With many operators calling for a “super-network” of real-time reservations, the founder of GNet updates the progress.
Potential customers must be able to easily find your site and it must be sophisticated and unique enough to attract repeat visits.
The Internet and the World Wide Web present a new and different way for livery companies of all sizes to market themselves, attract new customers, and increase product awareness.
Marketing via the Internet allows you to efficiently target people or corporations with high travel profiles such as frequent travelers, business professionals, meeting planners, and travel agents. High-end luxury services such as livery companies are natural candidates for inclusion in the high technology world of Internet advertising.
According to Steve Lightburn, president of Embassy Limousine and Embassy Internet Service in Clearwater, FL, the success of each company’s Web site depends on the following factors:
“If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these questions, then it is safe to say the Web site is not everything it could be, and it is not a totally effective marketing tool,” says Light- burn. “The Web site may also be less than fully effective if potential customers cannot find the site or learn of the services provided. If none of your customers or potential customers know you have a Web site, or how to find it, then the site will be, at best, minimally effective.”
“Instant planetary access to company information is only good in theory,” says Charles Wisniewski, president of Teddy’s Transportation System in Norwalk, CT. “If you don’t ask the appropriate search engines to link your site, no one will ever find you. You can do this on your own by accessing your web browser’s ‘net search’ button. A list of the top 10 or so search engines will display. Go to each engine’s homepage and follow the instructions to set up a free hyperlink to your homepage.”
Wisniewski recommends establishing links with top travel company sites, as well. “It may cost you between $20 to $100 annually for these links, but I think it’s worth it.”
Dana-Lorri Kaplan, vice president of Catalina Transportation Services in Tucson, AZ, believes the masses are still not sure how to search for a specific topic.
“Each search engine has a different way of listing your particular product or service,” says Kaplan. “It’s going to take time for people to learn how to find specific topics of interest. Also, just as the phone directory keeps changing, so do the search engines that bring customers to you.”
Is The Internet An Effective Marketing Tool?
Many operators use the Internet as part of their overall marketing package. They use a combination of print and electronic to get the word out about their company. Each site has its own personality. The key is presentation and easy access to timely information.
“Internet commerce is still relatively new, but it is a viable source of revenue,” says Hatem Elnahas,-president of Limo Express in Alexandria, VA, and 1997 LCT Operator of the Year (small category). “I don’t expect our Web site will ever contribute more than 10 percent to 25 percent to our bookings. However, we see our site as a way to provide updated information to our cur rent clients and a way to reach new clients. Marketing becomes very important. Our Web site is clean and presents us as a sophisticated, well-established company. The colors, information, art, and logos are all consistent with our letterhead, forms, and promotional material. Everything ties together.”
Elnahas provides clients with various booking options that include ordering via on-line form, e-mail, telephone, or fax. The site also clearly lists rates, company affiliations, and awards.
“Our site is continuously developing,” says Elnahas. “We will add more links and are considering a section for travel agents which will include direct booking forms. However, I believe it’s extremely important that a site maintains its general look. Some companies constantly redesign their sites and I think this confuses the viewer and gives an impression that the company does not have a clear image of itself.”
As with any good advertising campaign, you cannot build a Web site and believe that your job is done. If your Web site is to be truly effective, it must never become dull or stagnant.
“A Web site must be alive, vibrant, and able to convey your message in several unique and different ways,” says Lightburn. “The Internet is a universal advertising and marketing vehicle — far more powerful than the local newspaper, Yellow Pages, television, or radio. The Yellow Pages is still a viable advertising medium, but the coverage is limited. Still, most of an independent contractor’s business will come from referrals, the Yellow Pages, and local area advertising. However, expanded opportunities are available in every area of the country from corporations, business travel, and visitors.”
Web Site Development Costs Vary
If you plan on incorporating anything new into your business there will always be associated costs to consider. Establishing a Web site is no different. The significance of the investment depends on several factors.
“Costs associated with our Web site development have been minimal,” says Lyndy Burnham, operations manager for Regal Limousine service in North Hampton, NH. “A Web site can be developed and an Internet Service Provider account can be established for $300 to $500. There are companies that will charge thousands of dollars to develop a site. I am not convinced the extra money buys that much more. Part of the costs associated with Web site development is how many search engines your site is registered with. I believe that four or five search engines should suffice.”
John Ryan, president of Pittsburgh Limousine in Pittsburgh, PA, has a site that consists of 12 pages. “I saved thousands of dollars by designing my own site,” says Ryan. “My production company ultimately input and programmed each page. They have conveyed to me that if they would have produced the site from start to finish, it would have cost in excess of $7,500.
Lightburn says the cost of developing a Web site can be quite substantial. “Some developers charge for their ‘expertise’ as opposed to basing their charges on the site’s content,” he says. “A banner can be created for $50 to $ 100. A Web site with no real innovations could cost from $150 to several thousand dollars. Further, the cost usually rises as the design elements and add-ons become more complicated or the file sizes increase.”
According to Elnahas, the cost for establishing a Web site depends on the following factors:
Frederick Schwilgin, owner of Sovereign Sedan and Limousine Service in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, attempted to go the inexpensive route and found little success. “A site can be done for as little as $50 a month for the space on a server if you know how to set up the site yourself,” says Schwilgin. “I learned there is a lot more to developing an effective site than learning HTML. Effective design is very important. I tried to be cost-conscious and got nowhere. I believe paying for a well designed site is worth it. Some developers charge thousands of dollars which I think is excessive. You should shop around.”
Kaplan agrees. “Experience is everything when it comes to finding a Web site developer,” she says. “I established mine last year for $600 which was the cheapest I could find. If you have the time and are willing to shop around, you’ll really be able to get a good developer at a reasonable price.”
