Building up the clientele for a new limousine service takes a lot of time and effort. One of the best ways to move the fleet is through farm-in runs.
When a limo company farms-out a ride for a client, it expects the farm-in company to meet its standards for quality service, since the farm-in becomes an extension of the company’s name and brand.
Farm-in work is less profitable than homegrown work, and the farm-in operator will receive a lower rate for the ride after the farming-out affiliate takes its cut. The tradeoff for taking affiliate work at a lower margin is volume. When smaller operations prove trusted and reliable partners, the larger farming-out affiliates are likely to throw more work to them.
By The Numbers
Large limousine companies often have thousands of clients, says Mona Marandy, vice president of operations at Monalisa Limousine in Los Angeles. “A lot of operators are missing the point with this. It’s not about the discounted rate. The main reason we do farm-in work is for the volume, and the larger affiliate companies know this when they send us the rates.”
Patrick Helvey of Executive Town Car and Limousine Service in Roanoke, Va., says he makes sure his chauffeurs never promote his company when handling affiliate work.
Marandy stresses that the most important thing you can do when taking farm-in work, especially if it’s the first time working with that company, is impress them with customer service. This means being professional enough not to advertise your own company.
“A lot of the smaller owner/operators think that with affiliate jobs they won’t get a tip or it will be a smaller cut, so they don’t care as much about the ride,” Marandy says. “But they’re just shooting themselves in the foot. Because if you take care of that client during the ride, and they say something to the [company farming out] like, ‘That was a great car,’ or ‘I really liked that chauffeur,’ then you’ve just set yourself up for more business.”
Raphael Sousa, president of SF Limo Express in San Francisco, adds, “It’s plain and simple. I do the same level of service for an affiliate ride as I would for my own customer. If I don’t, the affiliate will find someone else.”
Sousa looks at affiliate work long-term. He doesn’t try to bargain or nickel and dime, because in the end, he says it won’t matter. The sheer numbers of affiliate rides will compensate over time and add up to profit.
“My philosophy is work is work, and a client is a client,” he says. “No one gets any better treatment than the other. I definitely love to grow my own brand, but right now there’s no reason to turn away affiliate work. It’s still work and still money.”
Mona Marandy of Monalisa Limousine in Los Angeles says taking farm-in work is one of the best ways a limo operation can develop volume and a good reputation.
Another important component of affiliate relationships is to also give back: If you get farm-in work from a company, farm-out to them when you can. Many smaller operations are located in second- and third-tier cities and regions where farm-in work exceeds farm-out runs to other and/or larger cities. But when local clients do travel to other locations, operators should aim to throw the work back to affiliates and make the relationship a two-way street.
Patrick Helvey, owner of Executive Town Car and Limousine Service in Roanoke, Va., says his area gets a lot of farm-in work for speakers coming into town. Sometimes he gets the same individual booked on separate dates and times through different affiliates, likely due to the speaker’s booking agent choosing different vendors. But either way, Helvey treats the affiliate run with the same care as a locally generated run, and when he has the opportunity, readily farms-out his clients to his affiliates.
“I know a lot of people see affiliate work as ‘How do I get more work?’” Sousa says. “But farming out is a reality of the business, and it helps strengthen your relationships, especially with local operators.”
Raphael Sousa of SF Limo Express in San Francisco stressed the importance of maintaining good affiliate relationships during the LCT Fast 40 seminar at the International LCT Show in Las Vegas.
Sousa says his company farms out about two to four rides a day. “A lot of times it just makes more sense to farm out a certain amount of work,” he says. “It’s good for keeping your affiliate relationships and showing that they’re not just giving me work. You have to reciprocate. One day I’m busy and they’re slow, and [on] another, I’m slow and they’re overloaded, so it works out.”
Service That Will Impress Affiliates
The best way to impress farm-in clients is with outstanding customer service. Here are some tips from operators on what they do to make sure the affiliate gets positive comments from their clients.
Mona Marandy, Monalisa Limousine:
• Provide premium full bar for limousine charters, whether affiliate or locally generated.
• Use a separate maintenance protocol for affiliate runs where vehicles are prepped with the affiliate’s business cards and media kit, thereby removing all of the farm-in company’s branded items.
• Chauffeurs are compensated the same whether it’s an affiliate run or not.
Raphael Sousa, SF Limo Express:
• Make sure all chauffeurs arrive early. Never be late.
• If something does go wrong on the run, and it’s difficult to prove your chauffeur or company was not at fault, apologizeand offer to rectify the situation in the future.
Patick Helvey, Executive Town Car And Limousine Service:
• Communicate honestly with your affiliates up front if you have a disagreement with the rate. Helvey recounts how early affiliates would send pricings that would not take into account the long and winding roads of common routes through his area. But once the numbers were discussed at the onset, an adjustment was made that satisfied all parties.
• Chauffeurs only wear black suits to be consistent with affiliates.
Tips From An Affiliate Leader
Tami Saccoccio is the national affiliate director for Commonwealth Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation in Boston, one of the most prestigious and sought after companies for farm-in work in the limousine industry. Saccoccio gives four core tips for smaller operators on how they can impress their larger affiliates when handling farm-in work.
Being available 24/7 is key. We need operators that can have a live person answer the phone at any time, and be able to book for ASAP pickups and early next morning runs to the airport.
• Bill in a timely manner. Commonwealth requires invoices within two business days of the trip.
• Communication is paramount. If a chauffeur is running late with traffic, let the affiliate company know immediately and notify the passenger.
• Be on the same page. Go over every detail of the affiliate’s expectations, including vehicle types and chauffeur behavior.