For more than 20 years, Cardel Global has been among the most respected names in transportation within the European marketplace. Based in Paris, the company and CEO Karim Maachi became synonymous with outstanding service and ability to solve any problem that came down the line for their 5-star clientele. However, the company has been expanding its offerings to include high-end concierge services and global logics. Maachi’s success with diversifying in this arena led to a recent rebranding as the Cardel Group—a three-business unit that includes business, sports, and entertainment management—as well as an explosion of business and growth.
As one might guess, the transition from respected luxury ground transportation company to successful global management company was far from an overnight process. Cardel’s current growth has its roots in a financial roadshow a decade ago.
“Back in 2012, I had a call from an investment bank in the United Kingdom,” says Maachi. “There was a roadshow that the bank booked with us in Paris. The second day of the roadshow was in London, but a strike prevented the client from flying commercial to the UK. The bank called us and asked if we could secure them a private jet. The meeting was very important and simply couldn’t be missed. I found a broker and booked a private jet. The customer was very, very happy. We got feedback from the bank saying they were going to use us for these services in the future.”
While having happy clients was, of course, rewarding for Maachi, the profit generated from a relatively simple problem-solving effort was staggering.
“The profit I made from booking a one-way flight to London ... I made the calculations and found that to make the same profit margin, I had to book 60 car rides. I just made a call, sent an email, and it was done! So, there was something interesting there. I realized that if I could find the clientele and find reliable partners, I’d be able to diversify the business and source of revenue.”
Maachi immediately got to work to explore what would be required to further diversify the company’s service offerings.
“I realized that when our high-end clientele travels, they might need commercial flights, private jets, hotels, sometimes security, meet-and-greet at the airport—and these were services I could definitely sell. I found the right partners and started offering these to most of my clientele. Six months later, I generated 10 percent of my income thanks to the extra revenue from providing these new services. The investment banks and international corporations I worked with began to ask me to do this type of work for them as well. So, in 2014, I had to open my own travel and concierge company.”
He recognized that he would need team members skilled in providing 5-star service across the board—not just in transportation.
“I hired a concierge from a 5-star hotel in Paris. I needed someone familiar with luxury who knew how to treat high-end clients and had an existing network. I required someone who was able to book a last-minute private jet, secure a personal guide in a museum, or book a restaurant for a private party. At the time, I didn’t have those kinds of connections, but I knew that concierges know how to solve those problems. So, I said I’m not going to waste my time training my existing ground transportation employees; I needed to hire the right kind of person. And it was the right move, because the person I hired was able to provide us with the services he was giving the wealthy, high-end clients at the hotel.”
Achieving success in both ground transportation and travel management, Maachi found that he needed to build up his company, first acquiring two other transportation businesses and ultimately purchasing a sports management firm in 2020.
“I did this because I started to diversify my type of clients: we started with corporate clients, but over the years, I’d get requests from model agencies, talent agencies in the United States, and even studios like Universal and Netflix. We started to diversify the type of client on the transportation side, and it became easy for me to sell the services to them. I started generating revenue in different types of sectors—NBA players, soccer players, even DJs. Direct clients were booking with us for transportation, hotel, flights ... everything.”
Recognizing that Cardel had become infinitely more than a transportation company, Maachi hired a large communications company in Paris to evaluate the brand. As the company provided A to Z service for different types of clients—corporate, sports, and entertainment—in early 2021, Cardel launched a new position under the name Cardel Group. This new company is made up of three separate tiers: Cardel Business, Cardel Sports Management, and Cardel Publicity, which is its entertainment arm. Like when he first added concierge services, Maachi hired people in Los Angeles from the entertainment industry along with people from the sports industry, ultimately becoming a “one-stop shop” where a client is going to save time and money.
“The new position of the brand as a one-stop shop will easily help our clients to be focused on flexibility,” says Maachi. “This is important to our clients because in the current landscape—the war in Ukraine, the pandemic, inflation—they don’t know where they’re going. Most of our clients are focused on flexibility and saving money. What Cardel Group offers is the future: anything you need for travel, we will be here for you. It’s one phone number or email. We are bigger and stronger than before. It was a smart way to diversify and look at the future.”
Speaking of the pandemic, while many companies were forced to lay off staff, reduce fleet size, or, worse, shut their doors completely, Maachi made the bold decision to keep Cardel moving fully staffed. His gamble paid off.
