Just do it! … one step at a time
A classic book, a sign and persistence set the stage for Sander Kaplan and A. Candies Coachworks
By David Hubbard
In February during UMA Motorcoach EXPO 2014, BUSRide will present its Motorcoach Industry Achievement Award to Sander Kaplan, founder and president of A. Candies Coachworks, Gainesville, FL, for his commitment and persistence to stick to his plan.
Like any good entrepreneur, at age 21 Sander Kaplan had no money to spend when the idea struck him to succeed in life.
Going to college, working several part time jobs and holding every expense to its bare minimum, his first go at self-employment was a fledgling mobile disc jockey business. Taking it one step at time, working out of his apartment, using borrowed equipment and training his roommates to answer the phone in a professional voice, he vowed this venture would be self-supportive.
As Kaplan moved around in Gainesville and the University of Florida, emceeing weddings, fraternity and sorority parties, his services caused a buzz. That’s when a sign came to Kaplan that the doors had opened — a free pink neon sign offered by a friend that read Candies, formerly a women’s boutique.
Seeing it as a cool way to attract sorority business, Kaplan adopted the name for his own. He attached the A in front to secure the first listing in the Yellow Pages. A. Candies Productions, Inc. soon grew to eight DJ units on Friday and Saturday nights with little overhead. Kaplan had a plan and it was working.
It essentially fell out of the book he still keeps by his bedside, “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill, recommended to him years ago by a successful friend.
“I had a burning desire to succeed,” Kaplan says. “I just had no idea of how to make it happen. I was not a good student and this was actually the first book I ever read. It consumed me and has guided me through every phase of my career.”
Kaplan sees Hill’s basic lessons as remaining persistent, moving forward, never swaying because of negative opinions and never allowing fear to rule in decision making. Never give up. Push through.
“‘Think and Grow Rich’ told me I was not going to fail,” he says. “It helped me believe that other people could not convince me I would fail.”
Kaplan formed A. Candies Limousine in 1986 at the request of an A. Candies Productions client about to be married.
“She mentioned she needed a limousine and none were available,” he says. “I told her I would try to have a limo waiting on her wedding day. I saw this as a simple matter of supply and demand.”
As Kaplan recollects, the limo he purchased with the first bank loan in his career was an electrical nightmare. Nonetheless, he made the vehicle work to everyone’s satisfaction and then quickly traded it for a newer model. As calls came in from his simple Yellow Pages ad, his newest venture grew quickly to eight vehicles.
Onward and upward
Kaplan met his wife and business partner Lynne in 1995 and they married two years later. At this time, Kaplan was dividing his time between a family partnership with his father-in-law managing nine Burger King franchises and overseeing the limousine operation.
“In 2006, one of my drivers suggested I consider charter coach service in this area,” Kaplan says. “I hadn’t given a lot of thought to growing A. Candies. Frankly I just didn’t think motorcoaches were very cool compared to my sleek fleet of limos. Boy, was I wrong.”
Kaplan decided to give it a shot and purchased his first pre-owned Prevost H3-45, launching A. Candies Coachworks, Inc. Within three months the new company added a second coach, transporting college sports teams thankful for the local service.
“I had no idea so much work was out there,” he says. “I should have looked into motorcoaches earlier. I feel like I came to this business a little late.”
After one year Kaplan “went all in,” seriously growing the fleet to handle more charters for churches, public schools, weddings and community functions.
“This would have never transpired without the help and dedication of our general manager Richard Mount, who has overseen A. Candies Coachworks from the get-go,” he says. “Our success stems from his experience and ability to consistently execute our plan.”
Along the way, Kaplan worked hand-in-hand with his close friend and industry associate Ray Land, founder of Fabulous Coaches, Branford, FL, routinely assisting one another borrowing and lending coaches and offering advice when asked.
While Land was moving on an aggressive plan to grow his fleet, Kaplan developed his company at a more deliberate pace.
“Our plan was to acquire an additional coach as needed for use as a backup to guard against any interruption of service and keep our customers happy,” he says. “As it turned out, for every coach we purchased as backup, we booked enough new business to put it into regular service.”
Once the fleet count reached 10 vehicles, Kaplan struck a deal with Land as he was preparing to sell Fabulous Coaches. Their negotiation to acquire the business and five more Prevost H3-45s took less than a day.
Kaplan credits the seamless transition to Land’s concern for the Fabulous Coach customers who might have felt caught in the middle, as well as the care he took in guiding them to their new carrier.
“Ray wanted to ensure his clients felt secure in this process,” Kaplan says. “In his past acquisitions, he had dealt with a lot of unhappy customers and knew exactly how we needed to handle this phase of our transaction.”
Together they called each of his top clients to introduce A. Candies Coachworks and reassure them they would enjoy a high level of service from a proven, award-winning company.
“My associations with Ray and other operators from the Florida Motorcoach Association are something I did not seek as a young man starting out in business,” Kaplan says. “I didn’t think I needed them. However, as I look back today, I owe a lot of thanks for their help and good advice, as well as guidance from the UMA and ABA.”