CMU grad turns college project into successful business in GR
Transportation service is facing immediate demand for more vehicles, expanded routes.
(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Britney Collins has turned the shuttle service she created for a college project at Central Michigan University into Allure Limousine, a new transportation business that began operating in Grand Rapids last April.
While a student at CMU, Collins began operating a shuttle service for students during the daytime, but quickly found the real demand was for nighttime transportation — mostly to parties and clubs around campus.
Though the transportation service was a great hit, the business met some tough challenges early on that threatened to leave it on the side of the road.
“In the beginning our transmission blew right after a run, and so we lost all that we put into that vehicle because we didn’t have the capital to get it fixed,” Collins said.
With no other option, she shut down the service, and a move to Grand Rapids followed.
Soon Collins was thinking about how to get her business back on the road. She said that, after the mechanical issues the first time around, she was determined to start out with a better vehicle.
“However, that meant spending more money,” she said. “The capital required to get a great vehicle just wasn’t quite there at the time. I did try and get a loan, but because we were a startup, they were not willing to give it to me.
“I decided to put my every last penny into the business and that is how we started off — with the one bus.”
Since April, Allure Limousine has taken off in Grand Rapids, and has become the go-to party bus for club revelers celebrating a special night.
“We came back very strong and we’ve been doing great,” she said. “We are booked out currently until September; we don’t have any Saturdays available until then.”
Collins said what makes her service unique is the way she personalizes the customer experience for each group. She also has sought out partnerships with clubs downtown to help alleviate some of the costs of a night out.
“Our customers can pay $150, and that gets them our Club Hopper package. … I have reached out to all of the event planners at the bars that most people want to go to and have tried to forge an alliance with them: ‘If we are bringing customers to you, can you offer our Allure customers a discount?’ So customers are able to pay $150, and that gets the entire party into four bars for free.”
In addition, the bars offer drink specials to each group. Collins said McFadden’s has even offered to roll out the red carpet for the Club Hoppers upon arrival, and will stock the mini-bar with its non- alcoholic beverages for the evening.
“We act as a concierge for our customers, as well,” she said.
To ensure that she always offers her customers what they want and is on top of any complaints that might arise, Collins provides a survey for every rider asking about their experience. She said she values the feedback and uses the surveys to improve the experience and for future planning.
So far the biggest complaint is: “You need more buses!” And Collins is listening. She has a three-year plan for growing her business, which includes a timeline for adding vehicles.
“We were planning to add another vehicle next year, but it looks like we will be doing that this year,” she said.
Additionally, she just purchased a 15-passenger van to add a shuttle service to her offerings.
“As part of my plan to give back to the community, I want to have a shuttle division here that is able to transport people in the inner city that may not have transportation to local places,” she said. “That will be a partnership with Arbor Circle. So we bought the van to be able to do that.”
She also hopes to add airport transportation to her services, as well as a limousine in the coming year.
She said that besides adding vehicles, she will focus much of next year on branding and making sure the company can meet the demand for its services.
By year three, Collins hopes to expand the business in Detroit, which is her hometown.
“I am hoping to expand and capitalize on the nightlife in Detroit,” she said.
Eventually, she would like to offer service in all the major Michigan nightlife cities.
Collins currently has one employee.
“As a female and an African-American in a very male-dominated industry, I am very proud that the acceptance of Grand Rapids has been very welcoming,” Collins said. “I certainly hope that trend continues.”