BUSLINE COVER FEATURE
By Rick Mullen, Busline Magazine, Associate Editor
Serving some of the most sought after travel destinations in the world, Pure Luxury Transportation, of Petaluma, CA, calls itself a “full-service worldwide executive ground transportation company.” The company’s slogan is “Committed to Perfection™,” and, indeed, an emphasis on attention to detail is one of the company’s underlying foundational principles.
“We are in a service-oriented industry, transporting the highest levels of executives among its passengers,” said Pure Luxury President Gary Buffo, during a recent interview with Busline Magazine. “In this business, it is a must to have an understanding of the concept of attention to detail. We understand it, and it has been a key to Pure Luxury’s success over the years. It has been very consistent. We have trademarked and registered our slogan, “Committed to Perfection™,” with the federal government, because this is really what our business is all about — perfection.”
Gary Buffo founded Pure Luxury in 1991 and co-owns and operates the business with his wife, Jennifer Buffo, who is also the company’s chief operating officer (COO).
Pure Luxury’s primary service region is the San Francisco area and the Northern California Wine Country, located just north of San Francisco. This area is home to a wide variety of attractions and events and is a magnet to tourists from all over the world.
Among Pure Luxury’s services and offerings are tours of the world-famous Napa and Sonoma valleys in wine country, limousine services, corporate transportation, wedding transportation, private wine tours, sporting events and worldwide services, offering clients access to more than 450 cities, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
“We conduct a lot of wine country tours. We are very destination oriented,” Jennifer Buffo said. “Many groups visit the wineries to participate in wine cave dinners, wine tastings, to meet the winemakers, etc. Wine tours are something that not everybody can do, and we definitely do it very well in the heart of Northern California’s ‘true’ wine country. When you have Napa and Sonoma in your backyard, this is really where you focus.
“Transporting groups in the San Francisco area is also a major part of the business. We take passengers to and from various airports and sporting events such as San Francisco Giants and 49ers games.”
Pure Luxury’s fleet runs the gamut when it comes to the various types of vehicles available to clients.
“We have just about every vehicle used in the chauffeur car and motorcoach industry, including sedans, SUVs, passenger vans, executive vans, cutaway buses, shuttle buses, limo buses, and we have gotten into the motorcoach business within the past year,” Gary Buffo said.
Pure Luxury’s vehicles feature many amenities for passengers including satellite hookups, TVs, DVD players and PA systems. Above and beyond the common amenities found in most travel industry vehicles, Pure Luxury also pays attention to other details, which may not be as obvious to passengers.
“We are particular about the style of seats and windows that we choose. We work to design a vehicle that really fits our needs,” Gary Buffo said. “The type of flooring we put in our vehicles is also important. With wine tours, there is going to be spillage. If we installed carpeting in our wine tour buses, those vehicles would smell within a couple of months. With the type of flooring we have, we are able to keep our vehicles smelling good as the floors are very easy to mop and keep clean.”
During the past 18 months or so, Pure Luxury has purchased more than 20 vehicles from Turtle Top, including an executive van, and 23-, 31-, and 47-passenger shuttle buses.
“When we started working with Turtle Top, we explained where we had come from and who we had worked with and what our expectations were,” Jennifer Buffo said. “For Gary and I, it is all about being the best, because our clients deserve the best. Therefore, in establishing a relationship with Turtle Top, we focused on service — if there is a problem, we want that part overnight without even having to ask.
“Turtle Top has been really good about getting us parts when we need them. The people at Turtle Top have been great to work with. They understand that we are known for having high expectations when it comes to our vehicles.”
Gary Buffo added: “What really helped us was Turtle Top rep Chip Osborne of Nations Bus Corp., Inglewood, CA, physically came to our facility and designed a vehicle around our particular needs. Turtle Top understands our need to keep equipment on the road. In this industry, I think you really have to have a true partnership. For our customers to be happy, we have to have equipment that is running efficiently. Turtle Top has really earned our business.”
