James Limousine is just one of several limousine companies struggling during the coronavirus.
“I would say 80 percent of our business is corporate business which has come to a halt right now,” said Hope Newcomb, partner and CEO of James Limousine, a small businesses with headquarters in Richmond and Charlottesville.
The company has locations in Williamsburg, Newport News and Charlottesville and provides transportation from business trips and flight transportation to weddings and elective surgeries.
They currently have two contracts with airlines.
“So basically our trips, our daily average would maybe be like 75 trips,” she said. “We’re lucky if we have two a day.”
Newcomb said the company has no weddings on the weekends and some weddings have been postponed to the fall months.
“That’s kind of a wait and see game,” Newcomb said. “It’s hitting the wedding industry as well pretty hard.”
When asked if prom cancellations had affected her business, she said the company has been hit overall.
“It’s far more than what people would really expect or see—it’s not really the glitzy stuff,” she said. “Sometimes we have contracts with hospitals for treatments or surgeries.”
“A big part of the springtime is our wine tour business as well,” she added. “Yeah, proms are just a very small piece of the puzzle.”
Due to the drop in business, the company had to lay off some drivers and office staff and even applied for a small business payroll loan.
“We have 42 drivers, had to go down to 39,” Newcomb said, adding the 39 drivers are laid off and three drivers are currently working. “We had to lay off all of our office staff.”
The loan was approved a few days ago so the company was able to hire back their employees with full-time pay, but since businesses is slow, there isn’t a lot of work for them to do.
“We did bring them back full-time,” she said. “They’re just doing nothing.”
The company is taking this time to hold virtual sales seminars and having staff members detail all of their vehicles as well as perform yearly maintenance.
Most employees are working remote save for the drivers who have masks, offer passengers hand sanitizer and sanitize the cars.
Staff is available 24 hours a day by phone and the business continues to operate 7 days a week if they have trips.
“You have to take it day by day because so much is evolving and changing and there’s so much that’s unknown,” Newcomb said. “That’s the hard part because there is so much that is unknown.”
“We’re trying to stay strong, we’ll be here when we all come out of this.”
Abdou Brahim, owner of VA Executive Sedan and Limousine Service headquartered in Virginia Beach, also said this is a particularly difficult time for his businesses because March and April are the busiest months.
During this time, his business would usually be supplying transportation to a number of different weddings, proms and various other events that start happening in the spring.
But recently his 13 drivers have decreased to two who are only operating a small fraction of his fleet of vehicles.
“Definitely, it’s gotten us where it hurts,” Brahim said. “Obviously everyone gets hit by this, but different businesses have different effects than others. Even if people wanted to rent a limo for a birthday or something, where are they going to go?”
Those drivers are only providing services for clients who might need rides to other parts of the state or even out of state. But even with those clients, the business is having to change its operations and analyze future business impacts.
For example, the company has a set of smaller SUVs and sedans that are usually fairly popular among clients. Now however, more clients are using stretch vehicles and limousines in order to create distance between themselves, other passengers and the drivers. Brahim said this has caused him to consider selling some of his smaller vehicles because he doesn’t know if this trend will continue.
But as a company that services the entire state, Brahim said the hardest hit is the loss of business in Hampton Roads. A large portion of the company’s business came from clients traveling through Hampton Roads, particularly from various airports.
“We are in the middle [of the] travel industry,” he said. “Basically when the airports lost flights, that’s where our main business was.”
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, Brahim said he’s not sure what will happen. Even when the economy starts to reopen, he’s not sure he will get his business back from the airports because people still might not be traveling much.
“A lot of people focus on the big guys, the airports, being impacted by travel,” he said. “But we’re very much connected, that’s our business.”
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