Sandy Miller sees a future in providing a level of chauffeured service that TNCs cannot.
Whether this trend is due to a weakening U.S. dollar or potential threats to personal safety from terrorism, war and SARS – or all of the above – the prospect that Americans are spending more money on domestic travel and leisure activities could mean more business for limousine operators.
If consumers are willing to spend money on mini-vacations and other ways to pamper themselves, they also might think about spending money on limousine service. You have to remind them a limousine can turn a night on the town into an unforgettable, spectacular event, or turn a trip to New York City into a romantic, glamorous journey.
Even if you do mostly corporate work, with these tips you can tap into the retail market and get your share of this new American tourism.
Know Your Demographics
When going after any type of business, the very first step should be to figure out what it is you wish to sell, and to whom.
In this case, that means you need to look at all the services you offer and figure out what would interest someone who’s looking for perhaps a day of fun or an unforgettable night on the town. Clearly, the fact that you do more airport runs than any other operator in your area would be of little interest to this type of potential customer.
“The retail market is a big sector so you have to define exactly what market you want to go after,” says Michael Marino, president of Sonoma, Calif.,-based California Wine Tours, which gets 50% of its revenue from limousine winery tours in the Napa and Sonoma valleys.
“For me, being in the wine country, specializing in wine tours makes sense,” he continues. “We really figured out what our retail product market was, we got really good at learning the background and the knowledge of the local wineries, and then we said, ‘OK, who are our customers, and how do we reach them?’”
Good Things Come in All Packages
“Be creative and make it simple for the shopper,” is a motto Marino goes by. And it seems to have been a successful one, since his company has been one of the fastest-growing limousine operations in the nation over the last couple of years.
“What we try to do is to make travel and using our services as easy as possible,” he says. “In today’s market place, the consumers don’t want to have to think. Especially men. If men are putting together a get-away weekend package or a trip to the wine country, they want to look like the hero, but they don’t want to have to really do the legwork to do it. It’s like the guy that sends someone else to do his shopping and then wraps it up and hands it to his wife.”
Michael Zappone, president of Newburgh, N.Y.,-based All Transportation Network, calls the same approach “selling out of a box,” with the box’s ingredients being various package deals.
“We took a lot of ideas and implemented them into packages,” he says. “The social clients really enjoy being able to call us up and say, ‘I have a special occasion,’ or, ‘I’d really like to get away. This is how much I’m willing to spend. What do you have in mind?’”
If none of your company’s existing packages fit the clients’ needs, put together a customized package for them, he adds.
Packages are a great way to remind your clients that they want to have fun, and they are likely to bump up your sales as well.
“Profit margins increase with packages,” says Jeffrey Silver, director of marketing at Miami-based Sterling Limo Services. “We offer packages based on budget. They go from two hours up to six hours, and at each level, whether it be a gold, platinum or diamond package, we’re including more things. You get clients to pay $30 for a $10 bottle of champagne because it is part of a package.”
“Right now, about 70% of people go with our top package,” he adds. “And we’re actually down to 10% of people that just go with regular transportation.”
An effective way of marketing your package deals is to have them follow the seasons and holidays. For Valentine’s Day, offer romance packages with picnics and champagne; for Halloween, offer tours of haunted houses.
Be sure you provide your sales staff – who might be more focused on selling corporate business – a script for selling retail packages.
Let them know, “If the client asks this question, prompt with this, and if the client asks that question, prompt with that,” Silver suggests. “Sales people aren’t there to give prices, they are there to capture the business.”
Take a Walk on the Wild Side
With your package deals, as with everything else in your business, try to be unique. Find a niche in the retail market and package your services based on that.
“People should keep in mind that it’s not cut and dry, corporate or non-corporate,” Silver says. “They should really look at certain niche markets and market to those specifically.”
The first package most operators put together is “the night on the town/dinner package.” There is nothing wrong with that, but if every operator offers the same type of package, nothing sets you apart.
