The limousine industry is back and stronger than ever. Evidence that it is on a strong footing – and that many operators have returned to solid profits, if not growth – was easy to spot at the 20th anniversary LCT Show in Las Vegas.
The exhibit floor aisles, meeting rooms and social events were crowded with operators who told of experiencing solid gains in their retail and corporate work through much of last year, with the trend continuing into this year.
More than 3,000 limousine company operators, coachbuilders, suppliers and other professionals attended the three-day show at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, making it the industry’s largest in several years.
In addition, more than 400 first-time operators attended the conference, representing a sizeable increase from recent years.
After three years of struggling through the fallout of the national economic downturn in 2001 and the events of Sept. 11, many operators have emerged as stronger-then-ever entrepreneurs.
The number of trips that many operators are running may not have risen back to pre-2001 levels and operators continue to be bedeviled by high insurance rates, lower-than-profitable rates and other pressures. But, many have learned how to deal with the cards they’ve been dealt and are optimistic that they’ve sharpened their business skills and are charting their way to success, if not growth.
The mood at the show was decidedly upbeat and many operators were in a buying mood when they walked the exhibit floor; many coachbuilders, technology and other exhibitors reported strong interest in the products or services and said they were seeing signs that operators were acting on pent-up demand for new cars and other products.
“This was the best show we’ve had in five years,” said John Beck of Krystal Enterprises. There were more than 80 exhibitors, offering a wide array of limousines, buses and vans and specialty vehicles, along with nearly a score of limousine management and vehicle technology products. There also were a number of insurance, leasing, marketing and other services and services on display.
SUVs, both stretched and non-stretched were much in evidence at the LCT Show. Ford used it to unveil its new QVM Navigator, and other exhibitors were showcasing a variety of Cadillac and other Ford SUVs.
Many delegates also had praise for the educational sessions developed by the National Limousine Association and many of the sessions were highly rated on evaluation forms completed by attendees.
In addition, delegates enjoyed several social functions, including the annual Industry Awards Gala and a private, over-the-top 20th anniversary party at one of the hottest clubs in Las Vegas, Rumjungle in the Mandalay hotel.
OPERATOR OF YEAR – SMALL
Two Step Limousine:
Former chairwoman of the Limousine Association of Colorado and an active member of the NLA, Barbara Curtis credits her son, Walter Curtis, for giving her time to be involved in the industry. Vendors that work with Two Step, based in Littleton, Colo., praise its reliability, punctuality, professionalism and friendliness. When she started her business in the 1990s, she had a 1989 limousine. But she quickly discovered that clients didn’t mind because they had heard wonderful things about her service. She now has a fleet of five.
OPERATOR OF THE YEAR – MEDIUM
A Touch of Class Limousine:
With a background in marketing, it’s no wonder Deena Papagni has succeeded in making a name for A Touch of Class Limousine. The company’s “Why Fly?” campaign is geared to save customers money with established-price or flat fee transportation to airports, between airports and day trips. The “driver only” program, which provides chauffeured service for the elderly whose licenses have been suspended or revoked, is another success. But Papagni, based in the Fresno, Calif., area with a fleet of 15, is just beginning.
OPERATOR OF THE YEAR – LARGE
Employees Are Key
When Bob Bellagamba started his company in 1984, he used a student loan to purchase his first vehicle. Today, Bellagamba boasts a modern, diverse fleet of 55 vehicles. His fresh approach to marketing is seen with a “Meeting and Conference” department. It handles the needs of corporate clients, meeting planners, and travel agents, by assisting them with worldwide ground transportation and Meet and Greet services. Bellagamba, based in Freehold, N.J., cites networking as crucial to the company’s growth.
OPERATOR OF THE YEAR – NATIONAL NETWORK
Listening to Employees
At BostonCoach, employees, particularly drivers and customer service representatives, have a direct connection to customers. By listening to employees, President Russ Cooke notes that the team gains a better understanding of clients’ needs and deliver solutions that enhance the passenger’s experience. The company strives to ensure that every customer has a positive experience that exceeds his or her expectations. Also, BostonCoach was recently singled out by Business Week magazine for a Web-based fleet optimization system that was developed in conjunction with IBM’s Watson Laboratory.
ASSOCIATION AWARD OF EXCELLENCE
Florida: An Example of Dedication and Commitment The Florida Limousine Association continuously works at building better relationships with local and state governments. Government agency representatives are invited to their meetings and the association hosts transportation symposiums in three South Florida counties. The FLA established an Ethics and Standards Committee, which conducts bi-annual inspections of all members’ vehicles. The association is active with MADD and is involved with the James Jr. Fund, a local children’s cancer charity.