Vehicle Pick of the Week: The bus comes with low mileage and is priced ideally for operators venturing into this growing fleet segment.
Raphael Sousa, owner of SF Limo Express, understands San Francisco and the Bay Area overall are tech oriented, and many clients who book with him prefer to discover companies that suit their needs the new school way.
Believe In Your Company
A common concern among operators is “what if they give me a bad review?” “If you don’t trust yourself and your company to either do everything perfectly or rectify any issue that can arise, then you aren’t doing you best,” Sousa says.
You must always be striving for perfection. If you do ever receive a one-star review because something happened that was out of your control, everything will work out if you follow up with the client instead of ignoring the review.
For example, when he first started using an online reservation system, a customer booked a 5 a.m. pick up at 2 a.m., and the system automatically confirmed the reservation. After the client called him furious, Sousa learned he had the ability to adjust the settings so that wouldn’t happen again.
Positive results depend entirely on how you approach each situation. Don’t ever argue with the customer. If at any point they are unhappy, you have to make it right even when you think they are wrong.
“I’ve always tried to take the position of ‘make them happy no matter what the cost.’ That itself has attributed to the massive amount of reviews we receive because I send out an email to every customer asking how we did,” Sousa says. He recently dealt with a situation that could have resulted in a disastrous review, but handled it in a manner that yielded great results on both ends.
The company sent four buses up to Lake Tahoe for a group run, but had to pull over and put on tire chains because it was snowing intensely. It took the chauffeurs a little longer than usual, the roads got shut down, and the trip couldn’t continue.
“I took an hour off the price for each bus, which probably cost me around $600. But it made everyone happy, got us a five star review, and still made a lot of money on the trip.”
Never Say No
For the first 365 days of his career in the industry, Sousa didn’t take a single day off. “I was primarily doing farm-in work and when my own clients called me, I wouldn’t say no,” he says. He got one of his biggest and oldest accounts by answering a call at 12:40 am.
Uber’s system was down and a tech company called him to ask if he would be able to pick one of their employees up at the airport. Luckily, Sousa lived only 15 minutes away, so he rushed right over. A few days later, he followed up with the company to see if they’d be open to doing business with him instead of the TNC, and they still use him to this day.
“Even though they’ve changed admins over the years, they still send us reservations. When I started with them they had around 56 employees — now they have almost 600,” he says. “They liked me because I was small and offered personalized service, and I’m basically in the same age group as a lot of their employees.”
Sousa and his German Shepherd, Hans
Live and Learn
Sousa and his German Shepherd, Hans
Sousa decided to enter the industry after attending community college for three years without any particular direction mapped out for a potential career. At the time, he was working at a pizzeria earning minimum wage and saw his father, who had bought a Town Car after his restaurant business failed, was doing really well for himself.
He also purchased a Town Car for himself, but decided to do things differently to build up his own clientele. After about eight months of doing this, Sousa got busy to the point where he had to make a decision: Either keep going to school or focus completely on luxury ground transportation.
He decided to drop out to pursue the business full time, and began building a reputation by creating a Yelp campaign and handing out flyers. “I focused mainly on cultivating my relationship with clients, asked them to write reviews, and eventually brought my dad on as well,” he says.
The company has since grown to 18 employees and 13 vehicles, including Cadillac XTS sedans, Chevrolet Suburban SUVs, Tiffany executive Sprinters, and Grech buses.
“I used to think it was all about how big your fleet is, but I learned to focus on quality as opposed to quantity,” he says. The company had 15 cars at one point, but Sousa sold off a few and raised his rates to attract a more discerning clientele. It’s given him bigger returns because although they are charging more, they are making the same, if not more, with less work in terms of number of rides.
Sousa counts knowing he’s actually running a luxury service instead of a glorified taxi service, as well as finding his own worth and the company’s worth in what they do as some of his biggest successes. He was also recently elected to the board of the Greater California Livery Association (GCLA).
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