Canvas

An Interview with Jennifer Buffo
Pure Luxury Limousine


February 1, 2012

By Colby Smith

Jennifer: Hearing about the experience, hearing about somebody’s wonderful event, hearing about their wine tour, hearing about how we moved 2,500 people and it was flawless and everybody loved it. Then I know I’m doing something right and that it’s all for the right reasons.

I met Gary in 1992 and we started dating. I was working for a clothing manufacturer and I walked into a restaurant for lunch and met him. We started talking and realized we had a connection. About three months later he said he needed someone to help him with his limo business. He had one limo. He needed someone to answer his phones. So I quit my job and started working with him. Here we are 20 years later. We now have 93 vehicles and we’ve grown every year in leaps and bounds. We do pretty well together because his strengths are different than mine. He’s very much a behind the scenes/numbers person. He looks ahead 4 to 10 years. So he’s the goal setter. He let’s me know where we need to be and when we need to be there by. And then I figure out how to make that happen. So he’s the dreamer and I’m the realistic one that gets it as close to the dream that he wants.

When we first started, limos were the big thing, so you were somebody if you had a limo. Now it’s really shifted. Limos are something people don’t request as much. It’s more sedans or suburban’s or buses. So we’ve shifted our fleet to focus on those things. We still have limos but the majority is more sedans and buses. The economy affected us in 2009 and into 2010, but 2011 was the bonus year for us. We met every goal. We ended the year on a positive note, we were ahead. In 2011 we were ahead of 2008.

We like to turn over our fleet depending on the make and the model once it starts showing usage wear and tear. If it doesn’t show the image we want, then we turn it over. We’ll either sell it to another company locally or trade it in for a newer vehicle. We farm to other businesses locally then we look at our farm out report. When we reach a certain percentage where we realize we could have had 3 more sedans busy 5 days of the last week - it’s time to purchase. So that’s when we’ll make a decision that we need more vehicles. Our client demand is mainly sedans and buses so we know if we added sedans and buses we could keep them busy.

Our business decisions and choices are based on how it is going to affect our clients. Is it going to affect our clients based on something that they’ve requested or something we’ve heard? How is it going to work with our day-to-day operations? We strive really hard on keeping our morale up, so we want to be sure it’s not going to affect our staff in a negative way. Sometimes if we see a negative flag we try and steer things in a different direction because Pure Luxury is not just Gary and I. Right now we have more than 100 staff members including the chauffeurs. Our detailing staff works around the clock to ensure the vehicles are well maintained to meet the image we try to portray. Another thing about Pure Luxury is that if a vehicle has two runs, it will be completely detailed and washed before it goes back out. That’s something different than some other companies.

The corporate market has rebounded. The group market is definitely coming back. FIT is really strong, and weddings are huge right now in Wine Country. The wedding business in the last year and a half to two years is what has brought a lot of the transportation companies through the tough economic times. I don’t know why, but the weddings did not slow down for us and the budgets for the weddings were the same, if not more. The last year and a half we did some of the largest weddings we’ve ever done with regards to 20, 30, 40 vehicles, I mean big weddings.

I would say I’m normally up and out of the house between 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning. And if I can’t sleep I’m usually out by 5:00a.m. I just think, think, think. And I know I’m just wasting my time sitting here. I need to get to work. I do that
a lot. Most of my best work time is before other people come in the morning because I get the most done and I don’t have any interruptions. But my normal work day, if you look at it between 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning and 5:00 and 6:00 at night, consists of meeting with people on our management team and talking to clients. I organize a lot of the big events we do, so I work a lot in operations with the Chauffeur Manager and Dispatch Manager to coordinate the chauffeurs and vehicles that are best fit for the event that we do. I oversee the sales and marketing department, social media, what’s new, and packages. Examples would be packages broken down by region (Sonoma, Napa, Alexander Valley, Russian River, and Dry Creek). We also have an eco-package. We try to put together packages that other services don’t offer so clients can get the unique experience with us. They can go to the wineries on their own, but they can’t go to all of those wineries on their own and get the “in” that they can get through our packages. So we arrange for them to experience something that they couldn’t experience on their own.

Colby: What are your business goals?

Jennifer: Goals, it depends who you’re asking. Gary’s goals are big, 10 years out. And my goals are next month, next year. So, goals, it depends on who you’re asking and when. We know 2012 is going to be an expansion year for us and we are going to be opening up other facilities.

Colby: What impact do you think being a woman has on the way people respond to you in this fairly masculine industry?

