Here are some sights and scenes from one wicked cool tradeshow.
LCT: When and why did you get started in the business?
Henson: A friend had his company for sale and we purchased it (Prestige Limousine Service, Wilmington, N.C.) in September 1991. I had always had an interest in cars and limousines. I truly enjoy working with my clients and helping people. It’s always been an exciting and interesting business.
LCT: How did you first get involved in advocacy for the industry and your association?
Henson: I really took an interest in 2003. I joined with a handful of other operators from across our state and we started the NCLA in July 2004. Prior to this, North Carolina really didn’t have an active association; it had been dissolved. The industry was gaining traction in our state and we were all struggling with airports and different municipalities. They were creating issues for operators and it was time for us to band together to protect our businesses.
LCT: How do you view the industry today from your local point of view and the industry overall nationally?
Henson: Our industry has changed drastically! Unfortunately, not all for the best. Locally, things are going pretty well. We’re in a small market and it takes time for national trends to reach us. We have seen the rise of TNCs just like the rest of the country. Some markets are a little more insulated than others. In some cities these changes have been devastating. We have seen some counties approve TNCs to operate; others have been more cautious. Statewide they have been approved to operate. This has caused consolidation in certain markets and some operators to close their doors.
Nationally, I think it has been even worse to read about developments in different markets. TNCs have changed the landscape of our industry permanently and not for the better, I’m afraid. We saw it start as an option for the retail market. It now appears they have set their sites on the corporate market. We have seen every level of business travelers use TNCs.
I think you have to choose your place in the marketplace. Unfortunately, we will never beat them on price. I don’t think that should be our focus. If you are truly a high-end luxury car service, then you must sell this to clientele. They can afford the true service our industry has always based our reputation on. I do feel our industry should have a unified platform to work from. This is our weakness. From a technology standpoint we are far behind! This has made us vulnerable to the onset of TNCs. I think we all need to join together and bring our industry into the 21st century. This will help us rise above the crowd and establish our true value in the marketplace.
LCT: What are some of the things you want to accomplish as president of the association?
Henson: I think we have accomplished a great deal for our state. We have been able to prevent a state sales tax from being put into effect. We have brought members together for education and training. Our relationship with our airports has been remarkable! This has been one of our greatest victories, starting with Raleigh-Durham International Airport in our state capital. We have provided mentoring for new operators and helped bring them to national conventions with scholarship programs and association sponsorships. We also offer member discounts and networking events. Another challenge is working to reinstate our tax incentive program for the film industry. That has been a huge loss to our state for many different industries.
LCT: What keeps you competitive and motivated?
Henson: To always go above and beyond our clients expectations! That is what keeps you motivated to do your best. They always know they can depend on you to take care of their transportation needs.
LCT: You attend many industry trade show and events. What personally motivates you to give back to the industry?
Henson: You always want to pay it forward! This industry has been very rewarding to me personally and professionally. I think it is the responsibility of those of us who have been here for a number of years to keep this industry growing and moving forward for the new generation to have the same opportunities we have enjoyed.
LCT: So what do you like to do in your downtime?
Henson: I love to travel. We now are able to travel with our grandchildren. Relaxing on the beach and being an avid reader.
Tom Halligan is LCT East Coast editor, based in Marlton, N.J. He travels regularly to industry association meetings in the eastern U.S. Tom can be reached at [email protected]
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