While the official deadline for submissions is Dec. 13, don't wait until the last minute to send in yours.
When Chris Hundley speaks about his company, Limousine Connection, a tone of enthusiasm links every word. From starting in the showy late 1970s, to the boom-times of the 1980s, and through the setbacks of 9/11 and the recession of 2007-09, Hundley has encountered all situations and trends possible in the industry.
After 35 years as a limo operator, Hundley still musters the same passion and dedication to his work as he did when he first started in 1978. “I’ve always had a strong work ethic,” Hundley says, “and so did my mom. My mom was just a pusher, you know, and actually there’s a funny story about that. One time my mom was doing these interviews for me for a commercial I could be in, and they said, ‘Okay we need a nine-year-old kid who can sing, tap dance, and ride a horse,’ and I said, ‘Mom, I can’t do any of that stuff.’ And she just said, ‘Don’t worry about it, you get the job first and we can get you lessons.’”
The story of his career in Los Angeles sums up the history and growth of the limousine industry as well as the two roles needed to be a limo operator: Put on a good show and work hard running a business. Performing as a child actor in the glitz of Los Angeles’ entertainment business stayed with Hundley as he built his business. When Hundley was 18 years old, he became the assistant manager at a nearby Hertz Rental Car. But he still wanted to get back to the studios, except not as an actor. He preferred to work on the other side of the camera, so he spent three months working as a grip. He figured that he could get his own grip truck and start a business working in production.
A Business Grows in L.A.
He started putting together the business formula and then talked to a business broker. “I was either going to buy a grip truck or a laundrymat,” Hundley says, “because the business models intrigued me.” He found a grip truck in Van Nuys that he was interested in, and the business broker also had a listing for a limousine for sale. He had the epiphany that this could be the exact business he was looking for.
“I saw the listing and thought, Wow this is interesting. I’m a car nut anyways, and I like the studios, and I have a lot of studio contacts — this limo could work.”
Hundley started out with an Armbruster-Stageway limousine, doing all of the driving himself, chauffeuring day and night for about three years. Hundley made the most of his occupation and thoroughly enjoyed his time. “I’d go meet my friends late at night after a trip,” says Hundley, whose two-tone limousines had become his company’s signature look in the late 1970s. “I remember driving one of these guys who was a famous hair stylist of the day, who had clients like Barbara Streisand, and one day I’m driving him and I overhear him say something in response to why he uses Limousine Connection, and he said, ‘Are you kidding me, just take a look at this limo?’”
The flashy limos were a big deal at the time. Hundley had some of the finest 42-inch stretch limousines in Los Angeles, coming in colors of black/silver, blue/silver, and rust/silver. “Back in the day they were either white or black, so this was unique,” he says.
Demand for his service grew. Hundley then hired a friend who was a waiter at a restaurant he frequented, and knew he would make a great chauffeur because of his commitment to customer service. “That’s what I base my chauffeurs on,” Hundley says. “If they are service oriented or not, because there are a lot of parallels.”
The Los Angeles Olympics
One of the big things that put Limousine Connection on the map was the Los Angeles Olympics. “All the transportation companies in L.A. thought they were going to make a killing at the time,” Hundley says, “and people were putting out crazy proposals for transportation. I had ABC television and IBM, and I gave them a modest markup of 150% on my rates, and I did great in the Olympics. Everyone else overpriced themselves, and I was one of the few operators who made money in the Olympics. A lot of other operators died.”
The success of his work during the Olympics also put Hundley on the radar of the Destination Management Companies (DMCs) which helped Limousine Connection mature as a group transportation provider.
One of the first technology investments Hundley made was in the pre-computer days, ordering two-way radios so he could be in constant contact with his chauffeurs in the field. “It was a big investment at the time,” Hundley says. “Communication was a big deal, and it was something that most companies didn’t have back then. They’d take the reservation and give it to the driver, and say, ‘See you when you’re done.’”
The 1980s continued to be good years for Limousine Connection. But going into the early 1990s, the business slowed. “There was a saying back then of ‘Stay alive ‘til ’95,” he says. But by the later half of the decade, business had begun to turn around. Long gone were the days of the two-toned limo, though, and Limousine Connection had to reinvent itself in the new decade as a more streamlined and efficient limo operation.
The vehicles changed primarily to sedans, and Hundley cut back on stretches. The limos that remained were more traditional black with a focus on conservative yet sophisticated travel means.
“We definitely started getting black limos and getting conservative,” Hundley says, “and that’s actually when sedans just started to come in, in the mid ‘90s. And I saw that as an opportunity, the formal limos getting phased out and moving on to the sedans.”
As Limousine Connection prospered through the 90s, Hundley encountered yet another trend to run through the industry. The boon of affiliate work prospered in the tech era, and networking amongst limo operators from all over the world became big business.
“I saw the big trend in going worldwide,” he recalls. “It was going from a place where you used to just have ‘Joe’s Limos’ to having it be ‘Joe’s Limos Worldwide.’” But Hundley was not enamored of the work. He believed it diverted focus away from loyal customers and that affiliate work was often treated as second-hand or not as important, which didn’t fall in line with the kind of service Hundley wanted to provide.
“I didn’t like having my reputation on the line, 25 times a day,” says Hundley, “sending business out across the country for small margins. I said I know what I am, and I don’t want to be Limousine Connection Worldwide, I want to be Limousine Connection and work the hell out of Los Angeles.”
Hundley of course does have affiliates nationwide in key markets that his clients often travel to, and he does take farm-in work from select operators that he has relationships with. But his focus remains on the greater Los Angeles area.
Today, Limousine Connection operates 31 vehicles from the same location in North Hollywood that Hundley moved to in 1989. He’s a member of a 20 Group, which is a collection of limo operators who meet three times a year and hold conference calls monthly to discuss the latest news and trends in the limo industry. It enables him to stay abreast of any changes.
For Hundley, even 35 years after starting the company, he still wakes up with the same passion for it he had when he started. “I live and breathe this business,” he says. “It’s a 24-hour business, which can be annoying, but I am the manager here and everyone is in this together. [With] my key people we can all finish each other’s sentences, which means they’re either just as crazy as I am or we are just that much in-sync,” Hundley jokes.
“It’s been 35 years, and I’ve only got 31 cars and one location. Some people might think that’s not a very big sign of growth, but this is how I like it. If I go up to 50 cars then that dramatically changes my business model. I like to stay true to my guns and do things the way I like.”
Hundley now enjoys the company of his entire family working alongside him at Limousine Connection. For years, he has run the operation without much family involvement, but now his two children, daughter Kristin, 24, and son John, 28, help out with operations and accounting and could become the next generation running the business. His wife of 30 years, Tina, handles the books.
As Hundley looks back over his storied career, he takes pride in all that he’s been able to accomplish and for his lasting desire to work the job that he started so long ago. “I’m 55 years old now and still feel 24. I love it and enjoy what I’m doing, and it works."
While the official deadline for submissions is Dec. 13, don't wait until the last minute to send in yours.
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