Joe Guinn and Chris Przybylski of Limo & Bus Compliance will help operators understand what's required for their fleet.
Customer service: Bart Mulvihill, general manager of Christopher Luxury Sedan Service, in Lahaina on the Hawaiian island of Maui, says the key to winning over customers is making them feel like friends from the start. He always answers phone calls with a sunny disposition. “One of the reasons why I’m the only one who answers the phone is to ensure things are consistent; we want clients to have the same experience every time they call,” he says. A big believer in marketing the company starting at the first hello, Mulvihill says repeat customers result from good communication and effective email techniques that help eliminate questions and make clients feel comfortable asking anything.
Biggest success: Christopher Luxury Sedan Service’s referral business proves to Mulvihill he’s succeeding. Good word of mouth is priceless. He also found key hotel concierges who were speaking to his kind of clientele early on to help boost reservations. “Having your car out there with your phone number painted on the side is not enough when marketing,” he says.
Location: Lahaina, Hawaii
Vehicle Type: VIP Premium European Sedan
Fleet Size: 5
Annual Revenue: N/A
Start-up costs and methods: Initially, Mulvihill spent about $20,000 on a PUC license and $4,000 on insurance for the company’s first vehicle. He also had to pay to have the vehicle shipped from where they bought it (he financed a BMW from an outer island dealership with a 1.9% pre-owned financing program). Overall, the business launched with less than $30,000. What helped when staring out was knowing where he could save money, looking for a car he could buy with no money down, finding the best insurance deal, and knowing how to fill out applications correctly.
Marketing strategies: By far, the best marketing tool Mulvihill has used is Yelp. “That’s not because it sends many customers to your site to immediately make reservations, but because people who do an old fashioned Google search will see references we have in 20 separate testimonials written by people from all walks of life,” he explains.
Advice: Don’t think Uber is experience. “You need to work as a chauffeur for someone, put yourself in your owner’s shoes, and ask yourself, ‘What challenges does he face?,’” Mulvihill says. He thinks it best to share your ideas and aspirations with those who love you and will keep your confidence; you never want to give away too much of your secret sauce. The best business plans come from those who are five steps ahead of their competitors. “If you are going to go into business for yourself,” he says, “remember you’ll be competing with your employer. Do your research and make sure you have enough money.”
Origins: Two years ago, his son Chris got out of the Marine Corps and had saved a lot of money. He wanted to make an investment, but didn’t know if he should start a business or make stock purchases. It was a decent chunk of change, but not enough to purchase the license you need to operate limos in the state of Hawaii. As luck would have it, Mulvihill checked Craigslist and found someone selling a PUC license for up to 25 people. Mulvihill asked how much the man wanted for it and was waiting for him to call a number upwards of $100,000. Each time the man gave him a figure, Mulvihill would scoff and say, “You have to be joking!” In the end, they met at an attorney’s office and drew up an agreement for less than what you would pay for one taxi medallion.
Lessons learned: “Luggage can be your worst nightmare,” he jokes. “You must have a strong policy on communication with customers whether you’re right or wrong. Keeping everyone happy is more important than winning a battle. The fallout you can have from one bad experience can have very negative consequences.”
Future plans: Christopher Luxury Sedan Service has just formed a partnership with Sunshine Helicopters, where it will be using three new McSweeney Designs upfitted vans to provide transportation through the rainforests of Hana and other significant, beautiful Hawaiian landmarks.
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