Operations

How To Apply Three S-Words For Operational Success

Posted on April 1, 2016 by - Also by this author

Entrance crowd at the International LCT Show, Monday, Feb. 29, 2016 at the Mandalay Bay convention center in Las Vegas. Optimism surges.
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.

Service: In the April issue, I report on the emergence of a new chauffeur training program that seeks to set a universal high standard of client service. Called PAX Chauffeur Training, the interactive online program stands as an example of how operators can ensure their chauffeurs always outclass TNC drivers. PAX founder and Kansas City operator Bruce Heinrich draws upon a vast array of service and performance skill sets, i.e. actor, chauffeur, Ritz Carlton training, etc., to devise a curriculum applicable to any fleet size operation. A vehicle only does so much; personal attention goes further.

Safety: Fresh off the horrific Uber driver killings in Michigan, industry leaders are emphasizing the advantages in providing clients duty-of-care: Trained, background checked chauffeurs, generous insurance liability and coverage, and legal and licensed companies and vehicles. The most powerful marketing message for a ground transportation company in the TNC-era relates to a basic human desire: We’ll protect you, we care about you. Do your clients know and appreciate this? Does the traveling public understand this yet? Are you promoting this message?

Style: The Lincoln-Continental, the Cadillac CT6 and the BMW 750i all debuted as beacons of high-end chauffeured luxury vehicles. The three new sedans provide the most amenities tethered to advanced engineering and manufacturing. The industry will need such vehicles to stay a cut above the TNCs. I spoke with Eric Vicedomini, key account manager of the BMW Limousine and Hotel Shuttle Program, who said BMW displayed the 750i long wheelbase sedan instead of the less expensive 740i because operators want something better.

“What it comes down to, especially in New York, is Uber drivers are not driving something that is distinguishable, elegant or exudes some level of luxury,” he said. “Limo operators have stepped up fleets to show our business is the right business with chauffeurs and cars that back up that statement. The comfort level is king for the back seat. . . The price point is such that you are seeing operators being able to command a higher price for (service) as they get customers hooked on the car.” Vicedomini underscores a survival mode for the industry: Do everything that TNCs can’t, starting with fleet vehicles that embody the distinct, elite limousine tradition.

The International LCT Show floor proved full of ideas, solutions and market moves, Tuesday, March 1, 2016. The event attracted 3,000 attendees.
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.

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