Commentary: Jeff Rose, president of Limousine Association of New York, explains how the permit cap ignores vital for-hire differences.
LOS ANGELES — At the Limousine Connection, Chris Hundley owns more sedans than he does stretch limos. He doesn’t hire drivers but instead what he calls mobile concierges – someone willing to go out of their way to do that extra something for the passenger.
Here’s a real-life example that comes up in training sessions: a driver taking around a businessman to a series of important meetings straightens the man’s tie so he looks more presentable. “They are empowered to do what they need to do to complete the customer experience,” Hundley said.
All this adds up to how Hundley wants clients and potential clients to view the Limousine Connection brand – as professional chauffeured transportation that becomes a business tool. Now in its 30th year, Hundley has made a success of his company by knowing the costs and adopting a service-oriented model.
In that regard the Limousine Connection is not too different from the private charter aircraft firms to which it brings and picks up passengers. When multiple companies have the same types of planes, the service offered sets one apart from another. Concierges help with passenger requests; high-class executive chefs prepare meals for the flights.
The same is true with ground transportation. There are multiple companies in the Los Angeles region offering sedans and limos, so the service offered – from the time a reservation is made until the passenger steps out of the car – becomes the differentiating factor. Hundley also finds strong parallels between what he does and the hospitality industry, so much so that waiters were his first hires as chauffeurs for their understanding of the service concept.
The main North Hollywood office of the Limousine Connection, or LC as it has been shortened for a new logo, is not much. It’s primarily for dispatch and Hundley’s office. No vehicles are kept there. A second office in Santa Clarita serves as a call center and parking area for about 10 vehicles when not ferrying customers.
In recent years, Hundley has replaced the stretch limos with sports utility vehicles. Those limos he does have are black; he has not owned a white limo in about five years. The vehicle types reflect the bulk of his clientele, the high-end corporate passenger from Fortune 500 companies. They want to project a professional image of the sedan and not the ostentatiousness of a limo.
Hiring these vehicles, after all, is a business expense and not a luxury or extravagance. “They are not the limo party-time type crowd,” Hundley said.
The business ethic that had Hundley getting into the limo business as a teenager he credits his mother, who he described as “a doer.” As a child growing up in the San Fernando Valley. Hundley dabbled in acting, selling seeds door to door, and working on the gardens of a half dozen neighbors; later he worked behind the camera in the entertainment industry.
At 19, Hundley was ready to purchase a coin-operated Laundromat when the business broker he worked with mentioned a limo company for sale. Hundley went with that instead.
His first car was used, and later he bought a new model.
The 1984 Olympics proved a boom for the fledgling Limousine Connection. IBM and ABC Television became regular clients. Hundley also used his connections within the entertainment industry to drum up business.
As the business grew and more vehicles were added to the fleet Hundley remained mindful how much it all cost. That was a mistake that those entering the transportation business routinely make, Hundley said; they do not take into consideration the cost of vehicles, gas, maintenance, and other expenses. They are under-capitalized and under-informed, and don’t know what it takes to succeed, Hundley said.
For his success, Hundley never veered away from a business model to serve a limited geographical area with a limited number of cars. He was never interested in having a 100-vehicle fleet with multiple offices.
The Limousine Connection gets a share of business through affiliations with out-of-state transportation brokerage firms and other limo providers. One out-of-state brokerage using the Limousine Connection as a Los Angeles affiliate said the firm lands in the top five in terms of its service record of being on time, never making mistakes, and not upsetting the passengers.
“They exude competence,” said a representative, who requested the brokerage not be named for confidentiality reasons.
Keeping quiet about passengers and their destinations is a point of pride with Hundley. All chauffeurs sign a multi-page confidentiality agreement that gets used as part of the sales pitch to potential clients. “It adds professionalism in the package that Limousine Connection offers,” Hundley said.
While Hundley and his staff of dispatchers and chauffeurs go all out for the needs of their passengers there are some factors beyond their control. Take the price of gas, for instance. The Limousine Connection places a $.50 fuel surcharge on its customers, an amount that will increase if gas hits $4 per gallon.
Efficiency with the vehicles on the road, say, having a car dropping off a passenger at an airport picking another one up rather than sending another car, helps reduce fuel costs.
Labor problems are another factor that Hundley has no say in, and which can take a bite out of revenues.
The company lost business back in January due to the cancellation of the Golden Globes Awards show because of the Writers Guild of America strike. Business for the Academy Awards was down by 60%, and for the Screen Actors Guild Awards show by 10%. Even with that hit, Hundley still expects a 6% growth in revenues for the year.
Hundley never slows down in finding ways to make improvements to the company. When traveling around the country he drops in on other limo services to find out how they do things, and if their methods can apply to the Limousine Connection. He also keeps abreast of what the customers want.
“It is a continual learning process,” Hundley said.
As an example, Hundley cited that when purchasing a new vehicle, he asked customers if they preferred riding in a Mercedes or presenting an environmentally-conscious image in a Prius hybrid? The customers he spoke with preferred the Mercedes, and that is what Hundley bought. But he does foresee a time in the not-too-distant future when his fleet will include alternative fuel vehicles.
SPOTLIGHT - The Limousine Connection Year Founded: 1978 Revenues in 2005: $4.4 million Revenues in 2007: $5.4 million Employees in 2006: 51
Source: San Fernando Valley Business Journal
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