Magazine for the professional limousine, charter and tour industry.
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52 LIMOUSINE, CHARTER & TOUR JANUARY 2017 WWW.LCTMAG.COM Carl Wilson, owner of Limo Sales & Service in Columbia, S.C., finds that working with, rather than against, fellow operators benefits everyone. No Envy, Just Good Will Helps Operation Grow By Lexi Tucker, LCT assistant editor Customer service: Carl Wilson, owner of Limo Sales & Service in Columbia, S.C., says one thing that has kept his clients coming back are his chauffeurs. "We have some that have been with us for 12 to 15 years who get nothing but five star reviews," he explains. After each run, he calls the customer and asks how the service was. "The chauffeurs get kind of competitive; they want to get more stars than the others. I think it encourages a fun, competitive environ- ment that helps them improve their skills." Wilson ensures his vehicles are constantly kept in impeccable shape and fresh for clients. He changes the tires every three years, paints them ev- ery 18 months, and installs new carpet every two years. Marketing strategies: Daniel Spyralatos, the company's marketing manager, says the company covers all the traditional ways of a limousine business, but re- cently started to focus more on digital advertising. "We see great value in people looking for limos on the Internet because yellow books are gone. Offline forms of promotion are alright, but most people are on a tablet, smartphone, or some other device. We make sure we position ourselves very well on Google and social media to get the greatest im- pact and exposure." One other way the company gets its name out to potential customers is attending bridal shows. "A lot of people don't like to go to them, but it puts you in front of a large, cap- tive audience," Wilson says. Lessons learned: Understanding how to properly buy new vehicles will save you many headaches, Wilson says. "It's not how new your vehicles are that's important; it's how well you maintain them. Many people want to get into the limo business but have no concept of how to market or find clientele." This is why he believes hiring a knowledgeable marketing manager makes your business run smoother and succeed. Advice: Over a 20-year period, Wilson has helped from nine to 12 operators start out in the business of luxury ground transportation. "We've never been afraid or envious to help someone out. If there are more cars on the road, people believe they are more accessible," he says. "Once my vehicles are booked, that means I have to give business to someone else anyway. If they book theirs up, hopefully they are going to shoot it my way." Cooperating is more beneficial than being extremely competitive. "Don't be afraid to lend a hand to someone who needs the help. We were put on this earth not to chase each other around and try to beat each other, but to give each other a hand." Clientele: The company caters to the needs of executives, attorneys, and vari- ous retail business, including engage- ment parties, receptions, and weddings. Limo Sales & Service also provides transportation to military balls, junior high and high school proms, and The Masters golf tournament. Start-up costs and methods: The big- gest obstacle to starting a limousine SMALL FLEET BUSINESS I JANUARY 2017 FAST FACTS LIMO SALES & SERVICE LOCATION: Columbia, SC FOUNDED: 1994 OWNER: Carl Wilson VEHICLE TYPE: Sedans, SUVs FLEET SIZE: 9 EMPLOYEES: 4 ANNUAL REVENUE: N/A WEBSITE: www.limorentalcolumbia.com PHONE: (800) 694 3295 company is finding the finances. Most of Wilson's startup funds came out of pocket, but he leased through several major companies as the business grew and added clients. He started with a used, 90-inch stretch Lincoln Town Car that first belonged to Embassy Suites. Learning how to understand his market, as well as how to properly buy and use vehicles, helped assuage any fears of buying a car that would simply end up in the garage all day. "A lot of people will buy the first thing they come to, but down south we have a white car market because everyone associates a black car with a funeral. Try to have something to fit everyone's taste." Origins: Wilson started working for a friend who owned a limo company 24 years ago and liked it. He was eventual- ly hired to run the business, and helped make it quite successful. He then started his company. "It's got its ups and downs; we've been bigger and we've been smaller, but it's enjoyable." Biggest success: One thing Wilson counts as a big achievement is the fact his company was selected to run sedans for Steve Forbes, as well as other CEOs and CFOs of Fortune 500 companies when they came to South Carolina about eight years ago. Future plans: Since the company has been receiving many requests for party buses, Wilson is looking into buying one for his operation. (L to R) owner Carl Wilson and marketing manager Daniel Spyralatos work together to ensure the company and the services they provide are visible to a digital audience.