The respected industry consultant talks about success, leadership, and innovation.
Mehdiof is best known as the sponsor (since 2013) of trade show apps for the International LCT Show and LCT-NLA East. These interactive apps help attendees manage how they schedule their time and connects them via smartphones and tablets.
The sponsored apps are a logical outcome from North Point’s focus on technology. Mehdiof believes the industry has been slow to embrace it, which is vital to all operations.
• Reservations: All operators should use some type of limousine reservation software, but industry software providers “have a ways to go to really deliver everything large operators need,” Mehdiof says. For instance, North Point uses a barcode based inventory program so chauffeurs scan for tablets, child safety seats, and vehicle keys as they take and return them. He would like to see this incorporated into a software package.
• Communications: Mehdiof also uses such tech features as flight tracking and loves the chauffeur app portion of reservations software, citing the improved communications between dispatchers and chauffeurs. “Tablets should not just be used as a name sign, but have other functional uses as well.”
• ELDs: North Point has recently ditched the paper logbooks and moved to an ELD (Electronic Logging Device) system which includes documentation of daily vehicle inspections and replaces the paper DVR books which conforms to the upcoming FMSCA mandate on Dec. 18.
• Chauffeur Deployment: Chauffeur scheduling is all done through www.driverschedule.com, and all employees use an Internet-based site to get forms, communicate with the office, and keep up with company events. Think of this as a private website for internal use only. Software is used to classify chauffeur performance and establish a ranking within the company applied to scheduling particular jobs. The higher the chauffeur’s ranking, the better assignments they get.
• GPS Tracking: They also use basic tools such as GPS tracking, except North Point’s is tied directly to a fuel consumption monitoring system. A maintenance software package keeps vehicles in top mechanical shape and prolongs their lifespans through proper care.
• Data back-ups: North Point has taken many precautions to make sure they never miss a call or lose Internet connection. Since reservations systems are cloud-based, a service disruption could cause chaos. The first precaution was to install a power generator that automatically kicks in during a power failure. The building is also served by a fiber cable and back-up standard cable that would automatically kick in if the fiber fails. The phone system is VoIP based.
The integrated technology helps support an operation of 75 employees and 50+ vehicles, including limousines, sedans, SUVs, Sprinters, mini-coaches, and 37-passsenger Grech Motors minibuses. The choice of vehicles has primarily been driven by the demands of affiliate networks. Dispatch team members (L to R): Willie Gibson, Carlos Zamudio, Shannon Huggins, and Amanda Brooks. Managers Jo Manuel and Debbi Upthegrove work on operations. Detailer Danny Brown and fleet appearance manager Greg Matz spiff up a sedan before it heads out. Dispatcher Jake Dervales scans an iPad through inventory software.
Closely linked to technical efficiency is a company culture Mehdiof credits for North Point’s success. He realizes the value his employees bring and has invested in them and an attractive facility. This includes many amenities such as a chauffeur lounge with a pool table, conference table, refreshment table, shower facilities, a steam machine for freshening uniforms, and even sleeping quarters. Mehdiof says he wants his chauffeurs to feel equal to the rest of the team.
“As we’ve grown, I have learned to delegate and bring good people into the mix,” he says. “I am thankful to them. Part of my achievement has been to get the company to the state where these good people are involved in growing with the company and themselves while contributing to the growth of the company.” Mehdiof also invests in PAX Certified Chauffeur Training (www.paxtraining.com) to make sure chauffeurs are up to speed.
Tony Mehdiof, a single dad who calls himself Mr. Mom, landed in the U.S. at the age of 14. Daytona Beach was not a bad place to start his new life. He still considers it his “hometown in the United States.” Little did Mehdiof know just how big that life would become or the impact he would have on his employees, clients, and an entire industry. “A part-time job became a full time career and business over the years,” Mehdiof says.
With all of the opportunity in America, Mehdiof realized having an education would be needed to succeed at whatever he planned to do in life. After high school, Mehdiof enrolled in a local community college before moving to Orlando and attending the University of Central Florida, where he majored in business administration with an emphasis in marketing. Education would set the foundation for his success in business as he moved to Atlanta and took more classes, joining his brother Moe who also attended college there. It seemed like a good a place to start a company.
The Need To Survive
Mehdiof’s story is typical of some other industry luminaries who started out solo such as Scott Solombrino and Dawson Rutter, CEOs of Dav El / BostonCoach and Commonwealth Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation, respectively. The brothers began chauffeuring to earn rent money and school tuition. Moe bought a couple of Mercedes-Benz sedans and started a limo service called Corporate Express. They worked as an affiliate of 1st Mobile Phone Limos.