Both Gary and Jennifer Buffo agree that their relationship with Osborne and the service he has provided is the primary reason the partnership between Pure Luxury and Turtle Top is very strong.
Given Pure Luxury’s dedication to offering the best for its customers, it is no wonder the vehicle cleaning staff works 20-hour days to keep the company’s vehicles looking the best going down the road.
“Once a charter is completed, the vehicle comes in and our detail staff completely hand washes the exterior,” Gary Buffo said. “The detail staff also goes through the interior the vehicle, mopping floors, cleaning windows and disinfecting the entire unit. We do not count on our chauffeurs to clean vehicles initially, but we count on our chauffeurs to keep the vehicle clean throughout the entire charter. We try to go above and beyond our clients’ expectations when it comes to vehicle cleanliness. As a result, we hear all the time about the cleanliness of our vehicles, which is a source of company pride.
“In wine country, dirty vehicles driven by nonprofessional drivers can be seen all day long. There are so many companies in our area that we have to stand out. We have to make a point. Our goal has always been to have vehicles that stand out and that people can see coming from a mile away and know it is a Pure Luxury vehicle.”
Pure Luxury is located in an area with some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, with the rolling hills of wine country, coastal mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The San Francisco area is also a major metropolitan region where traffic congestion is often a nightmare. These scenarios serve to highlight environmental concerns.
Pure Luxury is well aware of eco-friendly practices related to the business. The company is a member of Green Ride Global®, which describes itself as a global network of leading chauffeured ground transportation companies committed to improving the environmental footprint of its operations.
“Green Ride Global® audits our waste, mileage, fuel, paper supply in the office, electricity, etc.,” Jennifer Buffo said. “We run bio-diesel buses and we stick with a five-minute idling rule. Pure Luxury has won awards because of its dedication to environmentally friendly practices.”
Gary Buffo added: “We take recycling very seriously within our company. We focus on a lot of different areas. Older engines in vehicles pollute a little more than the newer engines, so we have tried to focus on continually adding newer and updated equipment to our fleet. We are always focused on the environment. I think this is just one of the things you need to do in conducting business today.”
Jennifer Buffo described business at Pure Luxury as “fantastic.”
She went on: “Recently, we have had some phenomenal years. In 2012, we had a 28 percent increase over 2011. We have been growing well over 20 percent year after year for the past four years. I think getting into the motorcoach marketplace has had a large impact on our business. A lot of clients we had in 2011 and 2012 would use us for everything else, but they would use another bus company for the big motorcoaches. When we added the 47- and the 56-passenger coaches, we gained 100 percent of that business that went somewhere else in prior years.”
While Pure Luxury has enjoyed some good years recently, Jennifer Buffo watches the company’s rate of growth with a diligent eye.
“A company needs to be able to control its growing pace,” she said. “We love to grow, but growing too fast can really hurt a company and when I think we are going a little too fast, I pull back the reins a little. We want to stay in control and make sure we are growing at the right pace and not where we lose that high quality customer service that is our strength. Customer service and the guest experience are always going to be No. 1 for us. It doesn’t matter if we have 100 cars or 300 cars, we have to make sure we are still providing an unforgettable experience for guests.”
Following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the World Trade Center in New York City, the tourist travel industry took a nose dive, and Pure Luxury took a hit as well.
“After 9/11, we got hammered hard,” Gary Buffo said. “Following 9/11, we made a very good decision that we would allow no area of our operation to account for more than 10 percent of the total business. We have done a very good job in this effort. The largest segments of our business are groups and events. This is because Pure Luxury has a ton of experience in what I call ‘logistics.’ Whether in moving 250 or 2,000 people, there are a lot of logistics involved. We have done a very good job in educating ourselves in the best way to handle any type of group and event. We sit down and discuss every single event after it is over to see if there were things to learn. We educate ourselves and continually build on our confidence and ability to handle big groups and big events.”
