Thomas P. Watson (center) is a U.S. military veteran and co-owner of Avant-Garde Transportation
along with his sons, Rick (L) and Robb (R). “We are 100% committed to supporting veteran employment, as well as supporting veteran organizations,” Rick says. “Employees with a military background have a strong sense of loyalty and work ethic.” The staff at Avant-Garde regularly volunteers for local charity “Operation Game On,” which gives returning combat injured troops suffering from physical and mental disabilities the confidence to regain an active lifestyle.
Biggest accomplishment: The Watson brothers credit their greatest achievement to tackling head-on something that gave them many headaches at first. Comparing computer systems was stressful, but by choosing one and moving forward, it eventually helped them attain unexpected new levels of sales and client management. “Our daily operations became quicker, more streamlined, and considerably more productive,” Robb says.
Successful strategies: The brothers realized early on the Internet was a cost-effective tool for marketing. “Our SEO program was tailored to a three-part attack,” Rick says. “Local, National and International.” With each segment focused on developing business in its own right, Rick and Robb designed their SEO accordingly. “As social networking developed, we entered that arena as well, and traditional word-of-mouth advertising has also played a significant role in developing and maintaining our local business,” Rick says.
Business strengths: “Our success has mostly been driven by our absolute dedication to customer service,” Robb says. “I also have to give credit to our low turnover in staff, including office and field personnel.”
Customer service approaches: “Our clients appreciate that a live person answers our phone 24/7,” Robb says. “We handle any service issue and resolve it within 24 hours. Dedicated corporate account reps know the needs of our passengers and work closely with their administrative personnel and travel agency partners.”
Avant-Garde’s transportation specialist Aimee Beeunas with the new Mercedes-Benz E350 the company acquired last year.
Fleet vehicles: “Although the venerable Town Car has been discontinued, we will still continue to employ them in our service for at least a few more years,” Robb says. “Our [chauffeurs] in doing informal tracking have found that our customers actually prefer the new Chrysler 300 Series, the Lincoln MK series, and of course, the Mercedes S Class.”
Lessons learned: “We made errors initially with collections in the leisure market and in trying to manage our accounts payables and receivables,” Robb says. “We also struggled with the transitioning of the rising technical changes in booking and billing computerization.”
Career backgrounds: Rick had a background in banking, marketing and advertising, and Robb worked in the taxi industry and security field.
Industry origins: With the first signs of the recession, the brothers realized they were vulnerable to layoffs, just like the colleagues who were losing their jobs. So they created a family business as a hedge against the ebb and flow of the job market. Robb already had experience in the transportation industry, and saw a unique opportunity in the post 9/11 economy to provide a competitively priced transportation service that still offered what the clients expected, but at a price that fit the leaner times sure to come. They devised a new business plan and acted each step accordingly.
Start-up methods: Since they were not “cash deep” as Rick says, they acquired their first two vehicles, 10-passenger stretch limos, using auto loans and an unsecured loan for operations.
Advice for operators: “Treat all clients with honesty, integrity and consistency,” Robb says. “It is really important you always put yourself in the position of the client. Often they are 100% dependent on us. Expect them to be nervous, critical, and even exasperated while trying to make contact with a chauffeur in a busy airport. Always be calm and reassuring. Remember they need our support because they see us as the professionals, and we should always act accordingly.”
Avant-Garde Global Transportation
Location: San Diego, Calif.
Owners: Thomas Watson, Rick Watson, and Robb Watson
Vehicle types: Sedans and SUVs
Fleet vehicles: 4
Information: (888) 480-5466