Saturday, December 15, 2018
By Liz Hunter

Majestic Limousine & CoachScott and Melissa Woodruff, owners of Majestic Limousine & Coach, in front of downtown Des Moines’ Iowa State Capitol If it weren’t for one computer glitch 20 years ago, Scott Woodruff wouldn’t be featured in this magazine.

Back then, Woodruff was pulling triple-duty by running his own limousine business, working full time at an insurance company, and filling whatever time was left over as a part-time police officer. Along with his partner and best friend at the police department, they applied for a law enforcement opening in Las Vegas and were among the top 20 to make the list of new recruits. Woodruff started planning a move from his home in Des Moines, Iowa, to Sin City, when a freak computer glitch caused the list of finalists to disappear. All prospects were asked to re-apply, but that was something Woodruff didn’t care to do all over again.

“It’s funny how things happen. I wouldn’t still be in this business, and I wouldn’t be blessed with the family that I have today,” Woodruff says about the fateful glitch.

Woodruff founded Majestic Limousine & Coach in 1996. After graduating from Iowa State University (Go Cyclones!), he was working in corporate America at an insurance company. As he looked ahead at the trajectory of his career, it became evident that the corporate red tape of waiting years for promotions and added responsibilities was not appealing. He had an urge to be challenged and his entrepreneurial spirit was growing.

“I have always been a gearhead. I like cars and I was constantly picking up car magazines at the store,” he says. “Limousines were always intriguing, and something pushed me to go look at some that were for sale. After a short trip to a dealer with $10,000 in my pocket, I found myself driving home in a black 1988 Lincoln 60” stretch. That drive home was filled with the adventure of owning a limousine and the money to be made.”

He later found out it wasn’t as easy as he had planned in his head.

While he continued with his Monday-through-Friday job, Woodruff would do trips here and there. He advertised specials in local magazines and offered to help more established operators with retail work. Figuring out that one limousine could only do one wedding on a Saturday, he decided to purchase another six-passenger limousine to double the revenue.

“The first year was challenging but rewarding,” he says. “By wearing all the hats, from reservationist to detailer to bookkeeper to chauffeur, it was evident I was learning Limo 101 with a thirst for some higher level education. It was a little trickier to get two limousines in my garage, but with a little geometry and the proper angle, they fit like a glove.”

Woodruff was now at a fork in the road: He was balancing the duties of his young company with his full-time job, but his career in law enforcement was poised to begin. After stumbling across an industry magazine in the late ’90s, he had a voice in his head telling him to go to a limousine convention.

Majestic Limousine & CoachL to R: Chauffeurs Anthony Grother, Dean Shelabarger, Jeff Appleyard, and Joel Samuelson in front of Wells Fargo Arena “I was walking around the show floor and I struck up a conversation with Gary Olsen of Silver West Limo in Dallas. Little did I know that a 10-minute chat was the push I needed to get my 28-year-old mind thinking about how to develop a plan for Majestic,” he says.

Woodruff says that Olsen asked him several simple questions: “How many Town Cars do you have?” and “How many corporate accounts do you have?” Having neither, Woodruff answered Olsen’s last question—“What do you do?”

“I told him I do weddings in limos,” he says. “Gary’s reply was classic: He said that’s why I wasn’t making any money. Well said, Mr. Olsen.”

Woodruff came back home to Des Moines and bought a 1992 bronze-colored Town Car. “I didn’t realize then that the only acceptable color was black,” Woodruff admits.

Ultimately, it wasn’t about the color of the car: It was the service he provided that mattered. Trips started to come in during the week and Woodruff would use PTO from his full-time job to cover them. It was time to make a decision on Majestic’s future.

“I realized if I was going to focus more on corporate clients, I needed to quit my insurance job,” he says. “I told my mom I was going to resign, and she didn’t really understand why someone would leave corporate America for such a risk. Her generation went to work for a company for 40 years and then retired. I couldn’t imagine doing that, and at the time I didn’t have a wife or family to take care of so I figured it was the perfect opportunity. If it didn’t work, I would go get another job.”

