“There were a lot of clients who complained about this other company and wanted me to start my own business, so I did,” he says. He bought his first car from Destiny Limousine, which got its chassis from a Lincoln dealer in Ohio who was like a partner to them. Destiny would stretch them and then sell them back through the dealership.
“Every bank on the planet said I had a great business plan, but didn’t want to take the risk during that turbulent time,” he recalls. Birmingham then went to the owner of the dealership and got him on board. “At the time, roughly 80% of all manufacturing in the U.S. was done within a 500 mile radius of Toledo. My plan was why deal with all the hassle that comes with airport security when you can hire us?” By the end of end of 2001, he had three vehicles and was booked out solid.
He started marketing his service to Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Toronto, and Chicago, did a big bridal show, and continued to book a great deal of work. He also promoted a few vehicles he didn’t have, booked the trips in advance, and got the builds started. Thanks to word of mouth, he did $400,000 worth of business in his first full year and grew his fleet to five vehicles.
Although an engineer by trade, he was always interested in customer service and cars. By spending time at another company as a chauffeur, he learned what not to do.
“The misconception of lower prices means more volume means I’ll eventually make more money is what gets people into trouble,” Birmingham says. “Just because you have a million dollars’ worth of cars doesn’t mean you have a million dollars. It’s not about how big your fleet is, it’s about how good you do what you do. If you can’t do it right —and by right I mean legally — just don’t do it. We don’t need more operators; we need better ones.”
In the near future, he hopes to use automation to help streamline his business and ease service for clients. He’s also trying to find a way to create a healthy, active pipeline for chauffeurs. “It’s the biggest problem we face. In my opinion, it’s the biggest impact TNCs have had on our industry. They take people and make them believe they don’t need to dress right or get drug tested.”
Never Stop Striving For Success
Birmingham doesn’t believe in quitting while he’s ahead. “We strive to be better every day. The minute you think you’re more important than your customer, you’re done,” he says.
There was once a point where he was renting a facility for several thousand a month while also paying for a remodel on his new facility during the crash of 2008. “I just stayed focused and never stopped doing what I needed to do. I didn’t beg for business or lower prices; I did everything I had committed to since day one. Even when times get hard, I’m not going to cut back on insurance, maintenance, or anything else that makes us a luxury, safe company.”