Limousine operators have often grumbled that when a bride and groom plan their wedding, they will shop around for every wedding essential except their limousine service. Often the only concern to the couple is cost. But what if an operator only has 10-year-old limousines in his fleet? A great deal of time is spent on shop ping for attire, the reception hall, cake, and flowers. Why isn’t the limousine service treated in the same manner?
A bride and groom should actually take the time to view as many limousines at as many companies as possible. They should care about the condition of the limousine and the professionalism of the company that will be serving them on their wedding day.
“In recent years clients have asked more knowledgeable questions,” says Michelle Wilson, co-owner of VIP Limousine in Macomb, MI, and 1997 Limousine & Chauffeur Operator of the Year runner-up (medium category).
According to Wilson, an operator’s office staff should take the time to educate brides on appropriate questions to ask when shopping for a limousine service. She recommends the following questions:
- Is your company properly licensed and insured?
- What year are your vehicles?
- How long have you been in business?
- May we come to your showroom to view the vehicles?
- Do you offer anything besides limousines? Do you have any custom vehicles?
The limousine industry has always battled an image problem. However, today’s operators emphasize professionalism as the key ingredient when trying to penetrate any market segment, and that includes wedding business.
“Today the trend has changed to a more elaborate, professional means of transportation for the bride-to-be,” says Mark Mollica, president of Black Tie Limousine in Haverhill, MA. “My 6-, 8-, and 10-passenger limousines are the most popular.”
Many couples are utilizing vehicles that can accommodate more of the wedding party. “I’m seeing more people choose large limousines because of the drinking and driving laws,” says Frank Bagnoli, owner of Fab Limousines in Youngstown, OH.
“We have noticed that wedding groups are using mini buses in addition to using limousines,” says Kelly Dellerman, vice president of Jed Limousine in St. Louis, MO. “With that in mind, we have been slowly adding these types of vehicles as the demand rises. The costs are less for the clients because you can accommodate more people with fewer vehicles. I believe this trend will continue because other costs that are associated with getting married are rising.”
Bagnoli agrees. “Wedding parties are using superstretch limousines because they can transport more people at a reduced rate,” he says.
According to Mollica, specializing in the wedding market will enhance the overall performance of your company. “If you are able to win over the hearts of the bride, groom, and both families, the long- term potential relationship is endless,” he says. “Possible work such as first anniversary celebrations, birthdays, graduations, and proms will come because of the initial relationship you established with the couple at their wedding.”
ESTABLISH YOUR COMPANY IN THE WEDDING GAME
Many operators are successful in their wedding business just by word-of-mouth. They have become specialists in this part of the business and have established a strong following.
“Referrals are the best way to get business,” says Sharon Frank, president of VEI Limousine in Matawan, NJ, who projects that her company will do over 400 weddings in 1997 and has recently added a new limo-coach to her fleet to be utilized especially for wedding business.
“Our customers have seen first hand the way we handle a wedding,” she continues. “Our vehicles are always in perfect condition. We advertise on the radio, in bridal publications, various magazines, office and church bulletins, and attend mall and bridal shows. We always give the bride and groom a tour of our limousines, physically show them what we include in our wedding packages, and give them a full list of prices and descriptions.”
Many operators consider spring to be peak wedding season. “To keep booked during the spring peak season, you must begin your marketing in the fall,” says Wilson. “We participate in bridal shows, advertise in bridal magazines, and send future brides and grooms literature on a regular basis.”
Dellerman also believes that operators who are serious about their wedding business should attend bridal shows. “We attend bridal shows the first two months of the year and then in late spring if we believe the show is beneficial,” he says. “We receive wedding lists from most of the vendors at the shows and hand out our own brochures.”
Randy Tooker, owner of Lake Forest Limousine in Lake Forest, CA, says each bridal show is different. “Sometimes the smaller shows are the best,” he says.
VIP Limousine Service participates in several bridal shows annually. “We prefer the shows that offer enough space for us to bring a vehicle into the facility,” says Wilson. “Whenever we participate in a bridal show, we always bring our computer and set up a “mini-office” which allows us to book clients on the spot. We usually participate in the larger bridal shows with no less than 1,000 brides. The last show we participated in had over 5,000 brides.”
“Bridal shows are a must if you can afford the fees associated with them,” says Bagnoli. “Fees vary depending on the size of the show. Sometimes you can negotiate a trade-out by offering limousine time.”
