Thrives Through Service, Respect, and Values
BY LIZ HUNTER
Even from a young age‚ Alan Candeub knew he wanted to be in business for himself. From working a paper route and shoveling snow to working for a local supermarket at age 13‚ it was always in him to make his own success.
Candeub says that he earned his hard-knock education with small but successful business endeavors throughout his high school years. When graduation approached‚ his mother insisted he attend college: It wasn’t a good fit for him‚ so he dropped out and went to Vail‚ Colo.‚ where his older brother was working.
“I supported myself out there‚ but the opportunities didn’t present themselves like I had hoped‚” Candeub says. “So I came back to my roots‚ obtained my business degree from Temple University‚ and got engaged.”
While trying to get another business venture off the ground during the day‚ Candeub worked nights delivering financial documents throughout Philadelphia. It was the mid-’80s‚ before fax machines were common. Right around this time‚ Candeub was presented with the very opportunity that would end up leading him to his true calling.
As Candeub tells it‚ his soon-to-be father-in-law worked for a security company and Phil Collins was stopping in Philly as part of his tour. “The security company was coordinating Phil Collins’ hotel and transportation‚” he says. “Limousines were scarce‚ but that’s what they needed. So I said‚ ‘Let me give it a shot.’ I bought one and immediately was hooked.”
While most company owners tell stories of their early days driving friends and family‚ Candeub’s start with entertainers gave him an invaluable education early on. “I learned right away about the level of customer service expected to serve this clientele‚ and at the time‚ I had no kids. Flexibility was a necessity and I really enjoyed it‚” he says. “The success is what motivated me‚ not the money. I wanted to be the best‚ and I put the money I made right back into the business‚ buying a second and third car‚ and then a fourth‚ plus hired an office person. The only money I took in those early years was what we needed to live on.”
Flash forward almost three decades and those decisions to reinvest in the business are what set up Candeub and his Philadelphia-based company—Park Avenue Limousine—for long-lasting success. “It wasn’t about the number of cars‚” he says. “I was goal-oriented and always wanted to know what was next. We’ve been through a lot in 28 years.”
From those early days of servicing retail clientele in stretch limousines to today’s predominantly corporate book of business‚ Candeub paid careful attention to the changing tides of vehicle choices in the industry. “During the first years‚ I could pull up to Motorola’s headquarters in a white stretch Cadillac and it would be considered acceptable‚” Candeub says. “It wasn’t until 1992 that we bought a used Town Car. It looked like a funeral car‚ but as time went on‚ sedans became the preferred vehicles‚ and we added more to the fleet.”
The majority of Park Avenue’s business was retail until 2000‚ but the trend shifted that year and the fleet started to become more diversified. “I wanted to be able to accommodate all needs‚” says Candeub. Additions in the past decade or so have included SUVs‚ club wagons‚ Sprinters‚ Mercedes-Benz and Toyota sedans‚ Chrysler 300s‚ and several buses ranging from 18 to 32 passengers.
Candeub says it’s still important to him to keep a few stretches in the fleet. “The reason is simple: I don’t want my corporate clients going to my competitors for any of their needs. I will keep that retail equipment for weddings‚ bar mitzvahs... I’ll never fully be out of retail. I never want to be completely out of one segment of our industry‚” he says.
This is the type of no-nonsense statement you might expect from a Philadelphian. People from The City of Brotherly Love have a reputation for wearing their hearts on their sleeves and telling it like it is. (Don’t ask “How ‘bout them Eagles?” unless you’re willing to hear the impassioned answer.)
For Candeub‚ no matter how many times he left Philly‚ he always came back. In our industry‚ New York City is the giant of the East Coast but Candeub says he found a sweet spot in Philadelphia. Geographically‚ it’s a phenomenal location‚ he says. The city is 90 miles south of New York City‚ 125 miles north of Washington‚ D.C.‚ and approximately 90 miles north of Baltimore—all major players in the corporate market‚ and Philadelphia sits right in the middle.
The city’s stature in our economy is nothing to scoff at either. Several Fortune 500 companies are headquartered here‚ including Comcast‚ Sunoco‚ Wyeth‚ GlaxoSmithKline‚ Boeing Rotorcraft Systems‚ and Pep Boys. It’s also home to the country’s No. 1 ranked children’s hospital‚ The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia‚ and several major educational institutions‚ like Ivy League member University of Pennsylvania‚ and the aforementioned Temple University—former stomping grounds of Bill Cosby‚ Will Smith‚ Bob Saget‚ and musicians Hall and Oates.
But it’s the historical aspect of Philadelphia that truly makes it an international city. As the birthplace of our nation‚ visitors come from all over the world—39 million of them in 2013—to see Independence Hall‚ the Liberty Bell‚ the National Constitution Center‚ and cultural spots like the Philadelphia Museum of Art‚ Boathouse Row‚ the Barnes Foundation‚ and of course‚ we can’t forget the cheesesteaks.
