Was the reaction too harsh? Or an important part of what is supposed to set luxury transportation providers apart from TNC drivers?
At this writing, the National Football League’s Chicago Bears are 6-1 for the ’88-’89 season. Whether or not the Bears, Super Bowl XX champions in 1986, duplicate their stupendous 11-1 record, Matt Baines and Paul Tamraz of Limousine Werks figure to be winners thanks to their recent preseason completion of “The Iron Mike” limousine.
Developed and named with Bears head coach, Mike Ditka, in mind, the first production model of the limousine was presented to the man who, in 1985, coached his “Monsters of the Midway” to their first Conference championship in more than two decades and their first ever Superbowl triumph in a 46-10 romp over the New England Patriots at the Superdome in New Orleans.
Baines and Tamraz, president and chairman respectively of Limousine Werks in Schaumburg, IL, are in their fifth model year of manufacturing Cadillac Lincoln, and Mercedes-Benz limousines. Looking to produce a high profile model for 1989, the company’s marketing staff explored the friendship between Baines, Tamraz, and the Ditka family for a possible endorsement tie-in with Limousine Werks.
“Mike is a big limousine user in the Chicago area,” said Baines. “He contracts limousine services through several Limousine Werks customers. The tie-in was a natural.”
As conversation led to agreement, and agreement led to product development, it was obvious that the Ditka reputation lent itself perfectly to three important areas: 1) Development of a limited-production vehicle with name appeal for both the limousine buyer and user; 2) A high profile spokesman with a strong belief in, and experience with, the benefits of limousine transport; and 3) A symbol that represents qualities of strength, leadership, and personal dedication. In August of this year, Ditka was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame of his achievements in the game since first drafted as a player for the Bears n 1961.
“Bears Blue” With Orange Striping
The Iron Mike is appropriately finished in a deep metallic blue with orange and white pin-striping to match the Chicago Bears’ team colors. Ditka arrives at all Bears home games in the 60-inch stretch and is whisked away into the bowels of Soldier Field of Chicago’s lakefront, all of the cheers and delight of pursuing fans.
Inside the Iron Mike, Ditka relaxes in the plush comfort of a six passenger cabin with corner console that houses a swing-out Sony TV and super stop-action VCR (for reviewing last week’s game tapes, no doubt). Even the coach’s oversized digits have no trouble operating the Iron Mike’s overhead control panel, selecting from among the entertainment, privacy, and comfort features built in to this roomy cabin. A humidor has been provided for those ever-present cigars that are as much a Ditka trademark as Tom Landry’s hat is a Dallas Cowboys trademark.
“Iron Mike” is certainly an appropriate moniker for this car. Limousine Werks uses all-steel construction for a solid, impenetrable feeling of defense even a non-sports fan can appreciate. Generous rustproofing protects the metal, while equally ample sound deadening baffles and premium Vogue tires hush the interior ride to a fraction of that experienced in the average car. Outside, onlookers will note the “Iron Mike” nameplate as a Limousine Werks exclusive, provided with each of the vehicles on a limited-production basis throughout the year.
“We expect a lot of interest from livery operators,” Baines said. “Whether for sports, entertainment, special occasions, or business use, customers will identify quickly with the solid Mike Ditka reputation.”
Personal Appearance Planned
To enhance promotion of the Iron Mike, Mike Ditka has agreed to a one-day appearance at the upcoming Limousine & Chauffeur Show in Baltimore, March 12-15, 1989. He will be autographing specially designed Iron Mike posters and sharing post-season NFL war stories with limousine industry attendees.
Advertising and public relations people agree: Mike Ditka has “market appeal” well beyond his hometown Chicago, especially with the media frenzy that surrounds any Super Bowl event (more than 2,000 media credentials were issued at Super Bowl XX and the game was broadcast in 31 countries).
The 1998 Market
1998 has been an important year for Limousines Werks in more ways than one. Earlier in the year, the company was chosen by General Motors to be one of eight coachbuilders in the United States to participate with six data sheets in GM’s “Limousine & Specially Vehicles” reference guide, which was distributed nationally to all authorized Cadillac dealers.
“It was a profound honor,” said Baines. “We are without a doubt the youngest manufacturing company to be included in the book – a genuine salute to the collective talents in our organization who continue to measure up and even surpass the most demanding limousine building standards in the world.”
It is obvious that Limousine Werks key distributors concur with GM’s choice. Agreements were reached this year with two major market heavyweights to distribute Cadillacs stretched by Limousine Werks. In Manhattan, Penske Cadillac, a new player on the East Coast since its multi-million dollar buyout of Potamkin Cadillac, has added Limousine Werks as one of its first orders of business.
