The DOT says it was only doing its job.
MACUNGIE, Pa. — Darla and Ashfaq Malik, co-owners of Advantage Chauffeur Services, have experienced enough hard work and resilience to know when one door closes, another always opens.
Light At The End Of The Tunnel
The story of how the Maliks came to be a part of the luxury ground transportation industry is not an easy one. Ashfaq was laid off after 9/11, and had great difficulty finding a new position. He was well educated with more than 18 years of experience in the hospitality industry; however, his Pakistani heritage was an obstacle in a time when prejudice ruled the minds of a country that had been shaken to its core.
Low on cash, the Maliks needed to move away from New York, and settled on Pennsylvania in an attempt to help Ashfaq become employed once more. “It really was a survival move; we didn’t have any family there,” Darla says. Both she and Ashfaq found jobs, but the company he worked for got bought out three years later and he was let go again.
It appeared Ashfaq found his true calling when he became a chauffeur with a service contracted with Lutron Electronics, a company that produced dimmers and lighting controls. The business had its own line of company vehicles, and they used a chauffeur service to provide professional drivers to transport staff to meetings and the airport.
Ashfaq quickly became a favorite among upper management and was requested more than any other chauffeur the company provided. Some of the executives would call him directly because they wanted it to be guaranteed they’d get him as a chauffeur. Word of mouth spread and he started getting more work; it was at this time in 2006 he and Darla decided it was time to start their our chauffeur service.
At home with their first child, Darla taught herself how to build a website, registered their new company with the Pennsylvania State Department of Revenue, and learned how to incorporate as an LLC. They had no fleet vehicles, but rather started by driving clients around in their own private cars. As they became successful, they brought on other people part-time, each of which Ashfaq personally trained.
One day, they got a job from a friend of a client who frequently traveled between the West and East coasts who needed them to pick up her Mercedes-Benz S500 and call her to let her know what kind of condition it was in; the answer wasn’t pretty. She had a private contractor who drove the vehicle when she was in Pennsylvania and he was using the vehicle when he shouldn’t have been. The Maliks won favor with the client and took over the job. That very same S500 ended up being their first fleet vehicle, which they bought it from the client for less than it was worth.
They now run six vehicles, including a Chrysler 300, Lincoln MKT, 2011 Lincoln Town Car Executive L, Mercedes-Benz S550, Ford Transit corporate conversion van, and Chevrolet Suburban.
Lessons Learned Through Struggles
Being persistent has been the most important lesson the Maliks have learned after everything they’ve been through. They landed their first big corporate account when a local company decided it wanted to move from using a chauffeur service to a full-fledged limo company.
“We were very careful with how we approached them as we had been offered the contract before, but didn’t have the proper licensing at the time,” Darla explains. “We explained to them that because we are small, we truly needed this; therefore, they knew we’d do everything in our power to make sure they were satisfied.” They have been that company’s transportation provider for five years now. “Each year they can choose a different company, and they choose us every time.”
Their advice for trying to land accounts is don’t be pushy. “Simply explain to them what value you bring. You don’t want to waste more than 40 minutes of their time. Give them the info you think they’ll need and don’t hound them for an answer week after week,” Darla says. She also says don’t worry about competing with TNCs. “I’m selling to my clients I have that know we provide insurance, safety, and peace of mind.”
As their company grows, the Maliks hope to put their luxury Transit van to work. One avenue they are pursuing is the corporate traveler who wants to get to Washington DC or Boston without the hassle that comes with flying.
“The whole process can take upwards of six hours if you are traveling out of Allentown Airport, but if they use our service it’d take about four,” Darla explains. Passengers can use this commute time productively because the van is outfitted with a monitor, AV system, and free Wi-Fi. Eventually, they’d also like to purchase more vans and run a shuttle service to Manhattan and Washington, DC.
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