With the advent of TNCs like Uber and Lyft, customers increasingly expect on-demand transportation.
“We want to have a nice house,” Evan says. “We want to show our professionalism to clients, to our employees, and just aim to be best in class.
It’s important for me to have a good work environment for the employees, with the gym and the amenities. Having an enjoyable place to come to work is important to me. It’s worth the money.”
In the past year, the company has tripled in fleet vehicles and revenues, leading to a growing pain common to limousine operations. The owner(s) can’t do it all, so they must hire managers and delegate. As of May, Blanchette also was planning to convert his 30 independent operator chauffeurs to employees.
“We have so many more moving parts and people now, so we have to adapt,” Evan says. “You have to take care of yourselves. We’ve had a full-time lawyer for a year who checks everything. We try and cover ourselves and do everything right.”
FASTFACTS: VIP Global
VIP Global leases only the latest model year vehicles and turns them over every 25,000 miles. It focuses on four key models: the Cadillac Escalade and XTS livery sedan, and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Sprinter Van. Vehicles remain pristine and current, and the company avoids long-term high maintenance costs of 100,000s of miles. In keeping with the high-end luxury fleet concept, the Blanchettes this fall plan to add Lincoln Continental and Cadillac CT6 sedans while keeping the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and 40-passenger Grech Motors buses.
Blanchette garages about half of his fleet beneath the high-rise, and assigns the rest to chauffeurs. The company keeps three vehicles based in Palm Beach County and six in Broward County.
“I can walk into a hotel and say, ‘You’re only going to get a brand new 2016 car. That’s the oldest car you’ll ever get,’” Evan says. “We don’t even have Suburbans. You’re only going to get an Escalade as an SUV. I think Suburbans are low-end, like Town Cars. In this market, with these clients, you just can’t do that. I have concierges complaining to me, ‘Oh, you know who sent a Town Car to pick up our VIP and they flipped.’ Like, ‘Why are you sending me these things?’ These people want service, and there’s a market.”
Blanchette practices dynamic pricing, offering the lowest rates to affiliates. “If I charge you my retail rate and you mark it up 30%, 40%, that’s not going to work for you and your customers. It’ll be too expensive. So we discount 20% to 30% to our affiliates just so they can have a competitive rate and it works for them. They can be flexible to charge the minimum two hours.”
VIP Global clients prefer consistency and the comfort akin to an airline first class cabin, which provides stress relief in a business environment, Blanchette says.
“When people book with us, they know they’re going to get a nice, new clean car,” Evan says. “If I’m going out to dinner or a club, it will be a new Escalade or S550. Many clients don’t care about price. They just want the best, and Miami is one of those markets where a good number of customers want the best. And that’s what we do.”
Lest the appearances of an advanced limousine service deceive, the Blanchettes recount their frenzied start-up phase of hard work and long hours to not only launch a limousine service but to do so at a time when TNCs seeped into the South Florida ground transportation market.
Blanchette brought six years of experience, having worked as affiliate manager at Coastal Car Worldwide in Ft. Lauderdale. “I knew intimately how all the departments worked. I think that groomed me to really do this thing right. I applied everything I knew to running things my way.”
Like many operators, Blanchette started alone with one vehicle, a Mercedes-Benz S550. His wife, Vanessa, whom he married the year before, was his first employee. With her strong accounting background, she now works as vice president. “I started with $10,000 and a cell phone. That’s it. The first year of business, I drove every job myself and just grinded it out and saved my money. Vanessa took the phones 24/7. Everyone used to talk to Vanessa all the time. She was the only one who picked up the phone. And now no one talks to Vanessa, except if there’s a billing issue or something.”
“Because he was driving, he couldn’t answer the phone,” Vanessa says. “So, we literally had a toll-free number and it was a transfer from his cell phone, and that’s how we started. I would answer the phone no matter where I was, whether grocery shopping or in a restaurant.”
The couple gave up their lives for the business for most of the last three years. “We couldn’t even go have a dinner without being interrupted,” Evan recalls. “We would even walk out of restaurants and just leave the food because the phones were going off.” Vanessa adds, “We would choose tables that had a seat that was close to the exit.”
