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Georgia Operator Builds An Empress Empire

Lexi Tucker
Posted on January 22, 2020

Maria Priestly, founder and owner of Empress Elite Limousine

Maria Priestly, founder and owner of Empress Elite Limousine

ATLANTA, Ga. — Women in the luxury transportation industry may be a minority, but maybe not for much longer. By becoming more involved and learning from others, operators such as Maria Priestly, founder and owner of Empress Elite Limousine, can help propel ground transportation and inspire others to follow suit.

Learn Before You Jump In

Priestly moved from Colombia to the U.S. in 1996 and started in corporate America at General Electric as a customer service agent. She learned English from answering phone calls, and eventually went back to college to finish her bachelor’s degree. When the economy crashed in 2009, half the company she was working for got laid off and she started to think about Plan B.

The luxury ground transportation industry caught her eye, but she didn’t know anyone in or anything about limousine service. She decided to study, research, and ask another operator in her area 200+ questions she kept in a notebook. Empress Elite launched in February 2010, and the business has thrived and grown.

On the morning of Jan. 1, 2016, she was having coffee with her best friends. They wrote and shared each other’s goals with one another, and it became clear to Priestly she should devote 100% of her time to her own company. She left her other job after working there for 19 years to pursue her true passion.

Her two daughters, Vanessa, 22, and Melissa. 17, motivate her to accomplish every goal she sets. She enjoys giving back to the community by volunteering and is the vice president of the Greater Atlanta Limousine Association (GALA), an active member of Kennesaw, Marietta, and Acworth business associations, and supports charitable efforts through Metro Atlanta.

A Woman For Others

(L to R) Vanessa, Maria, and Melissa are a mother-daughter team that can't be beat.

(L to R) Vanessa, Maria, and Melissa are a mother-daughter team that can't be beat.

One quality Priestly believes women in the industry bring to the table is a unique ability to put a nice, special touch on everything they do. “We are very passionate about what we do — Latinas even more so — and that makes our business unique and valuable. We go the extra mile. That little, one-dollar birthday banner makes all the difference. You have to ask yourself, ‘Why do people book with us instead of others? What did we do to impact that client’s decision?’ That’s how people remember you.”

She hopes the women in the industry encourage other female business owners to recognize their potential. “We need to help coach each other to become better at what we do. I’d also love to see more women in roles in various boards.”

She credits Tammy Carlisle of Action Worldwide Chauffeured Services with helping her find her stride in the industry. “Everybody should have a Tammy in their lives. We need them as a mentor and friend. We all have those days where we are about to lose it and we need that support.”

Building A Better Business

The Empress Elite Limousine team works hard to make sure clients are taken care of.

The Empress Elite Limousine team works hard to make sure clients are taken care of.

The company started with an SUV and stretch Lincoln Town Car, and has since grown to a fleet of six vehicles. Priestly now runs two stretches, a First Class Customs Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, 2018 and 2019 Chevrolet Suburbans, and a 2018 Lincoln Continental.

She recently hired an office manager, who has allowed her to get out and become more involved in building her business and participating in various community groups. “I have no desire to be a big company. I’ve watched so many people in this industry get burned out, have health issues, and divorce. I want to keep a balance in life and focus on quality versus quantity. We all want to make a lot of money, but I’m not going to sacrifice quality of life for it.”

You must build respect with other companies if you want to succeed. When you get involved in the industry, especially in Facebook groups, it can be dangerous if you don’t conduct yourself professionally, she says.

“People are watching you. Be mindful and respectful of the opinions of the diverse communities within the industry. The way you manage your business and yourself is your brand; it can damage you or allow you to grow further.”

She advises operators to educate yourself on best practices and find people you can trust and who run companies with values similar to yours. Ask a lot of questions, don’t be embarrassed, find a mentor, and be accountable.

“Don’t spend so much time worrying about the competition. Focus on what sets you apart. Create value and success will follow.” She plans on implementing better training to improve retention, growing and expanding her affiliate base, and preparing for any future dips in the economy.

Related Topics: Atlanta operators, customer service, eNews Exclusive, Georgia operators, women in the industry

Lexi Tucker Senior Editor
Comments ( 5 )
  • Bill Devine

     | about 29 days ago

    We have worked closely with Maria for several years. I was on the GALA board with her a couple of years ago. She is always first class in her dealings with us. Her future in the industry is bright.

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