When It's Time To Bail On The Limo Business

Jim Luff
Posted on November 29, 2017
Operator burnout is a common hazard in the 24/7 limousine business (Wikimedia Commons photo)
Operator burnout is a common hazard in the 24/7 limousine business (Wikimedia Commons photo)

There is no doubt running a 24/7 transportation business is physically, emotionally, and mentally challenging. We are sometimes tasked with doing the impossible.

We are expected to know details of every job we are working. We are entrusted with the safe transportation of a precious commodity: Human beings.

If we make a mistake, we add grief to a grieving family attending a funeral, or ruin an expected moment for a bride and groom. We can easily anger a corporate client by being late to an airport pick-up. We can’t control the actions of our employees and contractors at all times, yet we must clean up the mess they’ve made.

At the end of 2015, I decided to leave the company I had run for 25-years. I had invested my blood, sweat, tears, and money into it. But I was no longer happy doing it.  I struggled to get out of bed each day. While I planned my exit over the next 30 days after making my decision, sometimes people decide to leave more abruptly.

Earlier this month, Sydney Hardy, managing director of Nippy Bus in the U.K., sent a memo to his 25 employees that said,  “There comes a time in any relationship when you just have to say 'F--- it,' say goodbye and move on. This is my time!" With that memo, 25 employees were out of a job without even receiving a final paycheck. Hundreds of students who relied on Nippy Bus to take them to school on fixed routes would have to find another ride to school the next day. I assume all of them were late as they waited for a bus that never came.

Recently I received a very disheartening email from an operator who is almost at his breaking point. The pain jumped off the screen as I read his letter detailing his financial troubles, his trouble finding affordable insurance, his troubles finding qualified chauffeurs, and his continuous battle with TNCs in his area. He said he had exhausted his savings and was borrowing money just to stay afloat. It was very painful and I understand his woes all too well.

Many operators have taken to social media to lament about similar conditions while not as detailed. Many operators are wondering if our business is dying. Many ask me for advice. It's advice I can’t give. In some markets, business continues to thrive. In others, chauffeured transportation is gone and TNCs have taken over the market.  

That’s because the operators in those markets let them. You can’t just sit around and hope to hang on. You have to be out in your community sharing the message of what you do, how long you have been doing it, and why you are the absolute best in the area. But you have to have the fight in you to go to battle. You have to want to do it and you have to believe you CAN do it.

When it’s time and you decide you are no longer happy in this business, I can promise you, you will not succeed. Your heart, mind, and soul must be in the game. You must be in-it-to-win-it!  If you are not, put your business up for sale and keep running it until you have a buyer. You have to take care of yourself before you can succeed at anything you do.

Related Topics: Jim Luff, operations, owner-operators, selling your business, work-life balance

Jim Luff Contributing Editor
Comments ( 3 )
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  • Chuck Cotton

     | about 12 months ago

    We constantly hear the limo business is dead. This business is a very tough endeavor. A myth is the limo business also is the black car service business as most limo operators mix sedans and SUVs with the stretch limos and party limo buses. Of course, the modified stretch sedans and SUVs range from 52" to over 200" cuts. This market niche is called the Special Occasion market. This market will never be dead because people have an average of 12 special occasions yearly and the market potential is overwhelming IF the operator diligently markets all kinds of special occasions to the general public. If the operator does not and just waits for the phone to ring, he may get discouraged and say Oh well, the limo business is dead. Since the fleet mixes have reversed to more sedans and SUVs, most operators still have stretch limos and buy a few occasionally. The limo special occasion booking is still most profitable. There are two kinds of bookings--High Yield ( high price, low mileage per billable hour) Low Yield ( low price, high mileage per billable hour) . Of course, the majority of bookings will be HY and the margins are great. Seasoned operators are realizing the opportunities for HY bookings are the stretches and party limo buses are greater than ever because of their social media marketing. The key is to constantly remind people of what their special occassions really are. Targeted Facebook ads are inexpensive and effective for example. The limo business is a fun, fun business helping people celebrate a special occasion. making good margins and having a wonderful family lifestyle.

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