The respected industry consultant talks about success, leadership, and innovation.
[NOTE: This is the digital version of the Editor's Letter column in the January 2014 issue of LCT].
One of my more positive experiences circulating in the chauffeured transportation industry is seeing how businesspeople advocate on behalf of it. Anyone plugged into the industry in recent years knows we’re not confronting the best of times.
While the industry is recovering and adding operators in a slowly growing economy, the cluster of issues facing the industry are unprecedented in scope and number. We are covering plenty of them in the pages of this magazine, but just reciting the partial list drives the point: Uber and mobile apps; Obamacare rollout; labor-related lawsuits; revenue-hungry governments; the big limo fire and strict new safety rules; illegal operators; rising vehicle insurance costs; and the warp speed of social media and Internet technologies.
Oh, and by the way, Happy New Year. I don’t mean to get anyone down by pointing out the abundant challenges ahead in 2014. So, I’d like to spotlight three industry figures who fuel optimism by showing how to get up, speak up and get things done:
Erich Reindl: The Houston operator took on a big role this year as President of the Houston Area Livery & Charter Association (HALCA). In just one year since forming the group, Reindl has had to kick start fundraising, recruit new members, establish budgets, set spending rules and fund-raising goals, and channel the remnants of the previous association, the Limousine Association of Houston, into HALCA. The results are coming in, with a paid membership of 80 as of December, also a reflection of the group’s broader purpose under the “Livery & Charter” banner. HALCA also built up a bank account from zero to $34,000, and threw a holiday party that drew 180 members and guests. If HALCA stays on track, it will be the largest industry trade group in Texas, and maybe between the two coasts. Houston is the fourth largest city in the U.S. with a booming economy and jobs sector, as noted in my ride last month on the outer beltway through the suburbs dotted with cranes and office parks.
Reindl and HALCA leaders want to get moving on many fronts, starting with a discount program for members that offset fees. More people and money means more momentum to tackle regulatory issues affecting Houston operators. 2014 renews the ongoing battle against the “double taxation” of city and airport permitting fees that can range from $950 to $1,200 per year, per vehicle. Reindl’s Avanti Transportation, for example, shells out $35,000 to $38,000 annually just for the privilege of doing business with its 35-vehicle fleet. Other issues: The need for more limo parking spaces at the George W. Bush Intercontinental Airport; Uber trying to get a foothold in the Houston market, prompting a fight for a fair regulatory playing field. “I believe in numbers,” Reindl tells me. “The more numbers and members you have, the more clout you get. The board gets more credibility, and you can attract a good, diversified group.”
Mark Stewart: Along with credibility comes authority and then achievement. Stewart, an Orange County, Calif., operator who finished up three years as President of the Greater California Livery Association last month, led the group to its most successful point in its 25 years. The three years of his presidency coincided with a perfect storm of problems that underscore the cliché: Only in California. The chauffeured transportation industry in the state with the most operators has confronted aggressive green vehicle rules at airports, rising fees and permitting costs, growth in illegal ground transportation activity, proliferation of ride sharing vehicle app businesses, and most recently, limo retrofit mandates following the fatal stretch limousine fire near San Francisco on May 4.
To navigate these complex issues, Stewart and his supporting officers and board members marshaled the expertise of an airport consultant (Paul Haney); two savvy veteran Sacramento lobbyists (Gregg Cook and Rob Grossglauser); and two attorneys (Joe Lordan and John Barber of Brisbois of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP). The leadership and expert teams, led by Stewart, managed to get green rules stopped at the San Francisco International Airport and built bridges with state regulators to either stymie certain rules or work out compromises of benefit to operators. They asserted GCLA interests at every turn and kept members in the loop, including via annual labor law seminars for operators.
Within the GCLA, Stewart led an increase in paid membership from about 135 members in December 2010 to 306 members as of December 2013. Joined by board director Kevin Illingworth, the pair established an annual poker tournament fund-raiser, raising more lobbying funds each year. And the annual GCLA Expo has evolved into the largest vehicle, vendor and operator event outside of a national trade show.
David Glazier: The president of Fleet Transportation in Alexandria, Va., became a small business media star of sorts in November when he was interviewed Nov. 8 and Nov. 27 on the Fox News Channel about how the disastrous rollout of Obamacare is vexing small business owners. He also was interviewed in a Business section article in the Nov. 11 Washington Post. Glazier and his wife, Stacey, run a 15-vehicle fleet based in Alexandria that includes sedans, limousines, minibuses and SUVs used for shuttle transportation services throughout the region. The company has 25 full-time and 10 part-time employees. Glazier is an example of how operators can speak before a national audience on behalf of the industry and small businesses.
Glazier told me in a follow-up interview that he is involved with the Alexandria, Va. Chamber of Commerce, where is company is based, and with Alexandria's Small Business Development Office. Those contacts eventually connected him to the Washington Post reporter and Fox News bookers. “What’s fun about is it I am advocating on behalf of all small business,” Glazier says.
“Saying things about what you believe in and being a voice for other people is a cool thing. You never know what those contacts mean and the network you can create is essential to advocating and growing your business and getting known. A lot of us forget how important it is to get your name and face out there.”
As business owners and managers, you too have the ability to do the same or similar things as the above industry leaders: Get up, speak up and get things done. For starters, you can do three things now: 1) Create awareness of small business matters on your Facebook page; 2) Start a business blog where you call attention to and engage on industry issues and information; 3) Join associations and related small business and entrepreneur groups to stay informed.
The media certainly won’t tell you everything; you have to be out there talking and sharing information. The more operators take such steps in tough times, the more solutions and strategies will arise — and the more of a difference you will make.
Related Topics: California operators, David Glazier, Erich Reindl, Greater California Livery Association, Houston Area Livery & Charter Association, How To, industry trends, LCT editor, leadership, limo associations, Mark Stewart, Martin Romjue, Midwest operators, Texas operators, Washington DC operators
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