LCT With You: Jim Luff talks a bit about the COVID-19 situation and how operators can make it through times.
When growing from a corporate limousine service into a more varied bus fleet, you’ll need to move from using similar marketing materials to ones that speak to specific markets.
Two questions to guide your marketing to get more contracts are: What have you done to prove yourself? And who do you have in your portfolio?
First, you need to demonstrate your ability to deliver the best service — much larger than a van full of salespeople, musicians, and decision makers. You’ll be transporting competitive sports teams, stranded airline passengers, or loyal employees who now must ride a bus for a longer commute to work. These moves could be daily for several years, or last through the highs and lows of a playing season.
When a corporate headquarters expands or builds in another city, the long-term loyal employees are facing options that might involve moving their entire families. Or maybe those employees who don’t want to move or are only a few years from retirement will face the reality of starting their day earlier to ride more than an hour to a new workplace.
Is your staff prepared to deal with riders who don’t even want to be there? Do you even have the correct vehicle to make this happen?
Remember, your priority is to be a reliable people mover. It’s not necessarily about high-end buses, but about profit. While high-end has a place in your inventory, you’ll need to know your clients to match them with the right bus.
For many clients groups, a bus with standard interiors consisting of basic designs and cloth seats will be fine, but having technology such as strong Wi-Fi and electrical outlets are a must.
This article describes how other companies have acquired the vehicles and the techniques for such service. Here is an overview of the service qualities and features you should be offering and what clients are likely looking for in distinct customer contract segments:
When marketing your business to schools, such as elementary, middle, and high schools, remember they are very competitively priced. Most will require additional inspections, sometimes costing thousands of dollars for a two-year inspection. Depending on your area, it may be more difficult than a regular FMCSA investigation, or even longer. This all depends on your fleet size; the cost may run up to $5,000. Some counties rely on their teachers or bus mechanics to do an onsite inspection the day of pick up.
Marketing to these schools or educational tour/travel companies depends on creating a trusted relationship and assuring them on the quality of your fleet. Vehicle age can be a factor with schools; the further the trip, the more it leans toward a newer bus. While you don’t have to buy new buses, it’s always good to own ones close to new.
Another important attribute: Your recovery plan and time. Schools and parents want to know you have plan “B” or “C” ready if a breakdown occurs. They understand breakdowns happen. Traditional motorcoach companies run their fleets up to 20 years. But you should never send an old bus on a school trip.
Schools don’t care much about the bus brand. As long as you stay in the top tier of well-established OEM bus brands, all of which are present at LCT trade shows, you’ll be fine.
One issue we’ve encountered is when a client needs two motorcoaches but can’t fill the second one, such as when a group consists of 81 students and a chaperone. In most larger metro areas, there are not enough buses to meet the demand during several spring days. One solution is to use a 35-foot motorcoach — such as ones offered by Van Hool, MCI, and Temsa — which can enable you to save your 45-foot, 56 passenger coaches for another school client.
In some states, regulators have approved Freightliner-based minibuses for school-related runs. They are safer than smaller, lower to the ground cutaways. A Freightliner resembles many school buses and has a side impact zone higher off the ground.
When marketing your business for universities, most of them will send out requests for proposals, or “RFPs.” For their sports teams, it could be sent out for each season. Depending on the size of the university, it could also be awarded for the school year or multiple years.
Sometimes they approve multiple companies on a list. At that point, each team coach can choose a provider. If this is the case, you will need to market to each team coach. All sports coaches have their specials ways of deciding. Several times I have found a female coach for the girl’s teams prefer a female driver and the reverse for male coaches.
Universities always want newer buses. Even the smaller teams, like basketball, will require a full-size coach. Most of them will not want a minibus. That’s because for sports teams it’s all about image. “You can’t show up to the competition in a smaller bus.”
Depending on the size of the university, it may want one bus wrapped. That would be the primary bus for all teams. For example, Windy City Limousine and Bus in Chicago wrapped a bus with logos and insignia for its client, Northwestern University. Some of the larger universities will also make the bus available to all departments within the system.
