The Associated Press took a page right out of the limo books with its suggestions on renting stretch limousines and limo buses during peak prom and wedding season. These 5 tips
were published in The Washington Post's
Business section. What's really interesting here is the first tip: Don't Let Price Be Your Only Consideration
. That has been a constant message from many limousine operators and from LCT Magazine
related to customer service and marketing: You sell value and quality, not a price. You get what you pay for, and what you pay for in a quality limousine operation is well worth the price. Related posts: 4 Cs Of Better Pricing
. Bill Atkins Pricing Tips
. -- Martin Romjue, LCT editor
DENIS WILSON: Why links to your website are valuable and how they should shape your media strategy.
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MARTIN ROMJUE: The two key sponsors at a Greater California Livery Association meeting show the way forward on supporting limo industry causes and generating good business.
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DENIS WILSON: In the final part of my three-part series on managing online customer reviews, we look into how to earn more positive reviews.
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Google is the web search giant whose first page resembles the Promised Land for many businesses. Brands around the world have invested billions in AdWords and SEO to get to the top of Google search results. But what if you could rank at the top…for free? You can, and all you have to do is list your business on Google Places.
The listings on Google Places are the search engine’s way of increasing the value of its local search results and Google Maps application. It’s like Google’s version of Yelp and it allows people to review and score your service. This is a great opportunity not just to get more traffic and sales leads, but also to easily monitor the conversation around your company and engage with consumers.
Here’s the information you’ll need to set up your free account:
- Description of your business
- Contact information
- Company image or logo
- Coupon or special offer you want to promote
Just visit www.google.com/places to set up your business.
In the frenzy of holiday shopping and consumers being bombarded with a massive amount of advertisements, offers, promotions and just plain, noise, it’s hard to be noticed in the sea of holiday spirit.
Read more for some tips on standing out during the holidays.
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Latest LCT Marketing Tips shine light on five of the top factors to consider and implement when marketing chauffeured service on Facebook.
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GUEST BLOG: Building a brand starts with a strategic use of social media marketing.
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This month's marketing tips focus on three key factors that are necessary to understand in order to use Twitter to increase your leads and build your brand.
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My mother was shocked at what happened at the Marriott, and so was I.
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It has never before been easier for businesses to share information, insight and intimacy with consumers; it has also never been easier to offend them. Read more to learn how to avoid a social media faux pas.
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I work an annual charity event offers networking and marketing opportunities and brings out the best in my community.
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Don’t play the cutthroat game and let the loose players die of natural causes.
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GOOD BUSINESS PRACTICES: Most wineries open arms for limousine company clients, although a few still don’t get it.
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Have you ever wondered how using social media can engage prospects and convert them into clients? LCT’s revamped Marketing Tips page will walk you through the steps.
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PRICE CHECK, PLEASE:
The limousine industry has focused much concern on pricing since the Great Recession ushered in an era of bargain hunters and businesses willing to race to the bottom. New Jersey operator Bill Atkins has consistently stood for the opposite recessionary approach: Price to your value and back it up with quality and confidence. Atkins' Red Bank Limo
raised prices 5% on airport trips on June 1; the number of trips went up 17% last month compared to June 2011. Atkins told LCT: "You can raise your prices. You have to practice what makes you different and better and worth what you charge. So instead of discounting your price to compete, I say know in specific terms why your product or service is better for the customer. Raise your price and your profits immediately will increase." Harvard Business Review offers this 4-STEP primer on using pricing strategy to boost sales. --- Martin Romjue, LCT editor
While it’s vital for every business to have a presence on Facebook via a business page Timeline, a new survey reveals that buying ad space on the social media platform may not be necessary.
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MARKETING, PRICING & SERVICE TIPS:
Operator and LCT advisory board member Bill Atkins of Red Bank Limo
has written and been quoted extensively in LCT about successful business strategies for chauffeured transportation businesses. The 2010 Operator of the Year recently was interviewed by marketing magazine websearchsocial.com
about many of the points he's been advocating. You can get a good summary of Bill's approach to business in the May 18 interview: The Little Things Make A Big Difference To Your Customers
. -- Martin Romjue, LCT editor
Hard Work, Long Hours and Good Customer Service provide the good life
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Businesses that publish a blog drive 55% more traffic to their websites than businesses that don’t. Here’s how to convert that traffic into revenue.
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Best practices for attracting a lot of traffic to your website using Pinterest.
