Operations

Penn. Operator Grows From Limo Student To Leader

Posted on November 14, 2018

Tracy Salinger Long, president and CEO of Unique Limousine
Tracy Salinger Long, president and CEO of Unique Limousine
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Tracy Salinger Long, president and CEO of Unique Limousine, certainly has a story unique enough to match her family’s company name. She started working for the business in1987 at the age of 14. Instead of sitting bored during study hall for the last two periods of her day, she’d leave her high school early to help Jim Salinger, her father and then company owner, with the principal’s blessing.

After graduating in 1991, she started to pursue a business degree at the local community college. Halfway through her second year, however, she had a talk with her father about coming to work full-time.

“I felt I was wasting his money and my time,” she says. Her father did push back a little, but eventually decided she’d be learning a lot more in a real world setting than in a classroom.

In her early 20’s she went through what she calls an “educational period” in which she learned all about what she didn’t want out of life. “I made a lot of bad choices, but learned from them,” she elaborates. She came back at 25 and has been with Unique ever since. “The only way I can describe it is like putting on your favorite pair of jeans or boots — it’s just the right fit.”

A Leader In The Making

She first approached her father about buying the company about 14 years ago. At that time, he knew he wasn’t ready to give up the reigns just yet. On Oct. 5, 2018, Tracy made the transition “Facebook official” on both her personal page and industry pages. As she takes on the new role of president and CEO, she wants to make the company stronger and better.

“I feel we already have a great business, but we can always improve. I want to become more profitable while keeping up with an industry that’s changing rapidly. It’s because of this rapid change that I don’t know what the company will look like in five years. Everything is constantly evolving, but one thing remains: We are committed to taking care of our clients and employees.”

They run about 75 vehicles, including sedans, minicoaches, SUVs, Transit and Sprinter vans, limousines, and a trolley, along with two very “unique” vehicles: A Harley-Davidson motorcycle hearse and a stretch Dodge Challenger. About 90% of the business they do is corporate, but they keep a few stretches on hand for the occasional prom or wedding. “We built our building in 2001, and it’s amazing how the interior of the garage is unrecognizable 17 years later. It’s been mind-blowing to see the evolution of the industry.”

Doing What’s Right Is Never Wrong

During her time in the industry and growing in life, she’s learned not everyone who is nice to your face is your friend, and also that you will find allies in unexpected places and ways. That’s why it’s important to ensure you have your morals and convictions in place before you start.

(l to r) Tracy, her father Jim, and her mother Josie
(l to r) Tracy, her father Jim, and her mother Josie
“Doing what’s right is never wrong. There will be days you’re going to be exhausted and ready to give up, but as long as you can look at yourself in the mirror and say ‘I did my best to do the best I can for my clients, my employees, and myself,’ that’s all that really matters. There are lots of opportunities for things to go awry, but I want to make my family proud. It’s not always easy, but that’s what I want to do. My parents would still kick my butt if I were anything less!” she jokes.

Growing up she’d go to various limo meetings with her father and never felt people treated her differently for being female. “There’s no reason for anyone to be judged by their gender — it’s what’s between our ears and what’s in our hearts that matters. My mom raised my sisters and I to be empathetic and giving, while my dad taught us to never let anyone walk all over us.”

Strong Foundation

Before starting Unique Limousine, her parents were in the tow truck and trucking industry. He father had gotten a copy of Entrepreneur Magazine out of a wrecked car at work one day, and with four young daughters, the only place he could get some peace to read it was in the bathroom. After reading it, he said, “I think Harrisburg is ready for a limo service.”

Tracy's beloved pups, Molly Moo and Manny Mo (in the back).
Tracy's beloved pups, Molly Moo and Manny Mo (in the back).
Her mom was very supportive, so they got the licensing and insurance and bought a 1977 Cadillac limousine. Josie is still Jim’s biggest supporter.

Jim put on a suit, covered his blackened, rough “mechanic hands” with black leather gloves, and went down to the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building to wait for nonexistent clients. When people approached him, he’d hand out business cards. He’d take his girls in the limo to their first day of school, birthday parties…any place that would give him exposure. As the first luxury transportation company in the region, they slowly started to grow organically through word of mouth.

By 1993, the family was running the trucking, towing, and limo service all at the same time. “At that point, we were trying to serve three masters and it got to be too much,” she explains. So, they went all in with limos and sold off the other two businesses. In 1994 and 1995, they bought companies in York and Lancaster, creating a triangle of locations that added to their efficiency and profitability.

Crucial Support System

(l to r) Tracy and her husband Fred.
(l to r) Tracy and her husband Fred.
She believes one of her biggest successes in life was finding the right husband that supports her in everything she does. She’s been married to Fred for 15 years, and looks forward to many more.

“He always has time to encourage and support me and my dreams. When I told him I was going to buy the company, I asked him what he thought. All he said was ‘it’s about time.’ He doesn’t say a lot, but when he does, it has impact.”

Completing the transition with her father was also a milestone in her life. “It’s still sinking in. It’s my job to take care of and protect our people and clients, and that’s something my Dad carried for over 50 years.” Jim will continue to be around the office, keeping his fingers in the business, just as his father was there for him. 

Related Topics: business management, customer service, family businesses, industry education, largest fleets, Pennsylvania operators

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