“It’s definitely easier than continuing to buy expensive buses,” she says. She saw a different market for limos and Sprinter shuttles in the Inland Empire, and attended her first International LCT Show this year to get a better feel for the industry. “I loved the energy and vibe. Everyone was amazingly friendly and wanted to work together. It was so different than any other bus show I’ve ever attended.”
The hardest but most important piece of advice she’d like to give is don’t underestimate the power of understanding your true costs. “Know your numbers; I can’t stress that enough. You can be the best marketer or chauffeur in the world and it won’t help you when it comes to finances. I’ve always been an operations girl, and for me to understand the financial side of things took a lot of time and effort, but it’s a must. There’s a lot more maintenance that has to happen when you have buses.”
She also recommends developing a good peer network. Merritt is involved in a Spader 20 Group where she discusses best practices with other operators. “It’s amazing what it’s done for our company and what it has taught me.”
H & L Charter Co. runs 16 vehicles: Two Mercedes-Benz Sprinters (both limo and corporate styles), three MCIs, seven Van Hools, a Prevost, a Volvo, and two General Coach minibuses.
The company was founded in 1985 by Herb (Merritt’s grandfather), Rodney (her uncle), and Bill Fickett (her father); the H and L in the business’ name stand for Herb and Laura, Merritt’s grandparents. Unfortunately, the men couldn’t always agree on how the business should be run, so Merritt’s mother and father bought out her uncle and grandfather a few years later.
One of the most interesting experiences she’s faced as a female operator is when she walks into a showroom to look at equipment with her fleet manager who is male. The sales representative often starts talking to him not realizing he’s not the one making the decision to purchase.
“It’s certainly interesting. Maintenance may be a little harder for us to understand at times, but it doesn’t mean you can’t learn.”
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