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There’s nothing better on a bitter cold evening than sitting in front of a crackling fire, sipping warm cider with your friends and loved ones. And during the holiday season, Renee Aymar of Renee’s Royal Valet in Minnetonka, Minn., can offer all this and more — a tour of the area’s best Christmas light displays.
Aymar has capitalized on her area’s obsession with Christmas lights by packaging tours of the most spectacular displays. She decorates her vehicles in a holiday theme to make the most of the season. In fact, this tour is so popular, that clients book it as far in advance as September. “We get more business during this season than we do during prom season,” she explains.
While some operators create special holiday packages, such as the one Aymar offers, others use their year-round packages to boost their holiday business. Jeffrey Taylor of Harrisburg Corporate Limousine in Mechanicsburg, Pa., has found his corporate clients will purchase his limousine and dinner package to give as holiday gifts for employees.
PACKAGING THE HOLIDAYS
Operators who are most successful with holiday packages find what is popular in their specific area and cater to that. “Since this area is into Christmas light displays, we thought that would make a great package. We’ve been doing it for the past three years, and so far it has been extremely successful. We make it a point that if children are in the limousine, we always stop to see Santa. We also make a stop so clients can drop off cans of food for a local food drive,” Aymar adds.
Residential districts aren’t the only areas with brilliant displays in the Twin Cities. “We get special permits to drive through an outdoor mall and the zoo. There are 100,000 lights decorating the zoo,” she says. Aymar isn’t the only operator in her area to offer this type of tour. Because of this, the local livery association works together to come up with viable routes. “We get the livery company owners together and take a bus around the area ahead of time to find the best routes,” she adds.
But to make her pack- ages unique, Aymar likes to add her own whimsical touches. She decorates the inside of the limousine in holiday colors, puts a videotape of a crackling fire in the VCR, offers warm cider, and has her chauffeurs wear Santa hats. She also includes popcorn and candy canes for nibbling along the route. “The fireplace video is a real hit,” she admits. Aymar prices this package at between $75 and $95 per hour, depending on the size of the stretch.
Even though these tours, combined with basic transportation to corporate holiday parties, make up the majority of Aymar’s holiday business, she has offered other packages during this time as well. “One of the other tours we’ve tried was an ice fishing tour. I worked with a man who owns a fish house. I supplied all the equipment and transportation there and back. It was a big hit with the corporate market. I haven’t decided if I’m going to do that again this year,” she explains.
Taylor, on the other hand, provides his clientele with many different I packages — both during the holidays and year round. For one of his packages, which he calls “Shop Till You Drop,” he provides transportation to various shopping areas and outlet malls. “One of the destinations for this package is downtown Baltimore. That is about a one-and-a-half hour drive from this area. We allow the clients about four hours to shop and throw in lunch on us. The total price for this is $315. The clients will choose where they want to go,” says Taylor.
Another of Taylor’s Christmas packages is entitled “On Broadway.” For this, he has purchased a number of tickets to Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas Show.
The package will include a three-and-a-half hour ride each way to New York City, two hours for the show, and four hours more to experience New York City. The total price is $495 plus the price of the tickets. “Those are our two biggest holiday packages,” he admits.
One holiday idea Taylor set up for a male friend included a men’s shopping trip with a side stop at a burlesque show. “My friend asked that I set this up. We brought him and seven others to a town about an hour from here, stopped at the burlesque show, then brought the men to Victoria’s Secret to go shopping for their wives and girlfriends. I haven’t marketed this as a package because I couldn’t think of a tasteful way to do that,” he adds.
MARKETING NON-HOLIDAY RIDES
Many operators offer some type of package throughout “the year. With the proper marketing approach, these packages can be turned into holiday business as well. Taylor is one who has been able to capitalize on this. “We offer a ‘Limousine Cuisine’ package that includes transportation to a four or five star restaurant and the price of the meal. This is one of our most popular packages.
“We find that many corporations will purchase a number of these packages to give as holiday gifts to their better employees. In fact last year, a real estate company purchased these packages and gave them as gifts to its top sellers. Because of that, we are direct mailing this idea to other real estate companies in our area. I have no doubt this will generate a good response,” he says.
Another year round package that Taylor markets as a great gift idea is the “Ultimate Golf Outing.” For this package, the client gets transportation to a local resort area, green fees, and golf cart included in the total price. “During the holiday season, at least 70 percent of all our work is from packages,” he adds.
