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Cody Wiederholt, founding partner of Tipsy Trolley, American Motorcoach Company, and a number of other entrepreneurial ventures, spoke with LCT about what one must do to stay on top of modern client needs.
Customer service grounds every decision Wiederholt’s team makes. He says he can’t even begin to count how often the company has forgone profit to maximize a client’s experience. Part of the reason why the business has been so successful is because he, his brother and founding partner Luke, and all operators and chauffeurs are on the same wavelength when it comes to answering the “What do we do if…” question.
“If there is a decision to be made on a trip about what they should do when they encounter an unforeseen situation, they don’t even call back to the office,” he explains. “They already know the right answer: Do whatever it takes to make the customer happy, and everything after that can be taken care of later.”
The fact making the customer happy has become the default solution is one of the things Wiederholt’s most proud of. “We can’t even take credit for it — it happened completely organically and speaks volumes about our team.”
A large part of this strategy is using technology to streamline the customer
Wiederholt turned to technology and built tools to fix friction points he heard complaints about. “I think if you sit around and listen to your customers complain, you shouldn’t be too shocked when your competition does something about those issues and steamrolls you,” he says.
Instead of wondering what they should do, they acted. They created a booking tool that uses crowdfunding (the practice of funding a project or venture by raising money from many people) to take all the risk out of the equation for group leaders, and it eventually got to the point where he took a risk by deciding to become a transportation company and a software company. He lent the technology to other passenger transportation providers. “I couldn’t sit there and talk about these solutions that were staring us in the face anymore; it had to be done.”
Love At First Trip
Wiederholt actually has several ventures. They purchased their first bus on a Saturday, and the first time he even thought about being in the bus business was the day before at about 3 p.m. Clearly, this wasn’t a lifelong dream of his, but he took the plunge anyway. “This is definitely not the way I suggest going about your entrance into this heavily regulated business with capital intensive cost structures. But as soon as I was in it, I loved it,” he says.
Thus, Tipsy Trolley was born in 2012 intending to serve the wedding and party crowd. As it diversified its services into offering motorcoaches and charter work, American Motorcoach Company evolved. They then built a booking platform service which uses crowdfunding, called Fund-R.
“Throw in our agency platform, allinclusivebustrips.com, and you have a web of businesses that are meant to be a one-stop tour and transportation stop, all with a single commonality — relentless customer service,” he says. All together, they have 10 vehicles — a healthy mix of limo, party, and charter buses.
One of the things he’s learned from being in the industry is the importance of trip density. “You can have an infinite amount of vehicles, but if they all only go out once a week, you are working awfully hard, but you aren’t making any money,” he says. “There is entirely too much stress and work involved in this business to work essentially for free. So we made a plan and strategically built a fleet of vehicles that fit our market well and could be cross-utilized to get them moving and the trips as dense as possible.”
To get clients into those vehicles, the company has used mediums from print advertising to targeted Facebook ads. Along the way, Wiederholt identifies and measures key performance indicators as he tracks what’s working and what isn’t.
“Marketing is a really efficient way to make money evaporate without a return if you aren’t doing it with a certain level of thoughtfulness,” he explains. He is using a mix of adwords, targeted FB ads, content marketing, and email campaigns as the company’s client list grows. “Facebook and Google are my go-to weapons if I want to put trips in the calendar, but content and email marketing are my latest projects where I see disproportionate upside potential.”
Another benefit is having the energy to run a business as efficiently as possible. “You really need to work to build a company in this industry from scratch,” he says. Third, he thinks younger generations understand you can’t just set up a business and offer a service. “Competition is ubiquitous in every industry, and you have to really focus on setting yourself apart, whether that’s being known for incredible customer service, or having technologies your competition doesn’t.”
Combined, these pursuits have helped him succeed. The company’s customer first attitude is deeply embedded into the business, and he cites the dedication of those who help make everything happen. His partnership with his brother has grown from running the business together.
“It was honestly a mess when we first started the company, and we were constantly either stepping on each other’s toes, or dropping the ball on some things because we thought the other was going to take care of it,” he says. “Now we each have our own focuses and largely stay out of each other’s hair. He handles all things customer service and accounting, while I handle compliance, drivers, vehicles, and marketing.”
Positive Mindset = Successful Future
Wiederholt’s advice for operators just starting out in the business can be summed up in one word: Persevere. Many entrepreneurs are no doubt familiar with the feeling it would be so much simpler to just give up. “I look back at many of those times for my brother and I, but the difference is we’d wake up the next day after a tough break and instead of making excuses, we’d step on the gas pedal. Make it your mentality that no one is going to outwork you — the best they can do is tie,” he says.
As for growth, he thinks the size of their limo and party bus business is optimized to their market’s immediate conditions. He sees large opportunities for growth in their software platform business, motorcoach business, and events (agency) business. “Those will be our short term focus, but our five year plan will surprise some people. We are going to keep thinking larger, and continue to seize opportunities as they come.”
Related Topics: buses, business growth, business management, customer service, LCTFast40, Millennials, online reservations, party buses, reservations, reservations management, Sales & Marketing, WebXclusive, Wisconsin operators
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