A Good Team
Gary Buffo founded Pure Luxury in 1991 with one stretch limousine. In 1992, he met Jennifer and shared with her his vision and goals and his passion for offering superior service. The couple subsequently were married and have worked together to implement the original vision of offering the best in service.
Jennifer Buffo says her husband is the “behind the scenes/numbers person,” while she described herself as the person who figures out how to bring her husband’s goals and visions into fruition. With the complementing strengths, the couple’s leadership skills have made Pure Luxury able to live up to its name by offering customers a special luxurious travel experience.
“Part of our success is maintaining a good team,” Jennifer Buffo said. “We kind of have a ‘mom and pop’ mentality, where we know all of our 140 employees by name. Everybody really understands the Pure Luxury way. The difference between Pure Luxury and our competition is clearly service and the experience we provide for guests. If our guests don’t walk away and want to tell 20 people what they encountered at Pure Luxury, then we did not fulfill our obligation.”
Pure Luxury implemented a strategy that has helped foster a company culture of teamwork and the pursuit of common goals.
“Years ago, we implemented mission statements,” Gary Buffo said. “We developed a main mission statement that everybody could understand and follow. We then sent that overall mission statement to department heads and told them to develop a mission statement for their specific areas that coincides with the main company mission statement.”
As a result, the mission statements have become an integral part of each working day at Pure Luxury, constantly reinforcing goals and visions set to keep the company on a growth path.
“We always like to use the phrase, ‘We all are on the same train,’” Gary Buffo said. “When everybody is on the same train and it is moving, nothing can stop that train. Furthermore, we respect every single employee and we absolutely treat every employee as if he or she were our customer. This puts our employees in the mind set of, ‘I get it. This is how they want me to treat the customer because they treat me the same way.’ I think this is a big plus.”
Pure Luxury’s overall mission statement is: “The goal of Pure Luxury is to provide the highest quality transportation service to our clients. We will continually upgrade the skills and abilities of our team in an effort to constantly improve our high level of customer service and client satisfaction.
“We believe that with the proper placement and training our team will be skilled, efficient, and professional; thereby creating an atmosphere conducive to providing outstanding service to our clients. It is our mission at Pure Luxury Limousine to exceed business goals and expectations in order to deliver the quality service our clients irrefutably deserve.”
Focusing On The Guest Experience
Whether it is conducting a tour in wine country, transporting a wedding party or taking people to an airport or an athletic event, Pure Luxury focuses on providing clients with an “experience” they cannot get anywhere else.
“We don’t just have drivers, we have chauffeurs to give clients an experience they will always remember,” Jennifer Buffo said. “If we are successful, guests will want to come back to use Pure Luxury. Following a wedding, for example, we want them to say, ‘We will always recommend you to anybody who is looking for service because of what you provided for us on our special day.’
“On our wine tours, it is just not a big motorcoach with a bunch of people from San Francisco on board, it is an individual experience that we are offering. We want passengers to be able to participate in wine tastings and to meet people and do things that other touring companies cannot offer because of relationships we have built with the wineries themselves.
“Again, it goes back to we don’t want just drivers, we want chauffeurs. If a person just wants to drive, he or she can go work for another company. Our chauffeurs provide a concierge service. It is all about the guest experience. If clients need the chauffeur to make dinner reservations for them, that the chauffeur’s job.”
Gary Buffo likes to emphasize that Pure Luxury is in the hospitality industry, where taking care of the customer trumps all other aspects of the business.
“In my opinion, 100 percent of our business is hospitality. When you are in the hospitality business, customer service is everything,” he said. “We have all heard the old adage, ‘It takes years and years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to gain a client and two seconds to lose one.’ This is so true. We emphasize to our staff that the passenger in the vehicle is always No. 1.
“If we mess up, the customer is going to be taken care of no matter what it takes. If we have to buy a first-class plane ticket because we caused a client to miss a flight, we are going to take care of that customer. We will do whatever it takes for a client to have a special experience with Pure Luxury because that customer can tell a few of their friends how great his or her experience was, or he or she can tell a thousand people how horrible it was.”
