Operations

These Owners And Managers Are Solving Problems

Lexi Tucker
Posted on July 10, 2019

The annual LCT Fact Book offers a diverse mix of operators a place to sound off on the biggest challenges and obstacles of the past year, and how they approach them. This year, a strong economy means operators have trouble hiring enough chauffeurs and drivers while trying to boost the appeal of transportation work to outsiders. Other top-of-mind topics include how to make the public more aware of your value proposition and the various services you provide; not spending so much time on social media talking about others; and positioning your company to succeed in unique regional markets.

Jess Sandhu, co-owner and VP of operations, A&A Limousine & Bus Service, Seattle, Wash.

Driver Shortage. This topic is no surprise to any operator. We all could use a few extra drivers. You don’t have to look far to find this problem. Across the country, transit agencies are working overtime to recruit more bus drivers. With a great economy and low unemployment rate, this is bound to happen. We in the limousine industry have more hoops to jump. We are required to hire chauffeurs who have a clean driving record, and need them to submit to a pre-employment drug test, be up for random drug testing, and also need to be fingerprinted which can take about two weeks to process for us. We prefer to maintain our current drivers. We try to pair them with jobs they are comfortable with. Many years ago I had an employee who hated wine tours or limo runs that involve drinking. I never tried to find out why, and he quit one day after a winery tour. I found out he has been sober for seven years and cannot stand people drinking. I learned from that and decided to keep a more personal relationship with my employees afterward. A female chauffeur might not want to do a bachelor party, or is afraid to return home late after a run. We try to understand their fears and accommodate them to the right assignments. It is more cost effective to maintain our current employees than to hire and train new ones. We have also found due to expensive housing in the metro area, our employees are living further away. We have found word of mouth has been a great way to hire new chauffeurs. We try to promote them by helping them get a CDL for advancement opportunity within the company. We have to be more creative in hiring new employees. Retirees are still a good option, but they only want to work two to three days a week.

Chris Peifer, president, Susquehanna Valley Limousine, Inc., Northumberland, Pa.

Covering an area with a large footprint and low population carries many challenges, but after 24 years in business we have learned many lessons and continue to change to meet the demands of our customers. Over the last few years, attracting qualified talent has been our biggest issue. In our situation, I’ve always felt when a potential candidate stops by for an interview and sees a cramped office environment and a very limited driver area, it has been detrimental to the hiring process. Last fall we made the commitment to invest in a new office and garage to provide a larger work place for our employees and hopefully present a better image for new talent and clients. We completed the garage last fall and are scheduled to move into the new office in June 2019. In short, our goal this year is branding ourselves as the best ground transportation company in our area with attention to professionalism, reliability, and safety. Three years ago, we started a taxi company and with the expansion of the office it will also help us align for the addition of motorcoaches. I feel the investments we made to the company over the last year will show a huge commitment to our clients, affiliates, and employees that we are here to stay and are the best choice for ground transportation in North Central Pennsylvania.

Ralf Buelter, CEO and founder, Top Alliance, Frankfurt, Germany

One of the biggest challenges for our industry in Germany and Europe is explaining the price of a quality limousine service to our customers compared with other modes of transportation they can get with just one click on the market. More customers, particularly “digital natives,” perceive a quality limousine service just as a TNC with nicer cars but higher prices. Here we have to show them the difference with dependability, professionalism, friendliness of our staff, and simply better service.

That’s why we just expand our business to Switzerland where we can offer our customers in Zürich enhanced services like pick up directly in the baggage area and convenient access to the airport. Our customers must be inspired by our service.

Nina Parson, director of sales, Company Car and Limousine, Cleveland, Ohio

I’ve given so much thought to our industry and it reminds me of growing up in the middle of Amish country Ohio. It’s a large but small community — large by numbers, but small by relationship status as most people know everyone. It’s kind of a love-hate relationship. In a strange way, it reminds me of when my uncle died in a car accident. The community banded together, but then judged all my aunt’s decisions after the fact. The same thing happened when my 20-year-old cousin committed suicide. Our industry is similar: When someone needs an affiliate recommendation we band together, but when it’s not in the heat of the moment, we judge each other’s moves. I think we need to spend less time talking about each other on social media (both in public posts and direct messages) and more time figuring out the best ways to help each other succeed.