“No matter where people come from‚ and no matter how many historical sites they want to visit‚ every person who comes to Philadelphia wants to make a stop at Pat’s or Geno’s‚” says Candeub‚ referring to the two well-known cheesesteak vendors.
Park Avenue‚ like Philadelphia‚ is well-equipped to handle these visitors‚ too. “Tourism is a huge part of our business‚” he says. “We have full-time tour guides and can get interpreters‚ but our chauffeurs are also required to have a soft understanding of the city and some of the major spots with significance. We also can arrange for day trips just outside of the city to places like Valley Forge National Historic Park or Gettysburg.”
No matter where people come from‚ and no matter how many historical sites they want to visit‚ every person who comes to Philadelphia wants to make a stop at Pat’s or Geno’s.”
– Alan Candeub, President of Park Avenue Limousine
Candeub says The Pennsylvania Convention Center‚ located in the heart of downtown Philadelphia‚ completed an expansion in 2011‚ which makes it even more prepared for incoming events. “When you have an expansion like that and think about how many people that space can accommodate‚ it causes a chain reaction‚ and the city is responding by adding hotels. In the next four years‚ five major hotels will be opening‚ including a new Four Seasons and W Hotel.” These join already-established hotels like The Ritz-Carlton‚ Rittenhouse Hotel‚ Westin‚ Palomar‚ Marriott‚ and Sheraton.
Park Avenue is no stranger to servicing hotels of this caliber‚ The Ritz-Carlton among them. “I love dealing with a higher echelon because it’s a challenge to accommodate them‚” Candeub says. “Anyone who has The Ritz-Carlton knows it’s a challenging account‚ and everyone strives to replicate that Ritz business philosophy.”
In fact‚ The Ritz-Carlton Philadelphia received a “Wow” Award and was recognized as hotel property of the year in 2009 for an incident in which Park Avenue was involved. Candeub relays the story‚ saying‚ “There was a major snowstorm that hit the city from Friday into Saturday‚ dropping 20-plus inches of snow. There was a wedding booked at the hotel that Saturday for which we were providing transportation. The hotel called me in a panic because the whole city was buried. I called up a chauffeur who I knew could handle it‚ we switched the bridal party from limousines to stretch Hummers with four-wheel-drive‚ and I hired a snow plow to drive in front of the vehicles. That day‚ not even the florist and photographer showed up; I was the only vendor.”
Candeub says he simply did what had to be done. “The most successful people in our industry are rational decision makers. We all come across challenging people‚ and work to make them happy. For this bride‚ 20 inches of snow on the ground wasn’t an excuse‚ so we handled it the best way possible.”
Objectivity is a core characteristic in Candeub. He says it can sometimes get him into trouble with his wife Lisa when he sides with their kids‚ but it has helped when it comes to the regulatory environment in Philadelphia. “We’re a heavily regulated industry‚ but I don’t have a major problem with that‚” he says. “A lot of operators want to fight the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) and the Pennsylvania Utilities Commission (PUC) because we don’t need Big Brother having a say in everything we do. I agree with that on some level‚ but I think regulations have their place‚ as long as there is a limit to them.”
Candeub says that a decade ago‚ Philadelphia had an issue with its taxi drivers and not knowing who was behind the wheel; after the city intervened‚ the accountability was there to stay. “When you get into a cab now‚ you know there’s been a background check‚ a drug test‚ and they have proper insurance. The consumer is protected. You can’t say that about every city in the country‚” he says.
He has been on the PPA advisory board since its inception‚ representing the ground transportation industry on major issues. “When something comes up‚ PPA relies on my opinion and I’m proud of that. I might not always tell them what they want to hear‚ but they know where I stand‚” he says.
It’s a philosophy he carries through to his business. “I speak from my heart and my employees know that‚” Candeub says. It’s especially important when it comes to hiring people. “Anybody in this business with more than one car has to learn to diversify their responsibilities‚ and the way to do that is with a great team of people. I’ve been doing this for 28 years‚ and I’m a very good judge of character. I can tell if someone is being authentic.”
One of the most important values a prospective employee must have—whether in the office or behind the wheel—is respect.
“You’ve got to give respect and expect it in return. This isn’t the right business for you if you can’t give and receive‚” Candeub says. “I’ve built my entire business on respecting those at every level of this company. When I have a site inspection with an affiliate or corporate client‚ I meet them in the parking lot where we’ll meet the detailers who are washing and cleaning the cars. I introduce them to everyone‚ and explain to them that they are an integral part of the company‚ making sure the cars go out properly. This lets my detailers know they’re relied upon and respected.”
Park Avenue has 12 office employees and 45 chauffeurs‚ both full- and part-time. Candeub requires 20 hours of training for all driving positions and 600 hours of training for office employees before he is confident enough to allow them to go out on their own. He also believes in everyone being equals in the office‚ where all the desks look the same and he expects his employees to take full responsibility for everything that goes on.
