DEC. LCT: Part I: An Atlanta operator retraces every step he took and then upgrades it with what he has learned during the last 10 years.
How does a foreign operator become successful? Do operators abroad have the same challenges as domestic operators? How does ground transportation differ for operators abroad as opposed to operators in the United States?
“I think many small things have made us successful,” says Mark Palao, director of Limousine Rental in Barcelona, Spain, who has been in business since 1991. “I'll never forget my first client because it was Paul McCartney in the Spring of 1991.”)
Palao maintains constant communication with all of his clients. “I will make every effort to get to know each client,” says Palao. “I want clients to have confidence in me and my business. In this business, communication between clients and the transportation provider is very important because they all want special attention. Well-trained drivers, beautiful vehicles, and excellent service are also very important.”
Dominique Champion, managing director of Tai Limousine in Paris, France, and the National Limousine Association’s international board member agrees. “We have served our clients flawlessly for over 40 years,” says Champion. “Exemplary service is critical for success anywhere in the world. Part of that service is having quality drivers who have been well-trained.”
Kaz Nagy, owner of Black Orchid Limousines in Sydney, Australia, has been in business for nine years. “I believe we are successful because we truly enjoy helping people fulfill their fantasies,” says Nagy. “We support our clients social activities with imaginative and professional transportation solutions. Our personalized approach and genuine 24-hour service is appreciated by our clients. We offer advice and help them plan special events. We have a highly competitive economic environment. People in this area shop around but often return to us because of our sincerity and enthusiastic attitude.”
According to Asbjorg Wahl Larsen of A Star Limousine in Oslo, Norway, an operator’s service should include a lot more than just running a limousine business. “We know a lot about our own country,” says Larsen. “We provide our customers with both useful and interesting information. If a customer has questions about something they see along the way, we will provide the answers. Also, we are centrally located, our drivers are service oriented, have good language skills, and they treat each customer like a VIP.”
Elite Limousine in Geneva, Switzerland, has been in business since 1993 and credits its success to the quality of its vehicles. The company is constantly adding new model limousines to its fleet.
“We pay special attention the quality of our cars,” says Graziella Zanoletti of Elite. “We provide first rate service that includes multilingual, well-trained chauffeurs, availability around the clock, last-minute reservations, service across the continent, cellular phones, and any other service a client may request.”
The company has also stayed abreast of technology “Our vehicles will soon have global positioning satellite systems,” says Zanoletti.
Steve Rogers and Peter Bunting, co-owners of Limos Unlimited in Southampton, Hampshire, England, were attendees at Limousine & Chauffeurs Spring Break ‘97 in Daytona Beach, FL, and attribute their success to determination and professionalism. “We are unique in our market and provide quality vehicles and staff,” says Rogers. “We provide comprehensive in- house training and market extensively using everything from the Yellow Pages to brochures. We also support local charity events.”
Jorge Bracero, owner of Bracero Limousine, Ltd. in San Juan, Puerto Rico, credits his success to being a perfectionist in every way. “I get a great deal of personal satisfaction when our clients, and even unrelated people, make comments about how clean and nice looking our vehicles are kept,” says Bracero. “Also, when we get a large group of visitors, we use all of the experience we’ve gained over the years for airport and hotel pickups. It really pays to be a perfectionist. I can foresee possible problems and make adjustments even before they happen. When the work is finished and everything has gone as planned, the company is viewed at a higher level”
Randy Snider of Star Limousine Service in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, is a Carey affiliate and has been in business for 17 years. “We have actively pursued the corporate market,” says Snider. “Over 80 percent of our business is corporate. Service has to be a priority no matter where you are in the world. Quality control of your company is also very important.”
HOW DOES BUSINESS DIFFER WORLDWIDE?
According to Jon Goldberg, director of licensee services and vendor relations for Carey International in Washington, D.C., there is really no difference between basic business practices abroad and business in the U.S.
“You have to offer quality service at a competitive price,” says Goldberg. “Your company has to be well- rounded with thoroughly trained professional chauffeurs and a full range of late model vehicles. You can’t ignore the basics. The number one basic is quality service.”
Goldberg says that with European-bound travel there is a bigger percentage of leisure business. “Your chauffeurs are going to have to be well-trained tour guides, more than they have to be in the United States,” he says. “There is much more leisure business in Europe which normally consists of clients interested in touring the country as opposed to basic business travel. Drivers have to be better trained at providing that kind of service in Europe—more so than in the U.S.”
