The Faces of 1989

Scott Fletcher, LCT Editor/Publisher
Posted on January 1, 1990

Presumably you are among the survivors of 1989. You have faced intense price competition, deepening scrutiny by the IRS, continuing pressure from the insurance industry from the insurance industry, and ever-increasing bureaucracy at every level of government. May of your competitors have been driven from the business by these things, but you have survived to look back on yet another year of industry evolution.

In retrospect, many people played pivotal or memorable roles in the events of 1989. Some of them were industry veterans, some were just made cameo appearances.

Here is a brief look at a few of these people and at the things that brought them into our year-end spotlight.

Glenn Barrons operates Barrons Limousine one of the most successful companies in the Los Angeles area. For the past two years, Barrons has also served as president of the Limousine Owners Association of California. In this position, he has played an active part in statewide opposition to regulations imposed by city and airport offi­cials in California.

Late in 1989, Barrons announced plans for a limousine network called Barrons International that is expected to begin operation in 35-40 cities in January 1990. Barrons explains that his network will provide lop quality service for clients as well as for net­ work affiliates. Payment to affiliates for all orders is promised within 50 days.

Sammy Davis Jr. doesn't appear at just any business function, but when Cadillac dealers gathered in Orlando, FL, for a look at 1990 models, Sammy treated them to a memorable show, "All the brothers back home love Cadillacs and they're jealous that I'm here checking out the new ones," he joked.

Sammy then turned serious and told the audience that it has been five years since he last had a hard drink. "It was tough for me to get off booze," he admitted. "The hardest thing was waking up in the morning and realizing that that was as good as I would feel all day."

Those in the limousine exhibit next door could hear Sammy belting out his hits despite a scratchy throat that prompted him to finish one song a second time in order to give it the proper flair. Sammy was a hit with the dealers in both musicality and perso­nality. The following week it was pub­licly announced that Sammy is fighting throat cancer.

Mike Ditka must have signed at least 1,000 posters at the Limousine Werks exhibit at the Limousine & Chauffeur Show last March in Baltimore. Ditka would certainly rather have been pacing the frozen sidelines of Soldier Field, but he was a good sport and deserves an honorable mention in this list of notables. The autographed football in my office gets covetous looks every day.

As a speaker at the Baltimore Limousine & Chauffeur Show, Rich Guberti took to the spotlight like a natural entertainer. Sprinkling his presentation with humor and charm, Guberti described how he borrowed $10,000 from his grand­ mother to start Excel Limousine, and subsequently built the company into a thriving twenty-five car operation. Since Baltimore, Guberti has graciously offered his advice to many operators wanting to duplicate his success. One Limousine & Chauffeur reader even used Guberti's story to obtain a similar loan from a family member.

A few years back, Robert Hellmuth, director of NHTSA's Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance, led and investigation into the safety of recreation vehicles. Forced to document that their vehicles met the 49 Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, R.V. manufacturers formed the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, carried out a cooperative testing program, established safety standards, and im­plemented an enforcement program to insure that the standards are up­ held. R.V.s meeting these standards now carry the badge of the RVIA.

In 1989, Hellmuth's office began a similar effort to determine whether limousines meet these same 49 federal motor vehicle safety stan­dards. Coachbuilders responded by forming a manufacturers association (Limousine Industry Manufacturers Association) and retaining an engineering consultant who had previ­ously worked with the R.V. industry. Will limousines eventually carry a L.I.M.O. badge of approval? "It will probably take us some time," says a member of the L.I.M.O. Board of Directors, "but we're working toward that."

As Manager of Fleet & Leasing for the Cadillac Division, Dave John is the manufacturer's closest link with coachbuilders and operators. As such, he deserves much of the credit for the 1990 Cadillac Brougham which is the company's best limousine base unit in several years. With Corvette-power and a beefy powertrain, the 1990 Brougham shows that Cadillac has listened and responded to the needs of the limousine industry. Did I men­tion Cadillac's five-year/250,000 mile warranty?

The election of a new mayor in New York City leaves the future of T&LC chairman Jack Lusk uncertain. Departure could spell relief for Lusk who was appoint­ed by Mayor Koch to regulate the city's 12,000 cabs and 2,500 limousines. Lusk has faced criticism from limousine operators about several of the same issues as his predecessor Gorman Gilbert including the requirement that every limousine be affiliated with a base of at least ten vehicles, and the requirement that limousines from companies based outside New York City be licensed by the T&LC in order to do business in the city or at New York-area airports.

On April 7, 1989, Lusk revoked letters of exemption from city licens­ing that had been issued to 1,200 suburban operators under Gorman Gilbert. That brought protests from operator associations from New Jersey, Long Island, and Connec­ticut. At year's end, the T&LC was temporarily allowing suburban oper­ators access to the airports, but the city was still off-limits.

Lusk has also defended the base requirement on the grounds that it helps identify and eliminate gypsy operators. Some smaller operators, however, complain that the require­ment creates an advantage for large companies who can dictate the terms under which they will allow independents to affiliate with them in order to operate legally. And several major thoroughfares remain closed to limousines, yet open to cabs, from 3 p.m. to 6 pm. on weekdays. New York City remains the most challeng­ing service area in the limousine industry.

Bill Mclninch owns Mclninch Limousine of Pontiac, Ml, and has been in the limousine business for 20 years 1989 was his third year as president of the Michigan Limousine Operators Association. He also devoted a con­siderable amount of time to serving on the National Limousine Association board of directors.

As one of the most visible and active promoters of the limousine industry in the Detroit area, Mclninch spearheaded a regional limousine show at the Pontiac Silverdome, or­ganized a benefit event in which 60 limousines provided service for senior citizens, and initiated a cooperative program with Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. "1989 was a rocky year for some of us and we were faced with a lot of price cut­ ting," he says. "But our association helped spread a positive image for the industry and made the public aware that there are good limousine companies here.

