People

Meet A Living Industry Fact Source And Guide

Martin Romjue
Posted on June 5, 2018
You’ve got to understand costs, income, and outflow. You have to understand the real cost of things. The rising costs of operations are very important, says H.A. Thompson, CEO and founder of Rose Chauffeured Transportation in Charlotte, N.C. (LCT file photo)
You’ve got to understand costs, income, and outflow. You have to understand the real cost of things. The rising costs of operations are very important, says H.A. Thompson, CEO and founder of Rose Chauffeured Transportation in Charlotte, N.C. (LCT file photo)

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — H.A. Thompson may rank among the most senior members of the luxury transportation industry, but just minutes into an interview, he steers the conversation to more about the future than the past.

There’s not much “way-we-were” or “remember-when” wistfulness about him. When I ask him what he would tell a younger operator getting into the business today, Thompson eagerly gets to the point, never mincing facts or fundamentals:

“You need to understand your market and what makes you money every day,” says the founder and CEO of Rose Chauffeured Transportation in Charlotte, N.C. “Then you build your model and offer the affiliates your service in your market. Be the expert in your market, not the kiss ass just to win an affiliate away from someone else. This is not a game of chess. It’s a business, and all great companies pay attention to their own model.”  

We talked in late April at the start of the LCT Technology Summit in Miami Beach. Seated in the ultra-white furnished, open-flow, retro-modernist lobby of The Edition hotel lined with planters, I didn’t have to worry about my recorder picking up the former radio broadcaster’s robust bass voice.

Now 84, Thompson is as sharp and spry as ever, traveling alone from Charlotte to Miami Beach and getting perfect attendance at all Summit events. He jokes how he’s well beyond the night club years. I ran into him again a few days later at a Miami airport food court as we headed to our departure gates. With burger and fast food fumes enticing travelers darting through the concourse, Thompson, true to form, spoke of many things, from the growing motorcoach sector to advice on running great trade shows, which he attends regularly.

Getting Off To A Classic Start

He started in the limousine industry on March 23, 1985, just two years after the first issue of LCT. Thompson ran two vintage Rolls Royces, and later added a Bentley, for weddings. In 1988, Rose bought its first stretch limousine and luxury sedan. It peaked at six stretches in 2000, and sold off its last one in 2012. I first met Thompson in March 2008 at the International LCT Show where his company won an Operator of the Year Award. That year he became one of the first operators to take a risk that is transforming this industry 10 years later: He bought a used Van Hool motorcoach. Rose now runs 21 Van Hools, two Temsas, and 14 minibuses. Annual company revenues have averaged about $10 million for the last few years. “A two-to-four year old coach is like new and still has 15+ years of shelf life,” he says of his most profitable fleet vehicle.

Put Your Finances First

That prompts a topic he’s been most passionate about, in person and in the pages of LCT Magazine: Breaking out each vehicle as its own P&L unit.

“Cash flow is everything. You have to be financially adequate, and I don’t mean money in your pocket. You’ve got to understand costs, income, and outflow. You have to understand the real cost of things. The rising costs of operations are very important. Understanding your insurance is going up next year by 14%, and reacting to it by pricing correctly, can save you from bankruptcy. Everything is getting more expensive today. You need to pay attention to it daily.”

Staying Out Front With Technology

To ensure financial health in a disrupted market, Rose in the last two years has converted its employed chauffeurs to independent operators. In the Charlotte area, beset with downward pricing pressures, the company could no longer run profitable sedan and SUV rides with high labor costs. It sold off the vehicles to about 30 chauffeurs who now operate as single-car business owners. They can choose to get business through a Rose-branded app for regular airport transfers and chauffeured runs.

Talk of the app reveals Thompson is quite hip to technology. He mentions with enthusiasm the set of three charging outlets that hung on the back of the front seat in his chauffeured car from the airport. He recommends the virtues of onboard video cameras that can record the driver’s bus compartment as well as everything on the road. “Drivers are not supposed to use their cell phones while the bus is in motion. The video catches this offense frequently. Without it you would never know. And in an accident situation, the proof [of fault] is there.”

On the topic of GPS, Thompson makes the connection between tech and ease of customer service: Bus passengers can access via the Rose app the status of their bus, such as where it’s at and when it will pick them up.

To sum up the state of technology and this industry, you can trust a youthful outlook — straight from an octogenarian: “Everything has changed so fast in the last 10 years. It’s just monumental. It’s mind-blowing. We’ve never talked about driverless cars and buses before. The stuff down the road is so close to us, and we’re not going to be doing it the same way we did it for the past 50 years.”

WEB EXTRA: What Are The Benefits of Disruption?

Thompson shared an internal email with me dated a few years ago summarizing the points of an employers’ association meeting. These concepts speak to handling rapid disruption in the business world, and can apply to any operation:

Disruption is good for a company. 80% of small businesses close within five years because they don’t change. You have to disrupt the old system and create your own culture. Old and new employees have to be trained and buy into it. Companies that don’t change stagnate and die.

Hire for attitude and aptitude before experience. Experienced hires sometimes can’t or won’t change. Hire people you can create good relationships with.

Study our own market to create your own future. Bring hospitality and service to clients in a way that no one else does. You’re not just competing in today’s market; you’ll be competing in a future one. It’s not about where the hockey puck is at; it’s about where it will be.

Marketing must speak the same language, across all platforms and channels. Everyone in the company has to be drawing from the same talking points.

What keeps most companies from growing? They are stuck in routines and refuse to change those timeworn routines. We changed our business model getting into coaches. Routines are the enemy of breakthrough. Change your routines often.

• “The best thing we have ever done is get into the motorcoach business.”

Related Topics: H.A. Thompson, How To, LCT editor, LCT Summit, Martin Romjue

Martin Romjue Editor
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