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LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Boston-area operator Kevin Cronin makes the most of the steady wedding market for limousines by staying current with fleet trends among clients. His latest move was to buy the Classic American Trolley that was displayed at the 2012 International LCT Show Feb. 13-15 at the MGM Grand conference center in Las Vegas. It was the first trolley displayed at the Show by its maker, Specialty Vehicles of Henderson, Nev.
“It is the new limousine of the wedding market,” says Cronin, president of Above All Transportation in Canton, Mass. “We’re seeing a new niche for weddings. A trolley is supposed to look old fashioned and can be modern underneath. . . There are a lot of trolleys out there and a lot of operators pushing them, but no one is pushing a high-end trolley.”
New wedding guest
Specialty Vehicles has seen rising trolley sales since at least 2006 from chauffeured transportation operators trying to meet demand from brides and wedding clients. Owner and founder Nancy Munoz estimates about 75 to 100 trolleys have been sold to the limousine operations of all fleet sizes nationwide. Most demand for trolley vehicles overall still comes from municipal and public transportation systems. Specialty Vehicles has sold hundreds of its transit-style, rear-engine trolley models to cities and municipalities, which are built on heavier chassis than the Classic American Trolley being marketed to the chauffeured transportation industry.
Since its modern day incarnation in the 1950s, the trolley vehicle taps into a nostalgic ideal in the American mindset, Munoz says. The wooden benches and floors with brass trim and interior components evoke an old-American antique décor and ambiance. “It’s so different and many people haven’t ridden on one. A trolley will have 150% more ridership than a bus in some areas. Buses are plain, but a trolley is cute, pretty, and everyone from age 5 to 105 likes to ride on one.”
At Absolutely Charleston (www.absolutelycharleston.com), a chauffeured vehicle and wedding transportation service in that historic South Carolina city, the Specialty Vehicles trolley is in constant demand season after season. “It’s the most classic looking trolley that you can get for the price, and for all the different features, it’s a good service vehicle, engine and transmission,” says Walt Thorn, owner and president. There is a lot of brass and it looks like older trolleys.”
Custom limousine qualities
The trolleys bought by chauffeured transportation companies can be customized in numerous ways, with extra party/disco lighting, refrigerators, beverage bars, sound systems, seat cushions and/or upholstered seating, oak wood features, various seat configurations, and entertainment poles.
“Almost everything has been used in a wedding,” Cronin says. “Fifteen years ago, everyone needed to have a white stretch limo and then it was unique. Then larger stretches became popular with younger clients. The trolley offers the same thing but it’s a timeless piece. On that Show trolley, I’m going to add some trick lighting controlled by the driver, so if it’s used for a wedding, it will be very subtle. If it’s a night out for a client, you can fire it up and it’s a great time.” In addition to the trick lighting, Cronin also plans to add a TV, stereo hookups, a full bar, spare benches, and back-up cameras.
The Classic American Trolley enables a bride with a big white dress to more easily get in and out than in a stretch limousine, Munoz says. She also can ride with her bridal party to the ceremony site, hotel and reception venue while the conductor’s platform along the rear provides an ideal spot for photos. Operators also can opt to upsell the trolley with wedding packages that include champagne, flowers, and personal signs.
A major selling point of the trolley is the rear conductor’s platform, providing the perfect quaint, warm backdrop for wedding photos of the bride and groom. “The rear platform is the money shot,” Cronin says. “That’s the picture that the bride and groom want. [The trolley] also [enables] them to travel with their entire bridal or wedding party. That is what the new trend is going toward. If you can put everyone in one vehicle and give picture opportunities, that allows an operator to make good money and allows the bride and groom to save money.”
