El Paseo Limousine founder James Brown credits his success to wisdom from a legend: “‘We are in the customer service business, and we happen to drive passengers,’” he says, recounting an early mentorship from Art Miesemer of RMA Worldwide Transportation near Washington, D.C. Brown has taken this sentiment to heart while building up his San Francisco Bay Area company into the 70-vehicle fleet of today.
“I probably thought I’d get up to three or four cars and just leave it there,” Brown says of his early aspirations. But as his business practices succeeded and his company grew, Brown soon knew he would be in for the long haul.
El Paseo Limousine got its start while Brown was working in the tow truck business in 1986. With 10 years of experience working the towing service, from driving to managing operations, Brown and a business partner decided to try out the limousine business. “We wanted to drive some flashy cars and have flashy passengers.”
The two started out with a single, six-passenger Lincoln stretch with a clean white paint job and blue cloth interior. It was called Sterling Limousine, and Brown did all of the chauffeuring until he was able to hire a second chauffeur and add a 1988 Krystal 85-in. Lincoln Town Car stretch limousine.
Heeding his mentor’s words, Brown strove to build a reputation by prioritizing customer service.
Growth And Rebranding
Capitalizing on the stretch popularity of the time, Brown increased his fleet to five full stretch limousines and moved into an office. But in 1991 he decided to leave the limo business and sold Sterling Limousine to an interested buyer. Unfortunately, the buyer was unable to make the business profitable. With Brown still marginally invested in the brand, he decided to jump back in and save the business and also rebrand it as El Paseo Limousine.
“The reason I went to El Paseo as the name is because before I sold the business, I was located in a very upscale shopping center, which was called El Paseo De Saratoga, and my cars used to face the busy street, so I felt people could put the name and place together. So it was a good marketing decision that I just needed to get done real quick.”
With Brown back at the helm, the business thrived under the new name. Brown was quick to capitalize on the growing trend of Silicon Valley commuters and their attention to environmental and emission factors.
El Paseo invested in propane fueled buses for shuttle work, and became a founding member of the Limousine Environmental Action Partnership (LEAP), which helps ground transportation and limousine companies leverage their commitment to more environmental practices to generate increased profits.
Today, El Paseo Limousine runs a fleet of sedans, minibuses, stretches and SUVs, and has added a single Tesla Model S. Its clientele, about 90% corporate, likes the service so much it keeps re-upping contracts.
Training In Longevity
Brown puts all new chauffeurs on a weeklong training program that includes initial ride-a-longs to El Paseo’s main service hubs and airports. They are taught traffic patterns and what roads to take during certain times of day, as well as safe driving habits and acting hospitable to clients at all times.
As for what has kept Brown in business this long, he says it all comes back to his passion for the industry. “It’s different every day, that’s what I love most. Every day you have different situations and different people, and you know you’re not going to come to work every day dealing with the same situations.”
El Paseo Worldwide Transportation
Location: Santa Clara, Calif.
Owner: James Brown
Service region: Greater San Francisco Bay Area
Fleet size: 70
Vehicle types/models: Sedans, stretches, SUVs, vans, mini buses, motorcoaches, hearse
Annual revenues: $6 million
Key execs/managers: Cyrus Monsef dir. of operations
Contact: (800) 546-6131
Originally posted on LCT Magazine