SWEET SONG: John Olinger, president and CEO of Rock Star Limo, founded the company after purchasing a tour bus that previously belonged to R&B legend Aretha Franklin. It’s grown to a 55-person company that includes 37 drivers.
What a ride it’s been for John Olinger. What started out just eight years ago as a two-person transportation startup catering to tour-bus users has morphed into a mini conglomerate that provides luxury transportation to clients in more than 600 cities worldwide.
“The biggest thing for us is careful growth and maintaining our customer-service levels. What really separates us is our customer service,” said Olinger, president and CEO of Rock Star Limo. “Most of our business comes from somebody referring us somewhere along the line.” The Cranston-based firm operates under the O2 Global Chauffeured Services corporate name. A portion of its corporate business is done through subcontracted work. Olinger said most of that involves airport and hotel pickups and drop-offs around the world.
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, Olinger worked for a trucking brokerage firm in Chicago before moving to the East Coast in 1999 to work for his family’s manufacturing company.
By 2004, he began looking for “something different” and recalled when he had entertained a friend’s idea of fractional ownership in motor homes a few years before.
He had flown out to Chicago for a business meeting on the proposal and was picked up at the airport in a motor home.
“They kind of thought [business transportation] would be a fun side business to the ownership idea. At the end of the day, we decided not to go into a partnership [but] that’s how I got started,” Olinger said.
He founded Rock Star Limo by buying big tour buses on the secondary market. The first he purchased was previously R&B legend Aretha Franklin’s bus.
The business began with just Olinger and one driver arranging and executing week-long and monthlong jobs for clients, including “Dancing With the Stars” and the Country Music Channel.
“As they started learning about us, they started asking about a different variety of vehicles,” Olinger said. “I never realized the industry I was getting into [until] that point.”
He started doing some corporate business, including sales-incentive and client-entertaining trips.
One year in, Olinger hired a salesperson and added a second bus to his fleet. The year after that, he added a limousine and a couple of sedans.
In 2008, Olinger took the O2 Global name, explaining that it provided the corporate market and Rock Star focuses on the “leisure and fun brand.”
In 2010, O2 Global acquired All Occasion Transportation, a then-20-year-old competitor that had been founded by Eric Weiner when he was a Johnson & Wales University student.
Today, there are 55 people on staff, including 37 chauffeurs.
The company counts its clientele as 85 percent Rhode Island and Massachusetts-based corporations. The rest is leisure-centered business, including weddings, for which the company did 500 bookings this year alone.
All Occasion Transportation had begun about two years before the sale to O2 Global as a “Providence Chauffeured Dine Around” program that Olinger continues.
It offers customers, both out-of-towners and locals, brief stops at several Providence restaurants during the course of one night in order to sample a variety of the city’s dining options.
About three years ago, Rock Star Limo added a similar tour centering on the state’s wineries and mansions that include a Newport lunch.
The efforts allow the company to branch further into the hospitality business.
The Dine Around evening costs $79 per person and the wine tour package starts at $50 per person.
“We just are always looking for new and different packages that could work based on people needing transportation to these places,” Olinger said. “It’s a way for people to see and get a taste for the area, all in the course of a few hours.”
Future growth and market expansion is possible, Olinger said, but the focus remains on being able to deliver the quality of service for which he is proud to have become known.
“Certainly we want grow, but for us it’s about not biting off more than we can chew and providing the same service [clients] have become used to,” Olinger said. •