Majestic Limousine & CoachThe office team (L to R): Office Manager Allie Benson, Gayle Boeke (former employee), General Manager Dave Warwick, and Reservationist Melissa Stidfole. (Not pictured: Executive Assistant Jacquelin Veldhuizen, Reservationist Julia Crouse, and Reservationist/Billing Patti Williams, who works remotely from Colorado.) Fortunately, he never had to worry about a backup plan. Paying attention to the little details set Majestic up for long-term success. Woodruff established three corporate values to which the company still adheres: Professional (top-quality chauffeurs, meticulously clean vehicles, and outstanding customer service), Punctual (to be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be LATE), and Precise (details, details, details). The three Ps correspond to the three points in the company’s triangle logo.

Business picked up when Majestic acquired more sedans and caught the attention of some national networks. By 2000, the company moved into a warehouse facility and invested in two minibuses. Another move four years later included a real office.

“I must have been a good salesman in 2004 because I was also able to convince my then-fiancée Melissa to quit her 9-to-5 job for a 24/7 job at Majestic,” says Woodruff. Her roles would encompass most of the office duties while he focused on the fleet and chauffeur tasks.

While he may have been behind the curve those first few years he spent learning the ropes, Woodruff was definitely ahead of it when it came to adding motorcoaches to his fleet—and did so years before most of his industry colleagues.

Woodruff’s foray into coaches began in 2004 when he was approached by a general manager of a nearby hotel who was putting together a family Caribbean cruise trip for 45 people leaving from Galveston, Texas, in the coming year.

“I told him it was no problem,” says Woodruff, despite the fact that the company did not have a vehicle large enough to move the group. Six months later, he bought a motorcoach after test-driving it in a Target parking lot.

Majestic Limousine & CoachThe Majestic Team enjoyed an afternoon of go-karting where Scott Woodruff claimed first place (Allie Benson and Anthony Grother placed second and third, respectively) Following the cruise, Woodruff purchased a second coach after noticing that the chauffeur service touch was missing from the bus industry. “If we tried to reach out to a bus company for help, it was hard to get ahold of them after 5 p.m., and there was no industry standard for what a driver was expected to wear or how to prepare for a trip,” he says. “I thought that we can do this better.”

The response was encouraging. “People loved it. The buses were clean and the chauffeurs were dressed in black suits, arrived early, and knew where they were going. The bus business grew organically through word of mouth.” In fact, he often tells his peers who are getting into the bus business: “Make sure to have a plan to buy a second one, as you will find one coach isn’t enough.”

Currently, buses comprise half of Majestic’s 24-vehicle fleet. The rest are sedans and SUVs, with only one stretch limousine left. The company operates out of a 16,000-square-foot facility owned by the Woodruffs, of which 2,000 square feet is office space. The Majestic team includes eight office personnel, two detailers, two vehicle technicians, and more than 20 chauffeurs. Half of the team has been with the company for more than 10 years, and Woodruff attributes part of Majestic’s success to this staff longevity.

There is a good deal of group work in the area, and quite a few major events put the city and state in the spotlight—namely the Iowa caucuses, which occur every four years leading up to a presidential election. “The caucuses are like a Super Bowl... No matter how much you prepare, you still run out of cars,” Woodruff says.
"We make sure sales increase through our service levels and by people wanting to do business with us. If you do a great job and train the team on five-star service, clients will want to do business with you." – Scott Woodruff, co-owner/founder of Majestic Limousine & Coach
Majestic Limousine & CoachThe Woodruffs overlooking the Des Moines skyline The internationally acclaimed Iowa State Fair is another top event. The annual 11-day fair draws a million visitors from political candidates to groups from across the globe and everyone in between. Of course, many argue that the best thing about the Iowa State Fair is the food, most of which is on a stick.

“Melissa and I really enjoy attending the fair three or four times each year for the food, people watching, and exhibitions. We make sure to hit some of the great concerts,” Woodruff says.

Other events include RAGBRAI (The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa), a seven-day bike ride across the state with 8,500 recreational riders from several countries—Melissa among them. The Farm Progress Show is the largest outdoor farm equipment show in the U.S. where representatives from across the international farming industry attend.