According to Frank, in some parts of the country there is no such thing as a wedding peak season. “Wedding business in New Jersey has no seasons,” she says. “It is a 12-month-a-year season. We currently book over 400 weddings a year and that includes Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.”
Once you have determined what the peak time of year is for your wedding business, you must gear up your office, staff to handle the onslaught of calls.
“Gearing up is a matter of retraining,” says Wilson. “Things can change so fast in this industry. Your staff must adapt quickly. We re-train our staff on a regular basis. If additional staff is needed for the busy season, they must be hired and trained before the peak season hits.”
“Our reservationists are geared up all year round because our primary business is weddings and it is non-stop for us,” says Frank.
Tooker believes it is important for all office staff to know pricing during the peak wedding season. “We make sure all of our office personnel know the pricing,” says Tooker. “During the busy time of year it can be chaotic if the staff cannot immediately provide pricing for clients. Customer service suffers. Also, it is very important for my staff to keep track of where prospective clients heard about our service. This allows us to gauge if our marketing efforts have been appropriate.”
Frank Bagnoli emphasizes that attending bridal shows is an excellent way to market your wedding business, but if you don’t provide exemplary service, it will not matter.
You have always got to deliver a high standard of service,” says Bagnoli. “If you establish a reputation for service, wedding business will come to you. It will spread like wild fire.”
Wilson’s company bills itself as “The Wedding Specialist.” VIP not only provides the transportation, but also acts as a wedding coordinator in many ways. “For some clients this is their first wedding planning experience,” says Wilson. “They have no idea what to expect. We use our experience and knowledge to help them coordinate their rental times from the beginning to the end of their wedding day.
BOOST BUSINESS WITH INNOVATIVE SERVICES
An effective way to boost your wedding business is by offering creative, innovative services. “The hottest thing for us has been the LimoPlus coach that holds 14 passengers,” says Frank. “This vehicle will transport the entire wedding party together in style and comfort. We already have it booked for over 14 weddings, and we just took delivery of the vehicle at the beginning of April.”
Wilson agrees. “Our 22-passenger limo-coaches are very hot for us right now,” she says. “Our coaches feature the same amenities as a limousine except that you can stand, walk around, and even dance.”
Bagnoli believes the standard chauffeur-driven limousine that is clean and on-time will always be the standard. “Vintage limousines, cable trolley cars, and a horse and buggy make up only a very small percentage of an operator’s wedding business,” he says. “White is still the bridal preference. However, black will book in cases where the price is right or when white limousines are scarce. Also, there definitely appears to be an in crease in multiple limousine weddings and transporting the whole bridal party in limo-coaches.”
According to Wilson, there has been a change in attitude toward exclusively using white limousines for weddings. “Traditionally white is more popular than black for weddings. However, black is now being referred to as more elegant for weddings. I also get comments from clients about how white limousines remind them of a vehicle that is associated with proms.”
Tooker believes white limousines are essential if you are going to be successful in your wedding business. “White limousines are a must, he says. “In the past, we have only been able to book black limousines for weddings 10 percent of the time. Also, if you don’t have specialty cars in your fleet, it is a good idea to establish a relationship with a company that offers these types of cars. We currently have an agreement with a Rolls Royce company in our area. Couples often desire these types of vehicles.”
Operators can also bring in additional wedding business by offering wedding packages.
Bagnoli has a special wedding package that consists of a special edition superstretch limousine, a customized “Just Married” sign with the bride and groom’s name, complimentary bottle of champagne, decorations to match the bridal colors, and the fifth hour free.
VIP’s wedding package includes pompoms to match specific wedding colors, red carpet service for the bride and groom, “Just Married” satin hearts attached to the back of the vehicle, and complimentary beverages. “We also offer discounts to brides and grooms when they reserve additional vehicles for their bachelor and bachelorette parties,” says Wilson.
Another way to increase your wedding business is by obtaining lists of upcoming weddings and marketing to these people.
“We get lists from local caterers and from all the bridal shows we attend,” says Frank. “The bridal magazines also have lists that will have names of brides in your area.”
According to Tooker, wedding publications publish lists in special editions. “Certain magazines and newspapers offer special editions before and throughout the peak wedding season.”
Wilson works extensively with wedding coordinators. “We work with many wedding coordinators, bridal consultants, and bridal show coordinators who provide us with mailing lists on a regular basis,” she says. “We also work with many bridal shops, photographers, and reception halls who refer us to their clients.”