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Like other business operations, social media marketing is not something that should be executed haphazardly.
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Blogging, tweeting, posting to Facebook and making connections on LinkedIn are effective ways to build a brand and a loyal following. But how can those efforts generate revenue? Read more to learn five ways.
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In a short video interview, the head of social media at Ford Motor Company explains upcoming trends in social media and how the automaker is stimulating fan engagement.
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CUSTOMER SERVICE: One experienced operator points out that while you can't control the economy or who is President, you can determine your success by how you treat customers and employees.
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This is the first in an occasional series about a 21st Century social management style.
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Motortoys Limousine Service and Flamingo Air announced a joint promotion to offer couples an afternoon delight a private propeller plane along with a luxurious limo ride to and from the airport.
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GOING WAY OF ROTARY PHONE?
It's hard to believe: Digital-minded businesspeople are increasingly ditching the business calling card. But is mutually swiping smart phones against each other ("Wonder Twins Activate!"), or a hipster fist bump, really the alternative solution?
Call it old-fashioned, but a print card still communicates class and formality in a simple way. I don't want to have to look at a web page or consult LinkedIn every time I meet someone.
Maybe a traditional print business card with a QR code on the back for optional digital follow-up offers the best approach. The digital referral can be archived on a computer, tablet, or phone, with the card being kept or thrown out. -- Martin Romjue, LCT editor
Limos.com proves to be an asset when pursuing referrals and leads.
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Apple, the company who brought us the iPod, iPhone and iPad, among myriad other powerful computers and gadgets, has successfully avoided competing on the basis of price. The tech titan has been able to charge premium rates and still attract business, a concept dreamed about by every business owner. Here are four ways Apple accomplished this along with ideas that can be applied to a chauffeured transportation business.
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Accent Limousine Service uses storytelling to engage current and potential customers and highlight the benefits of using their service for special occasions.
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If the big mainstream companies are using YouTube to connect with customers, why shouldn’t yours? In addition to being free, you get to control the content and its distribution.
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There are plenty of special days coming up that will make your clients want to ride in a limousine. Here's how to get them chauffeured.
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Forbes advice to “ditch the pitch” and treat the process as a collaborative conversation is good to remember as operators prepare to network at the 2012 International LCT Show Feb. 13-15.
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Operators whose companies are set up on location-based social networking sites likes Foursquare can build brand recognition in their local markets and create incentives to generate repeat riders.
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TRUTH IN LABELING: Don’t advertise that you are if you are not really live all the time.
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Operators who have had celebrities, professional athletes, politicians, high-powered executives or other VIPs as their clients are well aware of the challenges of protecting their privacy while chauffeuring them around, especially with trigger-happy paparazzi all over the place. Well, a solution may finally have arrived.
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Entering an unfamiliar meeting room is like leaving a bar when it’s still light outside. Things seem a little too bright, a little overwhelming, a little disconcerting. But the one guiding principle is this: It is your room. For the next 30 seconds to a minute, you are in charge. Here's how to own that room.
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On the opposite coast, operator Matt Silver used about a dozen limousines to deliver more than 100 turkeys in support of Island Harvest’s Annual Holiday Season Food Drive. Ultimate Class Limousine has had a long history of charitable participation and contribution
“Giving back to the community has always been important to me, and we wanted to help attract some attention to the great work Island Harvest does locally,” said Silver, president of Ultimate Class Limousine. “Our donation is a small part of the effort local hunger relief organizations make year round, and we hope that our participation inspires others to contribute and support their mission.”
Charitable donations, especially during the holidays, are a way for companies and individuals to give back to their communities and lend a helping hand to people in need. Charities can generate a good amount of positive press and show clients and business partners that a company has its heart in the right place.
To learn more about these operations and their charity work, please visit Jackson Limousine Service and Matt Silver’s Ultimate Class Limousine on their respective websites: www.jacksonlimo.com
. -- Michael Campos, LCT assistant editor
So apparently Kim Kardashian lasted 72 days in wedlock before she decided to call it quits with professional basketball player Kris Humphries, formerly of the New Jersey Nets. Celebrity gossip generates obscene amounts of attention and, depending on the circumstances, companies caught in the crossfire between celebs and paparazzi may actually benefit by accidental brand exposure. Look closely at the photo, just to the left of Kim’s head. In case the resolution isn’t high enough or the photo is too small, it says: EmpireCLS
. The photo appeared on celeb-gossip site PerezHilton.com
, which generates close to 2 million unique visitors a month (source: Compete.com), the type of exposure that brands often pay hundreds of thousands for. Empire CLS
got it for free.