Try to think of your geographical area and pick out what’s special. Or look at your fleet and see if you have vehicles that would allow you to offer services your competitors couldn’t. Perhaps some of your employees have similar interests or hobbies and you could put together a package based on their knowledge about those fields?
At All Transportation Network, for instance, Zappone has taken advantage of the company’s proximity to New York’s theater district.
“We do New York City dinner packages, where we’re doing theater overnight deals with hotels,” he says. The company also sells tours of the old mansions and unique properties in the Tri-State area, along with picnic, romance and winery packages.
In Northern California, winery tours are a given, but that doesn’t mean that you cannot be unique. Michael Marino has managed to set himself apart from his competitors by taking the next step: his chauffeurs are trained as tour guides.
“They answer questions about wine making, know the history of certain wineries, [know] what it takes to make wine, and so forth,” he says.
“We also do a really neat thing from San Francisco,” he continues. “You get on a ferry and go across the bay from downtown San Francisco. We pick you up on the other side of the bay and shoot you up to Napa Valley for a wine tour in a limousine. It’s $69 per person, and includes ferry and limo. The tasting fees are additional.”
At Sterling Limo Services, customers can go on a romance tour in a limousine, get in a gondola and overlook the skyline of Miami from the Biscayne Bay. The company has also taken advantage of the unique nature of the area and offers adventure tours of the Everglades.
“We take [clients] into the Everglades, all by limousine, and take them to an authentic Everglades restaurant where they can eat alligator,” says Jeffrey Silver.
In addition, Silver advises operators to look into targeting cultural, social, political and other groups within their communities.
“We have done a lot of offbeat, colorful-type ads in a lot of the gay magazines,” he says. “We have one [ad] in particular, with a transvestite sitting in the back of a limo, and the slogan is, ‘We’ll treat you like a queen.’ It has been just phenomenal, the number of people who have seen that ad; it has pulled a lot of response. And we’re proud to be a part of their community, too.”
Think Beyond the Yellow Pages
It is important to have a presence in the Yellow Pages since all your competitors are likely to be listed there. However, if you have a slim marketing budget, it is advisable not to spend all your money on expensive Yellow Pages ads.
“Yellow Pages are by far our least [effective] way of getting customers – although we have the largest ad in the book and pay the most money,” says California Wine Tours’ Marino.
“I think so many operators make the mistake of putting the largest ad into the Yellow Pages without truly looking at their cost and what they would really need to turn around in revenue to support that ad,” adds All Transportation Network’s Zappone.
A better way to reach clients and bring in more returns is through direct marketing, a more active, smart form of marketing.
Once you establish who you are trying to reach, you can contact mailing or listing houses and purchase lists based on your preferred demographics.
“You can give them any parameters,” says Sterling Limo Services’ Silver. He had to come up with new, savvy marketing practices aimed at retail clients after corporate clients dropped off significantly after 9/11. “Do you want older people, younger people, people [with an average income of] between $25,000 to $50,000?”
A direct mail effort can typically cost 10 cents to 15 cents a name – or as much as $1,500 for a mailing to 1,000 people – so you need to make sure that money isn’t wasted, Silver says.
When using direct marketing to promote leisure services, don’t exclude your existing, corporate clients.
“We do a lot of cross marketing between corporate and non-corporate clients,” says Zappone, whose company grew out of a smaller retail-oriented company called Affordable Luxury Limousine to become an established, primarily-corporate chauffeured transportation provider a few years ago.
“Remind your corporate clients that you do leisure transportation as well,” he continues. “Remind them that the same vehicle that is taking them to the airport is available to take them to a show or to a play.” A great way to do that, he adds, is to leave flyers in the back of your cars or to send out a newsletter to existing clients on a regular basis.
When writing newsletters to promote your retail services, a good idea is to include a listing of events in your area.
“Don’t just blow your own horn; people get tired of that after a while. Give them some value,” Silver advises. “We run the schedule of all the cultural and social events in Miami for two months. Then, at the bottom, it says, ‘Don’t forget to book your limousine package when you reserve your tickets.’ Or, offer to get tickets for them [if they hire a limousine].”