SPECIALTY VEHICLES FACT SECTION
Trolley Maker Carries On Family Tradition
Specialty Vehicles and its trolley designs originated with Munoz’s father, Arland “Pete” Miller, who started out making trolleys and trams for Universal Studios in the 1950s. He formed his own company, Minibus Corp. in Downey, Calif., in the 1960s. After he died in 1980, his daughter, Nancy, reincorporated the company as Specialty Vehicles. It moved to Huntington Beach, Calif., in the early 1990s and then to Henderson, Nev., in 2003. In 1998, Specialty Vehicles contracted with Supreme Corp. in Goshen, Ind., as its manufacturer, which now builds an average of three trolleys per week for Specialty.
About Specialty Vehicles
Specialty Vehicles Front Engine Classic American Trolley Specs
Passenger capacity range: 22-39
Length range: 25-33 feet
Engine versions: gas, diesel, LPG and CNG
Price range: $95,000 to $175,000
Ford F-53 w/
Freightliner MB-55 w/
Note: Specialty Vehicles also makes a complete set of rear-engine trolley models with a separate set of specs. See www.SpecialtyVehicles.com for more information.
Classic American Trolley standard features
SIDEBAR 1: Tough Trolleys Rack Up Good Numbers
CANTON, Mass. — Kevin Cronin of Above All Transportation says a trolley is durable, affordable and easy to maintain. The average trolley can last 15 years, while the interior wood and brass prove more rigorous under continuous duress. “The real money is made over the longevity of the vehicle.”
Cronin projects a lowball revenue estimate of $70,000 for his trolley, although he more likely will come in at $100,000. He estimates overall payments and expenses to total $50,000, clearing about $20,000 to $25,000 in profit. To hit those numbers, All Above Transportation needs to get 50 weddings and 25 nights out in a calendar year, Cronin says. “That is a really low number and leaves out other uses,” he says.
A top-shelf antique trolley wedding package costs about $1,000 to $1,400 for three hours, he says.
While Cronin did not disclose the exact terms of his deal, the Classic American Trolley displayed during the International LCT Show is advertised at $155,000. “It can be profitable because of length [of time] the vehicle can be kept,” he adds. “There’s a lot of wood in there. Wood doesn’t get destroyed. In our fleet of limo buses, every year we have to redo all the seats. With upholstered seats, people are dancing on them and picking at them with their fingers.”
SIDEBAR 2: Trolleys Charm the Brides of Charleston
CHARLESTON, S.C. — In 2002, Absolutely Charleston was handling about eight to 10 weddings per year. Now, from April to August, the chauffeured and wedding transportation provider averages about 15 to 18 weddings per weekend, thanks mostly to its antique-themed fleet of trolleys.
Charleston, one of the oldest, most historic cities in the U.S. rich in colonial and Civil War era history, now ranks as the top wedding destination in the U.S. except for Las Vegas, says Walt Thorn, owner and president of Absolutely Charleston. “There are not many places like that in the U.S. that have so many original plantations and houses, beaches, and [good] weather.”
Absolutely Charleston operates eight trolleys, four of them from Specialty Vehicles, along with sedans, SUVs, vans, and minicoaches for standard chauffeured transportation runs. Three of the 1999-2000 model year Specialty Vehicles trolleys can carry up to 35 passengers, and one is an 18-passenger version.
“We got into the wedding business by accident,” Thorn says. “Someone called me and wanted to rent one. We bought one and started adding them. The first one I got was Specialty Vehicles.”
Clients use the trolleys at four-hour minimums for all wedding related transportation, from hotels, to churches, to receptions. Some brides will reserve two trolleys for a wedding event. “The Specialty Vehicles trolleys don’t cost much to operate,” Thorn says. “I’m running, 10-, 12-, 13-year old vehicles easy to service and maintain. They are a good 10-15 year investment.”
Absolutely Charleston bought its trolleys used for about $30,000 to $40,000 each and then put about $20,000 worth of upgrades into each of them, Thorn says. The trolleys cost about as much as a mini-coach to rent, but are preferable because of their look and ambiance. “There’s no comparison. They are just cute as hell,” he says. “Charleston is an antique city and it’s an antique looking vehicle.”
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