NOV. LCT: What operators can learn about building a steady client base from a leading fleet vehicle seller.
Listed below are the finalists for the 2003 Operator of the Year for the small, medium and large fleet categories, along with the national fleet finalists. We’ve also listed the association finalists. The winners will be announced at the LCT Show.
RMA Chauffeured Transportation (Rockville, Md.)
Fleet size: 53
Years in business: 15
Fifteen years ago, Robert Alexander started his company with one car and operated out of a spare room in his parent’s house. Today, RMA Chauffeured Transportation employs a staff of 94 people and caters to a diverse clientele, often customers who require discrete service.
RMA’s comprehensive in-house training program for new chauffeurs involves 30 hours of training and is taught by senior chauffeurs who share their life experiences along with explaining RMA’s customer service standards. Staff training is a major component of RMA’s continued success and ability to deal with a variety of industry-related challenges. “Everyone feels a smile” is the motto that RMA’s customer service staff developed to sum up the RMA experience. Alexander says that exceptional customer service is always the first priority.
Alexander has made contributions to the industry by lobbying on Capitol Hill regarding policies that affect all limousine owners and operators. He has also been actively involved in local and national associations and has served as a liaison to various trade groups.
“RMA’s attention to detail and thoroughness with every reservation is greatly appreciated and makes our jobs less stressful.” — Joy Nagel, director of travel and events, Washington Speakers bureau.
Bauer’s Transportation (San Francisco)
Fleet size: 60
Years in business: 14
In 1989, Gary Bauer purchased his first limousine. He had a successful landscape design business and purchased the limousine “on a lark” to provide safe transportation on the weekends for himself and his college buddies. Receiving inquiries from the general public caused Bauer to research the limousine industry and draw up a business plan.
Today, Bauer is on the panel of the San Francisco Airport Planning and Transportation Advisory Board, evaluating airport-specific concerns including security and construction issues. In addition, he’s a member of various chambers of commerce, and the California Limousine Group, hosting mini-trade shows in support of the association.
Bauer’s Transportation has a 100-page employee handbook for new hires to refer to and an extensive, four-day training program covering company history, chauffeur “how-to” and navigational testing. All employees take part in “Above and Beyond,” an award program designed to recognize those who go beyond their job description and take initiative.
“Your staff and drivers always go the extra mile, even under pressure.” — Jennifer Glassmaker, account manager. Sears Point Raceway
Greene Classic Limousines (Atlanta)
Fleet size: 41
Years in business: 14
In all his endeavors and business practices, it’s Jeff Greene’s passion for Greene Classic Limousines and the industry in general that has also been embraced by his employees, family and peers.
Greene has served on the NLA’s vendor liaison committee for the past three years and acted as a mentor on the NLA’s mentoring program for new operators. He was also chosen by the Atlanta Airport to represent the limousine industry on the Atlanta Airport Task Force. In addition, he is the committee chairman for the Georgia Limousine Association and has been an active member of the association for the past 10 years.
Greene Classic Limousine has a comprehensive 4-day training program for chauffeurs. Training includes all company procedures, airport and hotel orientation and driving procedures. The company supports various charities and has been a certified drug-free workplace since 1998.
“You went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure everything went smoothly. It was a pleasure working with you and I hope to work with you again the next time I’m in Atlanta.” — Arnold Schwarzenegger
Company Car (Cleveland, Ohio)
Fleet size: 13
Years in business: 9
At Company Car, owner Stephen Qua ensures that every new staff member undergoes thorough training and, most important, understands the reasoning behind the company’s processes and goals. Qua believes that training should be an ongoing process, not simply a finite job, and he has never hired support people who have not spent time on the road chauffeuring. All chauffeurs complete a day of sales training to make sure they understand the pricing structure.
Qua says his company isn’t in the limousine or ground travel business; he’s in the value business, the process of manufacturing products that provide value under a customer’s set of circumstances. Employees are encouraged to “think on their feet,” predicting what a passenger might need while being prepared to provide for that need — this has enabled Company Car to not only attract high volume customers and qualified referrals, but higher quality employees who find a professional home and enjoy the fruits of longevity.
The company participates in charitable causes, including muscular dystrophy and sending gravely ill children to summer camp.
“Your attention to detail and flexibility throughout our event was invaluable to us.” — M. Joan McCarthy, Harvard Business School Global Conference
The Limousine Connection (North Hollywood, Calif.)
Fleet size: 19
Years in business: 25
Chris Hundley started The Limousine Connection when he was just 19 years old. He attributes his success and longevity in the industry to “being good every time” and “representing the positive side of the industry.” Hundley knows that his employees are his greatest asset and therefore, he provides them with top-notch compensation plans.
Hundley is an active member of various local and national associations, including the NLA and GCLA, and regularly works with charities and chambers of commerce. Also, he provides free or discounted work for the Entertainment Industry Organization.
