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HAVERHILL, Mass. — If you wanted to find a limousine coachbuilder that has never been bought or sold, merged, changed names, or gone bankrupt, and has an original co-owner and CEO at the helm after three decades, while still being profitable and innovative, you would only find one in the U.S. that fits that description: Royale Limousine Manufacturers.
Founded in 1983 by brothers Cabot and MacGregor Smith and their father Milton H. Smith, the company stands strong at age 30, having survived the Great Recession and diversified its markets and vehicle models.
“We look at what we do and try to do it better,” says Cabot Smith, the CEO, co-founder and co-owner of Cabot Coach Builders, dba as Royale Limousine Manufacturers. “If we can’t internally fund growth and expansion, we don’t do it. That’s the reason why we are still here. I don’t see this as a race. It’s about building a good product and satisfying customer demands.”
Royale’s conservative, quality approach to manufacturing and management has spared it the fates of many competing coachbuilders, both large and small, that have come and gone in spades since LCT Magazine launched, also in 1983.
“We know that when business is good, it is not good forever,” Smith says. “We don’t spend like it is. We’re very frugal with a staff that has been here a long time who know the ups and downs. We don’t have to match [other] companies that spend beyond their means. We’re very well-funded and can make it through a downturn. You have to stay the course.”
Consistent Company Values
Those core principles have kept Cabot Coach Builders growing over the years into a diverse manufacturing enterprise earning an estimated $50 million-plus in annual revenues, with Royale, its limousine and livery company, comprising about 50% of its overall business volume. Other, separate product lines offer vehicles for the funeral and disability transit markets.
Within Royale, the key limousine product line now includes 70-inch, 80-inch and 120-inch Lincoln MKT Town Car stretch limousines, Cadillac XTS 70-inch stretch limousines, Lincoln MKZ Hybrid stretch sedans, Sprinter minicoaches and limo-coaches, and Sprinter and limousine mobile offices.
“We’ve been around 30 years and seen the ups and downs of three recessions,” Smith says. “In August 2008 it just really dried up, and by the end of 2009 we were looking for a recovery that never came. We didn’t expect it to be as long as it was. It was a tough few years but we did very well developing the MKT and other product lines that weren’t specific to limo/livery. We pursued market diversification, not just product diversification within one market.”
Limousine vehicle manufacturing must now follow a “stealth wealth” mentality that requires vehicles to be understated and practical, Smith says. “The Sprinter that has come around doesn’t look like an ostentatious limousine.” The MKT, XTS and MKZ models, as well, fit the bill for “corporations that don’t like to show off,” he adds. “There are times when the MKT makes sense versus the Sprinter. The market will develop those as limo buses and coaches replace Hummers and Escalade stretches.”
Royale’s path to its present product line-up was set by multiple innovations along the way that distinguished its brand. Some key achievements:
To bring about such innovations while maintaining quality standards, Royale emphasizes a standardized, efficient product process that applies to all of its models. The model follows a basic 1-2-3 set-up: 1) Training in lean manufacturing; 2) Thorough production line inspection; 3) Universal documentation of manufacturing procedures and specs, such as welding techniques.
“If you don’t have good production processes, you don’t’ succeed,” Smith says. “We’ve been driving this home over the last four years especially, but also for the last 30 years. If the first guy on the line is sick, then someone else can step in and do it exactly the way he did it. If you follow that for every product line, you’ll be successful, but if you decide to skip a step, that’s when it will fall apart. You need to be at that level to put out consistent quality.”
Challenges for a New Market
Looking ahead, Smith foresees many operators making long delayed buying decisions that were postponed because of the recession and the exit of the Town Car. No major buying decisions have been made since 2007, with many chauffeured vehicles on the road that need to be replaced. The new MKT will generate more business, and even the 120-inch stretch MKT will do well, Smith predicts, because there is a solid retail market for it and because it provides a welcome alternative to SUV stretches.
Likewise, clients are expecting products that offer more standard technology, such as iPhone/iPad plug-ins and connections. Those detailed demands are emerging along with a desire for more durability, quality and overall value, Smith says. “Because we are dealing with a base vehicle that is $7,000 more [than the Town Car] it puts the squeeze on what I can charge while clients put a lot of pressure on coachbuilders with what they expect.”
That means taking the time and money to continue investing in product development and efficient building techniques, Smith says. “We are not willing to give up any market share. We will always be competitive in the limo/livery market.”
How Royale Began
The company that became Royale Limousine Manufacturers was founded in March 1983 in Clermont, Fla. as a national distributor of school bus chassis and bodies with locations in New Hampshire and Hawaii. Brothers Cabot (shown left) and MacGregor Smith bought the company after Cabot graduated from college in 1983, and soon identified a commercial demand for limousines. They first manufactured limousines for a private seller in Chicago called Limousine Werks, owned by Matt Baines, and by 1985 moved the company to Haverhill, Mass., naming it Royale.
Cabot coach builders inc.
dba Royale Limousine Manufacturers
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