Moving to larger vehicles may seem daunting, and getting them rolling takes some dedicated relationships and creative thinking, but it will pay off in higher revenues.
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Great days as an operator mean vehicles are out and earning. So it’s a big problem when the potentially most profitable and most expensive vehicles are sitting in the fleet lot unused. Vans, party buses, stretches, mini-coaches, and buses are the vehicles that can take a business to higher profits.
At the recent International LCT Show, a distinguished panel shared their decades of ideas and insight on ways to maximize specialty vehicle use. Moderated by Tom Holden of Rose Chauffeured Transportation in Charlotte, N.C., the panel included Charlie Murray of Total Luxury Transportation in St. Paul, Minn., Doug Schwartz of Executive Limousine in Long Island, N.Y., Matt Silver of Ultimate Class Limousine in Hicksville, N.Y., and H.A. Thompson, founder and owner of Rose.
The basic steps for increased promotions for specialty vehicles start with polishing your website and your vehicles. Having the vehicles matters, too, so if you are farming out more each month than the monthly operating costs of acquiring and maintaining a particular type of larger vehicle, then it’s time to buy.
“Start small with a Sprinter, Ford Transit or similar vehicle,” Murray said. “They are flexible for standard transfers without a large capital investment.” And if a larger-sized fleet already exists that needs more use, this panel had ideas to make a difference in revenue.
Just like industry affiliates, collaborate with local organizations that would benefit from a revenue generating relationship. Thompson recommends visits to “partner with schools, sports teams and churches.” Such groups needs to move employees or teams on a regular basis.
“Churches and schools sometimes need shuttles from large parking lots to their central buildings, and university-based clubs actually have a budget for events, so be sure to reach out to them directly,” he said. “It will take some research to find them initially, but these larger corporate and organization partners have an ongoing need and will be a more reliable revenue source than retail bookings.
Restaurants, museums, special event promoters and other retail partners are excellent as well. That fickle retail customer walking in off the street is their customer and they’d like more of them, so create partnerships with local malls, wineries, breweries and restaurants in your area. Group bookings that offer a lovely party bus and chauffeur can be promoted right on menu boards at restaurants, drinking establishments or party locations for birthdays of all ages. Or create a promotion for the restaurant employee who refers the most groups in a month. These local, hourly group runs are particularly profitable because the miles and fuel use is minimal. Often, the vehicle will sit outside a venue or restaurant earning money and cost nothing more than the hourly price of the employee.
Consider designing outings that use multiple partners and destinations. “A local tour, for example, combined with a meal makes for more billable hours,” Silver said. “Use your area’s strengths to make attractive options for groups.” A ladies’ day may include a spa treatment or shopping, and a boys’ night out demands ample food after sampling local craft breweries. For the retired or “leisure” set, weekday times are good to sell. Weekday mini-coach work is especially needed by casinos and local businesses that move people among locations, train stations, and other transportation hubs. Having a contract for this type of work will multiply returns on the coach or shuttle used.
Weekdays also offer the opportunity to provide funeral transportation. Even unlikely vehicles may be in demand based on traditions and region. White stretches, for example, may seem odd to some, but are preferred in some parts of the country. They also could be an attractive option for a young person’s untimely funeral. And although stretches are still the most popular for funerals, sometimes moving a larger group to a remote cemetery or reception is needed. Contact local providers of this service to inform them of your vehicles. Even if they have vehicles for family, other options could be attractive, especially if you offer a referral fee.
Lastly, partner with every relevant association for your business. Silver attends at least 10 network meetings each week with travel groups, wedding planner associations, chambers of commerce, and other business-based working groups.
If you are farming out more each month than the monthly operating costs of acquiring and maintaining a particular type of larger vehicle, then it’s time to buy.
Aside from funerals, building more specialty vehicle business is especially difficult during the middle of the week, but flexible pricing may help increase business on slower days. Owners and chauffeurs, based on how they are paid, often balk at lowering prices, but if vehicles are generally busy with wine tours on the weekend, “offer a mid-week discount to prompt a sale,” Schwartz said. “Getting large vehicles out during the week is tough, so be flexible.” The wineries can promote it, and both businesses make more money on the slower days.
Murray emphasizes pricing as a way to offer something different than a caller may request. “Be willing to discount your bus to compete with a motorcoach,” he said. “Sell your two mini-coaches to fill the same need.” Sometimes, there are shortages of coaches due to local events, so this same tactic can work, he added. Be slow to turn down business when a caller asks for something you don’t have. Often, it is easy to provide what they need with what is already available.
For price shoppers, an inexpensive offer or a freebie may be enough to book the deal. No one wants to give away profit, but an extra hour, free champagne (where legal), or other incentives might be enough to persuade a caller to choose your company. The higher hourly rates for larger vehicles usually allow some wiggle room for an operator, and the freebie may be the deal closer.
The buyer seldom knows exactly what a vehicle looks like, so for price shoppers, especially, decisions are based on total costs and value, not whether there is bench seating versus captain’s chairs. Know the competition pricing to beat so weekday incremental sales will benefit the bottom line.
As with all business, clear and consistent marketing generates increased sales. It takes time, but this is where a company will shine at boosting revenue. A piece of advice often repeated during this year’s Show was to use plenty of videos.
“Take videos of the event you work and put them online, link them in e-newsletters and link back to your website’s group page,” Silver said. Murray’s company offers a vintage vehicle, and the “videos reach tens of thousands of people,” he said. “Use it to market to hobbyists, wedding planners and special events.” At every venue or meeting, have the chauffeurs hand out cards standing by the vehicles. Clearly, every event has opportunities for video and face-to-face promotion.
With your new corporate and retail partners, work on promotions that drive business for larger groups. Malls will run contests to use the vehicle for a shopping and meal prize, and the vehicle can even be shown on slow days. The mall pays for it, and the operator gets hundreds of names for the marketing database. Have point-of-sale marketing pieces at retail and business partners to promote tours and outings. Sponsor a contest at a school so the top reader gets a two-hour birthday party bus — “you will get at least a couple more bookings from the child’s guests and families,” Silver promised.
Facebook pages must promote strategically as well. Murray uses social media a lot and favors Facebook. “Use your videos and followers to create more buzz and referrals for groups. Link Facebook to your web page, and be on it a minimum of once a day.” It is cheap and easy to have these media work together. “Try a sponsored Facebook ad, too.”
Schwartz highlighted how easily “you can target Facebook ads by demographics and key words.” It’s cheap to promote proms, wedding or seasonal excursions to targeted Facebook customers.
Another simple and free method for promoting a vehicle is to display it. If it’s not at the mall, Silver suggests putting unique stretches or party buses on a main road with lots of traffic instead of leaving it on the back lot unused. Add a well-done, professional banner with large letters, and it will encourage calls.
Moving to larger vehicles may seem daunting, and getting them rolling takes some dedicated relationships and creative thinking, but it will pay off in higher revenues. If the purchase was made with enough booked business to cover the expenses of the vehicle acquisition, then every single additional trip will increase the marginal profit by adding more hours above the minimum needed to maintain the van or coach.
For now, find the right partners, price competitively for slower days, and promote your high-profit specialty vehicles in your target markets.