Operations

Operator Smashes Cancellation Policy Norms

Lexi Tucker
Posted on April 6, 2017

Nate Pippett, co-owner of B-Line Express
Nate Pippett, co-owner of B-Line Express
VAIL, Colo. — When you operate in a heavy tourist town of about 20,000 people and around 60 competitors, something about your company must really stand out. Nate Pippett, co-owner of B-Line Express, believes a combination of exceptional vehicles, well-trained staff, and thinking differently propel his success.

Break Tradition

The company has adapted its cancellation policy from 24 hours to three after they found the 24-hour policy kept many repeat customers from booking their return rides. “We’ve washed our hands of any penalty unless we have to bend over backwards to be somewhere. It’s kind of a thing of the past; you have to just roll with the punches now,” Pippett says.

In keeping with the theme of staying relevant in this tech-based world, the business has also rolled out a customer app similar to Uber in the way it looks and feels. They used to get multiple bookings in advance anywhere from two weeks to a month out, but now most reservations come within 48 hours.

“We actually book about 40% of our daily trips when someone calls and asks ‘how fast can you be here?’” he explains. They’ve since expanded their number of dispatchers to keep up.

They’ve also found value in conducting online surveys via email and text to find out from customers if they are meeting their needs. This in turn helps in chauffeur training. “A lot of it involves trying to predetermine what a guest’s needs are. For instance, if we know it’s going to be a family trip, we’ll have a car seat installed and a movie playing. It’s important to do a little homework and really get to know the client.”

Unique Area = Unique Staff

In the Vail and Aspen areas, where the company primarily serves, clients are mostly people who come to ski or snowboard in the winter. “We’re lucky to be in an area where there are a lot of extremely overqualified people who decide to work for us,” Pippett says.

B-Line hires newly graduated students who cannot find a job in their fields of study, as well as doctors, lawyers, and other professionals who have had previous careers and are now looking for a part-time job to make some extra money in retirement.

“Our biggest separation from competitors is our staff and guest service levels. We employ chauffeurs, not drivers,” he says. The company’s vehicles and chauffeurs have to be able to handle the harsh snowy environment and the curveballs it throws at them. Trips take them from Vail and Aspen to Denver on a daily basis, often going over two or three mountain passes.

Your heart and soul have to go into mentoring and training your staff because a company is only as good as its lowest employee on the totem pole, Pippett says. They offer continuous training, because “you can’t just hire someone, give them only two weeks of your time, and figure they are good for the rest of their career. There are always bits and pieces you can pick up on to do your job a little better.”

The business runs 16 vehicles which they turn over every two years, including AWD Chrysler 300 sedans, Yukon Denali SUVs, and custom-built executive Sprinters that include coach seating, satellite TV, DVD players, and other amenities that make the five hour trip to Denver a little more bearable. B-Line predominantly deals with families and leisure travelers during the winter, and summer brings a mix of everything, including business travelers.

Learning & Growing

Pippett and business partner Chris Bookidis started B-Line in 2007, and previously worked in unrelated industries. Bookidis was in fine dining and construction sales, and Pippett was a golf professional. Pippett became a jack-of-all-trades during the winter months, and eventually ended up working in the hotel and transportation world. After a while, he decided to jump in and buy a couple of vehicles. The company has since grown about 30 to 40% every year.

Through the years, Pippett has realized how many lessons you have to learn the hard way. “You do the wrong thing once or twice before you learn how to do it the right way, and you can’t let your ego get in the way. You should seek out fellow operators and see if they’ll mentor you. You must have processes and procedures for literally everything your staff is doing, whether it’s your dispatcher, reservationist, or chauffeur.”

The business is working on establishing a worldwide platform of affiliates so they can deliver the same service as they do in Colorado worldwide. They’d like to be able to provide chauffeured transportation for their clients not only in Vail and Aspen, but also in the home markets they are returning to.

Related Topics: business travel, chauffeur training, Colorado operators, corporate travel, customer service, mobile technology, staff training, WebXclusive

Lexi Tucker Associate Editor
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