LOS ANGELES — The first 2009 meeting of the Greater California Livery Association last week brought forth plenty of hard reality and practical advice related to the ever-deepening recession and industry slowdown.
Veteran operators from Southern California held a panel discussion on industry survival. Hosted by GCLA President Alan Shanedling, the panel consisted of Steve Levin, owner of Temecula, Calif.-based Sterling Rose Limousine; Robert Vaughn, owner of Best Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation of Huntington Beach, Calif.; and Chris Hundley, owner of Limousine Connection of North Hollywood, Calif.
Overall, the operators don’t believe an economic turnaround will become apparent until 2011. That means hard choices ahead as operators take some hard hits.
A sampling of insights and observations:
Levin: Pursue acquisitions or face-saving ways to sell your business. Look for opportunities. Look at what direction you want to go. Don’t let ego and pride get in the way of what you need to do.
Vaughan: Don’t get comfortable with clients. Talk to them constantly. Make sure they are happy. Set appointments; press the flesh.
Hundley: Everyone overpays on insurance. Look at revising your policies to lower costs. You only need replacement value of the vehicle.
Levin: Don’t take equity out of your home to support your business. Never risk your home and family.
Hundley: If you are a small, 1-3 vehicle operator who decides to sell, take your business to a company where you can get good experience.
Levin: When acquiring, just buy the company name, customer lists, body of work, but not the corporate liability or vehicles. Mergers are problematic and should be avoided.
Hundley: Structure a win-win deal, not a lucrative sale. Mergers are easier said than done.
Levin: Focus on electronic marketing; pull back from print. Make sure your advertising and marketing matches the aims of your businesses and reaches customers directly.
Hundley: Yellow Pages are dead. Internet is the way to go.
Hundley: Major affiliate companies are off 40% to 50%. If you just rely on them, your business volume will be gone for a while.
Levin: Network with local Chambers, convention and visitors bureaus, destination management companies, and the National Business Travel Association. If you are the face of the company, you need to be seen by people. Let them know who you are.
Hundley: Downplay “limousine” in this economic and corporate environment. When marketing to corporate clients, don’t present yourself as extraordinary luxury, but as a business tool that can help them be more efficient.
Vaughan: Look to create new customer and market niches; pay off vehicles; cut vehicles and services that don’t bring in money.
Source: Martin Romjue, LCT Magazine