Iowa is well-known for its corn, and agriculture is at the foundation of the state, but Des Moines is a white-collar city home to a considerable number of insurance and financial institutions, including Principal Financial Group, Nationwide Insurance, Wells Fargo, and many others. Nature lovers can’t miss cultural attractions such as the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, an indoor conservatory of 15,000 exotic plants, or the 25-acre Blank Park Zoo. Visitors have their choice of local performances at the Des Moines Opera House, Ballet Des Moines, Des Moines Civic Center, or Wells Fargo Arena for national touring acts. One unique quality to downtown Des Moines is the skywalk system: Every building is connected by an elevated, enclosed walkway which is more than four miles in length and comes in handy for those frigid winter days.

The Woodruffs love that you can get anywhere in Des Moines in 20 minutes. “Wherever we need to go, it’s always 20 minutes. During rush hour, it’s 22 minutes,” he says, adding that he doesn’t know how operators in some of those larger metropolitan areas do it. “We’re a big small town living up to the term ‘Iowa nice.’ We hold the door for people; we use our please and thank yous, and we are just overall a friendly state. It’s what we do.”

Perhaps that’s why it’s not so surprising to hear how the Woodruffs treat their team at Majestic. Among the standard employee perks are potluck lunches and gift cards for going above and beyond. They plan three or four company outings a year, whether it’s bowling, go-karting, or seeing a Cirque du Soleil show. Melissa and the team’s personal favorite was a scavenger hunt.

“We started the day with a chili cook-off and then loaded up in vehicles for a scavenger hunt,” she recalls. “They had to do some crazy stuff like go into Subway sandwich shop and ask to make your own sandwich, or go into a store singing ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ and try to get people to join in, or come up with a team jingle. The thing worth the most points was finding a stranger to switch clothes with. One group—which ended up as the winning team—went into Walmart and the driver swapped clothes with a woman in a dress.”

Majestic also offers subsidized medical insurance, dental/vision insurance, PTO, and a 401(k) plan to all its full-time employees. “Our team is like family and family is important,” Melissa says. “They all help us get through the day-to-day obstacles. We feel that these benefits are a must for those who take care of Majestic each and every day.”

For the Woodruffs, it’s just common courtesy that also extends to the clients. “Every company has issues or service failures. We address ours as Possible Customer Complaints, which we call PCCs,” says Melissa. “PCCs are filled out by anyone in the company if something doesn’t go right, no matter how small. We feel it is important to be ahead of the possible service issue before the client contacts us. We’re honest. We apologize, and it’s amazing how many people thank us for calling.”

Majestic Limousine & CoachChauffeur Jeff Appleyard has been with Majestic for 7 years Woodruff’s role within the company has evolved into a true executive one where he handles financial matters and negotiates contracts, but he has no problem jumping behind the wheel or detailing a car when needed. The Woodruffs trust their team to handle the customer just like they would, and that trust has paid off.

“I tell everyone in the office you aren’t allowed to tell a client no unless you get permission. I believe this makes them think about it and figure out a solution on their own instead of me giving them the answer. People want to think for themselves, so we let them,” he says.

Melissa now spearheads the group transportation department and will regularly go on-site for some of the company’s biggest moves outside the Des Moines market—she really enjoys her January event in Scottsdale that allows her to skip a week’s worth of cold weather back home in particular. Client relations is another crucial aspect of her duties. She regularly touches base with current clients and sells new ones on the Majestic experience locally and at their destination. Clients receive personal notes to thank them for their business.

“In this business, there are hunters and there are farmers. Farmers cultivate and nurture the business. Hunters are the ones to go after it. Melissa is definitely a hunter,” Woodruff says about his wife.

Sales tend to be organic, so the company does not have a dedicated team of sales professionals. “A lot of companies have full-time salespeople out there to get sales, but we’re more boutique,” says Woodruff. “We don’t buy sales. We make sure sales increase through our service levels and by people wanting to do business with us. If you do a great job and train the team on five-star service, clients will want to do business with you.” Woodruff adds that one of his drivers once said, “What I do today to service the client determines my paycheck a year from now.”

