Let’s say you’re planning a fun day of wine tasting with a group of your family and friends, but you want to ensure that everyone returns home safe and sound.
Who do you call?
How about two local, retired law enforcement officers?
After three decades each in Napa law enforcement, Bill Francis and Brian Banducci retired together in 2013, ready to try something new. This past March, they launched a new transportation company called SafeRide Wine Tours. Using more than 80 combined years of Napa Valley knowledge, they offer personal, unique — and most importantly, safe — wine country experiences, placing a focus on boutique, family-owned and by-appointment wineries that they’ve built relationships with.
“We’d worked together throughout the years and always had a great friendship and trust, and decided this could be a good thing. We wanted to showcase who we are, so together, we came up with the name SafeRide because that’s exactly what we want to portray ourselves as,” said Francis.
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“Anyone can get in one of our cars and know that they’re going to be safe because of our experience as law enforcement and with defensive driving tactics. We want a business where you could have your wife, your daughter or your girlfriend, and feel that they’re in safe hands when they go out in our car.”
Francis, 58, is a Napa original, both a Vintage High School and Napa Valley College graduate. He went through Napa’s first police academy and got his start as a reserve officer with the St. Helena Police Department. In 1985 he was hired by the Napa sheriff’s department, and eventually moved to the Napa County District Attorney’s office where he worked as a criminal investigator dealing with sexual assault cases. In 2010, he was named the Joseph P. McClure Investigator of the Year by the California District Attorney Investigators Association. Up until this last year, he also rodeoed professionally.
Banducci, 56, came to Napa from his hometown of Eureka in 1982 when he was also hired by the Napa sheriff’s department. He worked his way up, holding positions as Corporal, Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain, Undersheriff and Chief of Police in American Canyon and at Napa State Hospital.
“After 31 years, I decided that was plenty, and I had always talked about doing something different other than law enforcement, something business-wise in a small setting,” said Banducci. “I wasn’t looking to build a huge business, but to build a retirement job that would be fun and I would enjoy.”
Before launching their business, the duo first spent some time working and driving within the transportation industry to make sure it was something they wanted to pursue.
In addition to wine tours, SafeRide is available for VIP transportation to and from everything including weddings, concerts, the airport, holiday parties and even a last-minute trip to Tahoe. They’re flexible because they can be, often available with even just an hour’s notice. If plans change, no problem. Acting as both the owners and the drivers, they have full control over what they can offer their guests.
“I think we strive for that customer service. We give the extra. If we go 30 minutes over, we don’t charge 30 minutes over. We have the leeway to do that,” said Banducci. “We’re doing the driving and not hiring other people to drive, so we know what kind of service our guests are getting.”
“We want have that personal touch. That’s who we are,” Francis echoed. “If you call SafeRide, you’re going to get myself or Brian, and we own it, so we can make the decisions on it. I think it’s the personalized service that you see with us that puts us ahead of a lot of people.”
The first step to getting their business off the ground was to secure the vehicles, searching for ones that were both safe and well maintained. Currently, they have a Ford Expedition that seats up to seven passengers, a Chevy Tahoe that seats six and their most popular ride, the stretch limo, which can fit eight guests.
Banducci said they’ve received several inquiries simply because they have the limo option. Each car comes stocked with bottled water and a complimentary bottle of sparkling, and they’ll even take special requests.
They will look to upgrade and even expand their fleet in the future, but while most new businesses have grand plans for growth, they truly want to keep things small. This is after all, a retirement career. There is golf to be played and fish to be reeled in.
“We’re not looking to drive five days a week. We want to provide a service to people that they’ll enjoy and that we enjoy doing. It’s not a job,” Banducci said. “We worked Napa Valley our entire careers. We know the area, we know the people, and we’re getting to know a lot more.”