Chauffeur training at The Limousine Connection is extensive and includes drug-testing, training rides with senior chauffeurs, viewing training videos and comprehensive testing. New office staff is also trained and every employee is continually briefed on the latest legislation, technology and efficient business practices.
Hundley has formed strategic alliances with various companies to provide value-added services to his customers and continues to maximize revenue with Internet marketing programs and state-of-the-art technology.
“I have never been more pleased with any other vendor in our industry.” — Richard A. Fix, All Celebrity Travel Inc.
A Touch of Class (Fresno, Calif.)
Fleet size: 13
Years in business: 14
In 14 years of operation, A Touch of Class has never experienced a workers’ compensation claim. That’s because “safety first” is the company motto, and owner Deena Papagni makes sure this is stressed to the staff and chauffeurs. Papagni promotes the industry in a positive light and donates limousines to charitable organizations, including Susan Komen Breast Cancer Fund, Wish Upon a Star, Valley Children’s Hospital and other organizations, choosing to focus on those that help children with trauma.
Chauffeur training includes reading material, quizzes, ride-alongs with a lead chauffeur and passing a written exam. All new chauffeurs have 24-hour access to any lead chauffeur or member of management to solve concerns.
“Most of our flights occur in the middle of the night, but no matter what time of day we call, we are greeted with the same kind and committed voices that we are greeted with during normal business hours.” — Scott M. Pritchard, general manager. Sunset Aviation.
Venice Livery Service LLC, dba Carey of Oregon (Salem, Ore.)
Fleet size: 10
Years in business: 9
Venice Livery Service (formerly Five Star) began with one vehicle in 1994 in a home-based operation. The company now operates out of a 6,000-square-foot building and focuses developing services and amenities to make clients more comfortable. An example includes the luggage tags the company gives out to clients, which makes locating baggage at the airport much easier.
All new drivers are subject to a background check, DMV check, drug testing and review by their insurance company. After that, trainees go on several ride-alongs with an experienced driver. Office training includes a review of the vehicles, a thorough understanding of the reservation process, dispatching overview and an explanation of how to settle trips using the computer systems.
Community involvement includes donating the company services to schools to help them raise money, working with numerous charities and other associations.
“Your company is extraordinarily generous and accommodating in transporting kids and their families to Portland International Airport at a fraction of the actual cost.” — John Clay, chair, Make-A-Wish Foundation of Oregon.
Two Step Limousine (Denver)
Fleet size: 5
Staff: 2 (up to five part-time during ski season)
Years in business: 8
Barbara Curtis owes her choice of occupations at least in part to the company’s vice president. Walter Curtis, her son. Because of a negative prom incident, Barbara was spurred into opening her own limousine company in 1995, and the company is now one of the most respected in Colorado.
In addition to running Two Step Limousine, Barbara Curtis has been president of the Limousine Association of Colorado. Under Curtis’s leadership, operator membership has nearly doubled and the association’s vendor members have increased by 500 percent. Curtis is also an active member of the NLA, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other local and national organizations.
The company’s driver training program is personally conducted by Barbara, and the entire fleet is subjected to a comprehensive preventative maintenance regime, ranging from major part replacements to daily visual inspection of key systems.
“Two Step has always been the most professional, the most courteous to our listeners, and I don’t remember a time that I haven’t had positive comments from the winners who we put in their care.” Garret Doll, director of promotions, KYGO-FM 98.5.
Clique Limousine (Bay Shore, N.Y.)
Fleet size: 6
Years in business: 18
By deliberately keeping his business small, Bill Goerl has been able to provide personalized service to his clients, striving to accommodate all their personal requests. Generally on a first-name basis with the majority of clients, Goerl says the company strives to be “their friend in the limo business” and explains company policy of placing confirmation calls to clients the night before a booking, sending gift baskets and publishing a company newsletter.
Goerl has served on the Nassau Suffolk Limousine Association, is a member of various local and national associations and is actively involved in several charities.
Recently, Goerl started pricing company services as the airlines and hotels do. Clients receive a discount for booking more than seven days in advance. He also revamped the employee benefits package, offering health benefits to part-time chauffeurs as well as full-time.
“Your donation of your time and services, as well as your professionalism, enabled us to run a successful event.” — Carol M. Baldwin, Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund Inc.
Music Express (Burbank, Calif.)
Rita Berkman & Cheryl Berkman
Fleet size: 289
Founded in 1973 by the late Harold Berkman with one vehicle and a tremendous amount of passion, Music Express is a service-driven company with a commitment to the quality service process. The company is an active member in numerous organizations and associations, including the City of Hope.
Prospective chauffeurs must provide a report showing the last 10 years of their driving record and pass a drug test, background check and physical exam. Chauffeur training involves a two-week road and classroom program, with recurrent training including guest speakers from the California Highway Patrol, Fire Department, and attendance at monthly chauffeur meetings.
