One of the fun things about doing these Side Gig Thursdays  is that you meet a lot of interesting people who have such surprising side gigs. We learned about how Michael runs a small vending machine empire , how Mary helps people prepare their resumes , and how Danny supplements his income as a magician and balloon twister . Today, we get a chance to learn about Gene and his wife’s limousine business that he started on the side while managing an A&W restaurant full time.
If you’ve ever rented a limousine for a prom or a wedding, you probably thought the owner was making bank. While he or she probably was, there’s a tremendous amount of overhead involved too. Today we can learn a little more about what’s involved in a business like that.
What is your day job?
I manage an A&W restaurant (owners are not present) and my wife stays at home and home schools our 3 children (age 4,8,11)
What is your side gig?
I (when I say “I” It should read “we”) started a Limousine / Chauffeuring Company and my wife is cultivating a business selling things at the Farmer’s Market and also on Online through Facebook. The day job takes 40 hours a week, the sideline probably around 10 hours a week depending. (much more initially especially when creating the first letters / templates… much faster now). Likely 5+ more hours per week if you count all the research, eBay shopping and trade related reading I do (that I count as pleasure).
How did you start doing your side business?
I saw a void in the marketplace and liked the idea of working with vehicles, customer service, and promotions. For my wife, our children wanted to sell items (home-made jewelry) and wife had some home-made crafts (wheat weaving) and an excess of homemade jams to sell. (1. Product available 2. Desire to cultivate a sense of business in the children 3. money)
How’d you get financing for the vehicles?
After consultation and consideration I chose to use a personal line of credit due to great low current rates, minimal requirements, and red tape.
Did you rent or buy? How many vehicles are in your fleet?
I purchased first one 6 passenger Lincoln Town car last September (2011), then after finding out everyone wanted something bigger, purchased a 12 seat Ford Excursion last February (2012). It was never our intention to own two, but we need to have what everyone wants. The Excursion carries the business and the Lincoln is now for sale.
How many employees do you have?
Myself and wife run nearly exclusively. Only once have we hired someone to drive while both vehicles were busy (and I didn’t want my wife to drive for a “grad”). At least one other person would be available / is willing to drive if needed.
How much does it make each month (amounts are in Canadian dollars)?
The limousine business is traditionally seasonal (weddings), and it is my first year, but if I extrapolate based on current bookings and interest I would say $25,000+ per year, with Summer at $3,200+ per month). For the Farmer’s Market, this is very new and the first time she had a table it cleared about $70, and the second time it was very quiet and she didn’t even break even!
When it comes to marketing, do you rely on anything outside of word of mouth?
Internet is extremely useful in letting people know how to find us / invaluable. We have our own website  that we learned how to create and manage ourselves (wife primarily) – always evolving. Besides that any free listing I could find online. I have done a few newspaper ads to promote concert packages with limited success that likely have resulted in raised awareness (and bookings), however if I gave any advice it is that for this event based business, the best advertising IS word of mouth. (but the web enables people to find you after they learn you exist). Also the vehicles themselves are great advertising! (going to get gas usually results in a phone-call).
Do you have a plan to try to turn it into your full time gig?
It is not my current plan, but certainly would be nice. Depends on business and especially if we moved to a more populated area. I could expand and include many cars and other drivers and it could evolve where I would manage and not drive.
As for the Farmer’s Market – No, perhaps a part-time gig. (unless it does very well or we find products that are very popular… we will keep trying new items!)
6. What resources did you rely on in starting the business?
A good credit score (I purchased the vehicles with a personal line of credit), A lot of google / research, an exhaustive one year mock costs analysis, speaking with others and watching the cost of vehicles.
For the Farmer’s Market, it’s based on past experience (selling Wheat Weaving alone – Farmer’s Market), advice from organizers and the Health Department to comply with standards.
Do you have any advice for people looking to start something on the side?
Try to find someone (especially outside your trade area) willing to share the ropes. It can save you a fortune. Give excellent customer service and never cut corners on quality – it is the BEST advertising. Look after your day job / your bread and butter.
Farmer’s Market: Pay attention to what sells and keep your prices low and volume high.
I hope you enjoyed the interview – if you know someone who would make for a good profile/interview for Side Gig Thursdays, please let me know!