Entrance crowd at the International LCT Show, Monday, Feb. 29, 2016 at the Mandalay Bay convention center in Las Vegas. Optimism surges.
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — For an industry gloomy about transportation network companies (TNCs), the latest International LCT Show sure supplied a needed upper. We saw a higher than expected 3,000 attendees who collectively brimmed with optimism, and included the most first-timers in years, many of them Millennials starting new companies. Far from a last hurrah, we see something else emerging that redefines success.
Service, safety and style were the key buzzwords that got attention and offered useful take-home ideas. At a time when the ground transportation industry, like the political realm, is being pressured to dumb down to the lowest common denominator thanks to Uber X and Lyft (the Trump and Hillary of vehicle apps), I saw plenty of breakout concepts to preserve the limousine industry’s integrity and dignity.
The International LCT Show floor proved full of ideas, solutions and market moves, Tuesday, March 1, 2016. The event attracted 3,000 attendees.
Beyond this triple “S” approach, I saw other avenues to future success:
Technology: The exhibit hall floor teemed with software companies and emerging apps. Uber does not have a lock on the transportation-network model. Higher level competitors are seeping into the market as operators are signing up. In another example, I report in the April issue on Blacklane.com, the chauffeured app company that uses legal, licensed, luxury limousine companies for a “near-demand” format. Blacklane is just one of many potential market approaches to taking on TNCs competitively.
Motorcoaches: I’ll confess, when LCT rebranded to “Limousine, Charter & Tour” in 2009, I was a bit concerned we were embracing a transportation segment too far removed from limousines. Seven years later, I counted 11 large motorcoaches on our Show floor, a record, as I see more examples of once limo-only companies profiting from motorcoach service. In fact, this year’s LCT Motorcoach Operator of the Year Award winner, Wynne Transportation of Dallas, bought its first motorcoach in 2008 and soon saw its motorcoach share of company revenues grow to 30%. Now it’s 70%, with chauffeured vehicles at 30%. As with TNCs, the limousine industry has proven it can grab hold of a concept and do it one-better than any competitor.
I want to close with a hopeful example of how a creative approach in service of meeting a customer need can generate a prosperous business. Last month, I spoke with Sam Bluzenstein, co-owner of New York-based Vamoose Bus, a line-run between New York and suburban Washington, D.C., for an LCTMag.com article. Vamoose just expanded its upper-tier, “business class” version of the line-run called Vamoose Gold, which offers luxury motorcoaches with 2 + 1 leather seating, WiFi, bottled water and free newspapers (sound familiar?). Vamoose takes reservations via Internet and checks in passengers via iPads. Fares are $60-$70 one way, cheaper than Amtrak or NYC-DC airline shuttles. I asked Bluzenstein why he started his business in 2004, and added the Gold service in 2010: “I was a school bus driver. Eventually, I became a manager at the same school and stayed for 20 years, and then decided to become a coach bus driver. I would do line-runs, and I saw people pushing to load their luggage and get on the bus. When they got to their destinations, people would get off the bus and crawl to get luggage from the bins. I thought, we should figure out way to give you something as a passenger that’s difficult for you to get yourself.” Vamoose employs bus greeters who load and disperse the luggage.
And that’s the final “S” word: Solutions. Solve a problem, customers seek you out, and your business grows.