When former LSU football player Jerry Blake and transplanted Mississippi car dealer Steve Smith take a show on the road, they do it in high style and luxury, providing all the comforts of home -- but on wheels.
Smith and Blake opened Road Show Coach & RV Center of New Orleans (10940 I-10 Service Road, 520-9928) in eastern New Orleans a couple of weeks ago and already their service department is booked a month in advance and the showroom has been visited by rock star Jon Bon Jovi. Road Show currently is the only full-line dealer for Monaco motorcoaches in the state and one of only six service centers for the upper-end Prevost lines in the country.
"Our customers will come from all over the country," Smith says. "It's expected that there will be a 10-to-20 percent increase (in motorcoach ownership) over the next 10 years, and this is one of the most traveled cities in North America. Right now, our service department is booked a month in advance."
Before Road Show opened, RV and motorcoach owners in this region of the country had to go to Dallas or Knoxville, Tenn., for service and parts. "Parts and service will be 70 percent of our sales," Smith predicts. "People like traveling to New Orleans, so they'll come here to stay a few days, have their coach serviced and move on."
The vehicles the Road Show sells are designed for comfort and good looks; internationally noted designer Ralph Lauren designed both the exterior and interior of the Monaco, which starts at about $100,000, down to stone floors, fabrics and carpets. These 30- to 45-foot-long motorcoaches also feature a special floor that slides to expand the living room space to each side when the vehicle is parked. The coaches also include a roomy kitchen area, heated lumbar seats, a 43-inch plasma screen TV, full-size bedrooms, cedar-lined walk-in closets, and washers and dryers and a shower that can be used even when the home is in motion. Most can sleep about six people comfortably.
On the higher end are the Prevost motorcoaches and custom-designed homes by Bruce Coachworks of British Colombia, customizer to the stars. "As far as conversions go, they're the most exclusive," Blake says. "They do coaches for top entertainers like Cher, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise. The Monaco is the Mercedes of motor homes; the Prevost is the Rolls Royce."
Many of the entertainers who use the motor coaches to travel trade them in often, a fact Smith and Blake plan to capitalize on by offering them to those looking for a previously owned luxury coach. They already have arranged to receive an elaborately customized coach owned by Cher and have attracted interest from other performers who regularly use motorcoaches when they're on the road.
After less than a month in business, the partners already are making expansion plans. The business will bring in a wider range of RVs and coaches by a variety of manufacturers, Blake says, and it will expand customer services to include electric hook-ups so owners can stay in their coaches while they're being serviced, limousine service to area attractions and shopping destinations and other amenities.
"We want to be a first-class service center for customers and out-of-town guests," Blake says. "We feel like we're starting a great business for ourselves and we're also giving something back to the city. We're bringing in people who will get their coaches serviced and spend a few days seeing the city."
Most of all, Smith and Blake are confident their business will succeed because of the popularity of RVing, tailgating and people traveling with their families.
"It's a great way to travel," Smith says. "There are families that have sold their home and live in it (a coach) and go from place to place. It has everything that a regular home has. They're a blast. They are really the way to go."
Lighting Inc. (4201 Tulane Ave., 486-5761; 3547 Hwy. 190, Pontchartrain Square, Mandeville, (985) 727-9368) has brought the glitz of Hollywood and the intrigue of James Bond to its showroom with its new offerings of Schonbek crystal chandeliers, which were featured in the ice castle in the new 007 movie Die Another Day.
The "Jubilee" chandeliers by Schonbek, which are shaped like diamonds and comprise almost 4,000 crystal jewels, are on display in only a few lighting showrooms across the country. The 40-year-old Lighting Inc. specializes in providing a wide range of styles in lighting, expert advice and a variety of prices.
- Steve Smith (left) and Jerry Blake, owners of the new Road Show Coach & RV Center of New Orleans, demonstrate the roominess of a Ralph Lauren-designed Monaco motorcoach.