Every operator looks for the formula for success. Generally, that formula involves finding a certain niche for your business. Whether it’s corporate work, wedding and prom work, wine tours, or even airport shuttle, the operator strives to create a profitable business that is designed around this main niche.
Of all the specialized markets out there, one important type is often overlooked — sports team transportation. This niche is not only profitable, but can also provide marketing and reputation benefits. Fans of home sports teams are generally loyal and even sometimes fanatical. They tend to remember everything that is involved with the team, including your company.
How does a company become involved with these teams? It’s not normally just a manner of walking in and introducing yourself. And more times than not, they aren’t going to be knocking on your door. Kevin Hoque, vice president of American Limousine & Transportation in Dallas, shares how to approach them as well as the benefits of providing transportation to professional sports teams. And he would certainly know: American is the exclusive transportation provider for the Dallas Cowboys, Mavericks, Stars, and the Texas Rangers.
The Benefits are Many
Anyone who follows any professional team is aware of the serious fan base. These people generally know all of the team’s statistics, names of the players, and many other bits of information. These fans are generally loyal to their team and that sometimes translates into them patronizing the team’s sponsors and suppliers. So, to begin with, the first great benefit of your affiliation to the team is a ready-made client base.
When Hoque realized that this was a great niche to get into, he figured that it would give American an opportunity to brand itself in a manner that showed the flexibility as well as the quality of the service the company provides. He says it gave American the reputation of being a total transportation company.
“Once we became the exclusive provider for these teams, it created opportunities that may not have otherwise presented themselves,” says Hoque. “First, it was an amazing marketing tool, because American has become a household name in the area.” People are used to seeing the name associated with the teams and that alone is a great boost. But along with that, other official sponsors are also associated with the company, so that creates some serious clout.
When a potential client is looking for a vehicle, and one company out of the dozens of choices is associated with their favorite sports team, that transportation company is more likely to get the call. It creates a strong sense of credibility in the client’s eyes. They figure if this giant conglomerate trusts this transportation service, then they should be able to trust them as well. “I have heard people say that if this company is good enough for the Dallas Cowboys, then they are good enough for me,” says Hoque.
Getting Your Foot in the Door
Creating a relationship with these organizations isn’t easy. It takes patience and great customer relations skills just to get them to speak to you. These are large businesses that are very busy with courting sponsors, dealing with players, working on promotional campaigns, as well as the standard business side of sports, and their time is precious. You need to make every contact with these people count.
The first step is knowing who to turn your attentions toward. Going straight to the proper departments can save you a lot of red tape and run-arounds. Hoque says there are three departments to work with:
1) the community relations department
2) the marketing division
3) the franchise’s operations department.
“These departments are the ones that make the decisions when it comes to transportation of the sponsors, the players, and the executives involved with the team,” says Hoque. “You want to speak to them and give them an opportunity to get to know and trust you and your company.”
When you begin to deal with these entities, make sure you perform every function to the fulfillment of every agreement made. “Make sure every ‘T’ is crossed and every ‘I’ is dotted,” says Hoque. “And always be sure you never promise anything you can’t deliver.” These people are used to dealing with contracts and deals. They expect everything to be according to the letter of the agreement.
Hoque says to remember that most of these teams had bad experiences with other limousine companies, which can give you an opportunity to create the relationship with them. “The other companies that dealt with the Dallas teams were unable to keep up their end of the bargain, and couldn’t provide all of the services they promised,” says Hoque. “Some wouldn’t show up on time, and others would show up but not with the vehicles they wanted.”
These are very demanding clientele and expect to get what they want. “A good example,” adds Hoque, “was they wanted some SUVs because these guys were very big in size and a sedan was just not large enough.” Also, when the execs would take clients out, and they wanted to be discreet, “the other limousine company would show up with a fancy white stretch. “
It may also be necessary to help during promotions, so be prepared for some requests to have a vehicle decorated in team logos or colors. “We had a promotion for the Dallas Stars when the team coming out of lockout (the 2004-5 labor dispute in the National Hockey League),” he says. “They wanted to make the entire city aware the Stars were coming back to play.” Hoque says the Hummer limousine they were riding in was embossed with the team logo for all to see. “If they want something, it is your job to make them happy, because the business they send back is always more than worth the effort.”
Cross Marketing American’s Other Businesses
Many operators take advantage of opportunities that either present themselves or are known in a certain market. These niches are a goldmine for operators and can easily be tailored to create a steady stream of income. However, sometimes company owners have the drive to create their own opportunities and niches.
Mike and Kevin Hoque, president and vice president of American Limousine & Transportation in Dallas, have done just that. Along with the transportation company, they have created two fine dining restaurants and a real estate development company. “We have diversified our business model,” says Kevin Hoque. “We wanted to create businesses that could feed one another.”
Each of the other three companies, Go Fish, Fish Press, and Tuscany Choice Development, share a symbiotic relationship. “We cross market between all four companies,” says Hoque. “This allows each business to not only cater to its core clientele, but also people who were referred from the other businesses.” This four-way marketing strategy not only supports the businesses, but also makes each one far more profitable.
“During times when our industry is slow, this keeps the cars rolling,” he says. “When you create opportunity that is not already there, the result can be very rewarding.” He also adds that they have been blessed with these opportunities and are always thankful.