Harley Decker, the owner of Designate Me Drivers.
By Emily Weitz
Harley Decker didn’t think of the idea for Designate Me Drivers. The market did. And isn’t that the best way to start a business—because the market demands it?
It all started when Decker first got his license, and his father, who works with many wealthy clients, suggested that Harley drive them around for a little extra cash.
“All of a sudden there was so much,” says Decker. “A whole workload. The business came from sheer demand. I didn’t think of it. It just arose.”
Last spring, Decker decided to get serious with the business. Instead of just answering the calls and delegating extra business to friends, he made it official, starting Designate Me Drivers, LLC. He launched the web site (designatemedrivers.com). He ran background checks on anyone applying to be a driver, making sure their driving record was clean.
“It was awesome,” Decker says. “In some ways it felt too good to be true. I get paid a considerable amount to drive around these cars I could never afford.”
But he quickly adds that there’s a lot of responsibility that comes along with driving other people’s cars, and there’s a lot of pressure as well, considering the fact that the owners are often sitting right beside him.
“Some people find it intimidating,” he says, “but the reward outweighs the risks.”
Clients are asked to sign a liability waiver, so the drivers are covered under the owner’s insurance policy. While some people are turned off by this, that doesn’t concern Decker at all.
“We started this business because the demand is there,” he says. “It’s not for everyone, but there are a lot of people who lean towards it.”
The basic idea is that clients get driven around in their own cars from place to place. The driver arrives at the pickup location, gets in the car, and is then with the client as long as they want. If they’re driving them to dinner, the driver will wait in the parking lot until the client is ready to leave. If, however, the client is being driven to the airport, then the driver will drop them off and return the car to the driveway until they’re ready to be picked up.
“We take reservations well in advance as well as the night of,” says Decker. “We send the driver to the house, dressed neatly but casual. We accept all types of credit cards, or you can pay the driver cash. And once the driver arrives, you have them for the night or day.”
Decker grew up out here, and he believes that the driving has gotten more and more dangerous. That’s why, he says, this service is not only convenient, but also crucial to safety on the roads.
“I think it’s more important than ever,” says Decker. “I’ve been driving full time for other people for three years, and I see people coming from the city and driving on Noyac Road or Brick Kiln in the middle of the night. It’s not safe.”
In addition to the safety, the laws have gotten tighter and tighter, and many of Decker’s clients have a lot to lose. It’s just not worth having a couple drinks and risking getting a DUI, he said.
“Sometimes the DUI task force will shut down Noyac Road and check every single person,” says Decker. “A lot of these people have important jobs and can’t afford to have a stain like that on their record.”
Decker has found that clients seek out his services for all sorts of reasons. Some people simply want to be able to get things done as they’re getting from place to place. Particularly people who are used to being in the city are used to using travel time to communicate via phone or email. Out here, that’s illegal and downright dangerous for a driver.
“We have lawyers who use our business to do work while being driven from place to place,” says Decker. “And since every driver is local, we know all the roads.”
This winter, Decker is also starting interstate transport service, where he will personally drive people’s cars anywhere.
“I have over 30,000 miles of cross-country driving experience,” says Decker, “and will be doing all the driving myself.”
This way, if someone is heading to Florida for the colder months, they can fly down and their car will be there when they get there. The rates, he says, are competitive.
Since Designate Me Drivers started last spring, 15 drivers have gotten on board. They’re employed as independent contractors, he said, and most are people Decker knows well. And he only sees the business growing from here.
“We started with no advertising and a poorly built web site, and by August I was almost too busy to handle it,” he says. “We have some very high end clients from the city who have said they heard all about us.”
Of other companies cropping up offering the same thing, Decker is unconcerned.
“I thrive off the competition,” he says. “As long as I do my job well and build a good reputation, I see us growing so much.”
For more information, visit Designate Me Drivers at designatemedrivers.com or call 210-6179.