Sandy Miller sees a future in providing a level of chauffeured service that TNCs cannot.
America’s heartland has a healthy appetite for limousines according to Jim Schworer, owner of Celebrity Limousine of Taylor Mill. KY While not being the biggest livery service in his market area, a region which includes nearby Cincinnati, Schworer has been continually busy since that day in 1976 when he bought his first limousine “I bought that car at twelve o’clock and at two o’clock I picked up the owner of the Boston Red Sox who was in town for the World Series. He invited me to watch the game from his personal box and I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to do something like that.” Jim has been working steadily ever since, and now claims that his personal services as a chauffeur are completely booked every weekend, for the next six months.
It is fitting that Schworer’s first customer was a dignitary because it has become Jim’s custom to cater to the rich and famous. He loves to mingle with those who make up his long list of celebrity clients, and two main things have contributed to the fact that Celebrity Limousine has become popular with actors, athletes, musical entertainers, and ex-Presidents of the United States. One of those things is personality...this red-haired chauffeur is a large, friendly man who can tell stories about his past adventures for hours, and seems completely comfortable in the entertainment world. Liberace, for one, has told Jim that he has never had a chauffeur with more “flair.”
Another aspect of Jim’s personality is that he has become known as something of a front seat psychologist. “Sometimes when a star is in town,” says Jim, “I am their only contact with the outside world while they are in Cincinnati. I become like a bartender who hears all of their stories and gets taken into their confidence.” This is a role Jim enjoys whether it means dispensing friendly advice or simply listening.
The other thing that attracts the high and mighty to Celebrity Limousine is that Jim claims to have the only Rolls Royce Silver Cloud limousine in Cincinnati. This car, a 1964 silver and red model with a factory sunroof, a Sony television mounted in the roof, a champagne bucket, and a horn that plays Here Comes the Bride, has become a celebrity itself. The Rolls has appeared in movies, television commercials, and once carried Muhammad Ali and his wife during a parade in Louisville, KY prior to the Kentucky Derby. “There is also one Rolls Royce Silver Shadow in this area,” admits Schworer, “but I don’t think that the newer models have as much appeal as the more traditional Silver Cloud. You can identify a Silver Cloud from a block away. I’m installing a video tape player in the car now and I’ve got a tape with excerpts of all the movies the car has been in. I also put all the commercials and the bit parts of the movies I’ve been in. People really enjoy being in a car that has been used in movies and is used by celebrities. They like to think that ‘so and so’ sat here on this seat.”
Some might suspect that Schworer is using the limousine business as a means to launching an acting career since he sprinkles his conversation with show-biz jargon, frequently mentions entertainer acquaintances, and enjoys recounting his on-screen appearances in films such as Cannonball Run with Burt Reynolds, Sweet Dreams with Jessica Lange, and Stripes in which he played Bill Murray’s landlord in a scene that never made it to the big screen. He genuinely enjoys chauffeuring, however, and says that a fascination with limousines drew him into the profession. Schworer feels that there is a good future for livery services in Cincinnati.
“This is not a real big market,” he says, “but the limousine business is growing steadily. Every year there are two or three more operators in the phone book. We’re up to about sixteen services now “Celebrity Limousine has two cars, the Rolls Royce and a 77 Cadillac formal. If necessary, Jim can also put more cars on the road through farm out relationships with other operators. Schworer is also developing a bodyguard service which he feels is a rapidly growing opportunity. “Bodyguards are becoming a status symbol among entertainers now,” he says. “It’s not how big your limousine is, it’s how many bodyguards you have that gets you noticed.”
Schworer purchased his first limousine, a ’70 Cadillac formal, from a funeral home. Although the car was six years old, it only had 29,000 miles on it and was in ideal condition for livery use. “Funeral homes are an excellent place to look for a limousine,” says Schworer. “Funeral cars are only used two or three times a week and then they are cleaned and put back in the garage. The service on them is usually impeccable, and you know that people have not been drinking in them or messing them up.”
Chauffeuring came naturally to the gregarious Schworer who has been a disc jockey, a television interviewer, the public relations director for a dinner club, the director of Northern Kentucky Goodwill Industries, and a communications instructor at the University of Cincinnati’s evening school. Soon after buying his first limousine, Schworer promoted his service through his membership in the Kentucky Film Commission and became a regular driver for movie producers visiting the area to scout for shooting locations. “I used to donate my limousine for use by producers,” says Jim, “and they usually ended up renting it when it was picture making time.” This led to other jobs with actors and actresses, as well as to the beginning of his acting career.
After two years of driving his first Cadillac, Schworer spotted a 1956 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud at a local used car lot. “People told me that if a Rolls is on a used car lot, there must be something wrong with it, but this turned out to be an exception. I picked it up at a good price, used it for five years, and then doubled my money when I sold it. I always recommend that a limousine service use a Rolls because they do make the money.”
After selling his ’56 Rolls Royce, Schworer bought the ‘64 model he uses now. Jim runs this car at $45 an hour with a three hour minimum which he says is slightly higher than Cincinnati’s current rates for Cadillac limousines. The car attracts enough attention that Schworer has never had to advertise for business in the Yellow Pages. “All of my business comes from word of mouth,” he says. At weddings, Jim is usually busy handing out business cards to people who ask about the car, and he is having a brochure printed with scenes of the movies the car has been in. “My approach here,” says Jim, “is that this is a piece of the movie industry that a customer can have and hold right here in River City.”
Maintenance can sometimes be difficult with a Rolls Royce, according to Schworer, but he has partially solved the problem by letting an acquaintance who teaches automobile repair use the car for classroom demonstrations. Schworer simply pays for parts, such as an $800 driveshaft that was needed a short time ago, and claims to receive dependable service.
Occasionally, Jim turns the Rolls reins over to one of a few other people he trusts to drive for him. He chooses back-up drivers very carefully since the car is easily recognized by the public and his reputation is always at stake. Two of Jim’s drivers are also school bus drivers and one of them, a female, is often requested by groups of men wanting to go out bar-hopping or for bachelor parties. “You really need the right woman for that kind of job,” says Schworer.
Like many parts of the country, Cincinnati’s heaviest limousine use occurs on weekends with the exception of an occasional birthday or anniversary on weeknights. “That’s why I’m starting a Pub Crawl on weeknights,” says Jim. “We need a way to get cars on the road during the week.” The idea of the Pub Crawl is to encourage three or four couples to split the cost of using a limousine for a night out. The concept is supported by M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), as an alternative to having drinkers behind the wheels of their own cars. M.A.D.D., of which Schworer is a member, is also hoping to develop a similar weekend program although many of Cincinnati’s limousines are regularly booked on weekends.
Schworer continually works to promote Celebrity Limousine. After trying a number of other professions, Jim has found the limousine business to be a satisfying way to use his promotional abilities, and it has also become a doorway to a show business world that has always fascinated him. “This is great,” says Jim. “I’m having a lot of fun with my limousines and every once in a while I have a chance to slip into a motion picture. I get to experience what acting is like without having to worry about becoming a has-been.” Marlon Brando should be as lucky.
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