Growing limo service goes green
Sal Milazzo (left) of Hawthorn Woods and George Jacobs of Hinsdale, co-owners of Windy City Limousine in Franklin Park, sit in a limo bus, one of the vehicles in the company's fleet of about 200 limousines, limo buses, miniature buses, coaches and sedans.
Updated: July 9, 2012 5:32PM
Windy City Limousine, co-owned by Hinsdale resident George Jacobs, recently started converting its vehicles to run on propane or compressed natural gas.
Though conversion will cost $5,000 to $25,000 per vehicle, co-owner Sal Milazzo expects it will eventually save the company money on fuel along with greatly decreasing air pollutants.
Steps like these have helped the company become one of the fastest growing transportations businesses in the country. According to Inc. magazine, Windy City Limo grew by 217 percent from 2009 to 2011. In 2012, Jacobs expects to bring in $18 million.
Jacobs started out selling forklifts. One day he was in the office of a buyer at the former Goldblatt’s Department store.
“The buyer was screaming at somebody on the phone,” Jacobs said. “It turned out he was mad about a trade-in (price) for a limousine. He said George, you’re crazy; you buy it. I said, ‘What would I do with it?’ He said, ‘We’ll go into the livery business together.’”
Milazzo and Jacobs grew their respective companies with Jacobs mostly handling the South Side of Chicago and Milazzo mostly handling the North Side.
In 1998, Jacobs sold his business to a publicly traded company. He also encouraged it to buy Milazzo’s company. The two worked together for seven years, but Jacobs was ultimately disappointed in how his employer ran the company. He retired but that only lasted six months.
In 2006, Milazzo and Jacobs partnered to created Windy City Limousines. They’ve managed to grow ever since, even in 2009 when their competitors were shrinking or going out of business.
“We don’t know how to be small or keep our heads down,” Jacobs said. “We just know how to go full speed ahead.”
Jacobs credits a combination of customer service, employee training, one-stop shopping for limousines or buses or sport utility vehicles along with being “shameless promoters.”
Jacobs, for example, sits behind home plate at White Sox games.
“The White Sox announcer brands me. There’s George Jacobs of Windy City Limo,” Jacobs said.
Their buses, which are parked at 9377 W. Grand Avenue when not in use, are “all rolling billboards” with the company printed in huge letters.
Though the name is Windy City Limousine, the company only owns a dozen. The industry trend is toward sedans, SUVs, motor coaches, vans for disabled people and party buses.
“SUVs are the new limousines,” Jacobs said. “Buses are the single most cost-effective way to travel.”
Besides such corporate accounts as Walgreens and Takeda Pharmaceuticals, the company has transported visiting dignitaries like the Chinese premier.
During the NATO summit in May, they transported presidents, prime ministers and staff from France, Germany and Belgium. They also transported people who came to Chicago to protest NATO policies.
“If we had enough buses, we could have sent 100 buses,” Jacobs said. “We picked people from Madison, Milwaukee and some place in Iowa.”
During sports seasons, Windy City Limousine transports the Bulls, Cubs, Chicago Rush (arena football), Chicago Fire (soccer) and the Ryder Cup. They moved Oprah Winfrey and numerous celebrities. An incomplete list includes Michael Jordan, Britney Spears, Elton John, Sarah Palin, Usher, Ludacris, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe, Dolly Parton and John Travolta.
There are challenges: fuel costs, various fees by the city of Chicago, ongoing training and hiring good chauffeurs. Finding quality chauffeurs can be difficult when the economy is doing well, said Jacobs, who added he only tried being a chauffeur for one day.
“In four trips, I got lost. I overcharged customers. I hit the limousine in front of me at the airport, and I left a customer behind at the airport,” he said with laughter. “I was hopeless.”