Sandy Miller sees a future in providing a level of chauffeured service that TNCs cannot.
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Combine big business opportunities with big industry names and you will get a standing room-only crowd.
One of the most popular sessions by far at the International LCT Show was titled, “Maximizing Your Value To Affiliate Networks,” presented by some of the most powerful and influential network leaders in the chauffeured transportation industry.
A packed audience turned out March 17 to hear CEOs David Seelinger of Empire CLS Worldwide Chauffeured Services, Gary Kessler of Carey International and Scott Solombrino of Dav El/Boston Coach Chauffeured Transportation speak on a topic of interest to operators who value getting the lucrative farm-out business from global networks.
Focusing on performance and standards, the CEOs offered tips on how you might get into one of the networks or keep your access.
In his opening statement, Kessler said, “Things are changing and the technology and consumer awareness is changing the face of the landscape.” The other CEOs echoed this sentiment as both clients and operators embrace and struggle to keep up with the ever-changing technology options.
Consumers demand everything faster and easier. They want last-minute ride bookings and immediate billing and closure when a ride is complete. They want access at their fingertips at all times.
“Affiliate networks are working hard to compete with the changing demands of new clients that have joined the industry since 2009,” Kessler said. “You really need to lower your operating expenses to compete.”
Why Fortune 500s Use Networks
With many Fortune 500 companies conducting operations around the nation and world, it makes sense to have one phone number to call to book ground transportation. It simplifies the process overall, especially the accounting. Most importantly, it gives the client company leverage to negotiate prices based on the mass number of rides it orders per year from a single source network.
“Fortune 500 companies don’t want 100 companies (handling their transportation),” Solombrino said. “They want one contract to handle their needs all over the world.”
To meet the demands of their clients, networks are rapidly expanding, Seelinger said. Networks have consolidated over the years to expand their reach, merge operations and deliver better services. The 2005 merger of Empire International with CLS Worldwide was just one such example. In the past year, Harrison Global acquired BostonCoach, which then merged with Dav El, combining three large Boston area transportation services and deepening its global affiliate network.
Branding Your Company
Seelinger advised that operators need to develop their own local brand by “bringing meaning to it within your community.” People in your community should know who you are before you try to join an affiliate network, he said.
When networks are looking for an affiliate, they call major hotels in your area to ask for names of local limousine services, Solombrino said. If they don’t know your name, you probably won’t get on. Other sources to connect with include your local Chamber of Commerce, Convention and Visitors Bureaus, and even local media. The networks are serious about getting the best of the best in each market they serve.
Seelinger told the audience that the worst way of trying to get in his door is by telling him that his current local affiliate is screwing up, not properly permitted or anything else bad. Instead, he suggested you should call him and market your company in the same way that you would if you were calling on a corporate account in your area. This would include providing references, company history and service information.
Tell The Truth
Never misrepresent yourself to the network. You could destroy a client relationship with the network and effectively end a contract worth millions of dollars by failing to deliver what you say you can.
“Do not tell us you can do something that you are not capable of doing,” Solombrino reiterated. For instance, if you tell the network you are available on-demand but you really don’t have a system for rapid deployment of a vehicle, don’t say you do. The network can easily tell their clients it will take an hour or two to get a vehicle in a smaller market and the client may be fine with that.
However, if you say you can respond immediately and the network assures its client that is the case, and you fail to deliver, the end result can be disastrous. Don’t misrepresent the types and numbers of vehicles in your fleet, either. If you say you have a black Cadillac Escalade, for example, don’t show up in a black Chevrolet Suburban. Some of the network clients demand specific vehicle brands. A Ford executive may not want to ride in a GM product. Misrepresenting vehicles could result in an awkward moment for you, your chauffeur and the network.
Who To Call And What to Say
While the CEOs appeared on the panel, all advised they are not the people to call to join their networks. The first call is to the affiliate manager. Introduce yourself and share with them what city you serve, your fleet vehicles, and company history. Get the manager’s email address and follow-up the call with references from local hotels and corporate accounts you serve. Provide a copy of all licenses held.
The three CEOs noted that convicted felons are never accepted. Be prepared to submit a certificate of insurance naming the network as “Additionally Insured.” If your carrier is not A rated or higher, that will be a strike against you, Kessler said. Make sure your references are people who will immediately know your name.
“If they don’t, that’s a negative on you,” Solombrino said. Being a member of local, state and national associations is vital to the decisionmaking process of affiliate managers.
Obviously, delivering flawless service is essential to maintaining your affiliate status. Client confidentiality in the vehicle is critical. Seelinger warned that no one should ever post information about any ride on any type of social media. Be active in the daily management of chauffeurs performing network jobs.
Conduct regular safety meetings. Make sure you perform background checks before hiring and have pre-employment and random drug testing programs in place. On billing issues, be flexible in your cancellation policies to fit their client needs and submit accurate bills as soon as possible after rides. The network needs to bill clients in a timely manner. They cannot do so until you report your final times and charges.
Any affiliate that breaches any network safety or security policies will be dismissed from the EmpireCLS network, Seelinger warned. Affiliates must immediately report any service failures to the affiliate manager so they don’t hear about it first from their client, he added.
About the Money
Seelinger cautioned smaller operators seeking an affiliate relationship to be prepared to carry large receivables for 30 days or longer. If you don’t have the financial ability to wait for your money, you can speak to the affiliate manager about an advance to cover payroll.
Solombrino pointed out that BostonCoach now guarantees its affiliates payment in seven days by a one-time American Express payment. As each network varies in its methods and length of payment terms, be sure to ask about such policies when signing on.
Related Topics: affiliate networks, BostonCoach, business growth, business opportunities, Carey International, David Seelinger, Empire Coach, Gary Kessler, ILCT 2015, industry education, Scott Solombrino
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