NLA Actions Confound The Industry

Martin Romjue
Posted on April 10, 2019
(Flickr.com image)

(Flickr.com image)

One of the most interesting parts of my job as LCT editor during the last 11 years has been observing and reporting on the National Limousine Association, the leading trade group that represents the luxury ground transportation industry.

The NLA has advocated for operators on many regulatory and legislative issues. With the help of a lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., they have scored victories for the industry, such as this one on sparing gratuities from overtime pay rules. I've met many board directors over the years who run solid companies while generously giving their time to help the industry, and who I like and respect. I've also enjoyed their spirited, engaging discussions and ample media comments.

Something Gone Wrong

So when a group with such a strong professional track record is associated with an action that is out of character, it comes as a shock and raises some red flags.

On Friday, March 22, the NLA and its new trade magazine partner, Chauffeur Driven, announced their new alliance. Whatever the real motive and purpose behind the timing, their release landed the weekend just before the official start of the International LCT Show, which the NLA had co-produced with LCT since the late 1980s. The release also disclosed plans to launch a new NLA-CD trade show in February 2020 in Las Vegas — the longtime site of LCT Shows — just days after LCT holds its own, Feb. 17-20.

Inspired by this innovative approach, LCT is pleased to announce the 2019 LCT Leadership Summit being held in Austin, Texas, May 9-12, at the Westin Hotel in downtown just a few blocks from the Omni Hotel. Think of it as an executive-style retreat. Wait, I'm just kidding. . .

Truth be told, we knew an announcement about a NLA partnership was pending, although we figured the NLA’s most sensible move would be to get through the final LCT-NLA co-produced show first. I understand a natural part of the business cycle means groups and companies will change partners and seek new deals over time. The chauffeured affiliate world certainly sees its fair share of swapouts.

The trade show piggybacking, however, is another story. Since the Show, we've heard from attendees who are annoyed, confused, or amused by the announcement, which blindsided at least four NLA board directors. The NLA board, despite its veneer of unity, has by our count at least six of 18 directors who dissent on the deal and/or how it played out. A few more are privately uncomfortable with the timing, and it appears this caper erupted from a small group of leaders.

Message Received

I won’t get into all the business and contractual intrigue that led up to the separation from LCT, a decision driven by the same fistful of NLA leaders. That's another story, too. As an editor, I’m more interested in the tone and timing of a media message, and what its spread says about the senders. Reading between the lines, two concerns arise:

  • The scheduling of another show on the coattails of LCT’s betrays a business mindset that views opportunity as a finite pie and a zero-sum game. Exhibitors are understandably fuming about the logistics of back-to-back shows in the same place. About 90% of this industry consists of small- to medium-sized fleet operators who are hard-working business owners, and many of whom can ill afford the time and costs of two shows.
  • The NLA has spent $2.1 million since 2015 on the services of a Manhattan-based public relations firm with connections to national media. It also doubled member dues (2017-19) to pay for that. The release prompts the question of whether the NLA decision-makers behind it absorbed anything about P.R. these last few years. For all that member money, you would expect them to have deployed a more skillful strategy with more class. When promoting, you should aim to generate buy-in, not blowback.

This spectacle reeks of a desperate gambit, a mean-spirited power play clearly designed to divide and distress the industry. It’s one more suited to the ferocious climate of politics, not business. When you build or create a service or venue in business, it should result from a positive, inviting, and original plan.

Fallout Zones

My long-term concern is how these NLA actions could tarnish the luxury ground transportation industry overall. As many state and local associations are dealing with legislative and regulatory matters on behalf of thousands of operators, the NLA's self-involved drama makes the industry look unserious and unprofessional.

Regulators, legislators, and leaders in related business sectors are watching. With crucial issues on the table, we should all be spared the embarrassment of an elite NLA cadre trying to stoke the industry version of a range war. Let's not take the bait.

Thankfully, their Friday afternoon news dump did not derail the success of our Show. LCT and its parent company, Bobit Business Media, set the record straight three days later, and reassured vendors and attendees of its commitment to the industry in targeted email messages.

I would hope the NLA blunder will later prompt its plotters to slap their foreheads over a lapse of good judgment. There's still dignity in walkbacks and corrected courses. Absent such awareness, we should expect a coming year of consequences for the industry that cut in every direction, and that none of us today can accurately foresee.

Related Topics: business partnerships, ILCT 2019, industry leaders, LCT Magazine, limo tradeshows, National Limousine Association

Martin Romjue Editor
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