The founder of Pontarelli Companies leaves a legacy of quality transportation and brave service to his country.
Since 2009, the Connecticut entrepreneur has parlayed web ventures, building upgrades, and new communications to pull his business through the disruptions in the ground transportation industry.
“I believe operators need to figure out how to do more with less, with technology,” says Lindsey, founder and owner of Lindsey Limousine in Hartford and four web-based ventures: AirportLIMO.com, RateButler.com, DriverSchedule.com and DriverSurvey.com. (See sidebar). “Insurance, overhead, labor, and expenses don’t change. They just keep going up no matter how many runs you do, so you have to find other ways to cut down on costs.”
A business can never stand still with technology; you always need to keep pace with it to ensure your business remains relevant, Lindsey says.
“When it comes to technology, you can either invest the time (research and learning) and money upfront and save time and money in the future, or you can continue doing what you’re doing the way you’ve always done it,” he says. “My philosophy is to always be as efficient as you can. Efficiency equals profit. All the software I’ve developed has been to solve a problem within my business, and to streamline a process by either removing the human element or creating a quicker way to accomplish a task.”
An ROI Equation
Each .com venture has reaped more business and revenue for Lindsey, a kind of self-made tech geek who wrote his first reservation and customer data software program after he founded his company in 1989 with one car. AirportLIMO.com now brings in one-fifth of his revenue overall. This year his farm-out affiliate is up 45% compared to last year.
“Employ whatever tech you can to make sure you are better than this industry’s reputation,” Lindsey says. “You don’t have to knock it out of the park. Just be consistently better than average.”
The logical tech thread for Lindsey: Fast affiliate quotes, plus online management of chauffeur schedules and human resources, plus instant and benchmarked customer feedback adds up to a more responsive and flexible operation.
“With Ratebutler.com we can easily and quickly quote rates, and the faster I can quote a rate, the more I sound like I know what I’m doing,” he says. “Every second on hold decreases the odds.”
DriverSchedule.com is a complete HR suite and driver scheduler. Many companies are paying for multiple products that together don’t do half of what this site does — at less than $3 per driver per month. Lindsey looks to his next step of adding a maintenance module to DriverSchedule.com. The module would report maintenance problems, set up a preventative maintenance schedule, and track individual fleet vehicles.
“The nominal cost doesn’t even compare to the time savings, better communication and accuracy of your driver resource, the ability to win unemployment hearings, track PTO, and manage hourly employees with a virtual benefits timeclock,” Lindsey says. The subscription-based program per active employee remains fixed in price as Lindsey adds functions. “We are working with some of the most popular software programmers to integrate DriverSchedule.com with their programs.”
As a strategic leverager of tech, what is Lindsey’s solution to apps and transportation network companies (TNCs)? Having an app for your company is important, but not as much as a mobile-friendly website that supports online reservations via smartphones and tablets, Lindsey says.
He finds a fine line between on-demand and near-demand. Their app does not support Uber-style hails, but many clients want reservations as soon as possible. “While near demand is still a small part of our business, it’s growing, and just having the ability to move a schedule around to accommodate new reservations, changes, flight delays, etc. is a huge advantage over the competition,” he says.
People are willing to pay more for duty of care as long as they have convenience, he adds. “TNCs have great apps, but people are taking too many risks. For operators, it should cost next to nothing to join an app and say here’s my inventory.”
Instant gratification has been part of society for decades, Lindsey says. He recalls clients reserving rides longer in advance when he started his company. Even before TNCs, clients reserved runs with less notice time than before.
“For years I have thought our industry needs one globally branded app that anyone who carries the proper credentials can be a part of,” Lindsey says. “The app would allow companies to add or delete their inventory (availability) as they are able to throughout the day to support on-demand. The pricing needs to reflect our industries’ current structure and not that of a taxi or TNC.”
Operators will face more pricing pressures as clients expect transfer rates versus hourly, Lindsey says. TNCs now are getting granular, calculating mileage whereas operators tend to do more zip code pricing based on differences in distances.
“In the past it was mostly garage-to-garage hourly, but we’ve all seen that trend go toward transfer rates, point A to point B. Unless you have volume, that costs money. We make more money per hour, and if I have to guarantee a rate no matter how long it takes, I take a hit. That’s where my software and its efficiencies make a huge difference. If you can’t adapt to the new culture of the client, you will go out of business.”
