will assure you first opportunities when there’s plenty of business to spread around,” Big Rick adds. “Whenever you need some time off, give advanced notice so your account clients can adjust. This strategy will give you ‘favor’ over other competitors.”

Big Rick and Kaufmann also share two other vital professional traits: “You must have passion for the business and dedicate your life to it,” Kaufmann says. “You have to have integrity and discretion.”

Related Topics: BMW 7 series, Cadillac XTS, customer service, Las Vegas operators, LCT editor, Martin Romjue, Montana operators, one-car operations, small-fleet operators, VIP service

Martin Romjue Editor
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