Sandy Miller sees a future in providing a level of chauffeured service that TNCs cannot.
There are many ways to connect with the rich and famous of your community and get them to arrive and depart fundraising and charity events in your vehicles. Because most of these events offer free-flowing alcohol, arriving and departing by chauffeured transportation is not only practical but responsible. If you can get the emcee, deejay or speaker to mention this at events, you are instilling a mental connection of your company with drunken driving prevention. To make this happen, your company must be a part of the event.
If you want to be on the “inside,” there is no better way than to become a part of the organization putting on the event. This can include serving on the planning committee or volunteering to work at the event. You also may suggest that sponsors have transportation included with the price of their sponsorships of the organization paying you for your service, even if you discount your rate or donate service in exchange for the promotional value.
How much you give is a personal decision. At least, you might consider donating a gift certificate for a silent auction or door prize to expose your company name to attendees. “Charities like to include a limo in their (auction) packages because it raises more money,” says Ric Garza, owner of R & R Limousine Service in Houston. The Livestock Show and Rodeo, for example, raises money for scholarships and is a big event for many limo companies in the Houston area, Garza says.
Mix, mingle and market
If you want face time with the attendees, show up at the event. This gives you the opportunity to introduce yourself to prospective clients and hand them a business card while telling them about your business and your involvement with the charity. Events such as casino nights, wine tasting events, and Chamber of Commerce mixers lend well to casual interactions. People are intrigued by our business. They want to know who we drive, where we go, and stories we see and hear. When seated with strangers at an event, start the conversation by introducing yourself to your tablemates. When they respond, ask them what they do for a living. When they ask you what you do for a living, the stage is yours. The table will be captivated, and it is time to hand out cards to everyone at the table. When dishing dirt, avoid naming names of any clients. Doing so could cause your prospective new clients to wonder what you might say about them.
If you don’t have time to join and participate on an event committee, consider an “in-kind sponsorship.” Events typically have sponsorship levels such as silver, gold or stage sponsor. Each has an associated value. A gold sponsorship level might be $1,500 and include tickets to the event, a table sponsorship sign, inclusion of a logo in the program and on volunteer worker T-shirts, and media advertising. A donation of livery service equal to the value of the sponsorship level could provide you major exposure for a fraction of the cost. The organization could use the donation as a grand prize or be included with other donors such as restaurants offering free dinners or spas offering a day of pampering. Don’t be afraid to ask about in-kind donations if you are tight on cash.
Feel good donations
In some cases, donations of service are made to benefit special groups. The public exposure might be minimal but the “feel good” benefit makes the contribution worthwhile. This might include Make-A-Wish children or Special Olympics kids. Becky Laramee, owner of All Points Limousine in North Oxford, Mass., recently transported a group of Special Olympics cheerleaders to Gillette Stadium to perform at a New England Patriots game. The donation ended up being captured on national television and local media, providing huge exposure for All Points.
Ron Stein, president and CEO of Exclusive Sedan Service Worldwide based in Los Angeles and an NLA board director, says, “We have always believed that when you give to charity, you are blessed times 10.” Stein struggles with deciding which charities to donate to, but has many “feel good” causes including PanCan (Pancreatic Cancer Action Network), BCAN (Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network), and the Boys and Girls Clubs locally and nationally, an organization also supported by Laramee. Laramee and Stein also contribute to anything involving community soldiers, law enforcement or firefighters.
Such public service groups are beloved by their communities. “These donations ultimately pay dividends in the ‘feel good’ feelings about yourself that you have made other people happy as well as bringing in new clients,” Stein says.
Rick Brown of La Costa Limousine in Carlsbad, Calif., has given 1,000 limousine rides to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “We give to as many charities as possible, not just to get business out of it, but because it’s the right thing to do,” he says.
Safe ride home donations
There is no better way to get rich philanthropists in your car than to give them a free ride if they have had too much to drink. Offering free safe rides home has many benefits beyond getting face-to-face with prospective new clients. It can reduce the liability of the host organization. If someone chooses to drive after drinking at the event when a free ride was offered, it will be hard to blame the organization providing the alcohol.
Ask the event organizers to inform the media of the safe rides in advance. This exposure is free and demonstrates a commitment to “give back to the community” by making sure people leaving a community event have a safe ride home. Of course, for this to work, the announcer should communicate it about every 15 minutes.
Ask in advance if you can provide “promotional liners” for the announcement. This might include statements such as, “We would like to thank ABC Limousine for providing free rides home tonight if you think you had a little too much fun. ABC Limousine operates limousines, sedans and vans and has been committed to serving our community since 1990. Thank you, ABC Limousine.”
By repeating statements like this over and over with a legitimate reason for doing so, a mental message is conveyed throughout the event promoting your company to the same people you hope will remember your name.
Get them in, get them out
Once you have your foot in the door, how you handle deliveries and departures are crucial to earning repeat business. If the experience is unpleasant, you defeat the purpose of the mission. Have a plan from start to finish. Because most events involve masses of people arriving at one time, plan for traffic, road closures and drop-off locations. Contact the event organizers in advance to ask about drop-off locations and parking. Convey the information to your chauffeurs with maps showing exactly where passengers are to be dropped off and picked up.
If the event has special VIP entrances for sponsors, make sure you know the locations and how to access them. Do not risk showing up at a venue you are familiar with assuming things will be the same as before. Make sure they actually will be the same. If the event is large enough, consider having an on-site coordinator who will open vehicle doors and greet arriving passengers.
On-site greeters should provide a location where they can be found when the passenger is ready to depart. The greeter also may be able to return vehicles to the arrival area subject to parking availability to provide even better service. Make sure chauffeurs stay on-site at all times vehicles are chartered. Leaving the premises, even to get a bite of food, is verboten. If the passenger were to fall ill or have an emergency at home requiring them to leave, even the smallest wait can cause anger and discontent with the service.
Remember, the well-heeled are usually not patient and accustomed to avoid waiting. If the departure point differs from the arrival point, tell your chauffeurs in advance so they are not waiting in the wrong place, thereby embarrassing your company and the departing guests.
Benefits of donating to charity
There are many benefits of donating your services to charity events. The most obvious is exposing your company name to the well-heeled society members in your area who consume the most chauffeured services. There are also tax advantages since donations are a tax deductible write-off, but only the extent of the actual cost involved in donating the service, says Chas Hinderliter, owner of Tax Advantages, a tax planning service. Hinderliter, a former IRS auditor, says you may deduct actual wages paid, associated payroll costs and the cost of the fuel, or you may use the IRS charitable mileage rate of 14 cents per mile.
The exposure factor provides the biggest bang for your buck. In return for your contribution, always ask for the announcer to mention your company name and some brief information about your service. Think of this as a “live commercial.” Make sure to provide written points of what is to be said about your company. Always ask if you can display your logo in the program and/or signs advertising the event. If visual graphics will be used at the event, ask if your logo can be displayed during visual presentations.
Because events are advertised in advance of the event, you have an opportunity to be included in all publicity, such as radio, TV, billboards, newspapers, magazines and even on T-shirts. The cost of your donation in actual dollars is a fraction of the cost of your own media advertising campaign. Along with the advertising benefit, being involved with a well-recognized charity in your community tells everyone that you run a good company that cares about making your community a better place to live.
Sandy Miller sees a future in providing a level of chauffeured service that TNCs cannot.
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