LONGMONT — People like limousines. Maybe it’s the luxury, or the size, or both. Either way, people like limos.
People like them so much, there are four limousine companies based in the Longmont area alone.
“There’s a lot of work out there, but there’s also a lot of limo companies,” said Pat McGrew, the owner and operator of A Last Minute Limousine in Longmont.
McGrew’s company has two limos, one sedan and five drivers.
The ease with which people can get into the limousine business makes it fairly competitive. All it takes to start a limo company is a driver’s license and enough start-up capital to buy a limousine.
“In the limo business, a lot of people come and go,” said Daryl Sprague, the owner and operator of A-TLC Limousine in Erie.
Sprague’s company has two limos and two part-time drivers, in addition to Sprague.
He said it doesn’t take much to beat most of the competition.
Sprague said he could beat 50 percent of the competition if he showed up with a clean car, and 75 percent of the competition if he showed in that clean car, wearing a suit and on time.
Sprague — who has been in the limo business for seven years, six as owner and operator of A-TLC — said the most popular service in the industry today is SUV limousines. A-TLC’s two limos are both Ford Excursions.
“When people call, they don’t ask about our rates or our availability; all they ask is if we have SUVs,” he said.
A Last Minute doesn’t have SUVs, but the company recently bought a new limo, and since then, business has picked up, according to McGrew.
“It’s hard to catch it sitting still,” she said of her new limo, the “Ultra Classic Wave.”
To stay competitive, Longmont’s limousine companies have to serve most of metro Denver.
Prestige Transportation of Longmont serves primarily the Denver area, but the company also isn’t shy about leaving the state.
“I actually did a prom in Rapid City, S.D.,” said Jackie Vandenhoek, who owns and operates Prestige with one stretch limousine and three sedans with her husband Clarence Stern
McGrew said she serves everything within a 100-mile radius of Denver.
She said doesn’t mind business from Denver but would like more in the Longmont area.
Sprague agreed, saying he prefers to do business north of his Erie home.
“If I get jobs (in Denver) I’ll usually farm them out (to other companies),” he said.
One of the biggest expenses limo companies face is insurance. To register with the Public Utilities Commission, limousines have to have insurance. But because of the cost of insurance, many companies skip it and choose not to register with the PUC.
“If they don’t have that blue sticker, they probably don’t have insurance,” McGrew said, referring to the PUC’s insignia showing a company is registered.
A Last Minute, A-TLC and Prestige are all PUC-certified.
Companies that don’t register with the PUC aren’t allowed to do airport work, which McGrew said is a chunk of weekday business.
E-470 has made a big difference in airport runs for Longmont’s Limousine companies, the owners agree.
“It saves a good 12 minutes,” Vandenhoek said.
Stern said when business travel declined in the wake of Sept. 11, his airport business took a “big hit.”
“It had a tremendous effect on our business for quite some time,” he said.
Airport business has, however, picked up in recent months, he said.
While regular business like airport runs keep limousine companies busy year round, prom season is their bread and butter.
“There’s not enough cars to go around during prom,” McGrew said.
Weddings, proms, parties and anniversaries are the best part of the job, both Sprague and McGrew said.
“It’s like you’re part of the celebration,” Sprague said.
But when people celebrate too heartily, it’s not so much fun for the driver or the owners. In fact, because of bachelor parties that turned wild, Sprague now turns down requests to serve such events.
“They get too rowdy and the car suffers,” he said.
Prestige’s owners said they haven’t had many problems with rowdy passengers.
McGrew said bachelor parties aren’t much trouble, but 21st birthdays can be.
“I have my biggest and meanest drivers do those,” she said with a laugh.
Keeping customers from driving drunk is one of McGrew’s focuses.
“It’s justifiable to pay for a limo if you’re going to have a few drinks,” she said. “I had one customer tell me it would have been cheaper for him to charter a helicopter than to get his DUI.”