Good communication, with chauffeurs, dispatchers, clients, office staff, maintenance personnel, and other operators is an essential part of running a livery business, especially one with a large and diverse fleet.
Larry Willwerth of Carey of Boston utilizes a refined assignment system for his drivers. His headquarters is a converted horse stable built in 1924.
For Larry Willwerth III of Carey of Boston, developing means of effective communication is the number one dilemma he faces in the business. Willwerth operates 40 vehicles including eight stretches and 32 formals and sedans. As the business has grown, so has the importance of communication.
“I think problems are created in a business of our size that would not appear to a guy who has 15 to 20 cars,” says Willwerth, who speaks in a heavy New England accent reminiscent of a Kennedy. “I’ve been in this business 30 years. I used to be able to keep track of the equipment and drivers in my head. Now that I have 60 employees, of which 20 are full time, health insurance, benefits, and communication with employees has become a problem. Operations, management of communication, and scheduling the personnel to cover the phone has become a problem. If I have one problem, it is communication with my employees. Informing them of the standard operating procedures and so forth.”
Working out of a venerable building that is a converted horse stable built in 1924, the company has grown since Willwerth’s father started the business more than 60 years ago as a hobby. The company became actively involved in the livery business in the mid-fifties and joined with Carey in 1969.
Willwerth doesn’t claim to have all the answers to employee management problems, but by offering his chauffeurs inducements to work harder he is able to handle the drivers positively. “Incentives are kind of a big problem; I mean, why should an employee bust his hump for me?” he asks. “The best incentive in the world is the guy working for himself. Like in a family business, I’m working for my future and my family’s future.”
Every day on the job is a learning experience for him, especially when it comes to employee management. “I’ve got a partial handle on it. One incentive is I pay the man as much as I can afford. I pay them 25 percent of the job because I am kind of making them partners with me. Basically, out of every dollar paid for a limousine trip, 50 percent pays for the car in operating the business; the chauffeur gets 25 percent; and the other 25 percent is profit, return investment, commission fee, and everything else. I think we probably pay him more than anybody else in this area and probably nationally.
“But that’s only part of it. The other thing is when the person is working 16 hours a day or 12 hours with breaks; how do you make the man check the car? How do you make the individual take pride in the job? I really don’t have a handle on those things; I really have to struggle with that.”
Willwerth has also developed an elaborate assignment system for his drivers based on seniority, suitability, request, and need. “It is more subjective than objective and I want to keep it that way,” he comments. “I try to have it so that if someone gets screwed out of a job because of a cancellation, we have enough flexibility to make it up to the individual.”
He realizes there are pitfalls in his system, but Willwerth hasn’t found a betterway of managing his nonunion chauffeurs. He also does not want to lose any flexibility over his scheduling. Carey of Boston gives its employees a year-end bonus based on salary.
As part of the Carey International network, Willwerth’s operation is subject to periodic quality control reviews of cars and chauffeur performance. Willwerth finds the inspections helpful and valuable, but wishes they went a bit further. “I am not satisfied with the way that I am measuring the results of what we are doing because I don’t want to have chauffeurs squealing on each other. There has got to be some fair, equitable, cost-effective way that you can get feedback.”
Again, problems stem from a lack of communication between the operator and the customer, Willwerth believes. Unfortunately, the only time the customer is inclined to providing feedback is when the service is Elther extremely terrible or extremely good. “You can’t run a business that way,” Willwerth says. “It’s a problem for me and I think it’s a problem for the industry.
“It’s all a matter of communication,” he adds. “A lot of times we are not talking to the customer — we’re talking to a travel agency who is talking to the secretary who is handling the arrangements for a big executive. So we’ve got to make sure that it is right. We’ve got to make sure that it’s timely, and when things go wrong, we are calling them before they call us.”
Willwerth realized seven years ago when Carey of Boston was handling ’60 jobs a day by hand that he needed a computer system. Unfortunately, he believed there wasn’t an efficient software program available. Willwerth made a complete survey of the Carey operators nationwide to determine exactly what a small operator, and an operator of his size, needed out of a computer system.
“I basically became a role model,” he exclaims. “I think a computer system that meets the daily management needs of your company is one thing that the mid-size operator needs more help with — maintenance of vehicles, reservations, tips for a chauffeur. There are some good packages out there now; I’ve seen a significant improvement in the last three years. But I’m a fussy guy and I want to tell them exactly what I want and I won’t settle for anything less.” Currently, Information Incorporated in Somerset, NJ provides software for the company.
Willwerth is committed to providing his customers with the type of vehicle and particular amenities they desire. “What the public and a customer expected two years ago compared to what they expect now is incredible,” he says. “Just look at cellular phones; they expect a cellular phone in every car. They didn’t two years ago. They expect every operator to have a fax machine, two years ago there wasn’t a need.” Most of his customers requesting stretch limousines are satisfied with a 54-inch stretch with a cellular phone. A bar, television, or other amenities are not extras for his clientele.
“Half of my vehicles are sedans. The sedan business is limited, but there is more sedan business every year and there will be more and more. I think there is more profit potential in sedans. The cost of the equipment is lower. I think sedans complement the business. I think 50 percent of our business is sedan-related.” He advises that operators look at the potential of the sedan market in their area. If the market is demanding sedans, Willwerth says operators should turn in that direction.
“I hope that I have learned a few things. I’m a World War II baby-boomer and my generation was spoiled. My father was in the Depression. A lot of people in my generation had it easy I hope to God I don’t forget the value of my own worth, the value of a dollar, and how to manage a business. I love running business I love being able to provide service and help for people.”