Lesson: Operators should think about strategic public relations practices to expose their brands to the public eye. This can include charity work, high profile clientele, or community activism — anything that will attract positive media attention. The key is to be subtle and focus on providing reliable, professional service to your clients. Who knows who saw this photo? Other celebrities might need luxury transportation some day and might call up Kim or Kris to review their experience. All it takes is for them to convey they felt safe, comfortable, and relaxed in spite of the turmoil surrounding them. And that can only be good for operations such as EmpireCLS. — Michael Campos, LCT assistant editor
HURRICANE TESTIMONY: An operator trying to get a client out of a storm-related jam found a new affiliate thanks to a memorable marketing piece, proving how an investment in a professional marketing program can pay off in countless ways that can't be quantified. Like the VISA commercial says, Priceless.
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SPOOKED ECONOMY: The money jitters are spreading again throughout the business world, with some companies wondering if they should clamp down on business travel. If you have corporate/company clients talking about cutbacks, here's a way for them to accurately assess and determine their travel spend. Seeing ways to save money and get the best value, especially via chauffeured transportation services for individuals and/or groups, can help nervous clients stay the course. -- Martin Romjue, LCT editor
H.A. Thompson, the owner of North Carolina-based Rose Chauffeured Transportation who we like to refer to as the elder statesman of the chauffeured transportation industry, updated his 2009 book this month with a new title, chapters, and concept.
Learn more at his website which plays off the title: Do Something Scary: Get Undressed For Business. H.A. also has a new blog where he posts his insights. LCT Magazine featured an interview with H.A. Thompson about his book in the May 2009 issue. -- Martin Romjue, LCT editor
What happens when hip-hop superstars take a saw and blowtorch to a premium luxury vehicle?
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How operators can market to the doorkeepers of the most popular destinations for retail clients.
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Join me, if you dare, for an exclusive inside look into my legendary central California limo bus wine tours.
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Just when we think we've seen it all when it comes to marketing.
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A new amendment in China allows harsher punishments for drunk driving and spurs business for chauffeured vehicles. Why not in the U.S.?
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LCT is a business, too, and it always delivers results for operators and vendors. Industry promotions are a crucial part of business success.
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It's always insightful to see how personal finance experts advise consumers on renting a limousine
. Seeing what consumers are being told in the financial media can help operators strategize on pricing, packaging, and promotions. Operators who clarify options and simplify rates and billing are more likely to earn loyalty. -- Martin Romjue, LCT editor
If you don’t mind the clientele and potential hassles (and clean-up) involved, or if you just need to work to fill in slow days during the week, it may be worth calling a couple of pet hotels in your area to see if they could use a transportation provider for their furry guests.
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With most of my friends partying to commemorate Cinco de Mayo (doing business as Cinco de Drinko) and bombing my phone with text messages about how lame I was for staying home and having an early night, I wondered how many of them were riding with a designated driver and how many planned to drive themselves home...
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Last week, I had the chance to get away from the monotony of Fact Book editing and enjoy the sublime Southern California weather on the back of a motorcycle limo, courtesy of Beverly Hills, Calif.-based MOTO LIMOS CLUB, a chauffeured transportation company that launched in March 2011.
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A FLORIDA OPERATOR finds a way to market his services while getting valuable client testimonials. . .
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PLAYING IT SAFE: Operators should try this cost-effective marketing solution that provides great exposure but more importantly does good deeds.
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COMMENTARY: If LCT could give an award for Ad Of The Month, it would have to go to CLS NEVADA’s one page dramatic promo in the Farm-In/Farm-Out section of the April issue of LCT Magazine.
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WHAT NOW? In today’s information age, everything has the ability to go viral in an instant, especially fatal bus crashes which can decimate a business like never before. It’s even possible for clients to shoot quickie-videos of employees behaving inappropriately, such as using their cell phones while driving or being rude to clients. “As a bus operator, you may become the face of the industry when something bad happens,” Media Consultant Group President and CEO Eron Shosteck writes in the introduction of the new 20-page step-by-step guide.
For this reason, good communications and PR are vital to every operation. Companies need to know how to protect their reputation as well as turn any type of media coverage, whether positive or negative, into an opportunity to display their safety compliance and customer-centric service.
