UP FROM THE RECESSION: How Can You Succeed In 2009?

LCT Staff
Posted on April 29, 2009

LOS ANGELES — One of chauffeured transportation’s most successful CEOs told operators last week to cast aside “doom and gloom” and find the “fire in the belly” to try new things and grow — even during a recession.

George Jacobs, owner and CEO of Chicago-based Windy City Limousine, brought his personal story and success tips to operators last week at the monthly meeting of the Greater California Livery Association. Although speaking to mostly Southern California operators, Jacobs’ pointers could resonate with operators nationwide.

Jacobs started in the industry exactly 30 years ago as an owner-operator of American Limousine, which he bought outright in 1984. He sold it in 1998, staying on for seven years, and then embarked on a “starter retirement” in 2005.

One year later, Jacobs got restless and built Windy City Limousine from scratch, growing it into a company with 100 vehicles — as soon as he closes deals on a new stretch limousine and 5-6 new motorcoaches this week. Jacobs also served as NLA president for about four years during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Jacobs told operators how he hit rock bottom and overcame a gambling addiction — sleeping on friends’ couches and in a few cars and doorways — before regaining that “fire in the belly.” “I know what it’s like to be miserable,” Jacobs said.

“Everything I have, I owe to this industry and Gamblers Anonymous,” said Jacobs, who is married and has young children. “I like giving back to this industry.”

Jacobs offered operators the following approaches for coping with challenging times:

• Don’t accept customer excuses for cutbacks. “If someone mentions ‘cuts,’ I say, ‘Go cut somewhere else. You need me. Go get divorced or something,” he mused.

• Value your customers constantly, who are the best sources of new business. Jacobs thanks his top 20 customers on billboards. “If you care for your customers, it will show,” he said. “You do the best possible job you can do.”

• Go to your customers and figure out how you can help them more often with travel and transportation. Adopt an attitude of “we can take care of you” anywhere, anytime. “You should be out there prospecting,” Jacobs said.

• Air lots of local commercials. Many media outlets are facing a lot of dead air space. Cut deals by trading commercials for transportation. Look closely for opportunities among radio stations and cable TV outlets.

• Visit the press boxes at athletic games, whether major or minor leagues. Get announcers to mention your name. “People get goofy when they hear your name on the radio,” he said.

• Seek out extra work in the funeral industry — one that operates daily and never goes out of style.

• Venture into bus and motorcoach service. Windy City has seen some of its strongest growth in the charter and tour end of chauffeured transportation. Talk to customers about the need for buses. Connect with an operator who offers buses and borrow one. You don’t have to buy one right away.

• Take all the business you can possibly take. Don’t get picky. Don’t turn it away.

• Act big and important — even if you are not. “Act like the mouse that roared,” Jacobs said.

• Spend money on advertising recklessly. Don’t follow the crowd and cutback on ads. Use credit if you have to, and spread out your payments. It’s an investment in present and future market share.

• Now is a good time to find bargains on fleet vehicles. There is a market glut on repossessed and used vehicles, and coachbuilders, such as Krystal Enterprises, still have plenty of new 2007 models on the lot. Be sure to “haggle,” he said.

• Ask for discounts. “I get 20% off my legal bills because I asked for it,” he said.

• DON’T CUT PRICES. “If my prices were fair last year, and my service hasn’t gotten any worse, why should I cut my prices?” Jacobs asked. “I refuse to cut my prices. If you want my service, you pay my prices.” Customers who shop around for cheaper prices eventually will be back because they will miss superior service. Companies that offer lower prices don’t offer competitive service.

Source: Martin Romjue, LCT Magazine

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