People

Advances Spur Advantages For Large Metro Operation

Martin Romjue
Posted on October 17, 2015
RMA Worldwide CEO Robert Alexander surveys finishing touches on his new headquarters, just two weeks before the big move-in.
RMA Worldwide CEO Robert Alexander surveys finishing touches on his new headquarters, just two weeks before the big move-in.

RMA Worldwide CEO Robert Alexander surveys finishing touches on his new headquarters, just two weeks before
the big move-in.

RMA Worldwide CEO Robert Alexander surveys finishing touches on his new headquarters, just two weeks before the big move-in.
RMA Worldwide CEO Robert Alexander surveys finishing touches on his new headquarters, just two weeks before the big move-in.
NORTH BETHESDA, Md. — Robert Alexander may occupy a spacious corner-window executive office, but when he looks through his glass door, he can see his fleet vehicles being washed — at the other end of the 19,000 square-foot building.

For the CEO of RMA Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation [www.rmalimo.com], “activity spurs activity,” as he says while showing the nearly renovated company headquarters on a midday in late July. Alexander and his 49-member office team moved onto the redesigned floor in early August. The open-floor plan — shaped by lowered work walls, alcoves and glassed rooms — resembles a digital newsroom or social media company than the typical warehouse-garage styled limousine service.

The “Millennial” era design emphasizes collaborative work pods and offices defined by glass, windows and skylights that pour in natural light, and carefully arrayed lines of sight. Calm blue and white tones accent the interior under an exposed industrial-style ceiling. Considered unique by industry standards, the upgraded building, a former biotech company, culminates Alexander’s vision to adapt his company to a more competitive chauffeured market, evolving technology, and shifts in client behavior.

FASTFACTS:

RMA Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation

  • Location: North Bethesda, Md.
  • Founded: 1988
  • Primary markets: Central Maryland, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. metro, Northern Virginia
  • Owner: Robert Alexander, CEO
  • Fleet vehicles: 130
  • Revenues: $24.5 million, est. 2015
  • Employees: 204; 155 chauffeurs/drivers; 49 office staff
  • Key executives: Art Miesemer, vice president of operations; Lynn Alexander, vice president of administration 
  • (sister); Chris White, controller
  • Major airports served: IAD, BWI, DCA
  • Additional facility: 10 vehicles at its BWI office
  • Overall company client ratio: 90% business/corporate; 5% government; 5% retail/ leisure
  • Corporate client sample: Fortune 500s, meeting planners, law firms, financial firms , government agencies, celebrities, biotech, pharma
  • Affiliates: 500+ worldwide
  • Website: www.rmalimo.com

More Tech, Better Talk

In the two months since staffers moved into the renovated floor from the basement below and private homes, new workplace dynamics are being rewired. “It almost immediately created excitement and a boost in morale,” Alexander says. “We’ve gone to great lengths to think through almost every aspect of design and function.”
One of the intents of the redesign was to create a work environment more suited to the Millennial generation, with their natural bent toward social media, technology and interaction. “Employees are taking ownership and communicating in an enthusiastic manner,” Alexander says. “Having everyone collectively work together is a change. It’s certainly increasing communication and building cohesiveness as a team. It’s much easier to collaborate now.”

For a chauffeured transportation company, the layout enables staff to be more creative in booking and planning multi-vehicle runs and enhancing customer service. By also using auto-dispatch, Internet booking and paperless routines, staff members are freed up to spend more time on the calls that involve more detail-driven requests.

“Now everyone needs to be a salesman in the company,” Alexander says. “We want people to focus 110% on that call, and not feel rushed.”

During the design phase, Alexander and his executive team talked to staff often to get their ideas. “The biggest challenge was getting people to squeeze their brains,” Alexander says. “We wanted them to think toward the future and how business evolves and changes, and how to adapt.”

Alexander advises operators who want to revamp their facilities to think through all aspects of the end result. “How do you envision business processes to work in the future? Get opinions and be flexible. What’s on paper may look different once you’re putting on the drywall. If you think cookie-cutter, that’s what you are going to get.”

T-Word = Transform
Like any operation that spans chauffeured sedans and/or taxis, RMA must adjust to the stiff challenges from transportation network companies (TNCs). TNCs pressure RMA and its companion company, Orange Taxi, started in May 2011, in several ways, especially in finding qualified chauffeurs and taxi drivers.

RMA bought its building in January 2014 and started renovations in July that year. Operations moved into the main floor in August 2015 after staff and chauffeurs temporarily worked out of the basement and some private homes.
RMA bought its building in January 2014 and started renovations in July that year. Operations moved into the main floor in August 2015 after staff and chauffeurs temporarily worked out of the basement and some private homes.
“There is some erosion in our retail business,” Alexander says. “Whereas some clients used us before, they now use Uber. It makes us look at our rates. We don’t do many wait-and-returns, and instead do two transfers. It makes us more usage and rate conscious.”

