The survey shows an industry that serves a broad range of customers and moves them with great fuel efficiency.
Naturally, many lessons have been learned since Limousine Connection officially opened for business on Sept. 28, 1978. “I have always compared my company to a high-end restaurant,” Hundley says. “It requires constant attention and high service levels. My goal has always been to run the type of operation that was manageable and that I enjoy. In my experience, once you get to 50 vehicles, it’s not as enjoyable. That is why I have chosen to stay at the 32-38 vehicle size fleet and concentrate on those margins.”
He says he has no regrets, but the one thing he would do differently if he had to start all over would be to ask more questions from people out of the business on how to build and run the best company possible. “While that sounds generic, it was very difficult when I first started. I began in the infancy of the industry. There weren’t other operators to ask, and the few who were there were tight-lipped. I had to figure a lot out on my own. I relish the challenge, but now people have more platforms and opportunities to ask questions, which I think only makes the industry better and more welcoming.”
Hundley’s words for other companies looking to achieve such longevity are simple: “It’s possible.” Having multiple types of clients has helped him along the way. “I don’t have one account that’s 60%, even 50%, of our total business. I do go after a certain clientele, but we spread that type of business so when something changes, we’re not in a big lurch. I don’t put all my eggs in one basket; I spread the risk.”
Location: Los Angeles, Calif.
Owner: Chris Hundley
Vehicle Type: Sedans, SUVs, Sprinter vans, and minibuses
Fleet Size: 36
Phone: (800) 266-5466
For about 18 years, Hundley never had his family involved in the business. Once his children were grown, his wife Tina came to work for the company in the accounting department. “We get along great and there is no drama having her here,” he says proudly. His son John came to work for him for seven years, but left to pursue a passion in computer technology. His daughter Kristin had graduated from UC Berkeley with a major in political science and was living in South America for years working for the Ministry of Education in Chile and for a tech start up in Colombia. Eventually she came back to the U.S., and after some parental nudging, joined the company. Five years later, she is director of operations. “It’s a true joy to have her here as she completely gets it. We can finish each other’s sentences.”
Hundley also has raised his niece and nephew from pre-teens, who are now both college students on the way to starting their own careers. Will they follow in their siblings’ footsteps and join the Limousine Connection team? Family blood runs deep. . .
When asked about the one thing that sets his company apart, Hundley replies, “We care.” Everyone who works at Limousine Connection is genuinely concerned each trip goes as best as possible. “There are a lot of moving parts that all need to be synchronized. As with fine dining, while the food is important, the entire experience is what truly matters. We are only as good as our last meal, and I believe that comparison is what has kept us at the top of our game for so many years,” he says.
As a business, they must live up to client expectations every day. Just because yesterday went great, that doesn’t guarantee a great today or tomorrow. “Is it possible to operate at 100% all of the time? Maybe not, but that’s our goal. The efficiency comes in on how we operate our model. We are in business to make money, but we are not afraid to spend money to achieve that. We will lose money on a trip if that’s what it takes to make it go perfectly. We operate a very tight but efficient schedule of vehicle coverage and watch all costs from top to bottom. We explain to our chauffeurs it’s in our best interest to have them working and the vehicles rolling full time. We do not have an over excess of vehicles or chauffeurs. That ends up being a continually evolving process, but we relish the challenge.”
Hundley has been working since he could walk. He was a child actor, had a side gig buying novelty items and selling them at a higher price to kids in school, and even did the gardening for a few houses in his neighborhood. In 1977, after becoming the youngest assistant manager of Hertz Car Rental at Burbank Airport, he started working in movie studios on the other side of the camera as a grip.
Wanting to be the master of his own destiny, he looked into doing something that would allow him to own a business. A friend of his owned a laundromat, and Hundley thought it was intriguing and something he could expand to multiple locations. His father was interested in trying something else in addition to the car leasing business he was involved in. Hundley had a business broker show him a laundromat for sale, and it turned out the broker was also selling a limo business. It piqued Hundley’s interest. Although he didn’t want to buy that existing limo company, he did a lot of research on starting his own.
Hundley talked his father into fronting the money because he was only 19 and could not get commercially insured. His father agreed, and they found a repossessed 32-in. Bradford Coachworks Stretch Lincoln and officially incorporated on Sept. 28, 1978. It was perfect timing, as stretch limousines really became popular starting in the late 1970s. He was able to secure some major deals for the 1984 Olympics, and business ramped up quickly all through the 1980s. Unfortunately, his father died in 1992, so he did not get to see the business turn around and evolve into a more corporate type model following the severe early 1990s downturn.
Limousine Connection targets higher-end clientele, so they cannot operate the Chrysler 300 and similar vehicles. They stick with Cadillac, Lincoln, Chevrolet, and Mercedes-Benz brands. Hundley’s looked into operating Rolls-Royce vehicles, but can never get them to add up financially. The company runs the Lincoln MKT and Continental as standard sedans, and Mercedes-Benz S-Class as its premium sedan; Chevrolet Suburbans as the standard SUV, and Cadillac Escalades as the premium SUV; Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans in the passenger, executive, and limousine style; and a Grech GM33 27 passenger minibus.
“Since the Town Car went away, there have been many different vehicles used in chauffeured fleets,” Hundley says. “While I can appreciate trying different things, we have chosen to be fairly mainstream with our vehicles. We use the premium vehicles as tools to upgrade, sell, and perk certain clientele as well.”
Hundley uses the term “robber barons” to describe TNCs. This is a derogatory metaphor of social criticism originally applied to certain late 19th-century American businessmen accused of using dishonest methods to get rich or expand their wealth.
While Uber and Lyft have done something remarkable with technology, albeit on the backs of their “independent contractors,” Hundley compares the situation to the dawn of trains in the era of the stagecoach. “You don’t want to be the stagecoach. You might not be happy about that train, but unfortunately, that’s the way it’s going. As such, you might not be happy about the TNCs, but you better understand how they work and learn from it.”
This, in part, is why it’s so remarkable the company is celebrating a 40th anniversary. “That’s a good number, but it doesn’t buy me a free pass in anything. We’re continually evolving. We are constantly looking forward, backward, and sideways, too.”
In his free time, Hundley enjoys auto racing. He has been racing since he was 15 and spent six years in a professional series racing at iconic tracks around the country. In many ways, he believes racing resembles running a business. “When you’re racing, if you win, you’re a big hero. You get the trophy, you’re on the podium, people are taking pictures, etc. But none of that would be possible if my team didn’t help me get there.
In racing, you have to always be planning ahead for your next move. Every moment is action packed, and that’s what Hundley thrives on in both his hobby and career.
Hundley offers two pieces of advice: Be driven and enjoy what you do. “If this business is too hectic or challenging for you, then do something else because it can chew you up and spit you out very easily.” He says he’s seen many individuals and marriages ruined from the 24/7/365 pace of the industry, but he still loves the daily action and is fortunate enough to be married for 35 years to someone who knew how driven and energetic he was from the beginning.
Another point to remember is failure can slow you down, but it should not stop you. “The phrase I have always liked and still pattern my life around is, ‘Don’t get bitter, get better.’ I try and learn something new every day. Life in general, and especially this business, can throw you some unexpected curve balls. Just learn from it all and get better. Bitter is a waste of time and energy; better will push you ahead.”
Related Topics: anniversaries, business growth, business management, California operators, Chris Hundley, customer service, family businesses, history of the limo industry, Los Angeles, Los Angeles operators, Lyft, operator profiles, TNCs, Uber
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