Operations

Motorcoach Company Enters Luxury Limo Segment

Lexi Tucker
Posted on May 16, 2018

Jodi Merritt, president of H & L Charter Co.
Jodi Merritt, president of H & L Charter Co.
RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. — It’s now more common to hear of a traditional limousine company getting into big buses than of a motorcoach business doing the reverse. Jodi Merritt, president of H & L Charter Co., saw she could adapt the level of service she was already providing in the motorcoach space to other, smaller vehicles and decided to pursue the luxury transportation market overall by expanding her services.

“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 Must-Do List For Running Motorcoaches

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.”

From Coaches To Luxury Sedans

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.

A portion of H & L Charter Co.'s fleet.
A portion of H & L Charter Co.'s fleet.
The company serves churches, school groups, colleges, the international inbound market, and corporate and wedding markets. Its clientele has helped them figure out what kinds of vehicles they needed to branch out to. “No one else in the area had minis and groups were getting smaller, so we figured they’d do well for us and we were right,” she says.

From Male To Female Owned

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. 

H & L Charter Co.'s company logo.
H & L Charter Co.'s company logo.
In 2002, Merritt’s father died, and H & L Charter Co. became a completely woman owned business. Merritt and her sisters eventually bought out their mother in 2014 so she could retire, but that didn’t last very long — she got bored and wanted to continue helping out. The company is now owned by her and her sister Stacy after they bought out their other sister.

Woman Boss Enters A Dealership

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.”

Related Topics: California operators, customer service, family businesses, industry education, industry events, LCT Show, motorcoach operators, motorcoaches, operator profiles, women in the industry

Lexi Tucker Associate Editor
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