It was the 1980s and a car phone was a big deal, and considered over-the-top service. Eventually the two companies combined and became 1st Corporate Limousine with the brothers running it after the original owner of 1st Mobile Phone Limos retired.
The Growth Explosion
What began as a part-time job had transformed into a full-fledged limo company serving the top executives of Home Depot, Sprint, and other Fortune 500 companies based in Atlanta. The city hosted the 1996 Summer Olympics which fueled explosive growth in rides.
1st Corporate was bought by BCD Holdings which owned World Travel (now called BCD Travel), an international travel company. BCD had purchased the Gray Line Tours franchise for the area, and the sales projections didn’t pan out. However, BCD noticed the success and growth of 1st Corporate and merged with them in 1997.
Moe Mehdiof began experiencing health problems and left the business while 33-year-old Tony Mehdiof carried on. By 1999, the honeymoon was over with BCD and Mehdiof sold his shares in the company back to them, gathered up his tools, and left for another industry.
But the limousine industry is a lifestyle, and like no other career. Two years later, Mehdiof wanted to get back into the business he loved and knew. BCD Holdings sold its Atlanta limo business to Carey International and wiped clean a non-compete agreement.
Mehdiof launched North Point Transportation Group on Sept. 1, 2001. Eleven days later, America was rocked to its core with the 9/11 attacks. Despite that rough start, Mehdiof reached out to established affiliate networks to get back on the map. The affiliates offered runs for private aviation companies and entertainers, and North Point began to specialize in such big-network service.
With a track record from a humble immigrant one-car operator to major metro chauffeured service, Mehdiof knows he always must evolve in marketing, especially amid competition driven and enhanced by technology. He has hired a marketing company to drum up new business from the Atlanta-area corporate sector.
“We feel our continued growth should come from acquiring more of our own direct accounts,” Mehdiof says. “Atlanta is a very difficult market. The competition is high. The logistics all together are rough. We have one of the worst traffic problems, which is one reason why North Point avoids the retail market.”
Creating A Dream Team
To keep consistent service, Mehdiof has worked hard to put people in place who can run the business for him and allow him to travel for weeks at a time with confidence operations are under control. His third-in-command is vice president Tanja Fischer, who Mehdiof recruited.
Fischer says she appreciates working at North Point because of the company’s stellar reputation. “It’s a huge benefit to work for someone who is seen as such a positive role model in the industry,” she says. “He’s very open to suggestions and willing to look at and weigh things out. He has a lot of trust in his management team.”
Operations manager Glenn Evans says Mehdiof is a dedicated operator to work for. “He runs a fantastic company and I’m glad to be a part of it. He emphasizes his intention to retain his employees and goes above and beyond to make sure we are well taken care of. I am glad to be a part of the advancement of a company using technology.”
The rest of the team includes his general manager, Frank Diaz, who joined North Point a few years after launching; Willy Gibson, dispatch manager; Reanne Matthews, reservations manager; Debbi Upthegrove, controller; and Jo Manual, revenue processing manager.
He recently hired Marvin Fisher, executive VP of operations and a 30-year industry veteran. “Even with a dream team, you still have to be engaged,” Mehdiof says.
Dispatch team members (L to R): Willie Gibson, Carlos Zamudio, Shannon Huggins, and Amanda Brooks.
Managers Jo Manuel and Debbi Upthegrove work on operations.
Detailer Danny Brown and fleet appearance manager Greg Matz spiff up a sedan before it heads out.
Dispatcher Jake Dervales scans an iPad through inventory software.
“You can never say ‘it’s all good’ and just stop paying attention.” Mehdiof emphasizes the importance of balancing a family life with life in the industry. As the father of a 17-year-old daughter and 20-year-old son, he appreciates the importance of family time.
Tony’s Affiliate Approach
Tony Mehdiof of North Point Transportation Group has built his empire performing affiliate work. He shares what he calls his “secret sauce”: “The first strategy is to establish trust and deliver flawless service. Any affiliate of any size wants to make sure their clients are well taken care of. The way we operate is seamless for their clients. We keep the same standard or even a higher standard than the affiliate company. That’s our secret sauce. We never promise anything we can’t deliver, and keep their trust based on providing the best service possible at the most cost effective rate. We don’t discount jobs a great deal just to get the business. We focus on the delivery of service.”
When asked about the future, Mehdiof says he plans to market aggressively. “It includes networking, attending trade shows, advertising in LCT Magazine and other publications, and encouraging word-of-mouth referrals from the affiliate networks. “Getting the company to a point where it’s stable, provides jobs for many people, and helps them raise their families is my biggest accomplishment.”
The respected industry consultant talks about success, leadership, and innovation.
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