Jennifer: It can be challenging to be the Captain of the ship when you’re in a male dominated industry and you’re a female. I make an effort to learn everybody’s personalities and how to gain their respect so they don’t have to feel they have to be dominant. If I’m concerned about one of the employee’s perception of my role I feel it’s really important to meet with them in person, not on the phone. I need the eye to eye contact. I’m a very connecting person, so if there is anything wrong I have to connect with them because I want them to see the sincerity of what I’m saying. I want to understand why they have that opinion of me and I will always end it with “you don’t have to like me, but please try to respect me”. I don’t need to do this that often. But when I do, in every conversation I have where someone has a difficult time understanding my role, it usually comes around to where the person
will actually end up saying, “Thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate that I got a chance to know you better.”

When I’m outside of business I’m a really warm hearted person inside, my inner self. When I don’t have to be a strong, direct business woman I love having fun. I love food and wine. I love enjoying being in a fun environment. I mean, that’s me. And the people who know me, know I love having a great time and being around people that I love being with. Sometimes I have to put on a shield because otherwise that’s walked all over. So I think being a woman in this role, you have to know when you can truly be yourself and you have to know when you have to put up a guard and be a little stronger than you really want to be to make sure that things are addressed. From a customer service standpoint, if you really believe that something could have been done differently to make the client experience better, it’s my job to let my team know. It doesn’t matter who you are, you have to be able to tell them things that may be hard to hear and I can’t dance around that. Like I said, I’m much better in person. I try to find a sensitive way to tell them. And they just need to understand for next time, that Pure Luxury is not just a transportation company. It’s all about the level of service we provide and that customer always has to come back. It’s the unique experience. It’s not just a car; it’s not just a limo. It’s a certified professional chauffeur helping them experience something they’ll never forget. And that’s what sets us apart. So if I need to remind them of that, they may not want to hear it. But unfortunately I’m the delivery person of that message.

Colby: What turns you on the most about your business?

Jennifer: Hearing about the experience, hearing about somebody’s wonderful event, hearing about their wine tour, hearing about how we moved 2,500 people and it was flawless and everybody loved it. Getting the feedback from the clients. Having my team really pumped up after we’ve done something that went of flawlessly, and they’re really excited that we work so well together. The positive energy and the
positive feedback is what really makes me happy. Then I know I’m doing something right and that it’s all for the right reasons.

Colby: How do you balance your business and personal lives?

Jennifer: We split things really well. We have two children, a daughter, Brianna 16 and a son, Garrett, 13. And we try to do it so one of us is at all their games. And they have games and practices on the same day, so we split it up. He’ll go one way and I’ll go the other. There are times when we’ll all meet up at 9:30 at night back at the house.

Outside of the business, we go to Tahoe. We go in the winter for the snow. We go in the summer for the waterskiing. Also, my family has a house in Mendocino so we go there often. We like to get away on the weekends. Once every couple of months we try and go somewhere just for a couple of days, just to get away. When we go away we usually take the kids with us so weekends are the best option because of school. We go on a lot of business trips. We generally have anywhere from 6 to 8 business trips in a year. Insurance meetings, Gary’s on the GCLA Board (Greater California Livery Association), and he’s also on the NLA Board which is the National Limousine
Association, so a lot of business trips there. And we’ll go on trips to meet with our clients. We just went to Boston to meet with a couple of clients there.

Colby: If all the pieces hadn’t fallen into place to be where you are now. What business do you think you would go into?

Jennifer: Fashion. I was in the fashion industry before I met Gary so I’m sure I would be doing something in that industry. Fashion or Marketing. I really enjoy marketing. Those are what I always wanted to do. I still have my hand in the marketing. I don’t know, I’m a big “Image” person. So whether it’s the image you’re marketing or the image you’re wearing. I think looking good is important, feeling good is important, and marketing yourself is just as important as marketing your business.

I am diligently training our management staff to run this business like we do, because I would love to make more time for myself. And find time to enjoy things that make me happy. Afternoons where I could walk out at 1 or 2 and go do something fun. Because it’s been so long I don’t even really know what that is at this point. I know I like going to the beach. I’d love to have more time to take walks, do things with my kids. Just enjoy life. There’s no time for yourself. It’s hard to say what I would love to have more Jen time so I can find out
what I would really like to do.

Colby: What’s one thing out of the ordinary that you would like to do in this lifetime?

Jennifer: The first thing that comes to mind is traveling. I’ve zip-lined and that’s about as high as I want to go. A place I love to go is Hawaii. When I go to Hawaii I’m untwined. I’d like to go to some exotic country somewhere. I’ve never been out of the country.

Colby: What is your philosophy of life?

Jennifer: Be happy and enjoy every minute of it as much as you can. That’s the philosophy I try and live by. As much as I can, be sure that every day is lived to its fullest. That’s how I see it. You can surround yourself by negative, but you’re going to be much happier if you find the positive and take whatever you can to see the good things.

If I’m being myself I have a huge heart. And I think the people who know me would say that. They know I would do anything for them.