When Executive Coachbuilders acquired Armbruster/Stageway in 1988, Executive's parent company created a new entity called Springfield Stage- way Technologies to manufacture both Executive and Armbruster limousines. Executive President Dan Mitchell was named President of SST and, together with Armbruster Presi­ dent Bob Messing and new Execu­tive President Jack Rogers, Mitchell reorganized the companies to op­timize efficiency while preserving the separate identity of each product line. As 1989 ends, SST has become one of the industry's most prolific companies with a volume of some 50 limousines per month.

In 1989, Mitchell also served as President of the Limousine Industry Manufacturers Organization. Found­ed in the spring of 1989, L.I.M.O. now has 29 members working to set standards of safety and profession­alism. "All of the major companies are members now," he says. "We know what we want to accomplish, and I feel we are making good progress."

California Assemblywoman Gwen Moore has authored Assembly Bill 1506 which would prohibit cities and counties from requiring licenses or permits" of limousine operators who are legal­ly licensed in the area where they are based. The bill, which is supported by the Limousine Operators Association of California, passed the Assembly and the Senate but, because of amendments added prior to its ap­proval by the Senate, it was returned to the Assembly for concurrence. Assemblywoman Moore deserves credit for her continued support of this bill in spite of opposition from San Francisco, Long Beach, and other cities seeking revenue from passing limos.

Not everybody could take 15 inmates in a medium security prison and build limos. Limousine repair­ man Tony Pusateri and Nevada Prison Industries Assistant Director Howard Skolnik conceived the idea during a chance meeting on a flight between Chicago and Las Vegas in 1987. In early 1989, after a year and a half of bureaucratic and technical preparation, the first limousine was completed at the Southern Desert Correctional Center near Las Vegas.

"At first I was a little skeptical about working in an institution," Tony ad­mits, "and I think it took the state pri­son system by surprise that anyone was willing to bring in a new Cadil­lac or Lincoln and let inmates cut it in half, but it has worked out extremely well. By the third car, I was able to leave them alone."

What made the project possible was that the prison had a body shop and a woodshop, and many of the inmates had training in the work re­quired. Once inside the prison gates, Tony's shop looks like most others in the business. "Anyone who wants to purchase a car from me can come see the facility and meet the wor­kers," he says. "You'll find we've got some pretty good guys."

“If you take this dollar I hold in my hand,” said Baltimore Show speaker Tom Quiner, “and invest it properly in direct mail, it can be transformed as if by magic into $10, $20, or even $50 in sales. Is this salesman's hype? An unreasonable claim? No! I've done it." Quiner then kept an au­dience of 600 people attentive for 45 minutes as he described ways to maximize and measure the effectiveness of direct mail advertising. Quiner's ideas on direct mail then appeared in three issues of Limousine & Chauffeur and excerpts of one article were also read by Harry Shearer on his nationally syndicated radio program. With Yellow Page costs continuing to rise, Quiner's direct mail strategies were particularly welcome in 1989.

Roy Radako­vich has been Lincoln's technical liaison with the limousine industry since 1987. In preparation for the ft restyled 1990 Lincoln Town Car, Radakovich formed an engineering group to research conversion techniques, to gather suggestions from coachbuilders for the new Town Car, and to provide technical assistance to coachbuilders. Radakovich hosted a series of meetings for coach­ builders in Detroit and, during the summer, his department issued a limousine conversion manual.

What Radakovich could not control was the delivery schedule of the new Town Car or the availability of all of the parts needed for conversion. De­ lays in these areas gave Cadillac a definite edge in the race to the 1990 limousine market. But Radakovich and his team gave the industry its fair share of attention, and this figures to pay off down the road.

As Vice Presi­dent of Sales with Armbruster/Stageway in the early 'Eighties, Larry Ulmer helped de­velop one of the most extensive dealer networks in the business. In 1987, Ulmer left the limousine industry to pursue another opportunity. This spring, however, former Armbruster colleagues Tom Earnhart and Jim Monroe persuad­ed Ulmer to join them at a new com­pany called Earnhart Coachworks.

Based in Ft. Smith, AR, Earnhart Coachworks has introduced a line of limousines and professional cars built by many of the people employed by Armbruster before that company moved to Springfield, MO, last year. As 1989 concludes, Tom Earnhart has left the company and Jim Mon­ roe has taken over the company's professional vehicle division so Ulmer finds himself responsible for limou­sine sales for the aggressive young company. "After I left Armbruster, I saw the business go through some hard times," he says. "With the D.O.T. regulations and everything else, it's become harder for every­ one. But there is no question in my mind that there is room in this busi­ness for a company that builds a quality car at a good price."

When limousine operators in Connecticut have a problem with the government or with gypsy opera­tors, they can usually rely on Ted Wisniewski, owner of Teddy's Transportation System, Inc. of Norwalk, CT, to marshal the troops and fight back. In the summer of 1988, Teddy led a sting operation in cooperation with the DMV that resulted in citations for five illegal operators.

In 1989, Wisniewski led the Limousine Operators of Connecticut in an often-frustrating dialog with the New York Taxi & Limousine Commis­sion concerning the regulation of companies based outside the city.

Related Topics: Armbruster/Stageway, Barrons Limousine, Cadillac, Cadillac Brougham, Dan Mitchell, Earnhart Coachworks, Excel Limousine Service, Executive Coachbuilders, Glenn Barrons, Limousine Industry Manufacturers Organization (LIM, Limousine Werks, Lincoln Town Car, NHTSA, Richard Guberti, Roy Radakovich, Tony Pusateri

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