Goldberg also points out that in certain cities the drivers have to be very knowledgeable about border crossing situations.
“Taking a client across a border could become a complicated matter,” he says. “Drivers have to be very astute and knowledgeable on how to get the car across the border with the least amount of inconvenience. These problems don’t exist going from state to state in the U.S.”
There are also times when you have to respect cultural differences and make allowances for them. “In Israel you are not going to be able to get a car on a Saturday because of the Jewish Sabbath,” says Goldberg. “In Athens, you will not be able to get service on Easter Sun day We have to be respectful of those cultural differences and keep clients in the loop so they are inconvenienced as little as possible “
Scott Solombrino, owner of Dav El in Boston, MA, says you must be aware of the differences in languages. “If you send your client to a different country and you end up with a driver who doesn’t speak English, that can be a disaster,” he says. “The most common problem when traveling abroad is not having an English-speaking chauffeur.”
Goldberg agrees. “It’s very important that international operators have English speaking drivers.”
According to Solombrino, clients may not necessarily get limousines when they travel abroad.
“Many operators have Mercedes, Saabs, or Volvos,” says Solombrino. “You have to understand what the culture dictates in each different business area you’re traveling to. Know what kinds of vehicles foreign operators are offering. Understand how foreign chauffeurs dress and how they were trained.”
CORPORATE WORK NOT AS SIGNIFICANT ABROAD
Nagy says that business is very different in Australia than in the United States. “The corporate user is less active in Australia,” he says.
“Our corporate work usually entails airport transfers or an occasional entertainment or dinner outing with clients and visitors. Probably 80 percent of our corporate clients use sedans. Our tax laws that relate to fringe benefits and luxuries, which include limousines, greatly impact limousine use.”
John Williams, president of American Limousine Service in Naples, Italy, says that due to tradition, cultural differences, lack of competition, and the everyday way of life, the Italian method of doing business, is much different from the way business is conducted in the United States.
“Since the inception of my company more than six years ago, our main market thrust has been weddings, parties, etc.,” says Williams. “We have continuously added other, smaller Markets such as celebrity work, embassy and consulate runs, airport transfers, and tourist work. Additionally, we cater to the vacationing family who wants to travel m U S. style and comfort with a certified bilingual chauffeur who is knowledgeable of the customs and traditions of a foreign country However, with the traditions and customs in Southern Italy, corporate work in this area with sedans or limousines is out of the question. Our main emphasis will continue to be weddings, etc.”
Bracero states that business in Puerto Rico is very similar to business in the U.S. “I don’t think there is much of a difference between business in Puerto Rico and business in the U.S. because of our special political and business relationship,” he says. “We tend to do the same work as any livery company on the mainland. The biggest difference is that 80 percent of our clients come to Puerto Rico as tourists. That means they have more leisure time and demand more personal service.”
According to Zanoletti, European operators have to adapt to several different cultures and languages. “We have to make every effort to train our chauffeurs to understand different cultures and to speak different languages,” she says. “Arab customers request different service than Russian clients. Also, driving in different countries can pose problems because of the different laws, rules, and currencies. Travelling in Switzerland is much different than going to France or Southern Italy.”
In the United States, limousines are used much more extensively than abroad. Additionally, U.S. operators are diversifying their fleets to accommodate a wider range of clientele. This is not the case overseas. In Europe, limousines are considered unique vehicles.
“We are a limousine-based company,” says Rogers. “Livery operators in the United States diversify with sedans and coaches. Limousines are still reasonably unique in England. Our customers will choose a limousine over a coach or a sedan.”
Mike Porter of Luxury Limousines London, Ltd and United Coach U.K., Ltd. in Gerrards Cross, London, England, agrees.
“People in the United Kingdom are not used to limousines,” he says “They are really eye-catching when they are seen on the road in this country. People have not seen vehicles with televisions, VCRs, and fancy lighting. You can comfortably seat eight people in a 120-inch stretch. That has an appeal In the United Kingdom, the famous like to be associated with limousines.”
According to Porter, one problem limousine owners have in the U.K. is that limousines rust easily in the damp U.K. weather.
“We have a very damp and wet environment,” says Porter. “Rusting poses a problem. One feature we don’t need here is a moonroof.”
