Industry Research

Looking For The Good Times

Martin Romjue
Posted on February 4, 2015

I can still easily summon the memories from my first International LCT Show in 2008, with anxiety defining my déjà vu. One operator told me a few years later I looked like the typical deer in headlights. It wasn’t just about being a newbie and not knowing people, or getting on stage in front of an unfamiliar audience to announce awards from a teleprompter for the first time in my life – without hyperventilating. Nor was it the freak power outage at the Mandalay Bay Hotel that kept guests off the elevators and out of rooms well into the wee hours of the final night.

Some of the anxiety stemmed from the overall vibe of the Show, which was one of fear: A recession was at hand, and everyone sensed it would be severe. The Show and Leadership Summit that year felt like the cliffhanger at the end of a TV show season. My baptism in the limousine industry involved reporting and editing the bad sequels: Industry contraction, coachbuilder closings, rising gas prices, federal labor law fights, shrunken trade show floors, and the advent of semi-regulated TNCs, which are often the topic of this column.

But I’ve learned that while bad news is constant, the good news creeps up via small bits and bytes, not fully noticed or appreciated. Bad news hits you in the face. Good news tugs gently at your sleeve. So I would like to sum up some good news that you may have heard or missed, but when spliced together, creates a positive business loop:

1. Big Show: I learned in early January that our trade show floor at the next Show, March 16-18 at the Venetian-Palazzo in Las Vegas, will be about 200,000 square feet, double the size of last year’s floor at the MGM Grand. That simple fact sums up the state of vendors, attendees and overall industry health. It’s about time. Let’s enjoy the moment, because it never lasts forever.

2. Youth vote: I see a rise in younger operators and entrepreneurs getting into the chauffeured transportation industry, with their generation’s creative, tech-savvy outlook. The couple profiled on p. 38 of this issue attended their first trade show at LCT-NLA Show East in Atlantic City, N.J., in October 2014, and were typical of operators at our First Timers’ orientation. Good for them and good for all of us. Let’s look out for more new, young operators and encourage them.

3. Happy 3-0: The limousine industry marks a third “30th” anniversary in a row this year: The National Limousine Association was founded in 1985. That follows the 30th anniversaries of LCT trade shows in 2014 and of this magazine in 2013. These 3-30s are especially noteworthy in a small industry like ours, when compared to other global business sectors. We face bigger odds, must work harder and smarter to be heard and taken seriously, and will never have the deep pockets of a technology company, an airline or Uber. Our milestones mean a lot — they reflect hard-earned, resilient, street smart and genuine success. Be confident in such acquired toughness.

4. TNC drift: I won’t go deeply into TNCs, as the topic has dominated this column for the past year, except to say regulators now are noticing the TNC tactics of deception and double-standards. TNCs will no doubt survive, but not in the same way. This industry is being heard and making headway. The TNC story is far from over.

5. Innovations: The same technology available to TNCs can be tapped by limousine and bus operators. Despite regulatory battles, new technology can help clients and enhance operations. TNCs are creating a mass public appetite for black cars. The time is ripe for selling the public on the real black car advantages, and plucking some new business. Success depends on staying informed and innovatively staying ahead.

6. Vehicles: I’ll go out on a limb and say that in hindsight the retirement of the venerable Lincoln Town Car led to many good things. Operators enjoy more variety and choices of vehicles than ever in the 30-year organized history of the industry. The mini-bus and motorcoach markets have exploded with advances and competition. And Cadillac will introduce a longer wheelbase sedan, the CT6. Watch for Lincoln to do the same. Operators should get it all back in spades with quality luxury vehicles of all sizes. We also should admit the obvious: No rising generation ever desires their “Granddaddy’s Oldsmobile.” The Town Car was perfect for its time. Vehicles keep evolving, maybe to the point someday where a chauffeur also becomes a concierge aboard a spacious, semi-driverless vehicle.

7. Gas prices: It’s nice to face the question of whether to repeal fuel surcharges instead of worrying how high a percentage you need to balance the P&L. The U.S. has plenty of oil and natural gas. We just need the resolve to bring more of it to market. Fossil fuels should be renamed “economical fuels,” and “going green” considered an alternative transportation lifestyle. Fill up those Escalades!

8. Politics: No matter your political views, the 2014 elections made an exclamation point! American voters once again reaffirmed their preference for divided, diverse representation, which makes sense when you consider historic economic stats clearly show the highest GDP growth during periods of bipartisan governing in Washington, D.C. One valuable lesson I’ve learned as LCT editor is that this industry benefits from friendly politicians of both parties. There is some kind of a pro-Main Street business streak in most public servants if you probe deep enough, which makes bipartisan engagement worthwhile. Let’s hope they talk more to each other and compromise toward success.

I could mention more positive economic signs, but most businesspeople are aware of them. The trick to finding the good news is to look wide, connect the dots, and then draw strength. Onward to Las Vegas.

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