In 2002, Music Express championed a successful “no union” landslide vote in its New York region. If Music Express went union, the industry would have forever been changed, but Music’s chauffeurs knew that working for a family-run, independent company was the way to go and voted accordingly.
“In reflection of our 25 year relationship, it seems that each ride gets better and better.” — Carl Scott, Simmons & Scott Entertainment.
BostonCoach (Everett, Mass.)
Fleet size: 63
BostonCoach has implemented specific strategies to reach its more than 1,200 employees. Every few weeks, all drivers receive an audio address from Russ Cooke, president of BostonCoach, who, along with other guest speakers from the senior staff, recognizes outstanding employees and relays stories of exceptional customer service.
State-of-the-art employee training focuses on developing the required skills, knowledge and programs that will provide continuous support and education for all of BostonCoach’s employees. New hire sedan drivers must complete an eight-day training program, and national call center training involves a three-week program.
Cooke is affiliated with numerous associations and, this past year, BostonCoach participated on the NBTA Ground Transportation Task Force to educate corporate travel managers on the industry and improve the RFP process for the ground transportation industry. Cooke also serves on the Massachusetts Port of Authority’s (Massport) Advisory Council, ensuring that the needs and considerations of limousine companies are represented and understood, particularly in the post-9/11 environment.
“You are the best limo company we have ever dealt with.” — Consulate General of Pakistan.
Association Award Of excellence
Arizona Limousine Association
For more than 12 years, the Arizona Limousine Association (ALA) has been working successfully with agencies that affect the industry, along with monitoring city, state and federal legislative processes. ALA airport representatives meet with the City of Phoenix on a regular basis. Because of this regular communication, construction updates are faxed to the association each month and the ALA has had input getting signage changed regarding permit parking.
The association recruits new members by hosting sponsored membership drives and taking referrals by members and non-members. As a requirement for membership, the ALA asks that each member provide a certificate of insurance which indicates at least the minimum automobile liability insurance requirements as indicated by the Arizona Department of Transportation for public livery companies.
The ALA hosts guest speakers relative to the industry in the hopes of further educating operators. Very active in charity work, the ALA hosts an annual toy drive and party, along with a summer social that benefited the Thunderbird Haven House in Phoenix.
The Limousine Association of Colorado
Founded in 1992, the Limousine Association of Colorado (LAOC) has evolved from purely an effective legislative entity to incorporating strong educational, economic and charitable aims. Under the leadership of current president, Barbara Curtis, the LAOC has experienced growth in terms of membership and influence, and now has representation on every critical regulatory board and advisory committee in the state.
The association enjoys a favorable relationship with its PUC. The PUC has been receptive to association contributions in terms of industry input and has become a recruitment tool for the LAOC. PUC regulators refer not member companies to the association for helpful information and supply packets of LAOC material.
The strong economic influence of ski season in Colorado has given shuttle services, referred to as mountain van companies, a separate identity. This three-part race (taxis, van services, and limousine operators) has yielded strict legislation to separate the types of vehicles each group may have in their fleet. Limousine companies may only use sedans if a television, beverage service and phone are permanently installed in then (adding roughly $1,000 to the cost of each car). Van were only added to limousine fleets in 1998 (through the efforts of Gene Cookenboo and others) and have severe restrictions on the seating arrangement and costs of the critical vehicles.
LAOC members have strong ties to Make-A-Wish. Where previously vehicles were supplied to Make-a-Wish for nominal fees, as of October, 2002, the LAOC Board announced that all future trips would be entirely without charge.
The Florida Limousine Association
As one of the largest associations in the country, the Florida Limousine Association (FLA) has worked to further the interests of all Florida limousine operators. The association works continuously to give Florida limousine services a positive style and image. As part of that effort, the FLA supports and participates in numerous fundraising events for local charities and organizations, including MADD and Make-A-Wish.
A direct spin-off of the MADD program is the association’s Prom Pledge Program. All parties (parents, adolescents and chauffeurs) must sign the pledge as the association maintains a zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol and the attempted use during a limo charter for proms and homecomings.
The FLA membership voted to establish an ethics and standards committee, whose duties include a bi-annual inspection of all member vehicles. Every member is required to have properly maintained, safe vehicles, trained chauffeurs and carry commercial insurance.
Established in 1984, the FLA produces a newsletter for all general and associate members that contains industry information, upcoming events and trade shows, repair facilities, maintenance tips and facts on industry spokespersons.
Related Topics: Barbara Curtis, BostonCoach, Cheryl Berkman, Chris Hundley, Deena Papagni, Gary Bauer, Gene Cookenboo, Jeff Greene, limo associations, Music Express, Operator of the Year Awards, Rita Berkman, Robert Alexander, Russ Cooke, Stephen Qua
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