Operations

New Jersey Operators Are Perfect Mix Of Old And New

Posted on April 19, 2017 by Lexi Tucker - Also by this author - About the author

PRINCETON, N.J. — Edward Santiago and Al Cohen, co-owners of First Choice Limousine, work together without a snag, despite an age difference and different backgrounds. Cohen, 68, had experience working in luxury transportation, while Santiago, 40, was a mobile X-ray technician, but they have the same desire to run a company respected by clients and fellow operators.

Different Perspectives, Same Goal

Santiago believes clients get the best of both worlds with him and Cohen. He acknowledges their strengths are polar opposites: “It’s like a black and tan — you get the old with the new.” Cohen builds business the old fashioned way by shaking hands, knocking on doors, and taking phone calls, and Santiago respects the results this has produced.

Being available at all times and making it easy for customers to get a hold of you is a large part of their customer service strategy. “Life is already as complex as it can get, and new tech has arguably made things busier. We try and think ahead by saying, ‘What are the roadblocks the client will hit with other companies, and how can we make that experience less painful?’” Santiago says.

Edward "Eddie" Santiago
Edward "Eddie" Santiago
If customers request either him or Cohen as a chauffeur, they gladly take the opportunity to show clients they aren’t above any job. Santiago shines in ensuring Millennials feel comfortable booking the way they want to. “If they want to make a reservation online and not really have a personal connection with us and are a little distant, that’s OK, too. We try to appeal to every possible type of client,” Santiago says.

Always Room For Improvement

Running a chauffeured car operation is far from easy, and 90% of your approach should be customer service focused, Cohen says. “You have to be there when the client wants you. As long as you can take that extra step to make you better than the other guy, you’ll excel,” he says.

The company provides car seats at no charge, for example. They also try to make sure they are the first people a new customer sees. “Clients like to know the company owner took the time to pick them up and treat them special,” Cohen says.

Another tactic to ensure lasting relationships is to stay in contact with your regulars if you haven’t heard from them in a while; this keeps your core customer base in tact while you explore new avenues.

Al Cohen
Al Cohen
While networking is also important for large operations, small companies can’t survive without some help. It helps you establish yourself as a legitimate company. “There’s enough business for everyone, and you can’t do it alone. Building your network and resources will only help,” Santiago says.

Something he’s tried to live by is the fact you’re not in charge of anything, so you have to be prepared for anything. In other words, you’re at the mercy of the airlines, baggage claim, and customers who oversleep or forget to bring something, so you have to be able to adapt. “You can’t get stuck on structure, because you have to be quick on your feet to respond to events you weren’t expecting.”

What’s Next?

To prepare for new business gained at the International LCT Show, the company has eliminated older vehicles, keeping only those model years 2015 and newer. They’ve also invested in new office space. Santiago and Cohen look forward to getting their name further out there as a reputable company every operator can rely on. As members of the National Limousine Association and the Limousine Association of New Jersey (LANJ), they aim to be involved in all aspects of the industry.

Santiago hopes to continue to identify with the younger audience by staying on top of social media and industry trends in terms of apps and other technology. “I identify with young families since I have two daughters myself, so from a customer perspective, I understand the complexities of traveling with small children. I try to be more compassionate and connect with them on that level.”

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