Since launching Orange Taxi in May 2011, the service has attracted repeat customers and provided clients a glimpse of the advantages of chauffeured service, Alexander says. He runs the Orange Taxi fleet of Toyota Scions and Priuses with limo service qualities, such as Wifi, bottled water, uniformed drivers, and help with luggage. “These are very unique things not found in a typical taxi environment.”

Orange Taxi has 14 taxi licenses in Montgomery County and rents 12 others for its fleet of 26 vehicles. It plans to acquire more licenses when the county holds another offering. “We’re in a good area with corporations what want a quality cab,” Alexander says. “There’s still a concern among corporations that Uber is not safe.”
Chauffeured operations should be willing to accept more point-to-point runs and try to accommodate last-minute calls, Alexander says. “If you think of any pressure points that can steer clients to Uber, you want to get rid of them. One is to have a more flexible cancellation policy. If you are too aggressive with wait time, it becomes a sensitive thing for the corporate traveler. Examine your rules of engagement. We don’t have dynamic changing prices.”

RMA enjoys quick turnaround times on fleet repairs since Alexander owns a BP gas station and convenience store, broken out as a separate business unit, only a few blocks from RMA’s building.
RMA enjoys quick turnaround times on fleet repairs since Alexander owns a BP gas station and convenience store, broken out as a separate business unit, only a few blocks from RMA’s building.
Fleet Management
In a market with more competition and faster demands, how a chauffeured transportation company deploys its fleet affects profitability. RMA streamlines fleet usage while looking for more market niches that require diverse vehicles types. Alexander drives a Tesla Model S sedan, “RMA 1,” that can be used for the occasional green client, while the company plans a full push into motorcoach service.

RMA now farms out enough runs to an affiliate to warrant phasing in motorcoaches. “We are getting to the point where we want to control the product,” Alexander says. “We see growth opportunities in minibuses and coaches. It’s not so much about adding more vehicles; it’s about getting better efficiencies with the ones we have and maximizing usage.”

At 135 vehicles, RMA tries to increase market share yet retain efficiency by making sure each vehicle is profitable. About 65% of RMA’s business involves traditional black chauffeured vehicles such as sedans and SUVS, with the rest involving buses and vans.

Pricing and usage are related, Alexander says. Using vehicles for clustered runs, such as pairing airport drop-offs and pick-ups, eases upward pricing pressure. “Pricing is a factor of usage.”

Alexander’s corner office will enable him to look across his operations all the way into the fleet garage and wash bay. A worker checks a window installation.
Alexander’s corner office will enable him to look across his operations all the way into the fleet garage and wash bay. A worker checks a window installation.

RMA is keeping options open on future fleet vehicle makes and model as it assesses a competitive chauffeured vehicle market. Alexander says he looks forward to seeing the new Lincoln-Continental sedan to debut for model year 2016. “You’ll need a potpourri of vehicles,” he says. “The (stretch) limousine is done, but you’ll need sedans, SUVs, minibuses, and whatever clients want and like.”

Despite driving a Tesla, Alexander observes a market shift unthinkable just five years ago: “Green is much less in vogue.” RMA experimented with Ford Fusion hybrid sedans, but once many clients rode in them, they did want them again. “Gas, thankfully, is cheap,” says Alexander, also the owner of a BP gas station a few blocks from RMA. “We get no requests for green. Every vehicle on the road is more fuel efficient than they were five years ago. Fuel efficiency will continue to climb.”
RMA’s primary regional and market challenges stem from regulations that span Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and three major airports: Dulles International, Baltimore-Washington International, and Reagan National. Maintaining operating authority in two states and a federal district with constant cross trips, pick-ups and drop-offs can get complicated, Alexander says. To help with logistics, RMA keeps 10 vehicles based at a satellite facility near BWI.

Varied Ventures
While owning a gas station-convenience store-repair garage might seem like a cost-saver on fuel, Alexander’s BP station runs as a stand-alone business. However, maintenance, repairs, car washes and fuel fill-ups, while charged to RMA, are all tax-deductible fleet expenses. RMA vehicles use BP fleet cards that qualify users for discounts. The major advantage of the gas station is the prompt scheduling for all types of fleet repairs, including dents, transmissions and brake jobs.

Even with a limousine company, taxi service, gas-convenience station, and planned motorcoach venture, the CEO will not ease up on his entrepreneurial drive. “I’ll be bored if I don’t keep moving and adding, and hiring great people,” says Alexander, 49, the youngest of five siblings who started RMA in 1988 in the basement of his parents’ home. “I’m starting to get restless. Why have all your eggs in the transportation basket, especially with driverless cars coming? I’m keeping my eyes open for opportunities.”

Related Topics: facilities, fleet management, Maryland operators, operator profiles, RMA, Robert Alexander, Washington DC operators

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