In Norway operators are required to comply with several regulations mandated by the country’s Department of Transportation. “It is very difficult to get a license to start this type of business,” says Larsen. “Also, once you have received your license, you must get a new license for each new vehicle you bring into the company.”
In Spain, an operator has to actually purchase his vehicles before he or she is issued a license to operate “Leasing and renting are not financing options,” says Palao. “I must be absolutely sure I need a new vehicle and must be able to pay for it. That is why companies here don’t have large fleets.”
Palao says the best solution for operators in his area is to develop relationships with other operators. “In the U.S. there are many ways to get vehicles for busy seasons,” he says. “You can then either sell the car or return it to the leasing company and not be financially hurt.”
INTERNATIONAL OPERATORS OFFER INNOVATIVE SERVICES
“Operators abroad are now, more than ever, offering multilingual chauffeurs who are also able to act as tour guides,” says Zanoletti. “We have expanded our services to include visits to specialty restaurants, cultural visits, and transportation for kids to school.”
Larsen offers packages that include touring trips, salmon fishing, and glacier trips with sled dogs.
Rogers consistently does follow- up mailings with customers. “We have adopted many of the U.S. practices,” says Rogers. “We mail our customers Christmas and birthday cards. We offer free use of our limousines at charity auctions. Normally the bidder who wins becomes a client. We also send a special offer to our wedding clients. This offer consists of a discount on limousine use if they book our service for their first anniversary either the day they get married or any time before.”
When meeting first-time travellers to Norway at the airport, A Star Limousine takes 10 extra minutes and gives their client a short tour around the town at no charge. “We show them where they are and give them a little information about the area,” says Larsen. “We also supply visitors with a map of Oslo and nearby Bergen. We want them to know that we are here for them.”
OPERATOR REALIZES SUCCESS DESPITE LACK OF SIGHT
Over 13 years ago, Louis Zarrella was blinded while defending a woman from an attack. That didn’t stop him from developing a prosperous 10-car limousine service in Norwood, MA.
Zarrella, owner of L.Z. Enterprises, had been in the used car business for 30 years. In 1993, he opened his limousine service He was always interested in the business and finally decided to pursue the profession after the attack, when he began using limousines on dates and gained an appreciation for the vehicles “You can’t ask a lady to pick you up on a date,” says Zarrella.
His first vehicle was a 54-inch 1985 Lincoln stretch. “It started snowballing from there,” he says.
Zarrella initially advertised in the newspaper and ran the business from his home Soon, the business moved to a one-car garage and office, and most recently, to a two-story office building.
After Zarrella lost his sight, he bought cars by the feel, smell, and sound of each vehicle, and by having his employee describe it to him He could tell, by running his fingers over a dent, whether the vehicle warranted purchase and repair.
“Now the business is all in my head,” says Zarrella “I rely on my tape recorder for bookings and play it back to employees so they can fill out the contracts I memorize the job board I don’t think of myself as handicapped I think I’ve proven myself to my competitors.”
Scott Youman, LZ’s office manager and Zarrella’s trusted right- hand man, deals with paperwork and paying the drivers, while Zarrella works the phones and public relations from the control room.
The company currently has 20 drivers and 10 vehicles, including sedans, six-, eight-, and 10-passenger limousines, and a 14-passenger van that Zarrella designed himself “I have both old and new body style vehicles,” he says “It allows for flexibility with pricing.”
Zarrella says that while he’s found white to be the most popular limousine color, “black is making a comeback.” He’s now looking to buy a six-passenger Excalibur for his next wedding season.
“I liked my style of living and didn’t want to change it,” says Zarrella. “I was in the automotive business when I was sighted. You’ve got to love this business or else you wouldn’t be in it. It’s a 24-hour-a- day business. A real person has to answer the phone. If a machine answers the phone you lose business.”
Zarrella finds his greatest block of business comes from nights- on-the-town and weddings just as he believes in keeping a diverse fleet of vehicles, he has drivers with a wide range of personalities “I send the six-foot, 200-pound stud to drive the bachelorette parties, I send the bouncer driver to the bachelor parties; and I send a mellow chauffeur to the black tie party.”
Louis Zarrella knows the business. “No matter how nice your car is, if your driver is a turkey, he’s going to blow the whole night,” he says “Your cars are only as good as the drivers you put in them.”
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