“You’ll never hear ‘That’s not my job‚’ in this office‚” says Candeub. “I have a really dedicated group working for me. I never need to ask them to stay late‚ they just stay.” Just recently‚ Candeub instituted a profit-sharing program at Park Avenue for his employees. “I attribute a vast amount of my success to them. I wouldn’t be anywhere without them.”
The average tenure of employees at the company is 12 years‚ but Park Avenue’s GM Adam Greene has been working with Candeub for more than two decades. “He’s very conscientious and an integral part of the organization‚” Candeub says‚ adding that Greene has often been mistaken as the owner of Park Avenue at industry events. “People think he’s the owner not because he’s telling them he is‚ but because he has that much input in the company and cares about it.”
Liz O’Brien is the dispatch manager and has been with the company upward of 15 years. Candeub says she helps to run quarterly meetings with chauffeurs‚ along with Candeub’s wife Lisa. “It’s one of the few areas Lisa is involved in‚” he says. “When I’m not sitting there‚ the chauffeurs speak more freely‚ and it’s a model that has worked well for us.”
Candeub says that chauffeurs are a challenge to find. “Every company in this industry has two types: chauffeurs and drivers. A driver is someone who shows up on time‚ does the job‚ knows where they are going; a chauffeur is someone who goes above and beyond their job description. A driver is 15 minutes early‚ a chauffeur is 30 minutes early. We try to minimize our drivers and maximize our chauffeurs through a lot of training and good communication with the office staff‚” he says. “Not anyone can be a chauffeur. It has to be in you to want to exceed expectations.”
He adds that TNCs have somewhat dipped in to the pool of potential chauffeurs‚ but for those who want to provide real service‚ Candeub says‚ “We give them a career as opposed to a stepping stone. We provide the best working experience we can and want them to have pride in their job.”
This strong backbone of employees who truly care about their jobs as well as Park Avenue’s success is reflected in the company’s thriving affiliate network‚ which is managed by a dedicated affiliate department. Candeub says he got in on the ground floor of the affiliate business about 20 years ago when networks were still in their infancy.
Candeub says service is of the utmost importance when it comes to affiliate work. “You have to provide the absolute best. You can’t have mishaps‚ and you need a reliable reputation‚” he says. “Our fleet has been dictated by our affiliate program and we’ve always made sure to have any vehicle other companies would expect.”
As important as it is to receive work‚ Candeub says Park Avenue has made a push to grow the outbound side. “It requires a lot of trust to send work out and know your clients will be handled in the manner you would handle them‚” he says.
Relationships make all the difference. “You need to let affiliates know your face. You can’t just be ‘that company from Philadelphia‚’” Candeub says.
While Candeub is still in the office every day‚ he values the ability to get involved in the industry beyond his business. He’s a member of the National Limousine Association‚ Philadelphia Regional Limousine Association‚ Limousine Association of New Jersey‚ and American Bus Association. Candeub also sits on the limousine steering committee for the Taxicab‚ Limousine & Paratransit Association.
After nearly three decades in the business‚ Candeub has a lot of information to share; in fact‚ he was a mentor at the first Chauffeur Driven Show and volunteered again for this year’s event. “I had three mentors while I was growing in this business‚ all of them were clients and because of what they did for me‚ I’m able to pay it forward‚” he says. “Sitting down for a roundtable discussion at the show‚ bouncing ideas off of each other was such a positive experience. We all got something out of it.”
His acts of paying it forward don’t end there. Giving back or doing good deeds is something he does not only personally but also through his business. Park Avenue supports multiple organizations‚ Wounded Warrior Project and Make-A-Wish Foundation among them‚ and later this month Park Avenue will be participating in a benefit for The Marlon and Andrea Byrd Foundation (Byrd plays on the Philadelphia Phillies). “We feel charity comes from the heart and we have a few key organizations in Philly that we’ll give to‚” Candeub says. “We built our business in this community‚ so it’s our responsibility to give back and fulfill its needs.”
Candeub says his family is extremely tight-knit. He and Lisa have been married for 28 years‚ and they have three children: Briana‚ 24‚ is a Temple graduate with a degree in hospitality and business who works at Four Seasons and part time at Park Avenue; Chelsea‚ 20‚ is a full-time student at Maryland’s Towson University who works summers at the company; and Chase‚ 19‚ is attending the University of Pittsburgh and plays hockey for the college.
Candeub loves to travel with his family‚ as well as maintaining a certain level of personal fitness by participating in high-energy sports‚ and spending time with his friends in the industry. “One of the greatest things is how the professional relationships have turned into personal ones‚” he says. “It’s really something special and I’m so thankful for the many friends I have in this industry.”
If he hadn’t been drawn to running a ground transportation company‚ Candeub candidly says he always knew he would be in business for himself somehow. “I am really glad I found this industry‚” he says. “I’m very passionate about it‚ and I believe if you have loyalty‚ respect‚ and values‚ it pays you back tremendously.” [CD1114]