Said Dave Sackaroff, Penske general sales manager, “In a prime marketplace that’s experienced some leveling off of demand, we feel future growth isn’t in discounting, but squarely on the side of product quality and serviceability, as well as the integrity of the distributor.”
Meanwhile in Chicago, 100-plus a year limousine retailer and longtime leading Cadillac dealer Hanley Dawson signed an exclusive distribution deal with Limousine Werks, for the Chicago market. Matt Baines’ experience in the industry since the mid-1970’s is beginning to pay off handsomely ‘according to Hanley Dawson’s general sales manager, Dennis Meacham.
“I’ve worked with Matt more than a dozen years,” said Meacham. “He has a great knowledge of the industry and has learned to understand dealer operations and needs out in the field. His product knowledge is better than anyone I know on the limousine manufacturing side of the business.”
Also in the Midwest, Libertyville Lincoln/Mercury owner Julius Marks, the largest, volume Lincoln dealer in the country for the past two years, points to important Limousine Werks engineering differences he feels will ensure his brisk limousine business.
“Limousine Werks produces exceptional electrical and electronic features,” Marks noted. “This kind of quality and craftsmanship make the cars extremely trouble-free.”
Coincidentally, and perhaps as a precursor of the luxury and specialty car market’s long future, both the Penske and Dawson organizations are in the midst of multi-million dollar new facilities construction.
Dawson plans to move a few miles to the west of its present Rush Street headquarters, while Penske is building across the street from the West 54th Street Potamkin building.
“Our buyers are among the toughest and, now, the most educated they have ever been,” said Sackaroff of Penske. “Acknowledging their sophistication and importance, we will have two permanent mid-town Manhattan window displays in our new showroom devoted to the personal as well as livery limousine buyer.”
Another major Limousine Werks distributor forecasting an optimistic future, and also in the midst of a new building program, is Bayview Cadillac in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Together with its Ed Morris Cadillac stores in Del Rey Beach and Tampa, Bayview is by far the largest volume Cadillac retailer in the United States.
“We have been with Matt Baines since the beginning,” said Bayview general manager, Dick Beaver. “We have total confidence in Matt and the service his company provides.”
Bayview also purchases Limousine Werks Cadillacs to transport its own retail service customers whose cars are in the shop, one of the courtesies to which Beaver attributes the company’s continual growth.
Third Expansion in Three Years
Keeping pace with its own record growth (estimated at about 22 percent each quarter since its founding), Limousine Werks earlier this year expanded and consolidated its manufacturing, sales and service operations under one roof for the first time in history.
“Schaumburg, IL, has become the single largest business center outside Chicago,” declared Tuffy Buehler, director of operations. “We are centrally located to our customers and just minutes from O’Hare International Airport.”
A major thrust of the Limousine Werks training program is actual in-plant orientation and training for all sales personnel and, of course, service technicians.
“Talk is one thing, but seeing is believing,” Matt Baines pointed out. “We are concentrating in the coming year on attracting more distributors west of the Mississippi to amplify our ten-state distribution base. Fortunately, it is convenient for most dealers to fly in and out of O’Hare sometime throughout the year. There is not a week that goes by that we are not hosting someone interested in the ever-growing limousine wholesale trade.”
In response to growing requests for specialized services, Limousine Werks has recently added the capability for selective armor plating on most specified vehicles. In addition, to better facilitate nationwide inquiries, toll-free phone service for callers outside of Illinois has been initiated, as well as fax service.
People Still The Key
The majority of Limousine Werks’ products are the big-demand cars: Cadillacs, Lincolns, and Mercedez-Benz vehicles, mostly in 48-, 54-, and 60-inch stretch lengths. Specializing in mainstay products has eliminated neither the imagination of the company nor its ability to attract top-notch talent, however. Indeed, Limousine Werks key staff members include industry veterans like service manager George Towata, one of the team that literally pioneered the modern-day limousine industry more than 20 years ago; and the production team of Ken Stitt, general manager for manufacturing, and Gary Kehe, plant manager, who have more than 30 years’ experience between them.
“Whoever said your most valuable assets go out the door every night certainly knew what he was talking about,” stated Baines. “The better the people, the more they care. And the more they care, the better the product and service they provide our customers. This is no starting news to any business,” he conceded, “but anticipating growth based on the realization that people are the most important key to success is more valuable an education and challenge than any management school could ever conceive.”
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