Some of the most successful operators in the industry sat on a panel recently at the LCT Eastern Conference, held in September at the Mohegan Sun Resort & Casino, and shared feedback on some of today’s most pressing issues. They were candid about everything from joining forces with their competition, to hiring salespeople, and offering client discounts.
What they had to say may surprise you.
Q: How do I go about fi nding a salesperson when I’m ready to take things to the next level?
A: It takes a long time. At A Touch of Class, we never stop hiring for any position — ever. It has taken me a year and a half and several candidates to find people we want to keep and who want to stay with the company. There are so many different factors — emotional, physical, your time-frame of operation. You have to deal with someone who is very confi dent, who understands your limo company mentality.
My advice is to tell your drivers, tell your friends, tell your family, “This is what I’m looking for.” Your word-of-mouth referral is going to be your best referral. You can spend all of the money you want on newspaper ads and on Monster.com, but it’s not going to bring you that one person hand-chosen for you. • DEENA PAPAGNI
Q: Should a salesperson be paid a salary or just commission?
A: Anytime you add a salary to a salesperson, you have to add your own time to the investment because you have to manage that person. You have to make sure that they’re doing what they’re supposed to do. It’s easy to pay someone on commission only or on a very low base because that will motivate them if they’re the right kind of person. But you may need more salary to get somebody decent but you also have to hold that person accountable and you have to manage them. • DIANE FORGY
Q: Let’s say you’ve built a relationship with a potential client but how do you close a sale?
A: Closing a sale is about asking for the business and getting the business. In other words, it’s not just taking a client out to lunch hoping that they’ll use your company. We’re here to make money and we’re here to make a profit. We’re not here because we like driving people around until three in the morning.
The most important thing is to be visible. It’s about exposure. Make contact with the company once a month. Get a meeting and go in there and say, “What do I need to do to get your business?” • DEENA PAPAGNI
Q: Do you have an established mystery ride program?
A: We do through the hotels because the hotels are doing it, regularly evaluating their concierge department so we get a scored sheet back. That tells us whether the chauffeur met all of their particular standards. At the same time, the chauffeur doesn’t know who that rider is. • TOM MULLIGAN
Q: What do I do about potential clients that ask me for a discount if they use my service?
A: My best clients have never asked me for a discount because they know that I have brand new cars and excellent chauffeurs and staff, etc. Once again, we’re in this business because we want to make money. Giving discounts depends on what your profit margin is. You don’t want to end up cannibalizing yourself just to get clients. That’s pointless. • DEENA PAPAGNI
That ride in particular sounds like a real pain. I’ve never discounted something just to move a car. • TOM MULLIGAN
Q: Would you recommend having more than one lot in the area that you service?
A: We are out of one facility. Our chauffeurs come to work and pick up the vehicle and at the end of the day, they’re dropping it off. If we get a run that logistically doesn’t work, that’s when having affiliates comes in handy. It may be cost-effective for your company to farm the trip out to someone in that area. I guess that all depends on the area your company services. • MARK MOLLICA
We stage cars if we have situations where there are heavy traffic patterns. We’ll keep vehicles out by the airport or at certain hotels. • TOM MULLIGAN
Q: How do I work with the competitors in my local market?
A: You have to look for what you do yourself and you can build some great relationships that can enhance your business as well as theirs. But you need to check the integrity and the quality of the vehicles they use, the company’s chauffeurs and their uniforms, and all those sort of things. There is a lot you have to be careful of, so you have to do your homework.
If you find someone in your neighborhood, I think it’s fantastic to start a relationship with them. It helps you grow and allows you to take on work that you couldn’t normally take on. Having a relationship with another company close to you can help you out and it can work out very well. • MARK MOLLICA
For the first 15 or so years, we never cooperated with any of the companies in our area, nor did they cooperate with us. Then an event happened in Chicago where a competitor’s facility blew up one night. Some of their employees were killed in the fire, and all of their equipment was destroyed. They called and said, “Will you help us? No one else will.”
I realized that we do need to help each other. If somebody has a large event, you don’t want to see them fall on their face because they don’t have enough equipment to manage. Working in cooperation together, the clients see that there is cooperation and that you had the initiative to go out and put their event together. Having those relationships is really important because you really want to make sure that your client is taken care of properly. We are always open to helping somebody when that’s the case.
• TOM MULLIGAN We don’t subcontract in our area is because we have a lot of angry people in our industry that have done several things that are not nice. I’m very territorial over my company because I’ve been doing this for 19 years. It’s pretty much the only job I’ve had. If you’re going to be doing business with people, you should make sure that those companies have your best interest at heart. • DEENA PAPAGNI
To be a good neighbor, you should coexist but you want to set the tone and standard for the market and then you find the people to work with that won’t stab you in the back. • DIANE FORGY
Q: How do you meet and choose trustworthy affiliates? A: By attending conventions like this one and the International Show coming up in March in Las Vegas. Networking with your peers and evaluating them as a person and their moral fiber. Word of mouth is great, and using your best judgment and protecting yourself financially. You’re going to see a lot of great operators at these conventions because they’re flying above the radar, as opposed to those who are flying below the radar because they don’t want anyone to know anything about them. These conventions are such an amazing networking opportunity for everyone. You can pretty much develop an affiliate network just from being here. And when you get back home, that’s the time to contact the people you’ve met and set up your affiliate agreements. Don’t wait until you need to make that call. • DEENA PAPAGNI
One thing you have to do is narrow your search. Focus on some major cities like Las Vegas or New York and then come to these shows. But you should also do some work ahead of time and make some phone calls and see who’s going to the shows. See who advertises in the industry and when you meet somebody, ask them if they send out of town work and who they use. Sometimes they’ll be helpful, sometimes they won’t. It’s really a very tedious process, and the longer you’re in the industry, the more you get to know people, and it’s always nice to see them face-to-face. You don’t always have that chance. There are not a lot of shortcuts but the more you do it, the better you get at it. • DIANE FORGY