A top priority for anyone looking to succeed in the limousine business should be to hire great chauffeurs and other employees and treat them as if they were your best customers, Tom Mazza, executive director of the National Limousine Association, advised delegates attending the LCT Show.
“The experience and demeanor of your chauffeurs are absolutely critical to your success,” Mazza said. “If you have a core of good, quality chauffeurs, you have the opportunity to make some money.”
Chauffeurs should have a highly professional presence, should always be on time, should always know where they are going and should be aware of traffic patterns and have three or four alternative routes, Mazza continued.
“More customers have been lost to an operator because the chauffeur didn’t know where he or she was going than any other reason,” Mazza said.
When hiring chauffeurs, Mazza advised operators to “hire someone who cares as much about the business as you do. Hire nice people – everything else can be trained.” He also noted that operators increasingly have to offer insurance and other benefits to hire and retain the best chauffeurs. “If you can’t offer your chauffeurs health care and other benefits, you are going to have a problem finding them,” he said.
Other points raised by Mazza included:
• Financial pointers: Operators should keep a spotless credit record, especially in these tough economic times, and should establish a detailed budget and financial projections for their business. “Make decisions based on your budget, not on wishful thinking,” Mazza said.
Operators should also have a three-year plan for their business that addresses long-term goals and how they are to be reached. “You need to figure out what’s the most profitable type of business for you and how you get more of it,” Mazza said. “Managed growth is essential.”
It is also crucial, he said, to forge a long-term relationship with a professional financial advisor. Astute financial management is now all the more important as many limousine operators struggle with the current economic downturn, Mazza noted, cautioning that, “We have had more vehicles repossessed in the last two years than in the previous 10 years combined.”
• The Ritz-Carlton lesson: Limousine operators should heed the lessons taught by such service-oriented companies as the Ritz-Carlton, he said. Personalized and professional service is highly prized at the hotel chain and, as a result of this attention to detail, Ritz-Carlton has weathered the current downturn in business travel better than some of its competitors.
• Price competition: Very few operators compete on price and are successful at running profitable businesses, Mazza cautioned. He also advised operators to obtain pricing sheets on their three or four largest competitors.
• Chauffeur or driver? Asked by an audience member to explain the difference between those two words, Mazza said, “A chauffeur creates an experience, he or she provides an ambience; a driver delivers pizza.”