Operations

Illinois Operation Celebrates 50 Year Legacy

Lexi Tucker
Posted on August 18, 2016

A collage of printed brochures, dating back decades.
A collage of printed brochures, dating back decades.
WINFIELD, Ill. — It’s not every day you hear about a limo company turning 50 years old. As TNCs continue to chip away at a new generation of luxury ground transportation clients, anniversaries point to stamina and survival.

West Suburban Travelers Limousine proves it’s possible to prevent loyal customers from jumping ship. The company’s history goes back to 1959, but they were officially incorporated on Aug. 1, 1966. Scott Simkus, VP of operations, and Danielle Slamans, VP of client services, spoke to LCT about the company’s unusual start and why it still appeals to the 21st Century customer.

Humble Beginnings

Founded in a basement in Glen Ellyn, Ill, the two-car operation was started by friends Ray Hiltunen and Bert Homan. “They knew there was a niche out here in the Western suburbs,” Simkus says.

“There were a lot of corporate travelers who worked downtown, but commuted via the train. There weren’t any taxi cab or car services out here at the time. Ray and Bert offered rides to people in the neighborhood and that’s how they got started.”

By the 1970s, the company took off. The business partners moved into a house and started to acquire other companies that had popped up in the same area. At one point, the business’ name was Glen Ellyn West Suburban Travelers Limousine. “It’s a mouthful because it was a combination of three companies,” Simkus explains. “There were literally three phones in the same office they would answer with different company names.”

Scott Simkus, VP of operations, and Danielle Slamans, VP of client services
Scott Simkus, VP of operations, and Danielle Slamans, VP of client services

Their early fleet could best be described as “ragtag.” While they did have livery standard Lincolns and Cadillacs, they also had a green station wagon and a few vans. “They hadn’t settled on a particular type of vehicle at that point. For example, they might have had 25 cars with 17 different makes and models,” Simkus says.

Now, West Suburban Travelers has more than 100 vehicles including Lincoln MKT and Town Car stretch limos; Escalade, Navigator, and Suburban SUVs; and Lincoln MKT and Cadillac MKS sedans.

Running In The Age Of TNCs

With companies such as Uber and Lyft winning over younger clientele, West Suburban Travelers Limousine sticks to what they do best: providing impeccable customer service.

“The clients who remain loyal to us appreciate the value of a clean car and a chauffeur who dresses like a professional,” Simkus says. “They want someone who is going to help them with their lu

The late Ray Hiltunen (facing camera), who founded the company on August 1, 1966.
The late Ray Hiltunen (facing camera), who founded the company on August 1, 1966.
ggage, drives safely and smoothly, and is going to be on time.”

Well-vetted chauffeurs keep customers coming back for more. Each employee goes through a criminal background check with the state, is drug tested, and has proper employment documentation. They spend a few days on the road with a trainer, and receive a half day of classroom training lead by Simkus.

“We are going to work with them to get them up to speed with what our culture is and what our and the customers’ expectations are,” he says. Employees will come in at least once a week to speak with him for the first few weeks until they feel comfortable. “By then we’ll know if they are going to make it or not.”

Not only does the company provide safety with trained chauffeurs, but also with insurance coverage unmatched by any TNC. “Our insurance levels are at $1.5 million per vehicle, and clients understand that’s five times the level of most Uber-X vehicles or suburban taxis.”

About 90% of the company’s business is airport runs, but they also provide occasional transportation for concerts and weddings. “Our corporate clients get to know what our accounting department can do for them behind the scenes,

Old school Lincoln stretch limousine
Old school Lincoln stretch limousine
whether that’s customizing a report or us being on-site for a large event.”

Living Legacy

West Suburban Travelers Limousine is run by Ray Hiltunen’s son, Jeff, president, and Danielle Slamans, Ray’s granddaughter and VP of client services. When asked why she decided to carry on her grandfather’s legacy, Slamans says, “Because I grew up with it. I started working here when I was 16 as a reservationist and worked through high school and college in the different departments. I was curious and wanted to know every aspect of what made this business run. I also really love the people. I think we are a family here; we have employees who have been with us for 20 and 30 years. It’s nice to come into work and enjoy the company of the people you work with.”

A car picking up a client from a private airplane in the mid-1980s, when the business really started to boom.
A car picking up a client from a private airplane in the mid-1980s, when the business really started to boom.

Overall, the company employs 30 people, and works with more than 100 independent contractors.

Looking ahead, Simkus says they will be working on improving the role technology plays in their operations. In addition, they still plan to explore affiliate work. “Our next step is going to be finding someone who can mentor us and might want to work with us here in Chicago and teach us how it really works. That’s one area we haven’t tapped into yet and will be important to us as we move forward.”

Related Topics: anniversaries, anniversary: operator profiles, Cadillac, Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet Suburban, customer service, Illinois operators, Lincoln MKT, Lincoln Navigator, Lincoln Town Car, operator profiles, TNCs, Uber, WebXclusive

Lexi Tucker Associate Editor
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