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Iowa Operator Proves Dedication Leads To Distinction

Lexi Tucker
Posted on March 26, 2020

(L to R) Tim and Grace Pettit, co-owners of Chauffeurs of Distinction

(L to R) Tim and Grace Pettit, co-owners of Chauffeurs of Distinction

DES MOINES, Iowa — It’s easy to call yourself a leader, but how many company owners walk the talk?

Tim Pettit, co-owner of Chauffeurs of Distinction, has taken what he’s learned over years of being a law enforcement officer and applied it to how he treats employees and clients, which has become more important than ever during the time of coping with the effects of the coronavirus.

Always Be Prepared

Much like everyone else in the luxury transportation industry, Pettit has been coping with running his company during a time when runs are few and far between for all operators. Luckily, he used his intuition when he saw the writing on the wall about a week before he started seeing quarantines nationwide.

“I made contacts and put measures in place to minimize our losses. We’ve temporarily minimized our fleet to one vehicle. Fortunately, all of our chauffeurs are part-time and have regular jobs that allow them to make a living,” he says, noting the fact so many larger companies have had to lay their entire staff off.

“I’m the sole chauffeur at this time, and we have chosen to not run our bigger vehicles because we don’t want to contribute to the spread of the virus. It’s unfortunate some companies are advertising their larger cars as parties on wheels; it defeats the purpose of what the country is trying to do to help curb the effects of COVID-19. I understand people need to make money, but they shouldn’t do so at the expense of safety and health.”

Stay Active

Pettit has always operated with low overhead to begin with, and believes Chauffeurs of Distinction will come out of this disaster battered, but not broken. “This will pass. At this point in time, use every resource you can. Reach out to friends in the industry and outside of it. I’ve reached out to several operators across the country to give words of encouragement,” he says.

On top of that, when all is said and done, start back up by vowing to operate within your means. “Sadly, there will be many companies that don’t bounce back if this goes on as long as some have predicted,” he explains. “Revaluate your goals, and spend time tidying other parts of your life. For those that are really struggling, reach out to friends. There are worse things in life than losing money or a company; you’ve still got your pride and integrity.”

From Cop To Chauffeur

Pettit worked for another chauffeured transportation company briefly for about six months. One afternoon, he came home and told his wife Grace he knew they could start their own company together and exceed client expectations in every way. Within a month, they bought a Town Car, and started with individual runs here and there. Three months later, they purchased a stretch limousine, and after five and a half years in business, they now have five different vehicles in their fleet.

Before his career in the luxury transportation industry, he was a police officer for 22 years, and then spent eight years with an insurance company conducting fraud investigations. Now, in addition to Chauffeurs of Distinction, he also runs a private investigation company.

“In a sense, you are in a customer service role when you work in law enforcement,” he says. “If you treat a suspect as a person, they won’t get up in arms about receiving a ticket. It’s your job to get them to understand it’s not your fault they got a ticket; it was something they did. But that doesn’t mean you don’t treat them with human decency.”

Slow And Controlled Growth Wins The Race

Although he didn’t always see himself in the limo business, he says it’s been an incredible journey. “I’ve learned quite a bit about this industry, and I still have a lot to learn. The key to success is to treat people with respect to earn their business. Just talk real to them.”

This tactic has clearly worked for him and Grace, as before the coronavirus pandemic hit they had a good mix of vehicles: Two SUVs, one sedan, one stretch, and one limo bus that accommodated up to 14 passengers.

They started out doing mostly retail runs with two stretch limos and a bus. As their clientele crew, they got rid of one stretch and picked up wedding, wine tour, and executive work. He likes smaller groups, so he doesn’t plan on morphing into a coach company any time soon. “I see so many companies that overextend themselves and lose focus,” he warns.

The best advice he has for new operators coming into the market is you must commit. “Plan on being married to the business. If you want to succeed, you have to give it your all.”

Doing your homework before you start will help smooth the experience a bit. “We did a little research in the beginning and thought we were going one direction, but ended up changing the type of services we offer based on client feedback. You must be flexible but stand your ground when you believe in something and stick with it. In addition, social media can be a powerful tool; however, don’t fall into the trap of needing to pay attention to what the Joneses are doing.”

Staying Positive And Hands-On

Pettit says every day is a success if you keep a positive attitude. “Having been through the careers I have, if you get upset over the little stuff, it could make your life miserable.”

That outlook has contributed to the steady, controlled growth of his company. He also believes if you can’t pay cash for it, you can’t afford it, and that has helped him stay financially healthy. “In terms of vehicles, we work with what our market desires.”

He notes none of this could be done without the support of Grace, who was able to leave her other job and work with Chauffeurs of Distinction full-time starting in December 2019. When you call their office, you’ll speak to either her or Pettit directly.

“I’ve also spent a good chunk of my life as a sports coach, and I think this has helped us guide our team well. A boss is someone who dictates; a leader is open to criticism and discussion. To call yourself a leader, you must turn around and see if you are being followed every once and a while.”

Related Topics: coronavirus, COVID-19, crisis management, customer service, disasters, emergency planning, emergency preparedness, eNews Exclusive, Iowa operators

Lexi Tucker Senior Editor
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