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One winner was recently acquired by an industry giant. Another was an LCT Operator of the Year finalist for the past five years. Another had the last two LCT Operator of the Year magazine covers framed in her dressing room as a reminder of the excellence she might one day attain.
This was the setting as the 1998 LCT Operators of the Year were announced to an overflowing crowd at the annual 1998 LCT Operator of the Year awards banquet held in conjunction with the LCT Show in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand.
The winners were Larry Willwerth, president of Carey of Boston in Somerville, MA (large category); Don and Michelle Wilson, co-owners of VIP Limousine Service in Macomb, MI (medium category); and Renee Aymar, owner of Renee’s Royal Valet in Plymouth, MN (1-10 vehicles).
Willwerth Leads by Action and Deeds
Larry Willwerth has a track record as a leader in the limousine industry. He is known for his industry advocacy with regulatory agencies, insurance boards, and civic groups, as well as limousine operators nationwide.
“I am truly honored by this award,” says Willwerth. “However, I believe my work has just begun. Consolidation, standardization, proficiency, maturity, professionalism, and leadership are things that the industry is working toward. I look to contribute in these areas.”
According to Willwerth, nobody can work the business better than the small operator. “All they have to do is work together, join alliances, and never underestimate themselves. There will always be room for the small operator.”
Willwerth says he plans to be involved in the industry for a long time. “I’m going to use this award as an opportunity to help others in our industry,” he says. “That is what the award is about.”
A comprehensive set of standards has guided Willwerth’s company for more than 74 years toward excellence. He has been an instrumental figure in the following regulation efforts:
Home Rule: By limiting “Home Rule” jurisdictions and restrictions, more consistency is achieved and legal compliance becomes easier for the limousine industry. Willwerth, as president of the New England Livery Association (NELA), has educated the regulatory agencies in various cities on this issue for the past 10 years.
Livery Plates: Carey of Boston is the oldest and one of the largest limousine companies in New England. The company was recognized for its leadership by the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles and was asked for feedback in the establishment of livery plates. The use of these plates properly identifies licensed companies, which, in turn, reassures the customer of the operator’s legitimacy.
The sign on Willwerth’s office door reads, “The Bitterness of Poor Quality Lingers Long After the Sweetness of Low Prices.” Willwerth believes contact is the key to customer loyalty for both operations and marketing efforts. Problems must be viewed as opportunities to improve communication and customer service.
According to Willwerth, in order to be successful, you must know how you are viewed by the traveling public. “We have to know where we are falling short as well as where we are excelling,” says Willwerth. “We were instrumental in establishing the Carey International quality assurance program. These standards have been integrated into all Carey training programs.”
Willwerth firmly believes in standardization. “The chauffeur’s manual and other materials clearly explain our company’s standards for excellent service,” says Willwerth. “We have one uniform for chauffeurs, one uniform for greeters, one script for reception, one protocol for dispatch, and one procedure for accounting.”
In the information age, Carey of Boston utilizes the latest technology, such as radios, pagers, cellular telephones, and fax machines in its cars. “This technology is crucial for successful business operations in the 1990s,” says Willwerth. “We will continue to introduce technical advances for our customers.”
Carey of Boston has also established its own website. On-line reservations, invoices, rates, and quotes have been integrated into the Carey business scheme. The company received more than 10,000 reservations in 1997 via e-mail and the Internet and transmitted the same number of invoices back to the international office in Washington, DC.
Persistence Pays Off for the Wilsons
Don and Michelle Wilson, co-owners of VIP Limousine Service in Macomb, MI, were definitely the sentimental favorites among many in the crowd at the LCT Operator of the Year Awards Banquet as the finalists for the medium category were announced.
1998 marked the fifth consecutive year Don and Michelle Wilson were named finalists for the LCT Operator of the Year award. “You can imagine our excitement when we were announced as the winner,” says Michelle. “Don and I were both elated. No words could describe our excitement. This award is a culmination of an extreme amount of energy, talent, and commitment from our dedicated team of professionals. We are still celebrating.”
According to Michelle, both she and Don are very excited about their company’s growth over the past several years. “Nonetheless, we have developed firm plans for the future of our company,” says Michelle. “We are currently expanding our facility from its current size of 6,000 square feet to a 15,000-square-foot facility to accommodate our limousine and limousine-coach fleet.”
The Wilsons have also started a new company, Exotic Car Rental, Inc., that will compliment their limousine service. “We have purchased Vipers, Corvette convertibles, and Prowlers that we believe will create a significant new profit center for us,” says Michelle. “These exotic vehicles provide our clients with a unique alternative for their wedding transportation needs. The bride and groom will often rent a convertible sports car for themselves and an elegant stretch limousine for the wedding party. We will continue to challenge ourselves by creating transportation alternatives for our customers.”
The Wilsons believe that diversification is the key to success in chauffeured transportation today and in the future. “Operators have to determine their customer’s specific needs,” says Don. “An operator will be successful if he or she is prepared to implement creative, innovative fleet additions. With today’s technology moving at such a rapid pace, operators must adjust quickly. We believe that in order to be successful, you must be able to satisfy virtually any request.”
Don says a company’s greatest investment is with it’s employees. “We often require employees to take certain courses pertaining to defensive driving, telephone etiquette, communication skills, computer training, and self defense,” he says. “Every position at our company requires professional, dependable, responsible people who enjoy the public.”
The Wilsons believe that excellent employee/employer relations are crucial for unsurpassed quality service. In fact, last year employee/employer relations were so good at the company, that VIP employees planned a special surprise dinner for the Wilsons which was ultimately referred to as, “The First Annual Boss’ Appreciation Dinner.”
Aymar Achieves Her Ultimate Goal
“No words can describe the thrill and honor of being chosen LCT Operator of the Year (small category),” says Aymar. “To be nominated as one of the finalists is truly an honor and makes you proud to be part of a growing industry. When I heard my name called, I was shocked.”
According to Aymar, the key has been dedication, an effective marketing plan, and competent, dedicated employees.
Aymar has more than 25 years of experience in corporate marketing. “I really know what professionalism is and the real meaning of customer service,” she says. “My prior experience has significantly contributed to my success in this industry.”
Aymar says open book management has also contributed to her success. “I reveal everything to my employees so they know and understand the company’s direction,” says Aymar. “The employee feels an increased sense of worth. The level of efficiency skyrockets. Turnover at my company is almost nonexistent.”
Aymar is a very infectious person because of her enthusiasm for what she does. “I love this industry,” she says. “My enthusiasm creates an excitement in all areas of my business — from my staff, to my organization, to my competitors.”
According to Aymar, success is not something to wait for, it’s something to work for. “Success means everyone has committed to a common goal,” she says. “Winning this award was a total team effort. My chauffeurs and office staff are an extension of me. I treat them like family — with respect and dignity. Having the best business plan is futile unless you have the people to execute that plan. My entire staff has been dedicated, proud, and did not lose sight of our goal.”
Aymar says success takes time, devotion, and sometimes a little disappointment. “If you believe in yourself, you will find reaching your goals and objectives are easier and setbacks are more manageable,” she says. “Life definitely becomes more meaningful. This industry has allowed me to attain levels of achievement I thought were unattainable. Success is nothing more than doing what you do well and doing well anything you attempt to do.”
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