That burning question is front and center at the upcoming LCT Technology Summit.
In the spring of 1981, a Philadelphia businessman found himself in the market for a stretch limousine. A true car buff, Rahn Farris was comparison shopping the nation’s growing list of limousine manufacturers when his research led him to Executive Coach Builders in Springfield, Missouri.
As he toured the company’s plant and learned of the engineering principles behind the Executive Coach Builders conversion, Farris found himself becoming impressed both with the product and with the people who built it.
He made his decision, wrote a deposit check and boarded a plane for his return to Philadelphia. In midflight, it occurred to him that he wanted more than just the car – he wanted the company. In just six weeks, the deal was complete. Rahn Farris became the owner and chief operating officer.
Said Farris, “I was born, bred and educated in the East, and my business experience was big-city. I had never been exposed to the small-town, crafts-oriented Midwestern work ethic. I didn’t buy just a company. I acquired a family. They convinced me that they build the finest limousine in the world because they cared. And they do. The product is a direct reflection of these people and their abilities.
“The majority of my people, from carpenters to metal workers and from electricians to painters, are skilled craftsmen. They know only one way to do a job – the right way!”
Founded in 1977 in a small, six-bay garage, Executive Coach Builders recognized a burgeoning market that was resulting from Detroit’s growing emphasis on standardization and down-sizing. Production capabilities in those early days placed a severe restraint upon the number of cars that were placed in service, yet the structural integrity and attention to detail of the company’s product created a strong demand. This forced the first expansion in 1979, into a 29,000-square-foot structure. As production foreman Doug Donalson tells it, “At first, we didn’t know what to do with all the space. But then, within months, we had filled every inch and needed more!”
Temporary relief was found in adding a separate 8000-square-foot paint shop, but before long, even this space was filled.
It was at this point that Rahn Farris arrived in Springfield, shopping for a personal limousine. “I found an exciting company with tremendous potential. I knew who the other coach builders were and what kind of cars they were building. I had seen their displays and talked to company reps at the New York and other major auto shows. Here was a small company building a car the likes of which I had never seen before.
“Unlike a casino gambler, I’ve always been a gambler where I could control the odds. As a business gambler, I was looking at a company that was building the finest limousine I had ever seen. But this company had reached the outer limits of their potential because of crowed plant facilities.”
Farris said he believe that the pride of workmanship he found at Executive Coach Builders is very much an example of the work ethic of the Ozark Mountains region. Company craftsmen are the direct descendents of hardy pioneers who settled the area long before the Civil War. Rugged individualism and strong values are evidenced in the area’s lack of crime or employee absenteeism.
“The kind of limousine we make can only be built in an area like Springfield, Missouri,” Farris said. “There’s such a difference between Springfield and the large industrial cities. Here, the old-fashioned values survive. These people have different priorities. They aren’t gobbled up by the many distractions of the very big city,” Farris noted.
“In regard to the workers, they are true craftsmen. They take their time, and have great pride in what they do. They just won’t build a ‘cheap’ limousine.”
Under the leadership of Farris, the company soon moved to a new 51,000-square-foot plant. Despite the increased space, Farris set a limit of 24 cars on the company’s monthly production. “You really must control quality in this business. Even with the craftsmen we employ, we have to work hard to maintain our standard of quality on a mere two dozen cars each month.”
Maintaining the team spirit of his quality-conscious production family receives a high priority from Farris. No sooner had the plant machinery been installed in the new building than he began construction on a new $40,000 gymnasium for the exclusive use of the workers and their families. Dubbed “Executive Health Club” by staff members, the facility is state-of-the-art in Universal physical fitness equipment.
“When you get into shape and stay in shape, you work better and have less sick time,” said physical fitness buff Farris,. “I know I sometimes need to get rid of my pressures and frustrations, and I imagine it’s the same for production workers, parts managers, and office staff. This is a great corporate ‘perk’ and it gives me the chance to mingle and get to know my people. This way, the people are real, and not just names on paychecks I sign.
“If I expect loyalty to this company and to me, I’ve got to give back the same. I do everything in my power to avoid seasonal layoffs and job interruptions. As a result, our turnover is virtually nonexistent and our product is superior!
“We approach limousine building as an art form,” added Farris. “What can we do to make life easier for owner and driver alike? We do everything with an intense attention to detail. For example, there’s a storage compartment hidden behind the rear armrest. Our standard car is loaded with what many manufacturers still call options. Sure, we’re interested in selling cars – but we’re going to sell them the way limousines should be built.
“The buyer, of course, will have to pay for what he gets, but there are many things that should never be considered options in this class of transportation.”
Examples of standard equipment on Executive Coach Builders’ Limousines include sunroof: intercom; 100-watt radio with six speakers; power privacy partition; separate rear-controlled air-conditioning and heating; and dual 12 volt battery system. In the case of the dual batteries, Farris explained that he considers it necessary to ensure that the car will always start, even if power devices in the passenger compartment are left on by accident after the car has been turned off.
In addition, Executive works closely to meet individual customer requests for such extra amenities as acid-etched monograms in the window glass. Atari television games, coffeemakers, microwave ovens, full-fledged radio-telephone communications systems and more.
Executive Coach Builders offers two stretch lengths in its regular line. There is a 46-inch extension, and the Executive President 540, which is a 54-inch stretch. The company has stretched cars up to 62 inches to fill special orders.
“Our philosophy is to constantly seek ways to build a better unit. This attitude has created such innovations as dual driver and passenger controls for sunroofs and partitions; overhead controls at your fingertips in the passenger compartment; as well as illuminated vanity mirrors concealed in the rear compartment headliner.
“I rely heavily on my production foremen, Doug Donalson, to tell me what can and can’t be done. He has been with the company since its inception and can build a car from scratch by himself. Doug concerns himself with serviceability and future maintenance when he considers the design of the car.”
For example, measures are taken to avoid covering maintenance access areas in the process of converting a car. This assures future maintenance work will be accomplished in a convenient, efficient manner. “Our cars are built to be worked on,” explained Donalson. “They have to be serviceable. You can’t build an automobile blind to an aftermarket problem.”
Farris said he views product development more with the eye of the consumer than of the manufacturer. “It makes me less concerned with saving a buck when it comes to what we put into the car. In other words, if it’s a question of leather or vinyl, I want leather because that’s what a car lover wants (the company also provides velour interiors). I find people recognize the quality we build into our product.
“Many limousine services claim our cars help them gain top accounts. They can show a client the consideration of providing one of the finest car obtainable, with all the amenities. It tends to justify the rates that must be charged to maintain profits in today’s livery operation.
“It is all a result of people caring.”
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