The Early Days of Golden Limousine
President Sean Duval shares insights and reflections on what has led to the enduring success of Golden Limousine as it celebrates its 31st Anniversary.
At times we look around our community and wonder why some companies have a longer existence than others. If you have the opportunity to chat with the creators of these enduring organizations you quickly realize it comes down to a few key leadership attributes - they must have a vision that continues to evolve, a tenacity that won’t quit, a passion to contribute to the community, and a bit of scrappiness - for good measure.
I have been working with Sean and the Golden Team for over 15 years and while I have heard the story about the creation of Golden many times, it is always worth a recant and a share. While we entrepreneurs are driven by a different beat (that never stops), it gives us inspiration when we discover others that have given their all to make their dream a reality and a success, through the best and worst of times.
So I am sharing my recent conversation with Sean so you can hear it directly from the visionary about the beginning of it all…
Why did you pick the transportation industry when you did not have a background in that field?
I wasn’t actually picking the transportation industry. I was choosing a cool hospitality industry that I believed I could easily manage with my then job as a McDonald’s restaurant manager. The limos were cool. Chauffeur hats were cool. Driving celebrities was cool. All of those things were dancing through my mind since I didn’t have the first idea of what was involved in running a limo business. I wasn’t really choosing transportation as much as choosing hospitality. And in reality, that’s what I still believe today. Golden is a hospitality company in which transportation for passengers is a component.
What were your goals for the first year? Structurally and financially?
In reality, I didn’t really have goals for the company when I started. I just thought I would take over and we would make money. It wasn’t until the first few bills hit that I realized there was a give-and-take to the cash flow. Early on, mostly take! But over the first year, I learned that breaking even in the first year would be a challenge and that making money overall would take great focus.
How many vehicles did you start with? How many do you have now?
In 1992, we started with two 1987 Lincoln Armbruster stretch limousines. I thought we were going to start with three, but the owner of the cars sold one of them just before I finalized the deal with him. I also leased a van from him which was used to help transport doctors from the Weber’s Inn Hotel on the west side of the city to the Old Mott Hospital where they were attending Continuing Medical Education courses. This work kept our limousines and vans busy throughout the week. Imagine coming to a course, and getting delivered daily to classes in a stretch limousine.
Today we have more than 60 vehicles and what’s funny is that none of them are stretch limousines. We have vans, cars, SUVs, specialty vehicles like trolleys and Sprinter Limo vans, and of course many different sizes and styles of buses carrying from 19 to 56 passengers.
Do you remember what the cost was for an airport trip?
The cost of gas per gallon?
In 1992, we charged $35 for a trip to the airport plus a 15% gratuity. The difference was that we charged this rate using a stretch limousine, so folks were exceptionally well-treated for their vacations and business travel. Instead of a shuttle van or a car service, we were truly carrying people in ultimate luxury.
In 1992, the cost of regular gas was about $1 per gallon. It went down to under a dollar a few times during that year, but really, we were able to maintain a fairly consistent price throughout our first two years in business. I remember in 1995, in negotiating with Pfizer Corp., we first introduced fuel surcharges when fuel started rising above $1.35/gallon.
The current Golden Limo is highly involved in community organizations. Were you involved with any from the beginning?
Golden has always been supportive of community organizations in the form of donations and discount services. We take great pride in our continued commitment to the community and I personally serve or have served on the board of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, Destination Ann Arbor, and the Michigan Works Southeast Workforce Board, and was the past chairman of the board of the Washtenaw Community College Foundation and the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Chamber.
Golden Limousine is proud to have been established in Michigan and to have been able to endure and succeed here for over 30 years. We have been able to do so because of the loyalty of our customers, the great relationships that we have built along the way, and our ability to reframe the business as needed, over the years.
During the many years, have there been individuals that have created an impact on the Golden of today? If so, who and why?
Golden would not exist if not for our staff and partners, which has been true from the very beginning. Every team member, past and present, has contributed to the success of Golden. We are a 24/7 company, which means we never close, the Golden team has missed holidays, weekends, family events, and more to ensure our clients receive premium service at every turn.
I am truly honored to currently have so many dedicated team members and give sincere thanks to them and their predecessors, as they have all weathered the storms, celebrated the wins, but most of all – consistently upheld our goal of providing exceptional service to our clients.
While staff and partners are crucial to our success, even more so is our clientele. Through the years we have been fortunate to have very loyal clients that understand the value of our services and not only appreciate it, but feel they are vital. Our clients have become our friends and these relationships have allowed us to provide more customized services due to familiarity. They have also been the source of many referrals which have grown our company, for which we are forever thankful.
In the end, Golden’s success will always be because of "the people", whether they be team members, partners, clients, community members, or leaders. They have and will continue to make the Golden world go round and round --
in the past, present, and future.
Interview and Article by Tina S. Walther, Rapport Innovative Marketing
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