The secret of Best Transportation’s success is out: In the past 10 years, sisters and company co-owners Kim Garner and Debbie Rudawsky have built Best into the largest limousine/party bus/shuttle service company in St. Louis. While their family lineage in the taxi-cab business helped get them off to a strong start, they say they have a ‘secret weapon’ (place tongue into cheek here): a wire-haired, adopted pup named Newman, who makes himself at home in the operations center of Best Transportation’s headquarters in Vinita Park in North St. Louis County. “Newman helps motivate our team, and helps us deal with all the stress of this business,” Garner says.
Best is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year operation, where dispatchers study computer screens that track vehicles with GPS, just like air-traffic controllers look at incoming planes on radar. While Newman always is on patrol, providing moral support wherever he can, the real reason for the Best success story is more likely the sister act itself. Garner and Rudawsky are the ones who make sure the company’s fleet is ready for service. Best has grown to 66 vehicles and 100 employees, and last year grossed $5.3 million. This year, revenue is expected to top the $6-million mark.
True, the co-owners can boast their company’s impressive numbers, but sometimes—like most sisters—they admit there is a bit of sibling rivalry. “We certainly do have our share of battles,” Rudawsky says. Her sister agrees. “It’s just because we are so different,” Garner explains. “I’m the sales and marketing person and she’s the financial person, but it works because our oppositeness actually helps make the business better—we push and pull each other.”
Competing in an industry that not long ago was dominated by men, the sisters now see their company’s status as a female-owned business as an advantage, Rudawsky says. “Because of the level of service that a limousine company has to provide, I think it lends itself really well to women running it. You have customers who have great attention to detail, and that’s right in our wheelhouse.” Garner adds, “I have wedding groups with moms and brides who come up to me and say, I use you because you are female-owned, I want to use you.”
The sisters gave Best its name because it had to be short enough to easily fit on license plates, just like the ones they saw on the limos that took them to their senior proms. Garner is a Francis Howell grad, while Rudawsky went to Pattonville. While they say their limousine fleet remains competitive, they’re growing their business in new directions. A few years ago, they added Go Best Express, which is now an official airport shuttle service for Lambert International Airport. And they’ve also moved toward catering to corporate transportation needs.
Running an around-the-clock operation adds to the expected stresses of this type of business; and on top of that, it also is an enterprise that requires continuing investments. “We are very big risk-takers,“ Garner explains. “When we buy a brand new vehicle, it’s $150,000 to $175,000, but we think we’ve made very smart decisions about when to buy vehicles.” In the past two years alone, the company has spent more than $825,000s on new equipment. The siblings believe the commitments are paying off in more ways than just the bottom line: Best was named the Operator of the Year by Limousine, Charter & Tour magazine, was given the Torch Award by the Better Business Bureau, and has been recognized as one of the top women-owned businesses in the St. Louis area. Best also was honored by its favorite charity, Make-A-Wish Foundation, with the organization’s prestigious Star Award.
The growth and success of Best comes as no surprise to the rest of the family. It was the sisters’ grandfather who founded St. Louis County Cab more than 75 years ago; their father grew the business and added Yellow Cab in more recent decades. Garner says the Best brand is a big part of the family’s ever-growing heritage. “I’m really proud that we are a third-generation business in St. Louis,” she notes. “I wanted to carry on our family business. Our grandfather started it, and our father and our uncle ran County Cab, so we want to keep this going for future generations.”
Back in the operation center, dispatchers and drivers have been kept scrambling after a storm moved through St. Louis and cancelled scores of flights at Lambert, changed travel schedules and forced hundreds of last-second adjustments and vehicle re-routing. The sisters keep everything moving in the right direction and take it all pretty much in stride. After all, Newman, their secret weapon, is on the job.