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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 16, 2019 2 months ago

Luxury automobile business builds customer base, plans for expansion

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Offering a high-end service in a market already known for luxury requires adhering to a key business principle: details matter, from first to last impressions.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

A 1947 Cadillac may be the future.

Justin Norwood thinks so. He has started a Sarasota-based business — Revvies Luxury Transportation — with his wife, Tammy, that offers chauffeured drives to weddings, anniversaries and other special occasions in vintage automobiles. Their carefully curated fleet includes a 1947 Cadillac, 1959 Rolls-Royce and 1965 Rolls-Royce. The cars are sourced domestically, and local craftsmen do extensive renovation — taking months to get the vehicles into showroom shape.

Justin Norwood has always been interested in automobiles; he went to car shows on St. Armands Circle in Sarasota while growing up. He kept his idea for a car-based business in his back pocket for years, and waited for the right time.

After a career in technology that included working for IBM and Accenture, Norwood decided the time was finally right. “I saw Airbnb had eclipsed the value of Hilton,” he says. “I thought, ‘If I stay on this path, I’ll only work with the Hiltons of the world, not the Airbnbs.’ I wanted to do something with the sharing economy. I wanted to experiment.”

So Norwood turned back to his love of cars. He started a business that gave people the opportunity to drive classic cars using a platform called Turo (like Airbnb for cars, he says). But Norwood learned a business that involved other people driving his 1964 Corvette convertible was worry-inducing and kept him up at night. So he shifted to chauffeured vehicles, got rid of the convertibles and acquired vintage sedans. Norwood has invested at least $1 million in the business, all self-funded. Half the expenses have been in the acquisition and restoration of the vintage motor cars. 

“I’ve really enjoyed doing the driving. With a new business, it’s good to talk with clients.” — Justin Norwood, co-founder, Revvies Luxury Transportation

The Norwoods have been in business for about two years, and they’ve seen success, building a strong network of people within the weddings industry who recommend Revvies to clients and friends.

Revvies serves markets from Tampa to Fort Myers, but more than half its business is in Sarasota, in part because Sarasota is a hub for destination weddings. “I think we’re in a good location,” he says. “I see Sarasota being elevated to a Palm Beach, Nantucket or Palm Springs-type city.”

For the Rolls-Royces, Revvies charges $699 for the first hour and $149 for each hour after. Pricing for the Cadillac is the same except the first-hour charge is $599. Daily rates are also available. Although declining to disclose specific sales figures, Norwood says year-over-year revenue growth has surpassed 300%. 

Beyond vintage cars, Norwood says Revvies plans to expand soon to modern luxury vehicles from Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Land Rover and offer airport pickup services for people whose private flights have landed. He says he hopes to start offering the service when snowbirds are back to town in October or November. “We’re looking for opportunities to expand and have more long-term relationships with people,” he says.

The modern fleet could eventually overtake the classic cars. “I could see the current fleet of vintage being sufficient for five years,” he says. “I think the modern fleet will track more to Sarasota’s growth. I could see it bigger in the long term. We’ll always address the luxury market. That’s the niche we’ve carved out for ourselves.”

Revvies’ growth plan also includes expanding to additional areas. The first expansion would probably be Palm Beach, and understanding the personality of that city — and others to follow — will be crucial. “How I would approach Palm Beach is different than here,” he says. “What is the market? What does it want to see?”

Norwood has expanded Revvies’ current client base through digital marketing. “We invested a lot in making sure people can find us, even if they don’t quite know what they are looking for,” he says. That will be biggest challenge moving forward, Norwood says: reaching clients and creating awareness their service exists.

Customer service aspects of the business are run through Tammy Norwood, who has a hospitality background, and the pair works together on branding and market strategy.

Justin Norwood does a lot of the driving himself, which allows him to get valuable, first-hand feedback from customers. “I’ve really enjoyed doing the driving,” he says. “With a new business, it’s good to talk with clients.” 

In terms of customer experience, the Norwoods have considered it all. “Every single detail has been thought through,” he says. That includes making the experience a feast for all the senses, from sight (the Cadillac, for example, underwent a $100,000 restoration process inside and out) to sound (music from Frank Sinatra and other classic artists play in the cars) to a signature scent diffused through the vehicles (Tom Ford’s Ombre Leather). And don’t forget taste — of course, there’s champagne service available. “When people go with us, they don’t want to get out,” Norwood says. "They want to stay.”

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