In this business, making the right impression is everything. The Chauffeur Training Program course, led by Scott Mezger, outlined the importance of a chauffeur’s role when it comes to crucial topics such as appearance, attitude, customer service, safety and finances.
NLA President Scott Solombrino facilitated a lively discussion among NLA members, local associations and operators in Canada and Puerto Rico. These operators had many questions on manufacturer programs and other operational realities and how they differ from programs in the mainland U.S.
A Power Panel addressed key trends emerging in the industry and forecasted growth. Issues discussed by a major manufacturer, coachbuilder, supplier and top operators included the economy, vehicle demand and insurance.
Chauffeur Training Program Lays the Groundwork for Goals
Speaker Scott Mezger, president of the Executive Chauffeuring School in Cincinnati, received lots of positive feedback from his six-hour comprehensive training course, the LCT Chauffeur Training Program. It is the only chauffeur training program produced by a chauffeur school and it includes 50% more video time than other training programs on the market.
Although attendees walked away with a wealth of information, the following are some of the highlights discussed during the course:
1. A chauffeur must be confident in his or her abilities.
2. A chauffeur must be prompt, polite and prepared to be considered a professional.
3. Chauffeurs must display the proper attitude toward themselves, clients and employers.
4. The proper appearance of the chauffeur is as important as the condition of the vehicle and the quality of the ride.
5. Ours is a service business. We have to strive to provide outstanding customer service.
6. A chauffeur should be seen and not heard, and seen as little as possible.
7. Freedom, and ultimate authority, come at a price for a chauffeur, which is responsibility.
8. The customers are in a chauffeur’s care, custody and control while being driven around.
9. You must protect No. 1. It is part of our jobs to protect ourselves and our vehicles.
10. Handling financial matters properly, and discreetly, for a company is a vital part of a chauffeur’s job.
Operators Seek Guidance About Incentive Programs at Joint Summit
Operators from Canada and Puerto Rico asked their mainland U.S. counterparts at the NLA Association Joint Summit for advice on getting better warranty and incentive programs on livery vehicles from Ford and Cadillac.
In Canada, the warranty on livery sedans has historically been three years/80,000 km or about 50,000 miles, according to Craig McCutcheon, president of Rosedale Livery in Toronto, Ontario. U.S. operators can get a four-year/150,000 mile Ford ESP ExtraCARE warranty in all states except Florida.
Only recently have some Canadian operators become eligible to purchase a similar extended warranty, which offers three years/150,000 miles. To be eligible, operators must purchase and maintain at least five vehicles in their fleet. The cost of the warranty is about $3,450 in U.S. dollars.
In Puerto Rico, operators receive about $2,000 in incentives on livery sedans, while mainland U.S. operators often get double or triple that amount, depending on the vehicle and manufacturer. There are currently no extended warranty programs for livery vehicles in Puerto Rico available from Ford or Cadillac.
NLA President Scott Solombrino recommended that operators “corner” the manufacturers at the LCT Show to discuss improvements to existing incentive and warranty programs.
Puerto Rican operators also complained about an infestation of illegal operators, but Solombrino warned, “Don’t put regulations in place that can come back and haunt you later. Unfortunately, there will always be hustlers.”
Power Panel Forecasts Up to 20% Industry Growth in 2005
The Power Panel at the session, “Forecasting the Trends That Will Impact Your Business in 2005,” agreed that the limousine industry would enjoy continued growth and profitability in the coming year.
Barbara Chirico of Gem Limousine in Woodbridge, N.J., estimated that many operators would see a 20% growth in sales in 2005, but warned, “Don’t forget about your current clients while you are busy looking for new ones.”
Michael Danzi, president of Coastal Coachworks in Fountain Valley, Calif., expects the next five years to show a strong growth trend, but cautioned that rising interest rates and the cost of steel and oil could slow the burgeoning economy. “Right now, we cannot build cars fast enough,” Danzi said.
Doug Walczak, Ford Motor Company’s Limousine & Livery manager, agreed that the first quarter of 2005 points to a continuation of post-9/11 growth.
“Unless we see a disaster that affects the economy, I think the insurance industry will see a real stabilization as well,” added Ray Gooley of The Managing Agency Group in Hartford, Conn. A contributing factor to the stabilization, Gooley added, was that a growing number of limousine companies have implemented strong risk management and driver programs. These include training, drug testing and background checks.
From a show of hands, about half of the people in the audience said they alcohol/drug test employees.
Cheryl Berkman, president of Music Express in Burbank, Calif., noted that governmental bodies, particularly those in California, have developed stricter requirements for drug/alcohol testing.
Another trend Berkman has witnessed has been a shift in vehicle demand, with stretched and non-stretched SUVs growing in popularity. Chirico said that New Jersey remains a sedan-heavy state, but she is seeing a growing demand for minibuses and luxury vans. In Denver, Barbara Curtis, president of Two Step Limousine, is also seeing an increase in requests for luxury vans, particularly among large corporations. When purchasing a vehicle, Curtis recommended being diverse. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” she said.