Operations

How To Combat Industry Disruption With Optimism

Lexi Tucker
Posted on December 16, 2016

Brent Abruzese, owner of Black Rock Limousine Company and Red Bank Limo
Brent Abruzese, owner of Black Rock Limousine Company and Red Bank Limo
JAMESBURG, N.J. — To say Brent Abruzese, owner of Black Rock Limousine Company and Red Bank Limo, waxes enthusiastic about the future of the luxury transportation industry is an understatement. He’s one operator who puts the Uber and Lyft discussion on the backburner and instead focuses on how to build a business that combines the best of both worlds: Technology and outstanding customer service.

Caring Makes You Competitive

At the end of the day, standing out comes down to showing how much your clients mean to you. Abruzese has created what he calls a “culture of caring,” which he admits is easier to do because he is a small fleet operator. “Being this size, it’s easier to see what’s working and what isn’t. We communicate like crazy. I know people like knowing what’s going on,” he says.

The company sends out 12-hour notifications that include a driver profile and is automated through Limo Anywhere. Abruzese plans on creating chauffeur profiles on his website because many have interesting backstories. “One of our unique appeals as a smaller company is our chauffeurs can take center stage. We have a former mayor of a town in New Jersey, a former chief of police, and even an opera singer.”

Their clients certainly appreciate the caring approach, as evidenced by the company’s Yelp and Angie’s List pages. In fact, instead of focusing on Twitter, which is generally not helpful when promoting a limo company, a much better approach is encouraging satisfied customers to leave a review, Abruzese says.

“Anywhere you can tell a story or post a review is what you need to focus on,” he explains. “I have a video on Yelp and plenty of pictures of actual vehicles and me and my drivers. I took the extra time to personalize those things. From a marketing standpoint, it’s all about being online; but you have to pick your poison. You’re wasting your time if you are trying to leverage the wrong social media platform.”

Movin’ On Up

In 2007, Abruzese started working for his family’s taxi company in central New Jersey as a fleet manager. Although he originally wanted to do medical transportation and deal with wheelchair accessible vehicles and ambulances, after researching the industry he discovered it was more difficult to get into than he first thought.

He didn’t want to compete with his family, and he remembered how impressed he was after a visit to Gem Limousine in Woodbridge, N.J. “I was just blown away by the scope of the operation. I knew this is what I wanted to do. The class and luxury aspect of it all was so appealing to me,” he says.

Abruzese also had a passion for marketing, and knew he had a lot more flexibility with a limo business than he would have with an ambulance company. So in 2012, he started Black Rock Limousine with one used Town Car.

After only three months, Abruzese started getting celebrity clients, and it was all thanks to internet reviews on Yelp and Angie’s List. “I just thought it was so cool. I never thought now would be the time I’m doing this; I thought maybe down the line I’d be big enough. It was a wake up moment for me. It really made my family proud.”

In March 2016, he walked into his office, checked his mail, and saw something from a business broker. He opened it out of curiosity, and discovered Red Bank Limo, then owned by Bill Atkins, was for sale. At the time, Abruzese didn’t think he was in a position to acquire another company. Black Rock was running strong, and he was just trying to keep up with the rapid growth of the company.

When he found out Atkins owned it, the name sounded familiar because he was a local competitor, but also because he had written articles for LCT Magazine, of which Abruzese was an avid reader. “It was one of those gut feelings; I knew it was a really good opportunity. He had a strong business and clientele, and was respected,” he says.

Abruzese got a loan, took a home equity line of credit, and acquired Red Bank. “Thankfully because our companies were so similar, the process went really smoothly and Bill was just fantastic. I had the really cool added bonus of acquiring a company that was phenomenally profitable which he built over 30 years, and having him as a consultant.”

No Better Time Than The Present

One piece of advice Atkins gave Abruzese that he really benefited from was on pricing: Don’t price afraid; price for what your service is worth. “It was a tough pill to swallow for me, because I’d answer my phone, get scared, and price lower. I was getting rides, but they weren’t as profitable. In the end, I learned you’ll end up with loyal clients not because of how inexpensive you are, but because of the health of your business.”

Combining companies, Abruzese has a fleet of 10 vehicles, including a stretch Lincoln Town Car, Lincoln MKS’, and Chevrolet Suburbans. He plans on purchasing Lincoln Continentals once he retires the Town Cars, and enjoys having a smaller operation because it’s more manageable and efficient. Since he gets a lot of interest in larger vehicles, such as Sprinters, and works with two affiliates that have them, he’d like to start doing group travel in the future.

He is also looking to start working with companies out of the area to develop a healthy affiliate network. The 2016 LCT-NLA Show East was his first show, and he made some great contacts he says made the price of admission well worth it.

“I thought I was going to go to a few sessions and go to bed early, but I ended up going to the parties and out to dinner with people I had never met before,” he says. “You realize there’s camaraderie in this industry that becomes more apparent at shows. We are all in this together, especially now that we have a common enemy [TNCs] and different types of businesses trying to disrupt us.”

He encourages other younger operators to use their insights to help the industry move in the right direction, and to read LCT Magazine for inspiration.

“If you are just getting into this business, you are probably thinking you are getting in at the wrong time. But we have such a great opportunity to stay positive and use the rapidly improving technology we now have that we need to compete with companies like Uber and Lyft. We are in the position where we can have a balance of convenient tech and combine it with the fantastic ability to provide amazing customer experiences. What comes out of that is when people get frustrated with TNCs because they can never get live help. We are there to show them the difference between that and luxury car service.”

Related Topics: Bill Atkins, customer service, ILCT, LCT Magazine, LCTFast40, LCT-NLA Show East, limo tradeshows, mergers & acquisitions, New Jersey operators, operator profiles, small-fleet operators, Social Media, social media marketing, web marketing, WebXclusive

Lexi Tucker Assistant Editor
Comments ( 2 )
  • Brent Abruzese

     | about 12 months ago

    John - Believe it or not, when I started out, my mentor was actually actor Ben Affleck... No, not Batman Vs. Superman Ben Affleck. It was Boiler Room Ben Affleck... Now for the purpose of full disclosure, he didn't ACTUALLY mentor me, per se.. But he DID deliver a rather crude speech in that movie (Boiler Room) that I used as a guide when I got going. In the movie, he tells this team of ragtag recruits at a chop shop financial firm to "act as if". I thought that was an amazing piece of advice. So when I started out, I acted as if I had fifty cars, although it was only me driving one. I acted as if I was a much larger company by not giving away any details on my website that would clue anyone in to how big (small) I really was. If you visited my website back when I started, you'd have thought I had 100 cars. In fact, I would get RFP's (request for proposals) from large corporations all the time, because they thought I was a much larger company. I also knew the bigger companies had professional confirmations they'd send to clients, so I invested in booking software. I also worked on a professional looking logo and I did everything legitimately (full insurance, hiring drivers as employees, developing handbooks and internal guides, etc.) just like a larger company would. And roughly 4 years later, I can say with confidence that this approach has worked out for me. So I guess I owe a big thank you to my mentor, Ben Affleck. And quite honestly, he owed me (and everyone) a favor after that Batman vs Superman movie.

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