Another way to reach your intended audience is to advertise in magazines that cater to their interest.
“In the past, we’ve done some stuff in the Wine Spectator,” Marino says. “You get these ‘cork dorks’ – wine is their life – and they read every article and they know everything about wine. So when they visit the wine country six and seven times a year, [they] will find us.”
Take Full Advantage of the Internet
Although it has gotten increasingly more expensive to be guaranteed a top spot on search engines’ result lists, the Internet is still a relatively inexpensive way to reach potential clients.
Retail clients demand details and you need to make sure that your Web site provides a comprehensive list of all the services you offer, including pictures and prices.
“Retail clients are concerned with ‘what year is the car?’ ‘What color is it?’ ‘What are the amenities that are inside of it?’” Zappone notes. “Let them see all that on your Web site. It makes it very easy for them to have a high comfort level.”
Sterling Limo Services in Miami surveyed people prior to building the company’s Web site as part of an effort to better serve clients.
The Internet is especially helpful when trying to reach potential clients who are planning to visit your city because they would most likely be excluded from any type of direct marketing campaign.
A wine-tour buff who lives in California, for example, might be planning to travel to New York for a weekend. He or she might type the words “New York wine tours” into a search engine in hopes of seeing what’s available in the area.
If you are a New York limousine operator who provides wine tours in the region, and your Web site lists such services, your information would likely show up as a result. Bingo: the California wine lover probably finds what he or she is looking for and you have a new customer.
Another good way of reaching out-of-towners is to work with local hotels and join the local tourist bureaus and chambers of commerce. Some operators even offer incentive programs to hotel concierges and others who have direct contact with guests.
“We put together rewards programs for them where they can legitimately be rewarded; [it’s] almost like [the one] Southwest Airlines [has], where you fly five trips and get a free trip,” Marino says. But he cautions operators to be up front about the deals with hotel officials.
Travel Industry Research Points to Latest Travel Trend
Evidence that Americans are more likely to spend their money on closer-to-home pleasures comes from a variety of sources:
*U.S. adults are increasingly drawn to short getaways – three nights or less – and in general are favoring domestic travel, reports the Travel Industry Association of America, which tracks U.S. travel trends.
*A survey conducted by the American Society of Travel Agents reveals that travel agents expect domestic travel to be the most popular type of travel in coming months.
*Occupancy levels are now highest for luxury hotels, according to Smith Travel Research, which tracks U.S. hotel trends. The five-star segment of the hotel market had 66.5% occupancy in April. This compares with a 52.8% occupancy level in the economy hotel segment and 55% in the full-service, mid-price range.
*The U.S. airlines report that the number of international trips has shown a steeper decline than domestic travel since 2000. *More than half of the 500 American adults responding to a recent survey conducted by marketing research firm InsightExpress say they want to vacation within the U.S. in order to support the economy.
In addition, 40% say they are less likely to travel abroad because of security concerns. The results of the survey were reported in Travel Weekly newsmagazine.
20 Do’s When Marketing to Retail Clients
1. Figure out what to sell, and to whom.
2. Be creative.
3. Make buying your services simple for the shopper.
4. Offer package deals.
5. Find a niche in the retail market and package your services based on that.
6. Build theme packages around seasons, holidays and other events.
7. Base packages on the types of cars you have and your employees’ interests and expertise.
8. Provide your sales staff with scripts for selling packages.
9. Train your chauffeurs to be tour guides.
10. Target cultural, social, political and other groups.
11. Don’t spend your whole budget on Yellow Pages ads.
12. Purchase demographics-based mailing lists from mailing houses.
13. Send out direct marketing pieces to existing and prospective clients.
14. Remind your corporate clients that you provide leisure transportation.
15. Include in your newsletter a list of cultural and social events in your area.
16. Advertise in magazines of interest to your target group.
17. List the services you offer, including photos and prices, on your Web site.
18. Work with hotels and local tourist bureaus and chambers of commerce.
19. Offer incentive programs to hotel employees for referrals.
20. Monitor your marketing responses.
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