Running a successful fleet comes with many challenges. Owners must consider the size, nature, and demand of their markets through thoughtful research. Once in operation, we also recommend expanding slowly and adapting to demand carefully in order to ensure the most successful and profitable business.
Virginia Operator Achieves His American Dream
Claude Cristea, owner, Williamsburg Chauffeur Service, Williamsburg, Va.
Claude came to the U.S. in 2003 after working for the Romanian military. He quit because he knew if he came here, he’d have more opportunity. He wanted to have his own business eventually, but got his start working at an upscale Italian restaurant called Maurizio’s in Williamsburg. In 2008, he applied for a certificate with the DMV, which was difficult at that time in Virginia because you had to prove a need for the service. After asking for letters of recommendation from businesses and hotels, he got the permit a few months later.
Find the needs in your particular market before buying equipment. Make sure you have the business before you buy the metal. Think long and hard because it will be a constant expense. “Don’t get excited in a busy month. Analyze before you make a move,” he says. Also, don’t just rely on affiliate work; it can go away at any time. Don’t count affiliate runs when you’re figuring out what vehicle to add to your fleet next. “It’s OK to farm-out if you find companies with the same level of service, but make sure to do your research,” he says.
Researching The Market
If you operate in a small market, you want to make sure you do everything right. There’s no room for error when your business thrives on word of mouth. That’s why Claude stays involved in all aspects of operations, making sure cars are clean, chauffeurs are tidy with good manners, and the company is ensuring a phenomenal experience from the first phone call to the drop off. “That’s how you thrive. Everything has to be flawless. You can do 1,000 good jobs and no one will say anything; do one bad, and everyone in town will talk about it.”
Building The Business
When he first started, no one in the area had a Mercedes-Benz S430, so that was his first vehicle. He did a lot of military and government escorting and security as a Sergeant Major in a force of the ministry of the interior in Romania, where he learned a lot about customer service working with diplomats and other high ranking officials. When the economy collapsed in 2008, he promoted his business in the morning, kept his job at the restaurant in the afternoon, and hired retired executives who wanted to drive at night. He had made a lot of contacts at the restaurant because it stood next to a high-end gated community. He advertised in that community’s newsletters with his picture on it, and people started to recognize him.
Since the Mercedes was too expensive for some clients, he decided to get a more affordable vehicle as an extra option. He went with a six-passenger Dodge Caravan, which enabled him to have one vehicle for executives and one for families. After seven months, he was able to quit his job at the restaurant and run his company full time. Soon enough he had to hire another chauffeur and picked up an account with a CEO of a large company a few months out.
Learning From Mistakes
He purchased a bus in 2013 and got a larger one soon after. “I purchased too many too fast,” he says. “It was only really busy for about seven months, but I was hoping the business was there anyway. I didn’t calculate and factor everything in.” In 2017, his fleet reached 13 vehicles. He realized he should downsize to nine to make a good profit margin and avoid unneeded stress.
Claude doesn’t want to be big — just profitable enough for him to be able to spend more time with his family. “We’re comfortable where we’re at. We welcome steady corporate work and don’t want to chase retail.”
In his free time, Claude enjoys DJing for friends’ parties, playing soccer, fishing, and spending time with his family.