Despite the hectic starter years, the Blanchettes grew the business at a manageable rate, from four employees in 2014, to seven last year, to 18 now. “We would not take on more than we could chew and really tried to be dynamic,” Vanessa says. “Without saying no, you have to know how to say yes to everything. We made it happen.”
Connecting For Clients
The couple found business connections through hospitality and meeting groups such as the Southern Florida Concierge Association and the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“We meet with the concierges and the people who are in the service industry just like us who are looking for great providers,” Vanessa says. The Blanchettes have connected with “lifestyle concierges” who serve clients who pay them a membership fee to book their cars and their air travel, among other services. The first VIP clients included visiting royals from Saudi Arabia who bring large entourages and tend to reserve vehicles for weeks at a time.
“Once you get those clients you know it’s easier to keep them than to get a new one,” Vanessa says. “With the service level and attention to detail, we always try to be very competitive.”
Evan adds, “That first year we actually had a positive feedback folder, because it drove us. The most motivating thing is a positive email that says your team communicates well and does all this.”
The challenge ahead for VIP Global is to retain its premium service levels while doing on-demand, a task neither limousine companies nor TNCs have yet perfected. As to apps, Evan is working with Limo Alliance to develop a branded one that could potentially allow VIP to handle about 30% of its business as on-demand.
“We’ll deliver the same service and we’re going to charge in between Uber and our regular price,” he says. “That’s fair because the main thing for people using Uber is it’s convenient and easy. We’ve tested the best Uber they have here, which is Uber XL and SUV, and it’s disgusting. You’ll get a Tahoe with a stained cloth interior and a driver with jeans on. There’s just no consistency. I think if you bring on-demand to a premium vehicle, the same people are going to pay the money.”
Blanchette sees weak spots with TNCs in that they don’t check cars, adequately profile and vet chauffeurs, or pay attention to detail.
“It’s going to give us the first opportunity to be head-to-head against an Uber and Lyft,” Evan says of his app. “We’re the professionals. We can do it better than they can. We have more knowledge and more practices and training. We know this business better than anybody.”
Once operators get the on-demand technology, they will give TNCs stronger competition, Blanchette says. Limo Alliance enables affiliates to book on-demand rides with each other, whether locally or in other regions.
“We can take it back, because we have the safety, the service level, the training, all the process and procedures that we do and they don’t do,” he says. “It just makes the difference. We’re the professionals who do things the right way. They just put it together and send them out. And we’ve seen what happened.”
VIP Global uses a two-day classroom training, six hours each day and then one day in the field showing the hotel entrances and exits, staging areas, and traffic nuances of the region.
“You cannot deny what the customer wants,” he says. “That’s customer service 101. You can’t just ignore what the customer says and say, ‘No, I’m going to do this.’ You have to adapt. If people don’t adapt within the next couple years, you’re going to get left behind.”
With the advent of TNCs like Uber and Lyft, customers increasingly expect on-demand transportation.
NOV. LCT Publisher's Page: This list explains how our events are a priceless investment that brings eternal rewards for your business.
Thanks to generous sponsors, the Minority Limousine Operators of America is offering free memberships to grow its ranks.
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Towne Livery releases a promotional video tied in to the Old West-style "On The Road To Success" theme of the LCT-NLA Show East in Atlantic City, N.J., Nov. 4-6, 2018. Check out the smart shootout.
The Limousine Association of New Jersey will bring leadership and workplace consulant Richard Magid to its meeting Nov. 5 at LCT East.
The prominent president of one of the largest chauffeured networks worked in the travel and transportation industries for four decades.
A Virginia operator closes a longstanding motorcoach service to New York City amid receding profits and overwhelming competition.
Matt and Nikko Assolin and Grigory Eskin are praised for practicing the trade group's highest standards.
LCT East Preview: Operators Doug Schwartz and Steve Qua will host a roundtable session to prep you for 2019 and beyond.
OCT. LCT: Members of the luxury transportation industry presented the benefits of using legitimate car service to business travelers at the convention.
eNews Exclusive: Frank Lacks, a U.S. Army veteran, has taken what he’s learned in the service and applied it to running a luxury transportation company.
California operator Tina Nguyen will be bringing some can’t miss tips to the Show.
The Colorado Limousine Association drew a heavy turnout and a guest appearance from NLA President Gary Buffo.
Michael Fogarty recently took the helm of the Americas division for the extensive global luxury transportation network.
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