Like many chauffeured transportation company owners, Ali Al-Abbas started small, driving one town car part-time.
However, Al-Abbas faced more hurdles than most: He was new to the U.S., and previously had been working on an assembly line while studying English.
It's a testament to hard work that Al-Abbas' Oregon Town Car Services, which started in 1999, has grown into a half-million dollar company that farms out work to fleets across the nation. Abbas credits his investment in technology for growing his company and keeping it ahead of the game.
Al-Abbas began working with a computer programmer to build his ideas. "Because I was a small operator, I wanted to manage my business wherever I was," he says. He wanted clients to work for him by scheduling their own reservations. The solution was the Internet. The launch of the company's online reservation system six months after its inception led to a significant increase in business.
When a customer makes a reservation, it is sent to the dispatch center before being transmitted to the phones of individual chauffeurs. The system is paperless, and the chauffeur hardly ever collects any money since payment is done online. Al-Abbas says the paperless system significantly eliminates the chance of human error. He adds that the company has not made a mistake in the 10 years it has been in service.
In addition, the system saves the company thousands every month on labor costs. Al-Abbas says that with 85% of customers completing their reservations online and never having to call a representative, it eliminates the need for an extensive phone staff. "I'm sitting in the office just watching the system getting jobs," he says.
The Web site's copyrighted online price calculator allows clients to get an estimate of how much the service will cost. A new, extensive online reservation system is in the works, scheduled to start in May. Affiliates input their company's information and pricing.
Clients then can use the fare calculator, view company reviews and available dates, make the reservation, and receive email confirmation within minutes. The website will charge affiliates 5% to 10% of the fare of each job matched. In return, it also handles billing for all affiliates, which allows large corporations to simply deal with one bill for their transportation needs.
"We are not creating a directory - we are creating a full reservation system," Al-Abbas stresses. He estimates the project's cost as nearly $1 million, paid for by investors and himself.
Oregon Town Car Services has 14 vehicles. Last year, it farmed out more than $380,000 of work nationwide. Fifty-five percent of its clients are corporate clients, but it services events, tours, and wine tastings as well. It has its own professional team trained in Portland wine and has a van specifically designed for it.
Another unique element of Al-Abbas' company is the family loyalty. He employs nine family members, including brothers, his wife, brother-in-law, and cousins. They do everything from chauffeuring to accounting. Al-Abbas says he works well with them because of set rules everyone must follow, including himself. These work rules ensure no one receives special treatment.