Typically, these relationships are made directly with the airlines. They are mostly interested in response time, such as one hour or less onsite. These trips are for canceled flights when it’s better to have a charter bus move the stranded passengers to their destination city. Most trips are within four hours. The airline will almost always give you a voucher.
Remember, they may take longer to pay than you’d like, so maybe a marketing idea would be a discount if paid within 30 days. Make it sound like they will save a lot during the year. Another marketing idea would be to showcase your 24-hour staff. Show them who they will be talking to in your dispatch center. They would never call your number only to get a recorded message asking them to call an emergency number. Traditional motorcoach companies close at 5 p.m. and never open on weekends.
All airlines require transportation for picking up and dropping off their daily flight crews. Normally the hotel is close by and round trips are easily handled. Depending on the size of the airport, you may be running several vehicles seven days a week.
Twice recently, I was in San Francisco for a 20-group meeting, Spinning Wheels and Spader Business Management, and the downtown hotel always had a bus parked on the curb waiting for the airline crews. There was a van, minibus, and motorcoach at any given time day or night. I was shocked by how many crew members were boarding the vehicles. Maybe multiple airlines stay at that hotel and they share the expense of the vehicle.
As the economy improves, surface parking is becoming scarce amid growth in new buildings, apartments, townhouses, and mixed use development. The cost of land is rising in many metro areas. For large churches, there are not enough parking stalls on Sundays and holidays for congregations. So, the solution is often shuttle service, mostly with a minimum of two minibuses.
As commercial and office buildings sprout, businesses are hiring more employees. Often, moving is not an option. Their only choice is to build a parking deck on the surface lot, but that can take months. So they need to find a nearby remote parking lot for employees. That means they’ll need to hire a bus service to shuttle them to and from the offices.
Depending on the company, it could mean service for three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon. It likely will require larger buses on both ends, and a minibus to be there all day in case employees need to return their cars. To market for parking deck business, track your local business media outlets, go to Chamber of Commerce meetings, follow social media, and network wherever you can to find out which company is growing.
Whether it’s Renaissance, strawberries, music, or arts and crafts, you name it, there’s a festival for it. Also, university home football games, graduations, and other annual events will generate demand for parking and shuttle service.
Your marketing plan should include a lot of face time. And I don’t mean iPhone facetime. You need to be in front of these customers. Churches have golf tournaments, so play in them and sponsor a hole. Or maybe it’s an outdoor BBQ. Buy enough for your entire office, or whatever makes an impression on the church.
Marketing to special events resembles pitching businesses. Find out what special events are happening in your area and mail out or email your brochure. Pay for sponsorships on their websites.
One example of this is how Windy City Limousine & Bus landed one of its best shuttle contracts. In the suburbs of Chicago, McDonalds University decided to move to downtown Chicago, creating a dilemma for most employees who lived in the suburbs and could not find parking. Windy City put together a plan to transport employees from the train stations in downtown Chicago to the new site, moving about 1,000 employees daily.
Windy City helped McDonald’s make sure employees felt cared for. It bought refurbished transit buses at a low price and renovated them into McDonald’s branded and wrapped shuttles. The costs of buying and using $500,000+ new motorcoaches would exceed the pricing level while generating short-haul wear and tear on the buses. A luxury level contract would not have worked out, so the contract would have gone to another company. Windy City dealt with all of the key decision makers in creating a service that reassured employees, ensuring peace of mind all the way around.
There are so many potential contracts available, such as with big names like Google and Apple and everyday clients such as hospitals, mega-churches, and any business or organization succeeding in this vibrant economy. Pursuing contracts ties directly into following businesses in your area: Who’s growing and who’s moving? Stay in the know.
Tom Holden is the GM/operations manager of Rose Chauffeured Transportation in Charlotte, N.C. He can be reached at [email protected]
Related Topics: airport contracts, charter and tour operators, client markets, customer contracts, How To, motorcoach operators, motorcoaches, negotiations, procurement, school transportation, Tom Holden, Windy City Limousine
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