Fellowship Fleet owner Travis Latham.
WHAT HE DID BEFORE: Travis Latham, founder of Chicago-based Fellowship Fleet, worked in the IT industry for 17 years as a software developer for Internet start-up companies — a background that influences his incorporation of new technology and software into his business.
WHY HE GOT INTO THE BUSINESS: Latham initially wanted to buy a funeral home but realized the start-up cost and skills required were more expensive and time-intensive than he expected. While researching the funeral business, he discovered that many funeral homes needed vehicles to transport mourners during the services, and most of the smaller funeral homes did not have the capital to invest in and maintain vehicles. “I realized there was not only a need for funeral transportation services, but also a market and need for vehicles in the Chicago area for other purposes.”
START-UP COSTS AND METHODS: Latham used personal funds as the initial investment capital and later received an SBA loan. The costs included a stretch limousine and funeral hearse, obtaining the proper business licenses and certifications from the city and state, recruiting and training drivers, and marketing.
BEST MARKETING STRATEGIES: “I have used multiple strategies including social media, email blasts, and attending business networking activities,” Latham says. “We recently hired a person to specifically address our social media activities. [But] even with all of the social media avenues available now, networking activities continue to be the best way to spread the word about our company and services.”
BIGGEST MISTAKE: Not managing business by the numbers. The financials should govern decisions, because when it didn’t, Latham found that the company would overspend or run low on accessible emergency cash. He now budgets strategically for all activities.
Fellowship Fleet owner Travis Latham with chauffeur Dave Gushiniere.
BIGGEST SUCCESS: Securing multiple corporate contracts in 2011 after the business model expanded to offer services beyond funerals, airport transfers, and special events.
UNIQUE APPROACHES TO CUSTOMER SERVICE: Responding to all customer concerns promptly with great humility, and soliciting feedback and advice from a small group of regular clients to figure out the best approaches to respond to potential situations.
ADVICE TO OPERATORS: Run the business with a market-driven approach. Be persistent and aggressive. Business is a dynamic process so be open to changing your business model to meet the needs and demands of your customers and bottom line. Join and volunteer with business organizations such as the NLA, Minority Limousine Operators of America, and local associations. Partner with other operators, especially when you have an opportunity to provide services for larger events.
FUTURE PLANS: “We hope to grow our company by acquiring other small companies and providing service to our customers in other major cities via independently operated vehicles.”
The Only Constant Is Change
The retirement of the Town Car Executive L will be a market and game changer, Latham says. Most of Fellowship Fleet’s clients were not aware of the change and had to be educated on it. The company is considering replacements: the Lincoln MKT Town Car for its “superior headroom and trunk space,” the Cadillac XTS for its “sleek look,” and the Hyundai Equus for its “encapsulated luxury, newness to the marketplace, and efficient gas mileage.”
FAST FACTS about Fellowship Fleet
Location: Chicago I Founded: 2005 I Owner: Travis Latham I Main service region: Midwest I Types of vehicles: sedans, SUV, limousine, and van I Fleet size: 5 I Employees: 13 I Annual revenues: $250,000, est. I Website: www.FellowshipFleet.com I Information: (888) 922-5037; (312) 922-5037