by Randy O'Neill, Senior Vice President
Lancer Insurance Company
"The necessity of the times, more than ever, calls for our utmost circumspection, deliberation, fortitude and perseverance."
Samuel Adams, 1771
When American patriot Samuel Adams uttered those words in a speech five years prior to America's Declaration of Independence, he could have been writing the first line of a speech that would be as relevant in 2009 as it was in 1771.
As we view the U.S. limousine industry in today's tumultuous environment, we can take Mr. Adams' words and apply them to help see us through to better days ahead.
His reference to "utmost circumspection" can be looked upon as the prudence limousine company owners need to exercise as they are tempted to maintain traditional levels of revenue by taking risks they would not even consider in more "normal" times.
Lancer's 25 year-plus of claims history, and cancelled checks for almost $900 million in claims paid in that period, clearly show that deviating from sound operational practices in tough times usually only ends up making the times even tougher and more expensive. Booking trips at the last minute, accepting conditions that involve excessive night driving, and pushing drivers and equipment to and maybe beyond their limits more often than not result in unhappy consequences.
At Lancer, more than ever, we encourage our limousine company policyholders to use the broad range of onsite, online, and on demand personnel, products and services that come free of charge with every insurance policy we issue. Whether it be a personal visit from one of our regional managers to review safety practices or conduct a drivers' meeting; review your regulatory files or strategize with you on how best to safely maximize your personnel and equipment in these challenging times; stream any one of our critically acclaimed chauffeur training videos to your computer or driver's room monitor; or build a lesson plan around the wide range of topics available in our publications library, we are here to help you in whatever way we can.
Mr. Adams' second point, "utmost deliberation" again has echoes in today's limousine market. Now, more than ever, limousine company managers must discuss and consider business tactics, weighing factors for and against before making a critical decision. The pricing pressures that marginal or outright disreputable operators present is an unfortunate fact of life in today's market.
But rather than succumbing to a "price only" approach, savvy operators should take the opportunity to separate themselves by emphasizing the superior quality of their company versus the lowballers. Give prospective customers reasons that won't allow them to make a cost-only "apples to apples" comparison.
Customer testimonials, insurance company safety awards, industry trade association memberships and awards, etc. are all positive traits that differentiate the contenders from the pretenders in the limousine industry. A superior company cannot let its prospects look at its transportation service as a commodity. Rather, it needs to do all that it can to stress its uniqueness and have prospects understand that they truly get what they pay for. And what they are really looking (and paying) for is safe, reliable transportation, not just a ride from point "A" to point "B".
At Lancer, we know all too well about reckless competition, as we have seen dozens of self-proclaimed "limo insurers" attempt to buy their way into the market over the last 25 years by cutting prices. Inevitably, most implode and disappear when it comes time to honor their commitment to pay claims. Sadly, many limousine companies are left to pick up the pieces after their insurer's shameful exit. More than ever, you need to deal only with limousine insurance experts who have proven their expertise and commitment to the industry over time.
Sticking with Mr. Adams, his third point, "utmost fortitude," can best be summed up in the limousine industry by, more than ever, having the courage to stick to the company's business plan despite that day's, week's or month's gloomy news. That business plan, however, should show flexibility that allows operators to pursue new opportunities that present themselves. Previously unavailable chances to bid on business made available by the severe reduction in business commuter flights to regional airports is a good example of business plan flexibility. Revenues that were very difficult, if not impossible, to secure in the past are now available if private operators show the creativity required to let the business traveler know that there are other very attractive transportation options, e.g. a stretch limousine or luxury mini-bus, to get him or her to that key business meeting in a safe and comfortable manner.
Finally, our colonial-era patriot said that tough times call for "utmost perseverance." In the limousine business, not unlike most businesses, operators are used to managing the inevitable cycles. While most down cycles of recent memory have not reached the depth of the current one, it is still the normal course of the ebb and flow of our economic system. The key to not only surviving but thriving in down times is maintaining focus on what has contributed to your past success: building and constantly challenging a strong management team; recruiting, selecting, training and re-training your drivers; emphasizing the superior quality of your company's services versus your competitors; uncovering and exploiting any and all new opportunities; and partnering with solid insurance companies that truly understand your business and are committed to you through good times and bad. This perseverance can and will help bring the premier passenger transportation companies through today's crisis.
Lancer's latest advertisement, "Storm Shelter," succinctly sums up our commitment to seeing an even stronger limousine industry emerge from today's challenges. And in the words of Samuel Adams, "more than ever" you need the experience and expertise of the industry's most innovative insurers. Now, more than ever, you need Lancer.