Similarly, Michelle Wilson of Eastside Limousine Service in Shelby, Mich., finds that many of her corporate clients will purchase her regular packages to give as holiday gifts to employees. “One of our regular packages that is in more demand during the holiday season is a trip to a local gambling casino. Depending on where the client wants to go, this is either a one-day or overnight event,” she explains. “We provide transportation, meals, and tokens for the participants. We have a bus that seats 20, so we can accommodate larger groups.
“The month of December is our best month of the year. Our corporate clients don’t care if it is a weekday or the weekend.
They often will rent three or four limousines on a Monday night. During the holiday season, about 90 percent of our total business is derived from packages. Since the majority of our clients want to either look at lights or just be transported to their own holiday events, we don’t try to come up with too much original service.”
Some other packages Wilson offers are a couple’s weekend and dinner packages. For the couple’s weekend, Eastside provides transportation, dinner, two nights at a hotel, and a tour of Christmas lights on the last night. The total price for this package is $625. During the holiday season, clients partaking in the five-hour dinner package are also treated to a tour of area holiday lights. Wilson also makes sure to decorate her vehicles in a holiday theme during this season, with chauffeurs wearing Santa hats as well.
A new holiday package she is trying this season is a road rally. “We are going to offer five hours for $375. Each carload that signs up for the rally will be given a list of items they must come up with during the allotted time. Although we are still in the planning stages, some of the items will most likely be a Christmas bulb (with a signed letter of consent), a photo of the group with a taxi driver they talk into donning a chauffeur’s uniform, and other holiday-related items. We were looking for something that would work for the general public, but was a little different. The car with the most points will get five free hours of service. We plan to donate the profits to charity,” Wilson adds.
GET THE WORD OUT
By the time clients start thinking about holiday light tours or romantic dinner packages, operators must have their packages and advertising planned well in place. For Aymar, the holiday season runs from approximately December 10 until January 2. “I get a lot of repeat business for the Christmas lights tour. I send out a mailer to these clients and give them only a set amount of time to book the tour. This creates a sense of urgency for them and helps me fill up the schedule in advance. Since I can only do two tours per night per limousine, there is a limit to the number of groups I can book,” she explains.
After Aymar sends out, her initial mailing to those who’ve booked the tour before, she sends out a mass mailing to corporate clients and blind leads. “Many of our corporate clients who book the tour turn around and take their families on it. Also, many ladies in an office will get together an evening out of it. During the holiday season, I have to squeeze in my corporate clients around the tour groups,” she adds. Additionally, Aymar advertises her holiday lights tour in newspapers and regional magazines.
Wilson sticks to some “pretty basic” advertising when it comes to her holiday business. “We have our ad in the yellow pages. Our holiday packages are advertised by direct mail. We also have a newsletter that is targeted to our corporate clientele. We describe our holiday packages in that. Additionally, we have a sales person on staff who calls clients to inquire about how our service was and explains the packages we are offering,” Wilson says.
Taylor also uses direct mail. “We have a mailing list of local country clubs and flower and garden clubs that we send a list of our holiday packages to. We also advertise in the local newspaper,” he explains. One venue that has been successful for us is advertising in a magazine put out by the local station. I believe it is [successful] because it is targeted to the person with more disposable income than the general public.
“The main thing for operators to remember is that if you want to generate holiday business, you have to be in the office to answer the phone. You just can’t survive with an answering machine. You have to be creative in order to get the business. We’ve been in business for three years and have been offering these types of packages since day one,” he adds.
HOLIDAY LIGHT TOURS DEPEND ON A CLEAR VIEW
Nothing can be worse than taking a group on a tour of the spectacular holiday lights only to have the windows fog up and make them a blurry haze Before getting into the holiday season, Renee Aymar of Renee’s Royal Valet in Minnetonka, Minn., holds a meeting with her chauffeurs to teach them how to keep the windows clear.
“In this meeting, we tell them to crack the windows and sunroof to keep the vehicle from fogging up. In fact, I had a new 120-inch stretch built with extra vents on the windows to keep this from happening. Other operators will put a small fan on the dash. Also don’t forget to allow extra time for problems that might arise from the weather,” she says.
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