Tim Rose brings his expertise to next year’s highly anticipated event.
While the limousine industry has shed many showy traits in the corporate realm, it still relies on elite images and products to thrive in the luxury retail sector.
So it should be no surprise that a value-driven economic climate still allows room for well-positioned Bentley and Rolls-Royce vehicles that endure much like Gucci and Patek Philippe. The 2012 International LCT Show featured a Rolls-Royce Ghost in February, costing $357,000. While these vehicles generally appeal to the motoring and chauffeured “one-percenters,” they also serve a strong special occasions market, such as weddings.
Most chauffeured car operations don’t have these vehicles in their fleets, opting to rent them or farm-out requests instead — the main reason being the high price tags. Operators generally should have the market and business to justify buying such a vehicle, and even then, it’s better to start with a used one.
A common technique that tests a company’s ability to sustain a new vehicle is to track the amount of farm-out business a vehicle type generates. Most operators do this before buying one, but in the case of a rare ultra-luxury vehicle such as a Bentley or Rolls, it may be hard to find farm-out work. So Alex Darbahani of Los Angeles-based KLS Worldwide Chauffeured Services did something a little different: he advertised his 2005 Rolls-Royce Phantom before he had one. “I put the vehicle on my website and tracked how many requests we got from it, and when I saw that a lot of people wanted to book it, I went and got it,” he says.
Once he got the requests, Darbahani tested the market by taking over the lease of the Phantom’s previous lessee who couldn’t afford to make the payments. When the market proved stable, he bought it. “These vehicles are very expensive, so do not buy brand new,” he advises. “A lot of these cars go to auction, especially in this economy, so look there first.” There are also websites for lease takeovers, such as TakeMyPayments.com, Swapalease.com, and LeaseTrader.com.
David Navon, owner of Crown Limousine L.A. of Los Angeles, got his Bentley Flying Spur as a lease return and paid $85,000 for it. The car had only 20,000 miles and was originally $195,000. Getting the vehicle for that price allows Navon to rent it out for $150 per hour, a rate attractive to potential clients while still being profitable. “If I paid [the] retail [price] and had to charge $250 or $300 per hour, it would have been harder to get it out,” Navon says.
These vehicles will mainly solicit retail requests, such as wedding, proms, wine tours, and other special occasions. Depending on the market, Rolls-Royces and Bentleys may be requested by affluent clients for nights-on-the-town, hourly as-directed runs, and airport trips.
Navon had a corporate executive book the Bentley to pick him up from his private jet. He then learned that Crown Limousine L.A. had a Hummer limo and party bus and booked them for future events. “If we didn’t have the Bentley, we wouldn’t have gotten the other business from that client,” Navon says. “We bought the Bentley to attract a different type of clientele. The car brings in very big hitters, which opens up a lot of doors.”
Pricing Structures For Premium Vehicle Profitability
Crown Limousine L.A. (Los Angeles)
Bentley Flying Spur
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KLS Worldwide Chauffeured Services (Los Angeles)
Wedding package: $260/hour, 4-hour min.
Prom package: $250/hour plus tip, 7-hour min.
Daily rate without a driver: $2,000
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First Class Chauffeurs (Puerto Rico)
Rolls-Royce Phantom, Bentley Mulsanne
Rates vary, but due to costs, never charge less than $500 per hour.
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Grand Avenue (Nashville)
Vintage Rolls-Royce Silver Clouds, vintage 1935 Packard, vintage 1948 Cadillac, vintage 1932 Chevy Truck
$375 point-to-point transfer.
$325/hour, 3-hour min.
The best time to make money with these vehicles is during wedding season, and the best way to get them booked is through wedding shows and expos where you get your company name in front of hundreds of wedding planners and bridal vendors. The “wow factor” of high-end vehicles will literally stop show-goers in their tracks, and get the attention of all the right people. Some may even book the vehicles on the spot.
“Ninety-five percent of our marketing for the [vintage Rolls-Royce Silver Clouds] goes strictly to the wedding market,” says Bill Faeth, COO of Grand Avenue Chauffeured Transportation in Nashville, Tenn. “We’ll be sponsors at bridal shows and bring our vehicles there and set up huge displays.”
Niagara Classic Transport of Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario, includes its vintage Rolls-Royces and Bentley on all print materials related to weddings. Puerto Rico’s First Class Chauffeurs has an entire department devoted to Destination Weddings, and books its Rolls-Royce Phantom for four to five weddings a month.
In addition to exhibiting his vehicles at wedding shows, Darbahani sends postcards to wedding planners. “It’s very important to be involved with a lot of event planners because they are the ones who will find the clients for these high-end cars. Your car will also get more business if it’s white because that’s still the most popular color of weddings.”
Because the Flying Spur is a rare vehicle among the fleets in his region, Navon bought Bentley keywords on Google and says it’s all the marketing his vehicle needs.
These cars need to be treated with the same level of detail and respect as the clients they transport. Wear and tear should be kept at a minimum because maintenance is expensive. Even minor paint damages can cost hundreds of dollars, so only the most experienced and trusted chauffeurs should drive these vehicles. Invest in extended warranties and/or aftermarket insurance to keep repair costs down.
Darbahani services his Phantom through an in-house mechanic but buys his parts from a dealership. He also makes sure that his vehicle only goes to clients who will respect it by not smoking inside or damaging the interior in any way.
Navon waxes his Flying Spur and conditions the interior leather once a month. He takes the vehicle to the dealership for warranty work but has a trusted independent garage for wear and tear service. The garage will change his oil for $185, whereas the dealership wants $800 for the service.
Niagara Classic Transport services its vintage Rolls-Royces, Daimlers and Bentley at its Auto Spa, where a special division is dedicated to the maintenance of the classic cars. In addition to servicing all fleet vehicles, the Niagara Classic Auto Spa is open to the public and sees many high-end vehicles through a partnership with Vintage Hotels. Even before opening its Auto Spa, Niagara Classic maintained vehicles in-house and relied on the expert technical advice of British mechanics who lived in the region.
Like Navon said, ultra-premium vehicles make an operation stand out from the competition and generate interest that trickles down to the rest of the fleet.
Clients can be affluent executives, foreign dignitaries, or celebrities. The vehicle may run often during the peak of a retail season but also may sit around for several weeks, so income must be looked at on an annual basis instead of a monthly one.
Operators who believe they have a market for this type of vehicle and are willing to invest in one have several different options available. They can acquire vintage vehicles with extra appeal for special events or get newer models by taking over a lease or finding them at auction.
The ultra-luxury vehicles best suited to the chauffeured transportation industry are the Bentley Flying Spur, Bentley Mulsanne, Rolls-Royce Phantom and Rolls-Royce Ghost.
RentaRoller.co.uk, a U.K.-based luxury car rental provider, predicts that the Rolls-Royce Ghost will be the “Wedding Car of 2012.” Rolls-Royce sold 3,500 cars throughout 2011, the largest yearly sales in the company’s 107-year history, and the Ghost drove the boom. The Ghost was displayed for the first time at the International LCT Show on Feb. 13-15. The featured model is an extended wheelbase version that offers clients extra length for maximum comfort.
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