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While the popularity of stretch limousines has waned among the corporate crowd, they still shine in more micro-retail special events markets, such as weddings, proms, nights out and birthdays. Operators with a steady retail clientele would do well to stay abreast of the latest facts and trends.
The most effective strategy limousine operators can deploy to enjoy more business from the wedding market is to build relationships with wedding professionals. Wedding and event planners are in constant contact with people looking for limousine services for their occasions, and if you win them over, their entire client books become prospects.
“Getting to know these people and building trusting relationships can take a long time, so you have to be patient and persistent,” says Eli Darland, owner of Bellevue, Wash.’s Rare Form Limo, a 2012 LCT Operator of the Year. “Because the limo industry is all over the board with respect to service levels and quality, a lot of wedding professionals have been burned in the past by operators. You have to network with them and get to know them as people instead of just prospective business partners because that will open up more doors for you. It doesn’t matter how nice your cars are and how great your website looks — if they don’t like you, they won’t refer you to their clients. Keep working to develop these relationships; they’re worth the effort. To sum it all up in one word: patience.”
Wedding trade shows are the best way to get your company’s name in front of the right people and begin building those relationships. Operators should get display booths and hand out brochures detailing not only the vehicles but also the quality of service they guarantee with specific examples. Emphasize that the company and expert staff will handle the entire process for the client so that it’s easy and hassle-free.
“We’ll have our vehicles at the wedding show so prospects get to see for themselves what we’re offering, and we even get bookings right there on the spot, so it’s worked tremendously well for us,” says Scott Woodruff of Des Moines, Iowa’s Majestic Limousine, also a 2012 LCT Operator of the Year.
“You really have to network and get that face-to-face interaction,” Darland says. “If your social skills are inept, hire someone who excels at that, because it’s a very important skill to have.”
Shane Handel of Scottsdale, Ariz.’s Maxim Limousine will even raffle off a free limo ride at wedding shows. A raffle is a great way to get a list of prospects’ email addresses and phone numbers for a follow-up. Email blasts and cold calls at strategic points throughout the year can prime prospects for wedding season.
Another way to grab attention from the professional wedding community is by getting active on TheKnot.com, a leading resource for all things wedding-related. Join the forum, advertise, get listed on its supplier directory, and try to get editorial coverage. Treat the forum and website like a digital networking room. TheKnot.com features a ranking system that generates feedback from legitimate sources clients can trust.
Having a search engine-optimized (SEO) website is also critical to achieving a thriving wedding transportation business. Human habits have evolved to where the most probable first action a person will do when researching a topic is type words into Google. It’s also logical to assume that the words will be direct and to the point, e.g. “limousines for wedding” or “wedding limo service.” Having a website rank high for those terms will drive traffic with high conversion rate potential, since those people are searching for the service as opposed to the service searching for them.
As far as vehicles are concerned, wedding parties still select from the stretch limo and vintage car segments, but operators have continued to observe the growing popularity of limo buses. “Everyone wants limo buses; it’s a trend I don’t see going away,” Woodruff says.
Limo buses offer higher passenger capacity, which allows a party to distribute the cost of the booking over a larger number of people and reduces the price per passenger. Limo buses also offer standing room, comfortable seating, and entertainment poles.
Boosting SEO For Your Website
Content marketing: Also known as “inbound marketing.” Write blogs and how-to articles and publish them on your website. Make sure to include key words such as “limousine service,” “limo” + your region, “wedding limo,” “prom limo,” “night on the town,” and “safe ride.” Bill Faeth from Grand Avenue Chauffeured Transportation in Nashville, Tenn., is a big proponent of inbound marketing and writes blogs that explain to clients how to choose a safe and reliable limo service for special occasions and how to avoid being ripped off by a disreputable company. In addition to boosting your SEO, this type of marketing projects to potential clients the idea that you and your company are experts in your line of work.
Social media: Having a company Facebook page, LinkedIn account, Twitter and Google+ page are no longer options; they’re necessities. The social media universe is also a digital networking room that requires the same level of engagement as an in-person networking event. Heavy engagement on social media also counts toward a website’s SEO ranking.
Teenagers will always go to the prom, which have almost taken on the preparation and energy reserved for weddings. And they want to show up in style. Again, limo buses have joined the mix of preferred vehicles, along with the custom stretch SUVs and limousines.
A limousine website with good SEO will essentially market itself during prom season as parents and students will likely search “prom limo” and “limo for prom” on the Internet. Handel says when it’s prom season, he just sits back and lets the business come to him.
Regarding prices, Handel says he sells on service. “If they get shocked at my quote and tell me they can get it cheaper from another guy, I’ll tell them to make sure that they check out the company’s credentials so they don’t get burned,” he says. “I explain how we charge based on costs and I’ll ask them if they think the other guy can even make money with such low rates, and if he’s not making money, how can he keep his vehicles well-maintained?
“Then I’ll point out that if he’s charging so little, there may be other customers trying to book his vehicles so there’s a risk he might overbook or that a client will book the vehicle but the operator will accept a last-minute bid from a client willing to pay more, and the original client gets cancelled on. If they use my service, they’ll pay a little more but they can rest easy knowing they’ll receive reliable service.”
Shane Handel of Maxim Limousine in Scottsdale, Ariz. applies a very unique social media tactic. He has a Facebook account that has the maximum 5,000 friends, all of which have been vetted to ensure that they live in Maxim’s service region. Every day, Handel has a staff member go through Facebook and look at the list of birthdays for that day, and then write a personalized birthday greeting on their wall that includes a plug for birthday transportation service.
Because this part of the retail business is year-round and unpredictable, social media engagement and website SEO are vital because they build a company’s brand and drive highly convertible leads through search.
Another effective avenue to increase business in this market is what can be called a “partnership package.” It involves developing partnerships with entertainment establishments such as restaurants, theaters, bars and clubs. Work out deals with these venues to give your passengers extra value for their excursions.
A great resource for creative packages for retail business is the article “Can’t Miss Tips For Growing Retail Business”, based off a variety of ideas from Matt Silver, CEO of Ultimate Class Limousine and Transport in Hicksville, N.Y. and you can access it instantly and conveniently by scanning the QR code on this page with your smartphone or tablet.
Try to get listed on the venue’s website as a preferred partner and interact with that venue’s Facebook page to associate your company’s name with that particular establishment.
The same strategies for other retail markets can be applied to the funeral industry. Have a website that ranks high for keywords such as “funeral transportation,” “funeral vehicle service,” and “hearse service.” Have a specific landing page for funeral services and display funeral-specific vehicles on the fleet page and Facebook page. Also, visiting funeral homes and developing relationships there will boost your exposure to this market.
The Corporate Trickle-Down
Companies that also serve corporate accounts have an additional source for retail business. Operators should strive to get to know their clients personally so they can develop strong relationships and also be in tune to whether there is potential for a prom or wedding booking. Operators also can promote their retail services by placing seatback inserts for specific services before the start of the season and instruct their chauffeurs to mention it to corporate clients.
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