Operations

Company Grows Moving Groups

David Hubbard
Posted on October 5, 2018
Black Tie’s Chief Strategy Officer Jeff Shanker, Owner and CEO Gray Hill, and CFO Laura Timmons run 14 motorcoaches as part of a full luxury vehicle fleet. (photo: Black Tie Transportation)
Black Tie’s Chief Strategy Officer Jeff Shanker, Owner and CEO Gray Hill, and CFO Laura Timmons run 14 motorcoaches as part of a full luxury vehicle fleet. (photo: Black Tie Transportation)

WINSTON SALEM, N.C. — Brenda Wilson was working for the county courthouse in High Point when the idea to launch a limousine service “struck out of nowhere.”

Convinced the Triad Region of North Carolina lacked a reliable upscale service, she purchased her first two stretches in 1989 and established Black Tie Transportation.

Wilson grew the fleet to seven limousines, one sedan, and one van. She ran operations until 2005 when her son, Gray Hill, stepped in to buy the company. He had worked for his mother since high school, washing and detailing cars and driving on weekends. After running a bread baking and delivery service with a friend, life steered him to the industry again.

Family Business Calls

“After my father passed away, my mother asked if I might want to pursue the family business,” Gray says. “The time was right for me to make a change and it was an easy choice. I felt it was my legacy to see her efforts into the second generation. Hopefully, one day I can pass the business on to my children if they wish to carry it further.”

Hill says he wanted to take care of customers they had served over the past 16 years, but also glimpsed the potential for larger buses in the relatively untouched corporate markets. Prompted by improvements to the small bus industry, Black Tie bought its first cutaway bus in 2009.

“As larger buses were trending in the limousine industry, I started looking ahead to motorcoaches,” Hill says. “This was a big step. The higher payments scared me some, but I wanted to at least dip into this new market and test it out.” In 2012, he bought two 1994 and 1995 coaches.

As requests poured in from larger groups for coach service, the race was on to lay out the processes to best accommodate these new customers and capitalize on transporting more passengers per trip, says Black Tie Chief Strategy Officer Jeff Shanker.

“However, we also were hearing from our corporate clients who were upset with the quality of our coach service,” he says. “They felt it was nowhere near what they were used to with our sedans and minibuses.”

Upgrading The Coach Experience

Determined to heed their customers’ wishes and move forward, the company opted for its first new model Volvo 9700 in late 2014.

“We were able to get into our Volvo 9700 for a reasonable rate and payment,” Hill says. “Our customers really took to them and our drivers positively preferred this newer approach.”

In 2015, Hill traded and replaced some older model coaches with four newer used coaches.  That same year, he took delivery of two additional vehicles, including a Prevost X3-45.  With the coaches bringing value to the operation, Black Tie acquired two more Volvo 9700s and two Prevost H3-45 models in 2016. It then added five new 2018 H3-45’s and its newest Volvo 9700 to the fleet late last year.

“The Prevost H3-45 is a very stately looking coach with fantastic curb appeal that brings an element of luxury people expect from a limousine company,” Shanker says. “Also, Prevost is based right out of our backdoor in Greensboro, so we have no trouble reaching out for help.”

Reforming Charter Bus Service

The company’s next stage has been to expand its operations by acquiring Blue Diamond Transportation, a limousine company in nearby Raleigh, NC. This added 30 additional vehicles including small buses, and provided new avenues for business.

With this acquisition, the Black Tie vehicle count stands at 10 Prevost H3 45s and four Volvo 9700s, in addition to seven minibuses, two limousines, four vans, 40 sedans, and 10 SUVs.

As more luxury transportation companies offer coach transportation, Shanker sees this trend as another way to do business with coaches.

“Often a coach company gives quotes for a minimum of two to three days out, but we’ve had clients call for same day service, such as a morning request to move 50 people for a dine-around that evening.”

Black Tie takes a slightly different view of motorcoaches than its fellow coach operators. “While the coach business is evolving, I would say most operations have generally operated as a commodity,” Shanker says. “In the public eye, we think the limousine business has held the upper edge on luxury. For this reason, we set out to provide an equally sophisticated experience.”

Black Tie’s Chief Strategy Officer Jeff Shanker, Owner and CEO Gray Hill, and CFO Laura Timmons run 14 motorcoaches as part of a full luxury vehicle fleet.

David Hubbard is the former editor of BUSRide Magazine and wrote this article for Prevost, a manufacturer and supplier of motorcoaches to the luxury transportation industry.

Related Topics: fleet management, Jeff Shanker, motorcoach operators, motorcoaches, North Carolina operators, operator profiles

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