There are other employment opportunities at Pure Luxury other than being a chauffeur, such as in reservations, dispatch, detailing, maintenance, accounting, outside sales, marketing and Internet marketing, which focuses on social media. However, to the riding public, Pure Luxury’s chauffeurs are often the main “face” of the company.
“In hiring chauffeurs, we look for people who are coming from a customer service background and/or hospitality background,” Jennifer Buffo said. “If a person has serviced a client in some way, whether in real estate, retail, a restaurant, a winery, etc, that person may be a good candidate to be trained the Pure Luxury way.
“Again, the guest is always right and it is all about the guest experience. We ask our employees and chauffeurs to go over and beyond to make sure customers are getting that special experience. We don’t want chauffeurs to sit at the wheel. They must get out of their seat to assist people on and off the vehicle. Guests should always see the chauffeur right there extending an arm for them in any way.”
Another important trait in the type of people Pure Luxury seeks as chauffeurs is someone who is safety-minded.
“In our industry, safety is No. 1,” Gary Buffo said. “We only hire people who take safety very seriously. We also consider attitude and personality when seeking chauffeurs. Our vehicle operators must be able to adapt to a vast array of clients and passengers. We transport people from all over the world. Our chauffeurs are trained to know and understand who they are driving. They must be able to interact within a particular group on a professional level.
“It goes back to attention to detail. Chauffeurs make sure the vehicle is clean. Every single time they stop a vehicle and people get out, they clean the vehicle. Each time a client gets into a vehicle, we want it to be like the first time. We don’t want the vehicle to look as if it had been ridden in for two weeks.
“One of the things we insist upon that we feel is unique is our chauffeurs are at the door of a bus waiting to aid passengers who are getting on or off. This is for safety reasons, because people fall. That is a company policy we have had since day No. 1. We always help passengers in and out of limo and buses.”
Pure Luxury vehicle operators go through an extensive training program. The company’s training includes a minimum of two eight-hour days — one day in the classroom, which incorporates videos and tests, and one day of on-the-road training. This includes being familiarized with travel destinations such as airports, wine country and San Francisco.
“Drivers first operate sedans. Then they will graduate from a sedan to a limo, from a limo to a van, and on up the ladder,” Gary Buffo said. “Once they have a Class B permit, then they can continue to get certified in each type of vehicle. We are fortunate because we have a state-certified Class B employee who does all of our training. This has really been a big help as far as the mix of fleet that we have.”
While Pure Luxury is particular about who it hires, both Gary and Jennifer Buffo agree that finding qualified employees across the board has been very difficult in recent times.
“Individuals who have a service background and who understand that it is the guest experience that sets Pure Luxury apart are hard to find,” Jennifer Buffo said.
Gary Buffo added: “A person has to understand our vision, our mission statement and what we do in order to get a job here. Another reason we are having a hard time finding quality employees is there are just not enough people to work today. I think this has really limited our growth because we could easily run another 40 to 50 vehicles in our fleet on a daily basis — we are turning down work all day long — but we just cannot find enough people to work. We are in discussions with local politicians to try to help and nobody has an answer.”
The Right Facility In A Great Region To Do Business
Operating a transportation service in an area that includes one of the most famous wine growing regions in the world, breathtaking Pacific Ocean scenery and one of the most beautiful cities on the planet certainly has its advantages.
In setting up and dreaming his business, Gary Buffo also had a vision for the type of facility he would like to eventually have to offer customers a truly luxurious traveling experience. He found such a facility that had formerly housed a used car dealership.
“The used car dealership building has really worked out very well for us because it was originally set up as a service center,” Gary Buffo said. “We basically took our shop and turned it into a bus and vehicle maintenance facility, including a huge parking lot. We have almost three acres of parking space and about 14,000 square feet of office space. It really worked out great for our business and it helped us departmentalize the company. Our reservation, dispatching, accounting, maintenance and detail departments all have their own sections. Our sales people have an area and the social networking staff have their offices.
