Groups hitting the clubs and bars in style for events such as bachelor and bachelorette parties and birthdays present an obvious opportunity for limo bus and limousine operators. Operators new to this market may want to consider what vehicles work best, who to partner with, and what to offer potential partiers.
Perris, Calif.-based Tiffany Coachworks manufactures several types of limo buses that operators use for bar hop limo service, ranging from the E 450 which seats 20, to the Freightliner M2s, which can seat either 38 or 48 passengers.
Marketing director Kevin Mack says that limo bus carriers make up at least 40% of the manufacturer’s business.
Versatile features are the most popular, such as removable dance poles, corporate tables, and satellite TV. “They’re using them for more corporate and party [events]…if you take the pole out you can put a table in. The parties are bigger because [customers] are trying to reduce the overall cost per person,” Mack says. “For example, a group of 30 is around $7 per person per hour. An SUV or limo would run $30-$40 per person.”
It’s all who you know
Rare Form Limo of Woodinville, Wash., near Seattle, offers 13 SUV stretch limousines for their popular “Night on the Town” service. In 2008, 20% of Rare Form’s revenue came from “Night on the Town,” which includes not only nightclubs with a DJ, but also going out to dinners and concerts. “It’s a significant market for us,” says Eli Darland, owner.
Darland says that his success has hinged on getting in with all the promoters, bouncers, and owners at Seattle nightclubs that charge a cover. Since the promoters organize everything from the DJ to the guest list at the door, these are the contacts needed to drum up business.
Christina Brannon, owner of Southern California’s NStyle Limo, recently started her own limo bus business. Bar-hopping customers comprise one-quarter of NStyle’s revenues and keep their weekends booked.
Brannon agrees that it’s a must to know the doormen to get big groups in your limos. Winning over the market once you have it entails staying in close contact. “I know some other companies pay them, but I’ve never had to. I don’t know if being a woman is a little different. My last company would pay the door guys $50, but I’ve never had to.”
Adding the right perks
Free covers and tables are some of the perks that Rare Form uses to close the deal with groups looking to go out.
“When you get a group of 10 or 12 in for free, that right there saves them about $120. That can be looked at as a discount off the limousine in their eyes,” Darland points out.
Darland recommends when getting a group of revelers, contacting local clubs and finding out who’s promoting can get clients in the door. “With pretty good authority, I can say, ‘If you want to go to The Last Supper Club, I can get you on the guest list. You won’t have to wait in line,’” Darland says.
Like Rare Form, NStyle also offers free covers, VIP access, and a special package with bottle service. The “Party Like a Rock Star” package includes bottle service and a handle of liquor on board. Customers also have the option to bring their own alcohol.
”I think it adds some value, because they don’t have to deal with having to pay,” Brannon says.
NStyle began offering the free cover and the bottle service deal last year. Incorporating the club entrance as an added benefit has helped keep business healthy, she says.
“It’s really been taking off [since] the economy changed. We knew that we needed to do something a little different,” she adds.
Cleanup after the party
While the bar-hoppers may contribute substantially to Rare Form’s business, Darland confides that the “Night on the Town” service is the one market that potentially causes the most trouble due to inebriated clients.
To discourage customers from drinking to excess, Rare Form refrains from offering any kind of alcohol in the limos, as more alcohol presents a higher risk of passengers getting sick. Often, Darland points out, customers want to stock their own alcohol, and bring excessive amounts.
“You can tell the mission is to get as drunk as possible, because someone else is driving. Maybe one out of five of our ‘Nights on the Town’ are like that. That makes us nervous,” he explains. “We’re happy to take the night on the town runs, but we definitely have to keep a close eye on the customers. We buy them a taxi if it looks like they’re going to be sick in the car.”
In addition, if clients drink too much, there’s trouble communicating about where they plan to go next, which can cause parking issues. “You have to double-park, and wait for a group of 10 to 12 people scrambling around, figuring how to get everyone in the limo, who else is going to pile in, overloading the car, because they want to bring extra friends from the club,” Darland says.
Darland advises operators who want to start running their limousines at night to partner with restaurants and other evening events rather than exerting effort on night clubs. He adds that in his experience the percentage of time clubbers will pony up for a limousine will only be for special occasions. “The limousine is 70% to 80% of the money these customers will spend on their night out [so] it revolves around the limo cost,” Darland says.
Another issue is that some states, such as Washington, require that passengers buy a banquet license from a liquor store for $10 if they are going to drink alcohol in the vehicle, Darland points out.
SIDEBAR: Onboard Bathrooms: Worth The Investment?
One of Greyhound’s perks is that it offers restrooms on board all of its coaches. “It is an amenity our passengers have come to expect from Greyhound and [they] appreciate the convenience it provides during a lengthy trip,” says Maureen Richmond, director of media relations. The restrooms are cleaned and disinfected each day, along with the rest of the coach.
While intercity coach carriers typically provide onboard bathrooms as a convenience to their customers, is it worth considering for limo bus operators who are taking customers out to multiple venues where they will be drinking?
InStyle Limo’s owner Christina Brannon says about half of limo bus operators offer vehicles with onboard bathrooms, but she doesn’t plan to any time soon. “Sometimes it helps, but as far as going out on the town, I don’t think it’s a major deal,” she says. In her past job experience, she worked for an operator that offered two buses with bathrooms. “It’s a pain to clean them, and…you can’t get rid of the smell no matter how clean you keep them.”
Other operators LCT spoke with for this story commented that they do not have onboard bathrooms because they do not want to deal with the extra upkeep, and they do not run long enough trips to merit them.