Cars for Stars - Company history
In 2002 the idea of setting up a limousine hire business in Northamptonshire was first considered by two brothers, Stephen Hughes and Andrew Hughes. Although neither of their backgrounds included transportation or the leisure industry, combined, they had a good mix of marketing, sales and customer service skills.
Customers placed first..
The intention was to set up a business which genuinely offered a reliable service where the customer was placed first. Unlike many others that make this claim, the principals of Cars for Stars set this as their founding motivation and part of the ethos of the business. It was decided that to keep overheads down, the marketing mix would mainly consist of enquiries generated from the internet, supported by Yellow Pages adverts and search engine optimisation (SEO). The intention was to provide the best limousines, where service was the master, not price.
The business was started in 2003 and then a limited company (Cars For Stars Ltd) was set up. From the outset, it was clear that there was more demand than capacity and the principals were often called upon to supply limousines outside the intended territory of Northamptonshire. At first, enquiries were taken and then passed to limousine operators in other areas, but it quickly became evident that many of these operators did not have the same motivation to offer a high level of service and given these were recommendations; the principals felt that it offered a poor reflection on the Cars for Stars name.
In late 2003, consideration was given to how the principals could service these enquiries and setting up new offices was one option. However, this would have required substantial investment and manager to run the local business. The principals felt that customers would be better served if the local management had a vested interest in the business.
Cars for Stars franchise..
The obvious answer was franchising, but once again, this option was discounted, principally because franchising was an expensive model and often required franchisees to invest substantial amounts of money in start-up fees and marketing. In the end, it was decided to opt for a ‘licensing’ option where prospective business people could operate under the Cars for Stars name as a “Licensee”...in a model that would afford them the opportunity to manage and expand their own business, whilst operating under a strict set of systems, procedures and codes of practice. Further, the model was designed to encourage, not penalise a well run or expanding business. The first Licensee was set up in 2004.
In 2004 and 2005, many new operators started to see the benefits of setting up a limousine business, and much of this could well have been due to the apparent success of Cars for Stars. In fact, one or two companies also started to emulate or copy the Cars for Stars Licensee model, without really understanding how it operated of the principles behind it. Needless to say many failed. The intention was always to roll out the Licensee model in a steady manner that would balance the need to expand to service enquiries, with the prerequisite need to appoint the best people.
With the prevalence of new limousine operators setting up a new business, often operated on a part-time basis, with an unsuitable limousine and little regard to customer care, the authorities started to take note. Concern was raised that limousine operators were not licensed or checked. In fact there was a great deal of debate as to whether there was any legislation to cover this aspect of this flourishing industry.
Cars for Stars was fully behind the concept of licensing all limousines and drivers in a manner that afforded some protection to customers and an element of legitimacy for an industry that was in its relative infancy. Moreover, Cars for Stars were of the view that a failure to control, licence and legislate would lead to more entrant, more competition and ultimately, a fall in the available service and quality of limousines available.
In fact the authorities were slow to react in a coordinated way. Some local authorities did allow licensing, whilst others refused. Cars for Stars was one of the first limousine companies in the UK to first embrace the principle of licensing and then license the business and drivers. All Cars for Stars licensees were also obliged to licence their vehicles and drivers as and when their local authority permitted such action.
Operator of the year..
In 2005 Cars for Stars was named runner up as “Limousine Operator of the Year” and in 2006, voted “Limousine Operator of the Year”. This was welcomed because it was an award given by our peers and therefore a true reflection or endorsement of our ethos and growing reputation.
From 2007 Cars for Stars became increasing vocal in its attempts to encourage the authorities to curb the plethora of new unlicensed operators opening up in the UK. The effect was an industry that was plagued with poor business practices, unsafe limousines, a increasing number of critics and ever falling prices. In fact, in 2007, average limousine hire prices had fallen some 40%, against a backdrop of increasing overheads, up by a similar amount. It was self-evident, that if the authorities did not act quickly, then the better operators would suffer and the so called “cowboy operators”, also referred to as the “after tea boys”...would come to dominate the industry at the expense of service, reliability and safety.
Politicians only started to take an interest when the media started to publish stories. In fact, Stephen Hughes was interviewed by ITN news about the issue of licensing limousines and this was featured on the main news bulletins. These small moves eventually started to pay dividends; nonetheless, it was still to take a further 2.5 years before the industry was properly regulated. And this was not before some of the more ‘enterprising’ operators started to circumvent existing legislation by using a loophole which allowed them to hire limousines on a “self-drive hire” basis.. a complicated process, that meant drivers did not have to be licensed by the local authority and limousines were licensed as a minibus, in effect, a simple, legal...but highly risky process that placed the risk on the customers.
In 2008 and due to a continued expansion of the business, Cars for Stars relocated to London, this allowed a further expansion of the chauffeur cars side of the business.
The effect of the recession, new legislation and licensing laws in 2009 has had the effect of removing many of the part-time and so called cowboy operators and Cars for Stars now sees the future as challenging, but now clear to develop with the customer placed at the front of the queue, not where they have been over the past few years...at the back.