“When I started the company in 1991, even though I started with one vehicle, I really wanted a fully-departmentalized company and this facility has helped us realize that vision.”
Pure Luxury’s primary service area is a sought-after destination and a great place for a travel company, however, it is not without its disadvantages.
“There are so many people coming here that there are just not enough vehicles to accommodate them,” Gary Buffo said. “This is part of the reason that California is a well-known state for thousands of illegal operators.
“Illegal operators can make it really difficult to operate in this state. At Pure Luxury we follow all of the rules and regulations. An illegal operator can just buy a vehicle and start operating and nothing will happen until either somebody gets killed in an accident or the authorities finally catch up to them. Furthermore, in California, it is very easy to get legal, and the punishment for operating illegally is, in reality, nothing more than a slap on the hands.
“Being a legal operator, we are charging more, so we have to show customers the value of spending their money at Pure Luxury.”
Jennifer Buffo added: “Wine country and San Francisco are our main areas. Our vehicles are in Sonoma, Napa and San Francisco 99 percent of the day. We service clients whether it is a 2-person party or a group of 50. We cover everything that they need.
“Our headquarters is in Petaluma, which is about 45 minutes north of San Francisco in Sonoma County. We also have an office and warehouse in Napa Valley (in American Canyon, CA).”
In discussing the future of the motorcoach industry as a whole, Gary Buffo said he sees big changes coming during the next several years as travel to the United States becomes more popular than ever.
“I think the motorcoach industry is going to grow rapidly,” he said. “I think we are going to see people getting out of the industry and we are going to see new fresh blood coming into the motorcoach industry.
“There are many companies in the industry that are in their third, fourth or fifth generations of family ownership. It is like what is often seen in farming, at some point the next generation is not going to want to take over. Many farmers are selling out and getting out of that industry. I see the same thing potentially happening to the motorcoach industry — in many cases involving family-owned and operated companies.
“On the other hand, I think in-bound travel into the United States over the next 10 to 15 years is going to absolutely skyrocket. Motorcoach travel is known as the safest transportation on the planet as far as injuries and accidents.
“People traveling to the United States are used to motorcoach travel when they are on vacation or from where they are coming. I think the industry as a whole is going to grow and prosper.”
While Pure Luxury has been in business 22 years, it has only been in the bus business for around 15 years and just recently began purchasing the larger motorcoaches. Gary Buffo’s habit of being detailed-minded also served him well while preparing to make the jump to motorcoaches.
“Being in chauffeur car business as long as we have, I think we got the service end of the business down pat,” Gary Buffo said. “I did a ton of educating myself on the motorcoach side of the business. It has taken me about three to four years just to get into the industry, I wanted to make sure all the I’s were dotted and the T’s were crossed before we jumped in.
“I am very glad I did not jump right into the motorcoach business without studying it first. I think that is what is scary now with the chauffeur car segment, because a lot of people in that business are getting into the bus business as well. It is a completely different industry and I am so glad I educated myself because there is so much to know — the regulations, the maintenance, the safety, etc.”
In looking to the future, Jennifer Buffo said in order to continue on its successful journey, Pure Luxury must continue to focus on the “guest experience.”
“I drill into our employees’ head every single day that it is important for the future of the company to always remember no matter how big we are, how many vehicles we have or how many clients we have, it is all about the guest experience,” Jennifer Buffo said. “Communicating with employees to make sure everybody is on the same page is also important.
“I think we are very, very stable. Getting into the bus world, based on client demand, is one of the best things we have done. I think just being able to provide guests with everything that they need has really made Pure Luxury able to grow and get into new markets and areas that we weren’t able to get into two years ago.”
Contact: Pure Luxury Transportation Inc.,
4246 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma, CA 94952.
Phone: 800-626-5466 or 707-775-2920;
Fax: 800-962-1905 or 707-775-2929.