According to Lightburn, in addition to costs for Web site design, there is an on-going expense of having the site “hosted” which could run from $20 to $50 per month, depending on the service and its charges. “The site will also have to be maintained and periodically updated which could cost nothing or several hundred dollars,” says Light- burn. “If you are shopping for price, do so with an eye towards quality, features, and special services. Shop for Web developers and providers much the same way individuals should shop for limousine services.”
Will Web Site Produce Revenue?
Can an operator make money by establishing his own Web site? Different operators have different objectives for their sites.
“Our Web site produces revenue because we have incorporated it as part of our overall marketing package,” says Elnahas. “It complements the other marketing work we do. In that sense it helps draw business to us. However, a Web site that just sits in cyberspace without promotion will do absolutely nothing to generate revenue. It is like having an 800 number and expecting people to call without advertising the number.”
Lightburn believes a Web site can be an excellent revenue producing tool. “The amount of revenue garnered depends on all of the factors I previously mentioned, the size of the metropolitan area serviced, and the amount of traffic passing through the area at any given time,” says Lightburn. “In my estimation, no single advertising or marketing expenditure ever produces enough revenue. But a return of five or 10 times the investment is acceptable.”
lightburn says that if the total cost of Web site design, maintenance, and hosting is $750, the site should return volume of at least $3,750 each year.
Many operators believe a Web site has to portray a professional image to the viewer. They believe revenues will be generated by how a service is perceived.
“If our Web site helps clients to see that our service is more professional and better able to meet their needs as compared to other ground transportation providers in our market area, then I feel it will become a revenue producing tool,” says Burnham.
“Some companies have generated substantial revenues on the Web,” says Ryan. “I still believe the jury is out, though. It appears the limousine industry has yet to catch on. My company is the only Pittsburgh company with a site. In the long run I’ll retrieve my investment and then some. However, so far it has only been an image maker and an ego soother.”
Develop Features To Entice The Viewer
When developing your site, always think about innovative features that will lure a viewer.
“Usually, when people talk about innovative features they envision online reservation forms, e-mail, links, and animated graphics,” says Elnahas. “There are a lot of cutesy things that can be done. However, we steer away from them. Having unnecessary buttons, graphics, or forms can be a big waste of time for the viewer. If it takes more than 30 seconds for your home page or subsequent pages to load there is a good chance the viewer will leave your site. People also get annoyed when they decide to wait a minute or two for the graphics to load and find they are insignificant. They don’t want to play games. We give them the information they need to make a decision and make it easy for them to book a vehicle.”
Burnham’s objective when he designed his site was to utilize it as a tool to increase the number of phone inquiries into his office. “We want to generate more phone activity,” says Burnham. “Being a service industry, I believe that it is the personal care and attention that people receive when they contact us that will continue to grow our business.”
Kaplan also believes an uncomplicated site and maintaining personal interaction are keys. “I have found that plain and simple is the way to go,” she says. “I have e-mail so reservations can be sent and received. However, customers still want to interface with their limousine service. It’ll be a while before they will be able to depend on the Internet when it comes to reservations.”
Schwilgin is a believer in a graphic presentation. “Promotions presented with either moving graphics or audio will make your site stand out,” he says. “The American public is addicted to TV. I believe the more a site is like a TV commercial, something the public is used to watching, the more likely it will hold attention and interest and elicit a response.”
Establish Important Links To Help Your Customers
Your site can be that much more effective by establishing key links for your viewers. Links are always a key feature as long as there is an existing site.
You can link anywhere including links to convention and visitor bureau sites. Every Web site has a URL or address. You can establish the link from within your site with a simple HTML code.
“You do not need permission to establish a link,” says Elnahas. “Nonetheless, it is considered a general courtesy to notify the organization about the link. Also, if appropriate, ask the company whose site you’re interested in to establish a link within their site back to your site. If you want an association or convention bureau to link to your site, contact them to get their policies. Some will ask for your address, others will require that you are a member of their organization.”
If you are thinking about linking with other sites, your own site should look professional and be well designed. Many organizations will not consider your request to be linked if you have not made a commitment to your own Web site.
“Hot linking with other sites has been a challenge for us,” says Ryan. “We have been fortunate to establish links with sites that capture a lot of hits. If our site was not as professional as it is, I’m sure they wouldn’t have considered us. You can also increase the credibility of your site by adding other credible domains.”
Developing, producing, and maintaining a Web site is a substantial undertaking. “Establishing a Web site should not be taken lightly or endeavoured by the faint of heart,” says light- burn. “But the reward of seeing your creation, and knowing that millions of others are seeing it, is not measurable in time or monetary gain. Sometimes just being on the cutting edge is enough.”
It’s A Numbers Game
Charles Wisniewski, president of Teddy’s Transportation System in Nor- walk, CT, consistently tracks activity on his Web site. The following numbers are access figures for the week of July 25 to July 31, 1997. These figures are typical of the activity generated by Wisniewski’s Web site.
First, a “hit” is defined as someone “surfing the net” and landing on a particular home page.
“Unfortunately, because of the suburban nature of my market area (no airport), all those hits resulted in only three to five in quires per week,” says Wisniewski. “By inquiry, I mean an e-mail message actually asking for details on service. Of those inquiries, 99 percent of them asked for service between JFK or Newark Airport and Manhattan, a service I’m not permitted to engage in because of in-city permit costs, not to mention discouraging logistics.”
However, according to Wisniewski, he turned all the intra-city transfer email requests into revenue by forwarding the email to an in-city affiliate. “The affiliate responds with fare information to the inquiry, fulfills any eventual orders, and sends me a commission check,” says Wisniewski. “The revenue potential is there. We have to be smart and maximize access to our sites.”
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