BY SUSAN ROSEIf there’s any vehicle that has emerged as the trendsetter for this decade, it’s the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter—especially if the Chauffeur Driven Show’s sales floor is any testament to the popularity of the product. It continues to fill that sweet spot for many operators with a practical passenger count and lots of room for customization.
“Stretch limousines have become the new ‘exotic’ vehicles of today because they’ve been largely replaced by Sprinters,” says Jay Glick, owner of First Class Customs. Glick should know: In addition to building custom Sprinters with First Class, he also owns and operates a retail limousine service in Englishtown, N.J., with his wife Denise Glick, where they do nearly 1,000 weddings a year. First Class Limousine has several state-of-the-art limousines, but he says that even bridal parties are quickly picking up on the versatility and sensibility of Sprinters. Moreover, the line between corporate and retail vehicles is fading quickly as more and more builders have become sensitive to the need for a multi-purpose interior.
Glick founded First Class five years ago at a time when the demand for these vehicles was taking off, splitting his weeks between his home in N.J. and the production facility in Springfield, Mo. Since that time, many other builders have entered the space and have driven competition to a new level, but Glick welcomes it.
“For the past five years, we’ve been trying to raise the bar on what you see in our Sprinters, and you’ll notice that our ideas have been emulated by many other builders. We’re also focused on quality, so we’ve tried to up the game for other manufacturers in our space. Our designs are modern but always very elegant—it’s been important to us to find that right balance by using the highest quality materials and electronics that are available to the industry.”
“Our designs are modern but always very elegant—it’s been important to us to find that right balance...”
– Jay Glick, Owner of First Class Customs
Interior designs are where builders can show off their craftsmanship, so Glick says a lot of time and effort has been put into making them classically elegant with a modern twist that is both durable and functional for frequent use.
“We’ll use solid acrylics, aluminum, extruded PVC, and other materials that resist chips and damage. Our all-new seating design was really thought out to ergonomically use the corner seat (limo interior). It used to be the worst seat because the lack of leg room, but now it’s the best thanks to our strategic design that allows for ample space for that passenger. These are things that are important to me as an operator as well.”
He is often inspired by requests from customers of his own transportation service, and because of the company’s size, those changes and adaptations can be implemented rather swiftly. It’s one of the reasons why First Class has remained a factory-direct manufacturer rather than one working with dealers. It’s what he calls a “real-time market,” where the products they build reflect the current wants and needs of industry operators who desire customization.
“First Class Customs almost never has inventory. By building six to eight units per month, our demand currently exceeds our production capability. We are a smaller custom builder and focus more on quality over quantity,” he says. “Our commitment to providing the best possible support is another reason for us to remain a boutique-style builder. Our plan is to remain independent; our hat is hung on the factory-direct relationship.”
Glick, a bona fide car enthusiast, likens First Class’ aesthetic to the Porsche 911, a German sports car that has been produced since the 1960s and has preserved its specific styling throughout its production history.
“A 10-year-old Porsche 911 is still unmistakably a Porsche 911, and that’s the philosophy that I have with our products. First Class vehicles have the distinctive look that people expect, and even though we are evolving and making positive changes, the signature is maintained throughout our line,” he says.
One way that consistency is achieved is through his management and production teams, most of which have been with Glick since he founded the company. He says that his staff upholds integrity and quality, which leads to a consistently well-built vehicle.
Glick knows this because customers have not been shy about sharing their opinions about the First Class lineup on public forums like Facebook and Instagram. The word-of-mouth advertising has bolstered the company’s reputation with operators of all sizes.
“We’re really proud of the fact that our name is mentioned positively on social media and at industry trade shows. It’s fulfilling for us to see when a customer is expressing how satisfied he is with one of our products. We really try to make ourselves as accessible as possible, and are grateful that our customers appreciate our extra efforts. It seems that buyers are realizing that there is value in spending just a little bit more for an exceptional product and the service that comes with it. Customers are seeing that the same principles they apply to their own businesses—not the cheapest, but the best—applies to the manufacturing side of the industry as well.”
He says that shuttles are leading the market over limousine interiors, but that there is an uptick in demand for his Executive Class vehicles, which are the higher-end corporate shuttles with fewer seats, in addition to many amenities like foldout desks, wider and more comfortable seating, and built-in wireless routers. The trend is upscale, beyond just utility. He also has seen an increase in private clients, which he hopes to capitalize on through 2018.
“Customers are seeing that the same principles they apply to their own businesses—not the cheapest, but the best—applies to the manufacturing side of the industry as well.”
– Jay Glick
Glick still works directly with customers, so he is aware of what is popular in the industry right now, and can share his advice as a service provider: “It’s really important that an operator knows what’s best for their business. My best advice is to tell the builder as much about your business and how you think the vehicle will be used as possible. Manufacturers can sell you any vehicle you want, but is it the one you need for your service? Know what you’re looking for before you shop and buy.”
Glick admits that the manufacturing side commands more of his attention, but that he recently joined The Wheels Group, a peer and consulting 20-style group offered through Driving Results. “It’s been great for me and my businesses. When I’m at the shows, I’m Manufacturer Jay and not Operator Jay, so it’s good to step outside of it and feel like an operator.”
He’s also seen firsthand how the challenge of keeping a transportation service diverse and TNC-proof has also impacted those companies that support operators.
“As everyone in the industry knows, we have to work hard for every dollar. There is no easy way to achieve profitability in this industry—and that’s for everyone including operators, vendors, and anyone related to transportation. First Class Customs plans to adapt in the coming years to meet whatever demand of our customers and the rapidly changing transportation industry.” [CD1117]