Making Money With Your SUV

LCT Staff
Posted on November 1, 2001

It’s big, it’s bad, and now it is in your driveway! You have just purchased a stretched Ford Excursion, and now it is time to make some money. A stretched SUV is still a fairly uncommon livery vehicle, and therefore it is critical to develop a unique selling strategy to maximize your return on a significant investment.

Targeting the Corporate, Meeting and Event Market

Steve Cunningham, president of Fox Limousine in Las Vegas, is currently operating 16 stretched SUVs in his local fleet and two more in his Phoenix operation (Carey Phoenix). He may well be the largest operator of stretched sports utility vehicles in the country.

Cunningham believes that the key to marketing the stretched SUV to corporate clientele is recognizing and selling the versatility of the vehicle. “They can do so many different trips,” Cunningham says. “They are great people movers. They accommodate luggage and golf clubs very easily. The destination management companies (DMCs), corporate travel managers and even the administrative assistants have to be educated on the features of the vehicle. They have to see that we can use the same vehicle to first transport them from the airport and then to take them to a black-tie event.”

Cunningham and his staff initially spent a lot of time introducing the vehicles to their key contacts. He recommends the following: “Take good quality photos of the inside of the vehicles and post them on your Web site or mail them out. If possible, bring the vehicles to your key corporate contacts for a demo. A night on the town in your stretched Excursion for a group of meeting planners is a worthwhile investment for any limousine company.”

Cunningham operates in two of the country’s premiere resort destinations where golf and leisure pursuits are a big consideration. “We make sure the meeting planners are well-versed on what these vehicles can provide,” he says. “We get top executives who tend to travel with lots of luggage and golf clubs. You cannot fit the luggage and clubs in a standard sedan trunk. So the stretched Excursion gives them transportation in a ‘premium vehicle,’ not a standard shuttle bus. It is very important to them, and it is another tool for the meeting planner to use. The other part of this equation is the fact that our chauffeurs are true professionals who are dressed and trained to drive luxury vehicles. They are much more service-oriented than a standard airport shuttle driver.”

Cunningham says it is especially important that the corporate decision-makers understand that the stretched SUV is an economical choice. “All of us in the hospitality or service sector have been affected by the economy. Our clients look very closely at our invoices, and they demand value. So we show them what a good value this vehicle is. It is not an excessive choice. You have to look at the cost-per-passenger on the vehicle. It’s very reasonable. We really do not cost much more than an airport shuttle, and the client gets a much better, more comfortable ride with the highest-caliber chauffeur.”

Targeting the “Generation Y” Special Occasion Market

A significant number of brides-to-be in this country demand newer white stretch limousines for their wedding day. But an increasing number of younger engaged couples are requesting stretched SUVs.

“We are getting a huge number of requests for our stretched SUVs for weddings,” says Sal Calandra, president of Studio One Limousines Ltd. in Brooklyn, N.Y. “I think there are two reasons. First, young people in this country (age 16-30) have grown up with sport utility vehicles. Maybe they used to dream about owning a Camaro or a Corvette, but now they look to get an Excursion or a Navigator. The second reason I think the stretched Excursion is so hot is that many times a bride can fit her entire bridal party in one vehicle. Eight women in formal dresses is no problem in the Excursion, and that is important to them.”

Calandra has found a number of ways to market to the 16-30 set. The first method is the Internet. “Every single person age 16-30 is online, and they are used to finding anything they need on the Net. So, we are in every major search engine, and we try and respond to e-mail requests every hour.” Calandra also displays the vehicle at bridal shows and at prom-related events. “The more we expose the vehicle, the more we rent it. The other benefit to displaying at bridal shows is that the wedding planners, bridal consultants and catering hall managers take note of who has the stretched SUV. Even other limousine company owners find us and refer work from meeting us at the bridal shows. This is a big referral item.”

Studio One Limousines rents its stretched SUVs for between $125 to $150 per hour. His goal is to surpass $100,000 in revenues per year per stretched SUV.

“We have trained chauffeurs with Commercial Drivers Licenses, and we have all the correct licenses and insurance,” Calandra says. “New York is probably the SUV capital of the country, so we find ourselves competing with companies that are cheaper than we are. That’s part of the business, but over the last six years I understand that it’s not a good idea to be the cheapest company. So we sell value and experience when dealing with prospective customers.”

Calandra acknowledges that maintenance and repair costs are significant on the stretched SUV. “Don’t think they’re inexpensive to run. Even the small items cost more than a standard sedan or limousine,” he says. The majority of Cunningham’s stretched Excursions are diesel. “They cost more initially, but the vehicles will have a much longer life.”

Fox Limousine in Las Vegas has billboards on major highways advertising $89 per hour for stretched SUVs. Cunningham says the billboards have been effective. “You have to understand that in Las Vegas you can rent a stretch limousine for $35 per hour right at McCarron Airport. Sure, we would like to get a little more to rent the vehicles, but we feel fortunate to get $89.”

Cunningham says the retail market for the stretched Excursions in Las Vegas has been tremendous. “Lots of groups, families and even some corporate clients have mentioned the billboards. We do sightseeing, trips to Hoover Dam, casino hopping, everything that you can imagine. It really is a bargain when you consider the number of passengers you can comfortably transport.”

Targeting the Entertainment Market

They have names like Jay-Z, DMX, Lil’ Kim and Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott. They are the hottest names in the music business and they are coming to your city. When they get there, it is a certainty that they will be renting SUVs and stretched SUVs.

“We put specific instructions on the account set-up that says ‘SUVs only,’” Calandra says. “It’s happened over the last couple of years that entertainers, especially the rap and hip-hop artists, demand the SUVs. It is another big market for the vehicles.”

A quick check in Los Angeles revealed that ...

for more information on this topic, see the November issue of LCT.

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