“We were one of the only companies in Paris to keep our fleet the same size. And, we didn’t fire anyone. I spent a lot of money out of my pocket, and made an investment in the company to keep the staff on. In 2021, we came back to our 2019 numbers, which was the best we ever had while some of our competitors were still struggling. In 2022, we’ll triple our numbers. Now is the time to spread the word that we can’t just stick with transportation; people have to diversify their business. Of course, it’s a lot of work and investment, and you have to have the right contacts ... but it works,” says Maachi.
That’s not to say that Cardel Group isn’t dealing with the same challenges as the rest of the luxury transportation industry. Inflation and gas prices are an ongoing concern for the company, as are the two biggest nuisances facing operators: procuring reliable staff and finding new vehicles. To attract new chauffeurs, Maachi had to shift his hiring practices a bit. Whereas typically he would only consider applicants with 10 years of experience, now Cardel resorts to hiring inexperienced talent followed by an extensive training program.
Maachi says that the Cardel Group hires three types of chauffeurs. The first group is for corporate transportation. They are specifically trained to learn their way through the financial district, how to talk to a CEO, and provide the right service and attitude. The second group is devoted to the 5-star clientele from luxury hotels. These chauffeurs are trained for months, almost as personal assistants. The third group is the most flexible; these are the drivers who provide transportation to CEOs, athletes, celebrities, and private clients.
While Cardel deals with the frustration of not being able to add fresh vehicles to their fleet, the company has made the decision to switch to hybrid and electric vehicles. This not only satisfies the requirements of states like California with an aggressive green initiative, but electric/hybrid vehicles are easier on the bottom line for Maachi.
“By buying hybrid and electric vehicles, we save a lot of money on the registration of cars. In France, if you are not buying a hybrid, you have to pay an extra tax of $10,000.”
It’s increasingly evident that Maachi and the Cardel Group are forward thinking. The company continues to expand at a rapid rate, and they are continually adding new services and contracts.
“At the beginning of 2022, because of our new position, we signed three major 5-star hotel contracts because they’ve basically said ‘what you have done is amazing, and we know, as a hotel, we have more requests than transportation; there are issues our concierge can’t solve. We can call you as a partner, and you can help us,’” he says.
But where the company is seeing a major impact is in the United States. Maachi has long had long, loyal relationships with US operators dating back to his early days as a ground transportation provider.
“Back in 2005, we were the first Parisian company to attend the US trade shows. I was traveling and doing every single show, and became known as the ‘European guy’ there. When you’re the only company, it’s easy to get the business. But I was also focused on attention to detail and insistent on providing the perfect service to US limo operators. In 2008, I decided to get a booth at the Vegas show and sell most major European cities, and the US operators were impressed by that. At the end of the day, they know me because I was the first one there—and I’m transparent and honest.”
Maachi also set himself apart by investing in technology that could give his affiliates confirmations 24 hours a day.
“I was one of the first in Paris to operate 24 hours and offer driver details and confirmations to clients. A couple of years ago, I started to offer US cars—Suburbans and Escalades—so my US operators would be happy that I’m providing American SUVs for their customers. I always say ‘first, never follow.’”
The rebranding of the company, and its expanded focus on logistics, have had a significant impact on its US customer base.
“In 2018, when I originally opened up in Los Angeles, I just wanted to duplicate our existing transportation and concierge service. But the fact that I acquired a sports management company in 2020—which dealt with the biggest athletes and soccer clubs in Europe—gave me a huge explosion in the US. When we relaunched 2021, we started to be approached by major talent agencies. They said, ‘We know you’re a European company with an office in Los Angeles, but we like what you are doing. Can you help us with our athletes?’ I started with one NBA player, but now have 12 players that we’re dealing on a daily basis. Right now, 50 percent of our global revenue is transportation worldwide. The remaining half is coming from travel and management services for athletes, entrepreneurs, and talents.
Further, Maachi sees US operators as family, and takes immense pride in holding a seat on the National Limousine Association (NLA) board.
“This industry is a family. I feel very touched and blessed that the NLA approached me to run for an international seat on the Board. After 20 years, having these guys say that they want me to represent international operators, it was something special. It’s more than a business, it’s a family. I see a lot of smart people in the industry, and I think the industry is going to see a change. We’re going to move forward.” [CD1022]
Cover Story: Cardel Group – A One-Stop Shop for Global Travel Management