Operations

How To Run In The Big Limo Crowd

Tom Halligan
Posted on April 23, 2015

Note To Readers: This is the third part of a series focusing on how small, midsize and large operators can grow their businesses. The series examines making the jump from small- to mid-size fleet operations, from mid-size to large, and large to top-tier.

Each August, LCT Magazine publishes the “50 Largest Fleets,” a comprehensive roundup of the industry’s biggest companies with 2014 fleet sizes ranging from 70 to 1,700 vehicles. That’s quite a spread. However, considering the overall median industry fleet size is 10 vehicles, cracking the Top 50 list is quite an achievement.

So what does it take to get to the upper echelon in the industry? How did they do it? Most importantly, what do the top operators focus on year after year to run a large operation — and keep growing?

In this third installment of a continuing series focused on how to grow your business, three highly successful and longtime Top 50 operators in the middle of the pack (96-171 vehicles) share advice, strategies and practical tips on how to grow operations into the top tier.

Moving People
A 30-year industry veteran, Reliable Limousine and Bus Service President Paul Rodberg recalls when he launched his company in 1983. “I bought the biggest ad in the phone book to grow the business. Well, that doesn’t work anymore,” he says. “But what I learned early on is that by focusing on meeting customers’ expectations, being honest and acknowledging mistakes, my business grew by word-of-mouth.”

Rodberg is well aware that his principles are more important today than ever because reviews on consumer websites, social media and blogs have upped the ante to make every ride a positive experience.

“Negative reviews nowadays go viral and spread faster than a positive review because somebody wasn’t happy about something and alerts 10 friends,” he explains.

Paul Rodberg, President of Reliable Limousine and Bus Service, Silver Spring, Md.
Paul Rodberg, President of Reliable Limousine and Bus Service, Silver Spring, Md.
 
Rodberg, like other successful operators interviewed for this article, reiterates that creating and exceeding customer expectations should be a given. What sets them apart and puts them on the growth curve early on is the entrepreneurial drive to look for new markets and examine operations, adapt to change, and seize new opportunities.

For example, Rodberg’s expansion over the years started early when he provided vehicles for funerals and then jumped into groups and events. “I’m in the people moving business. We do lots of group meetings and events, and today we work with 46 funeral homes. He started with one hearse in 1988 and now has eight.

“The funeral operators don’t want to be in the transportation business,” he says. “They may have one hearse but when they have more than one funeral on a day, they call us rather than give the business to their competition. It’s a steady business and now we are pushing them to using vans and buses to transport people to funerals and that is catching on.”

Rodberg points out operators must diversify in order to grow. “We don’t depend on any one customer or market.”
The company’s growth also stems from building solid relationships with meeting planners who contract for his motorcoaches, mini- and limo-buses for the numerous events held in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. region. Rodberg also does a lot of affiliate work, and advises smaller operators to provide the best service when they represent other operators.

When Reliable’s fleet grew from 50-80 vehicles, that was the point when Rodberg had to restructure his team to manage the daily 50-person operation. “At 25 people, I was still hands on, but when you get to 50, I hired an HR person. I also had to create another level of hierarchy that managed the company. That allowed me to focus on directing the company, dealing with financials and cash flow, account maintenance, and I still go out on sales calls.”

Still, Rodberg is keenly aware he needs to listen closely to staff. He holds weekly staff meetings and open lunch days where chauffeurs and staff can stop in and have lunch with him and his managers to talk about anything. “I spend part of every day talking to my car washers, dispatchers, and others to find out what’s really happening. You can’t be aloof. You have to be open in order to build a team.”
Andrew Perez, VP of business development and affiliate relations, Elegant Limousine and Charter, San Antonio, Texas. Seek Out Opportunities
In the past seven years, Elegant Limousine & Charter, San Antonio, Texas, surged from 50 vehicles to an impressive 130 diverse fleet, not because business grew, but because the company zeroed in on seeking out new business opportunities.
 
For example, Elegant learned that a large technology company with offices in San Antonio and Austin paid employees $90 a pop every time they drove round trip for meetings. “We saw an opportunity and made a proposal to the company to shuttle employees back and forth,” says Andrew Perez, company vice president business development and affiliate relations.

Bob Euler, President of King Limousine & Transportation Service, King of Prussia, Penn.
Bob Euler, President of King Limousine & Transportation Service, King of Prussia, Penn.

SIDEBAR: Going The Extra, Extra Mile
Elegant Limousine & Charter goes the extra mile to provide service and an overall “customer experience,” says Andrew Perez, company vice president business operations. For example, the company pays attention to the details, and then some. For example, the company maintains client notes and will assign chauffeurs and drivers based on a rating system and their personality traits.

“If a driver is a talker, we may put him on a bus tour rather than a sedan run, and we have a rating system (1 to 4) where we can assign to clients based on their expectations and needs. A “4” driver for example is the highest rating and can handle any sensitive situation. We don’t just assign a warm body to drive a car. The company also forbids drivers to use cologne because clients may be allergic to perfumes.

The company also takes pride in responding to problems. “We are experts in reaction,” Perez says. “If a driver calls a dispatcher and is having a problem with the vehicle, a timer goes off and we respond within 19 minutes to switch vehicles.” Given the company runs 200 trips daily 99% trouble-free, someone will respond to the client within 12 hours of an incident to resolve the problem.

“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here, but we strive to be a smoother, efficient company and make sure all goes right,” Perez says.
 

Related Topics: business growth, fleet management, How To, largest fleets, Maryland operators, Pennsylvania operators, revenue growth, Texas operators, Top 50 Largest Fleets

Comments ( 1 )
  • anthony

     | about 3 years ago

    Very good article... I have to say again that the lctmag.com needs to adress the issue of the operator that made the list of largest fleet with a 98 vehicle operation- that is simply not true and its not fair to other operators to be told something that is not true. That operator would need to buy about 46 vehicles pronto to be on the list honesty since he has about 45 vehicle in los angeles.

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