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Note To Readers: This is the third part of a series focusing on how small, midsize and large operators can grow their businesses. The series examines making the jump from small- to mid-size fleet operations, from mid-size to large, and large to top-tier.
Each August, LCT Magazine publishes the “50 Largest Fleets,” a comprehensive roundup of the industry’s biggest companies with 2014 fleet sizes ranging from 70 to 1,700 vehicles. That’s quite a spread. However, considering the overall median industry fleet size is 10 vehicles, cracking the Top 50 list is quite an achievement.
So what does it take to get to the upper echelon in the industry? How did they do it? Most importantly, what do the top operators focus on year after year to run a large operation — and keep growing?
In this third installment of a continuing series focused on how to grow your business, three highly successful and longtime Top 50 operators in the middle of the pack (96-171 vehicles) share advice, strategies and practical tips on how to grow operations into the top tier.
A 30-year industry veteran, Reliable Limousine and Bus Service President Paul Rodberg recalls when he launched his company in 1983. “I bought the biggest ad in the phone book to grow the business. Well, that doesn’t work anymore,” he says. “But what I learned early on is that by focusing on meeting customers’ expectations, being honest and acknowledging mistakes, my business grew by word-of-mouth.”
Rodberg is well aware that his principles are more important today than ever because reviews on consumer websites, social media and blogs have upped the ante to make every ride a positive experience.
“Negative reviews nowadays go viral and spread faster than a positive review because somebody wasn’t happy about something and alerts 10 friends,” he explains.
Paul Rodberg, President of Reliable Limousine and Bus Service, Silver Spring, Md.
Rodberg, like other successful operators interviewed for this article, reiterates that creating and exceeding customer expectations should be a given. What sets them apart and puts them on the growth curve early on is the entrepreneurial drive to look for new markets and examine operations, adapt to change, and seize new opportunities.
For example, Rodberg’s expansion over the years started early when he provided vehicles for funerals and then jumped into groups and events. “I’m in the people moving business. We do lots of group meetings and events, and today we work with 46 funeral homes. He started with one hearse in 1988 and now has eight.
“The funeral operators don’t want to be in the transportation business,” he says. “They may have one hearse but when they have more than one funeral on a day, they call us rather than give the business to their competition. It’s a steady business and now we are pushing them to using vans and buses to transport people to funerals and that is catching on.”
Rodberg points out operators must diversify in order to grow. “We don’t depend on any one customer or market.”
The company’s growth also stems from building solid relationships with meeting planners who contract for his motorcoaches, mini- and limo-buses for the numerous events held in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. region. Rodberg also does a lot of affiliate work, and advises smaller operators to provide the best service when they represent other operators.
When Reliable’s fleet grew from 50-80 vehicles, that was the point when Rodberg had to restructure his team to manage the daily 50-person operation. “At 25 people, I was still hands on, but when you get to 50, I hired an HR person. I also had to create another level of hierarchy that managed the company. That allowed me to focus on directing the company, dealing with financials and cash flow, account maintenance, and I still go out on sales calls.”
Still, Rodberg is keenly aware he needs to listen closely to staff. He holds weekly staff meetings and open lunch days where chauffeurs and staff can stop in and have lunch with him and his managers to talk about anything. “I spend part of every day talking to my car washers, dispatchers, and others to find out what’s really happening. You can’t be aloof. You have to be open in order to build a team.”
Seek Out Opportunities
Andrew Perez, VP of business development and affiliate relations, Elegant Limousine and Charter, San Antonio, Texas.
In the past seven years, Elegant Limousine & Charter
, San Antonio, Texas, surged from 50 vehicles to an impressive 130 diverse fleet, not because business grew, but because the company zeroed in on seeking out new business opportunities.
For example, Elegant learned that a large technology company with offices in San Antonio and Austin paid employees $90 a pop every time they drove round trip for meetings. “We saw an opportunity and made a proposal to the company to shuttle employees back and forth,” says Andrew Perez
, company vice president business development and affiliate relations.
“It started six years ago with one Wednesday mini-bus trip. Today, we do 24 trips Monday through Friday. It’s worked out well for the tech company’s bottom line and is a steady part of our business. The other advantage is that we can use the buses on weekends to generate revenue.”