A. Harrington Limousine Service of Edison, in business since 1923, is expanding its fleet and client services.
STERLING, Va. — For a company with a fleet of 159 vehicles, a 28% growth rate from 2007 to 2010 could rank high on the business envy scale. After all, companies with lots of metal on the road got hit hard during that time from a recession, high fuel prices, and travel slowdowns.
At Reston Limousine and Travel Service Inc., ranked 4,124 on the Inc. 5000 List, Kristina Bouweiri saw what was coming and made sure to make good friends again — with old friends. She networked intensely with her client base, reminding them that there are such things as free lunches in good client relationships.
“I had a specific strategy to grow the company by going back to the original client base, thanking them for their business, and doing client appreciation lunches,” Bouweiri told LCT. “We got sponsors to pay for them.” Throw in some door prizes, goodie bags, and steakhouse fare, and clients will keep fond memories of their transportation vendor.
Yes, a free lunch
Since starting the lunches in July 2009, Bouweiri has broken bread with more than 900 clients at lunches held throughout Reston’s prime service region of Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., and central Maryland. “That idea alone grew our business. I started a personal relationship with clients.”
Bouweiri said her lunch circuit evolved by happenstance, as she had only planned to do one of them. But the sponsors reaped enough worthwhile business leads that made them want to hold the lunches monthly. “Since they were paying for it, we were able to create great events without it costing me anything.”
Reston Limousine still enjoyed record high revenues throughout 2008, its best calendar revenue year to date. The company did not start feeling the effects of the economic slowdown until the summer of 2009. “Instead of looking for new clients and losing bids because of price wars, we would go to the old client base and get referrals and deepen the relationship. It’s really worked.”
Two payoffs from the free lunch investment, in addition to sealing loyalties, were to generate referrals and learn some customer service lessons from clients, Bouweiri said. “We held focus groups to learn how the customer shops,” she said. “And these clients are ambassadors for the company, encouraging others at their companies to use us.”
Her client cultivation approach so far has been written up as case studies by two nationwide marketing firms, Raintoday.com and by Jeremy Epstein, a marketer who spoke at a Microsoft conference in Los Angeles.
Reston Limousine also has benefited from the fortune of being located in the government-top heavy region of Washington, D.C., which since 2009 has been insulated from the recession by President Obama’s massive stimulus-fueled expansion of the federal government. That has led to unemployment rates of 5% or less in many pockets of the D.C. region.
“Government has continued to spend money,” Bouweiri said. “We’ve also had robuts tourism, an international community that never dies down, 200 embassies, the World Bank, IMF, OAS, Capitol Hill, and lobbyists. This town is just unbelievable. There is a lot of business here.”
During the first six months of 2011, Reston Limousine exceeded its revenue goals on average by $200,000 per month, Bouweiri said. However, the months of July and August were unusually slow, despite the expected slowdown of government and schools during the summer vacation season. “We’re not sure if that’s a blip in this year or a new trend,” Bouweiri said. “We won’t know for sure until September.”
Fleet & financials
Reston’s best performing vehicle is the 25-passenger mini-bus, of which the company has more than 100 in its fleet to handle the weekday shuttle service for major government, hospital, corporate, and university clients. The shuttles are then used on weekends for weddings and wine tours.
Bouweiri still maintains a fleet of seven stretch limousines, which earn their keep. “I wish I could have more, but seven is the number I can keep busy and profitable.”
Reston’s 2011 revenue goal is $18 million, but since some contract clients have slightly cut back demand, the annual revenues are likely to total $17.5 million.
Two decades strong
Reston Limousine and Travel Service, Inc., founded in 1990 by Kristina’s husband, William Bouweiri, is the largest private limousine and shuttle service in the Washington, D.C. region. It is ranked No. 17 on the 2011 LCT 100 Largest Fleets List. In 1991 when Kristina Bouweiri joined the company, it had five cars and $200,000 in revenue. She immediately took over sales and operations and added market segments (weddings and government contracts). By 2000 when her husband stepped away from the business and she became president and CEO, the company had 75 cars and $5 million in revenue.
Bouweiri will be the keynote speaker at the annual vehicle Expo of the Greater California Livery Association to be held Tuesday, Sept. 20 in Newport Beach, Calif.
— Martin Romjue, LCT editor
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