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One of the biggest regrets uttered by many a business man or woman: “If I had only known then, what I know now.”
That seems to be the curse of life in general as well, but it can be somewhat eased if experienced industry hands share the wisdom of the years — and the newcomers listen and take it to heart.
LCT recently either interviewed or corresponded with limousine operators who’ve worked in the industry since at least the 1980s, and can shed some light on what they learned over the course of three decades of LCT. We took some literary license and loosely borrowed the theme of the “Letters To” concept, which has seen success in recent years on book bestseller lists. No one hesitates to read a letter, since its contents are being told straight to you.
Industry titans George Jacobs and H.A. Thompson, along with former operator and current entrepreneur and consultant Rich Cooley tell it like it is and what they wish they’d known. Miami operator Neil Goodman shares his thoughts in a special Q&A interview.
LCT will feature this series throughout 2013 issues, with other leading veteran operators offering a real-life continuing industry education.
CEO/founder Windy City Limousine, Chicago, former NLA President, and current NLA board director
Dear Young Operator,
My career in the limousine business has taught me many things I’d like to share with you. This is a tough industry at the best of times, so it’s important to stay focused and confident and believe in yourself, because you will be tested and it won’t always be easy.
I started a limo business from scratch twice, my second time just a few years ago, so I still remember the challenges of building a company. When you’re just starting out, you might think you need to compete on price. Don’t.
Focus on delivering better service with added value — that’s what clients really care about. Build a better mousetrap and find creative ways to capture the market.
As a small operator, convince clients that you can do things better than bigger companies, such as offering personalized, hands-on service on every order, and following through on everything you promise. Take the time to get to know your clients and their needs so you can be different things to different people.
Look at what’s unserved or underserved, and see if you can fill the niche. When I started with one limousine back in 1978, I went after hotels. Everybody else thought it was an impossible market because of the transient nature of hotel guests. I didn’t get the contracts right away, but I kept at it and kept at it, and eventually I convinced the hotel managers to let me take care of their guests.
Know what you want, believe you can get it, and be persistent until it happens.
Build your network by attending trade shows and joining local and national associations. These associations are key to forming your career — they keep you informed of regulations and do the heavy lifting to battle them. You’ll meet and connect with new operators like yourself and experienced operators who are where you want to be in the future.
When it comes to advertising, find ways to get your name out there through trade and barter. I like to go to radio stations and offer to work with them on their promotions. They often have contests where they give away tickets to a concert or are bringing in music stars as guests. You can work out a deal where you provide your service for the contest winners or for the celebrity coming to town in exchange for the radio station mentioning your name. It only costs you the price of the trip and chauffeur.
When you’re ready to grow, make sure you delegate so you can focus on the bigger picture. It might be a little uncomfortable, but that’s how you know you’re growing. If you’re comfortable, you’re not growing.
This industry changed a lot in my career and I know you will see many changes also. Keep up with them by adopting the attitude of a life-long learner. Read the industry magazines, attend the Shows and networking events, keep your eyes and ears open for new insights and opportunities. Try to learn something new from everyone you meet and everywhere you go so that you can evolve your company.
When adversity comes knocking at your door, stay calm and be confident that you can and will make things work. Always lead by example. Believe in what you’re doing and others will follow.
It’s a tough industry, but if you have fire in your belly, you’ll succeed. Good luck.