Main Street LCT: The 2015 International LCT Show drew a thicker crowd in twice the amount of exhibit space as last year.
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — The 2015 International LCT Show proved that despite recessions, vehicle market changes, and the advent of Transportation Network Companies like Uber, the limousine industry can persevere and thrive.
The three-day event March 16-18 marked several milestones in the 31-year history of the event, which is the largest global business gathering of chauffeured transportation operators and vendors. Although final numbers are still being tallied, about 3,000 attendees circulated through the event over the three days which featured 129 exhibitors and more than 100 vehicles across about 200,000 square feet of exhibit space. The vehicle and exhibit figures set all time records since the first LCT Show was held on Dec. 9, 1984 in Atlantic City, N.J. The Show is co-produced with the 2,100-member National Limousine Association, which plans educational sessions and holds its major annual general sessions and board meetings just before the Show.
The robust activity was especially apparent when compared to the International LCT Shows of 2009 and 2010, which also were held at this year’s venue, the convention center at the Palazzo Venetian Resort Hotel Casinos, now called the Sands Expo. Just five years ago, the Show floor was much smaller and the attendee count about a third less than this year’s as the industry grappled with the worst recession since the early 1980s.
While the industry has clearly bounced back and business has picked up for vendors and operators alike, it faces what National Limousine Association President Gary Buffo calls its biggest existential threat to date: Transportation Network Companies, like Uber and Lyft, eroding chauffeured transportation market share because they benefit from less stringent regulations.
The R-word of yesterday has been replaced by that T-word of today, which dominated the educational component of the Show. The topic of TNCs proved to be the skunk at the garden party, as multiple association meetings and panel sessions addressed strategies to combat TNCs on the regulatory and business fronts. The National Limousine Association, Advocates For Fairness in Transportation, the Florida Limousine Association, and the Taxi Limousine and Paratransit Association all held meetings and discussions during the three-day event devoted to telling the truth about TNCs. [AFT is setting up a new website to launch soon at www.AFTNOW.com].
TNCs set the tone of the State of the Industry presentation on March 16, when Deem CEO Patrick Grady, told the opening audience: “What is the state of the industry today? One word: Disruption. The industry is in a state of disruption (because of TNCs). Let me be super clear, this is not some Silicon Valley buzz word designed to scare everybody. This (TNCs) is a very precise academic definition of disruption. A technology starts slowly at the bottom, and then moves relentlessly upmarket where it disrupts and displaces legacy corporations. There is no exception to this. You can fight it and regulate it, but there is no exception to these kinds of disruptive technologies."
Two keynote speakers in particular spoke to how the limousine industry should be competing with and outmaneuvering TNCs. Internet Industry analyst Larry Downes, co-author of the new book Big Bang Disruption, compared the industry’s predicament to how iTunes once outsmarted Napster.
“What can you do to slow down disruptors before they do irreparable damage to your industry or balance sheet?” Downes asked during the March 17 session. “You can use legal mechanisms to slow them down. Patent and copyright lawsuits will get the regulators to pay attention. But operators need to be working outside of the regulatory structure. Napster and file sharing services got killed and ordered to shut down. But it didn’t matter. Had they known what they were doing, they could have bought time to figure it out. They were so focused on stopping the disruptors that they didn’t notice Steve Jobs taking over the music industry with iTunes. You want to use time to buy time and then use the new time wisely.”
The Grech Motors Lounge on the Show floor proved to be an ideal place for networking and relaxing among the 200,000 square feet of display space.
Downes told attendees that limousine companies have expertise, practices and a customer base that enables them to do more than the TNC disruptors. “You will thrive if you do more than others,” he said.
One day later, keynoter Edwin Fuller
, a former Marriott executive turned global business consultant, told attendees that the industry’s endurance will stem from its detailed, quality-oriented customer service.
“You want people to believe in who you are and what you represent, and if you develop that belief, it will pay off in dividends,” Fuller said. “It pays off with the most important word, which is attitude. The attitude of associate impacts me as your customer. Attitude will make every difference in your business. You want a brand relationship that will bring you new customers who will become your valued customers. You should have a culture and value system in your company that is strong and can be demonstrated in working with your associates. I guarantee you that customers will come back to you again and again, and they will be happier for it.”
One transportation sector where TNCs so far appear unable to venture is large group transportation. This client market dominated the trade show floor this year, with a wider variety of cutaway buses, upscale vans, and motorcoaches than ever before. Temsa/CH Bus Sales, ABC Companies, MCI/Setra, Caio/Alliance Bus Group, and Prevost all brought large motorcoaches this year that towered over the other vehicles. Bus and van manufacturers, converters and modifiers collectively exhibited a wide array of luxury interiors for every possible client group.
At one point, the Grech Motors and Cadillac Professional Vehicles exhibits resembled a mob scene -- but in a good way. Cutaway model corporate and limo mini-buses were the predominant chauffeured vehicle type at the Show.
And lest anyone think the stretch limousine business has vanished, the Show featured multiple traditional corporate stretch and exotic stretch limousine models, proving that the signature, original vehicle that defines the industry will endure. In fact, there were at least three 70-inch stretch corporate-style limousines on display, which evoked the first stretches from 30 years ago.
The lead sponsors of the International LCT Show were: Official Sponsor Grech Motors; Premier Sponsor Ford/Lincoln Limousine and Livery Vehicles; and platinum sponsor Cadillac Professional Vehicles. Grech Motors also sponsored a lounge area on the Show floor that became the lead social and networking spot during trade show floor hours with a full bar, piano entertainment, and comfortable living room style seating sets.
LCT will have more coverage of the Show in coming weeks on LCTMag.com and in the May issue of LCT Magazine.