While TNCs have made inroads, their labor challenges may limit further growth, Lindsey says. “I think the population open to using a TNC has peaked and the TNCs are seeing a decline in people signing up to drive. The word is getting around that the time and effort isn’t worth the money you’ll make. That’s why you’re seeing more ads promoting the driver part of the business versus the customer part.”
Customer Is Wrong?
With customer service, Lindsey has found an added benefit of recording customer calls. “You never want to get into a debate with customers, because the customer is always right, unless you can prove they are wrong,” Lindsey says. “I would rather tell a customer you are wrong, than politely accept the cost. If you can gently prove they are wrong, then tech really helps. It’s better to be right than incompetent.”
Internally, Lindsey Limousines uses less paper, printing, toner and maintenance on office equipment. Chauffeurs communicate with iPads, not clunky Nextels.
You keep chauffeurs by having the right balance of vehicles with a constant flow of client work, he says. “Chauffeurs need to be kept busy. If they don’t have a lot of work and are not busy, they go crazy. With steady work, they’re not worrying about where the paycheck is coming from.”
FASTFACTS: Lindsey Limousine
An Entrepreneurial Package
Michael Lindsey, far from being a conventional operator, immerses himself in technology, and as a result, has come up with four .com ventures that help limousine operations run smoother:
AirportLIMO.com: Now one-fifth of Lindsey’s overall business, AirportLIMO.com is the company’s global affiliate brand, and has been the largest source of its growth during the past five years. Lindsey started it to focus on out-of-town work. The efforts have paid off. As the chauffeured car landscape changes with TNCs and other economic factors, the ability to provide service in other markets is necessary to succeed. While many other companies are seeing stagnant or diminishing revenues, Lindsey Limousine sees healthy year-over-year growth. The website takes reservations for 450 airports worldwide.
LimoSurvey.com: A valuable tool for many companies in that it is a third party conducting the survey which gets more clients to fill it out. People by nature are non-confrontational and are more apt to fill out this survey than one that leads directly to a company website or even call the company. The survey is the right length and hits all the highlights of feedback any company would want. LimoSurvey users can see the clients’ answers compared to another company’s clients who answered the same question. While mostly positive, the value lies in the negative feedback, which enables companies to fix what’s wrong among customers and prevent future issues.
DriverSchedule.com: Lindsey had an idea years ago to streamline the efficiency of ensuring driver resources were always enough for the needs and demands of customers. It is a full HR suite of products to manage all aspects of a ground transportation company. Chauffeurs input their availability for the next two weeks and block out times and days they will be open to take calls for rides. Companies are also able to set polices to ensure all employees are treated fairly based company policies and expectations.
The program has evolved into a full human resource management tool for chauffeurs and office staff. It has companies ranging from 20 employees to more than 200. It also includes a full employee management program, where the staff can be organized and time clocks automated along with billing details and PTO accumulation. Lindsey offers a chauffeur training portal that logs each chauffeur’s progress through the system. Chauffeur records are set with reminders, so license expirations are never surprises and work anniversaries and birthdays are remembered.
RateButler.com: This site has been the catalyst for Lindsey Limousine and many others to easily offer farm-out services for its clientele. It also provides companies with an easy way to promote themselves to others who may be sending work to their markets. To succeed with farm-outs, operators need easy and quick access to pricing in other markets. RateButler.com has been the lead factor in Lindsey’s company building a farm-out affiliate business program, with more than 1,000 member companies registered.
High Tech Inside And Out
Lindsey Limousine’s two buildings are models of technology, showcasing another way a chauffeured transportation company can tap technology from tip to tail. The company moved into its headquarters building in July 2013. Last October, Lindsey bought a second building one mile away and moved his larger vehicles there. The buildings helped reorganize and streamline operations while boosting morale. “I believe your office is a direct reflection of your brand,” Lindsey says. “I believe keeping all our vehicles indoors is an advantage. They stay in better overall condition and require fewer washes.”
Related Topics: affiliate networks, airports, chauffeur training, client feedback, Connecticut operators, customer service, employee management, entrepreneurship, fleet management, management, Michael Lindsey, operator profiles, RateButler.com, rates, survey, websites
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