Woodruff knows all too well that it’s easy to dwell on the things that went wrong that day because perfection tends to be the model to strive for in our industry, but he sees a silver lining. “Service failures here and there are a good thing. It gives you a chance to reach out to the client and show you care,” he explains. “Don’t forget all the things that went right that day, and make sure everyone both in the field and on the phones knows you appreciate all they do to keep the wheels moving. From the beginning to end, it’s the whole team who creates the experience for the client and delivers that Majestic WOW!”

The Woodruffs have found ways to diversify their revenue streams, as they didn’t want to have too many eggs in one basket. Their office building is surrounded by 2.5 acres of paved land that they rent out for RV/boat storage, for example.

Majestic Limousine & CoachScott is also an officer with the Altoona Police ­Department (with the famous Iowa corn behind him) “We have about 50 spots and it’s a great source of fixed income that doesn’t take a lot of work on our part,” says Woodruff. “A new venture has been to open our maintenance facility to work on other companies’ vehicles, which has proven to have some great margins. Finding another commercial property to purchase or lease out is next on the checklist, which could include a move as the company grows in the foreseeable future.”

If he needs someone to bounce things off, Woodruff can always turn to a group of trusted peers and friends. He’s a member of the Strategy Leaders peer group, which he says is like having 12 mentors. “We share everything, and we don’t just talk specific to the limo industry. We are business owners getting together to discuss business strategies, share successes and failures, and be there for each other to lean on. It just so happens that we all own transportation companies.” he says.

For anyone just getting started in the industry, Woodruff recommends finding a mentor, and he’s happy to have played that role for a few operators. “Through mentor groups at the shows, I’ve met people and stayed in touch with them. I don’t mind sharing my best practices if it helps their company because we all need each other to service the clients in the affiliate world,” he says.

Helping others is part of Woodruff’s DNA. While he parted ways with the insurance industry, he didn’t give up his law enforcement career completely. He continues working part time, usually the 3-11 p.m. shift after a day at Majestic. “Sometimes I wonder if I should be doing this with all the risks involved, but when you save a life or help someone by being there when they need support, it makes it all worthwhile,” he says.
"From the beginning to end, it’s the whole team who creates the experience for the client and delivers that Majestic WOW!" – Scott Woodruff
Majestic Limousine & CoachThe family enjoying time on their boat (L to R): Adam (22), Scott, Zyla (6), Melissa, Blayce (5), and Nathan (19) Woodruff’s decision to stay in Iowa also led to his family. When he married Melissa, Woodruff became a stepfather to her sons, Adam, now 22, and Nate, 19. Adam works with Melissa’s father to learn his business with aspirations of owning it in the near future, and Nate is in his second year of college. Their family grew by two more in 2013 when they stepped in to care for two infant girls—within one week. Melissa says Zyla and Blayce, who were just 5 months and 5 weeks old, respectively, are from a distant side of her family tree. They took in Zyla to keep her out of foster care; when Blayce was born, they offered their help to her mother, which soon led to a fateful phone call.

“We got Blayce with nothing more than a bassinet, diaper bag, and formula,” says Melissa, and just like that, their world changed nearly overnight. Suddenly, the Woodruffs had to balance running a business with caring for two infants and arranging visits with the parents, who didn’t always show up.

“We knew these girls deserved better,” says Melissa. As time went on, the courts asked if the Woodruffs would adopt the girls and there was no hesitation in their answer. “We are now complete with a family of six. Zyla is totally attached to Adam and she calls him Bubba. When he is around, he is all she sees. Blayce has latched more onto Nate and the two of them are like best chums. The boys are great big brothers,” she says.

“Our lives changed in one week,” says Woodruff. “They are wonderful little girls and they bring a ton of happiness to our lives. We love them to pieces.”

Free time is scarce for the Woodruffs, but they cherish family moments. Family vacations are a must, and they try to do one or two a year. During the summer, any spare time is spent at the lake. “If the weather is nice, we’re usually on the boat,” says Woodruff. “Boating is good family bonding because everyone is in one place and sort of forced to communicate and pitch in. It’s family fun and we love it.”

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