Tom and Ann Olson, owners, Stellar Limousine, LLC, Sioux Falls, S.D.

Operating a transportation business in a more rural/suburban area of the country brings with it a completely diverse set of concerns than one would anticipate. Being in a region with very few transportation providers, we must maintain a diversified fleet in order to meet the needs of the community, as well as to ensure we are allowing ourselves as many opportunities as possible to do business. In addition to the difficulty of being in a small region of operators, we also experience a lack of ability to collaborate with others in this industry. This leaves us to be highly self-sufficient and motivated when it comes to thinking outside the box as far as service levels and pricing.

One more differential is the fact we sit near three state lines. If we didn’t pay for and maintain the credentials and licensing for interstate service, we’d limit our business exponentially!

There are a limited number of operators to bounce ideas off of. As one of the few providers in our area, we must continuously assess and perfect our services in order to perpetuate the standards. Much like others in our industry, we also struggle to find and hire professional, committed chauffeurs. The industry, and our region, allow us to continue to grow in our knowledge and execution of this business.

Kim Grzywacz, chairwoman of the Women in Buses Council (WiB) and co-owner of CIT Signature Transportation, Ames, Iowa

Company closures create questions: When a company goes out of business, my first reaction is shock. Some of these companies had been around for decades, operated large fleets, and were engaged in the industry. How could this happen? Is my company at risk? How will this change the market? Will it change how I operate? Will it change our succession plan?

As I go through this list of questions, my sales hat begins to appear. How I can take advantage of the opportunities? Can I buy a used fleet at a reduced price? But in doing this, does it reduce the value of my existing fleet? What if I wanted to sell a used vehicle for a new one? Will I get the same trade-in for it? My fleet is part of my portfolio. How will this change the value of my business – thus affecting my succession plan? And why are there so many vehicles available now? Were there too many in the market to begin with? If there were, then did that fact contribute to the company closure? Too many vehicles that need work can lead to prices that undervalue our service. When the industry is battling to keep wheels rolling and drivers busy, we may not be meeting the margins we need to operate a successful company. If I am not running a successful company, how does that change my succession plan? Will family be interested working harder for less? Will investors even come knocking on my door? So, as I take a look around, and have all of these questions, I have come to this immediate conclusion: Be available, assist your new clients, but don’t sell your soul to roll.

Sam Rubin, owner, Four Seasons Concierge, Park City, Utah

One of the challenges many transportation companies face is the lack of “automation” or customizing their software platform to reduce manual “touches.” This reduces the possibility of human error as well as the number of administrative tasks, phone calls, and emails a company receives. As many of the luxury transportation companies are smaller operators, where the owner is the dispatcher and chauffeur, implementing automation is a great way to reduce costs and improve customer service.

As we use the LimoAnywhere platform, we are heavily vested with the Addons.LA services. One of the things LimoAnywhere lacks is the ability to ask the client if they have checked or carry-on bags at the time of making a reservation. As an example, the Salt Lake City International Airport is located less than 15 minutes from downtown Salt Lake City. If we have two clients on the same flight and one has carry-on bags and one has checked bags, we can often have the same chauffeur take the carry-on passenger to their downtown hotel BEFORE the checked bag passenger has received their luggage.

With the help of the Addons.LA team, we had them custom build “airport link” for us. This sends out a text message to the passenger 30 minutes before they land. Once the passenger turns on their cell phone, they are greeted with a personalized text message and a link. That link has several buttons that ask the passenger to tap what type of luggage they have. Once they have their luggage or get near the baggage claim area, they are prompted to touch another button on their cell phone. Both of those taps send text messages to the chauffeur letting them know the passenger has arrived and is ready for pick-up. This has all but eliminated phone calls to our dispatch asking, “where do I meet the chauffeur?”, further making us more productive and improving the passenger experience.

We are also implementing the Alexa and Bot services from Addons.LA. If you use Limo Anywhere, you MUST look into the amazing “add on” features Addons.LA offers. It will help to differentiate you from others and the TNCs.

Related Topics: affiliate networks, customer service, hiring, hiring chauffeurs, LCT Fact Book, Lyft, staff management, staff training, technology, TNCs, Uber

Lexi Tucker Senior Editor
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