THIS SURFER LIMO may appear a bit frivolous at first, but in Southern California and South Florida at least there would be a likely tourist market for chauffeured rides to, from, and among beaches and surf spots. The retro-cool design evokes a mix of 50s –era station wagon nostalgia with 21st Century aerodynamics. Designers: GRAY DESIGN and STRAND CRAFT. It also proves the vast potential for chauffeured transportation; it’s not just about limos and sedans anymore. It’s not far-fetched to think operators someday could be fielding client requests for “a Malibu to Manhattan Beach A/D for three passengers and surfboards.”— Martin Romjue, LCT editor
MARKETING TOOL: LCT always likes to spotlight operator blogs, since they are among the most effective ways to market your company, inform the wider public, and build loyalty to your brand.
Chris Hecker of Santa Barbara-based HECKER TRANSPORTATION, aka Serenity Limousine and Sedan Service, started a blog this month. CHRIS HECKER SERENITY LIMOUSINE AND SEDAN BLOG HERE.
HOW DO YOU BUILD A BRAND? Network, Network, Network — and become a household name.
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LCT MARKETING AWARD? If we could give one for BEST SHOW PROMO, it would undoubtedly go to David Bastian of Towne Livery in Orchard Park, N.Y. . .
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GETTING NOTICED: Operator Douglas Schwartz of EXECUTIVE LIMOUSINE in Bellmore, N.Y., and the president of the LONG ISLAND LIMOUSINE ASSOCIATION, landed in the business section of the New York Times today in a column about Small Business. The topic is about Internet advertising and social media, and how Schwartz has adapted to and invested his ad dollars in them for better returns. The column also EVALUATES AND ASKS FOR FEEDBACK on Schwartz's web site. A follow up column next week will highlight constructive criticism of the Executive web site. Call it a two-fer: Good exposure and a chance to get expert advice on doing better.
Separately, the LILA WEB SITE deserves praise for its simple, news-oriented format, which is a useful service for operator-members. Best of all: It's not too busy and gets to the point. -- M.R.
WHY DON'T MORE VENDORS DO THIS?
For the third year in a row, livery vehicles sales manager David Bastian of TOWNE LIVERY
of Orchard Park, N.Y. has promoted his booth at the INTERNATIONAL LCT SHOW
with a YouTube video that goes viral. It's a great way to get attention and drive traffic. TOWNE LIVERY ILCT VIDEO HERE
. -- M.R.
MARKETING MESSAGE: It seems more than a handful of people could be persuaded to take chauffeured vehicles to and from the airport to avoid the PROBLEMS OF LONG-TERM AIRPORT P-LOTS. Ditto for an advertising campaign that shows frustrated travelers standing in long cab lines outside the baggage claim area. Message: "NEXT TIME, GET YOUR OWN CAR." -- M.R.
SAFE RIDE SPONSORSHIPS:
One Minnesota operators sold his limousine and STARTED A LATE NIGHT TRANSPORTATION SERVICE
to keep drunk drivers off the road. The mini-van service draws revenue from its "taxi-fares" and annual sponsorships from local businesses. This concept can be adapted to any set of fleet vehicles in any area, as long as the operator has a set pricing tier and financial cooperation from the community. You don't have to sell your limos to make this work. -- M.R.
CUSTOMER COURTESY AND SERVICE: Make sure all chauffeurs know what it takes to earn a good tip. American Limousine Sales in Los Angeles offers these TIPS ON TIPS on its blog, except "limo driver" is not the accepted industry term for a chauffeur. A dealership blog offering advice to operators and prospective vehicle buyers, however, is an excellent marketing tool to demonstrate that vehicle sellers know the business they are selling to. -- M.R.
MAINTENANCE & MARKETING: We found a fine example of an operator who knows how to get his name out while doing a public service.
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BRUTAL PHOENIX SUMMER: Operators in the U.S. Southwest face summer hassles less frequent in more humid climates. Operators Rachel Ricks and James Romero, the spouse-team that runs IN THE SCENE LIMOUSINE, post a Transportation and Travel Blog on their web site that promotes limo specials and discusses the challenges of running a fleet during the summer season. In The Scene also has an EVENTS BLOG FOR ITS ORANGE COUNTY, CA MARKET, where it bases some of its vehicles. Such slice-of-life posts can help build a rapport with customers and explain what to expect. -- M.R.
BALANCED APPROACH: Forget about your local newspaper, TV stations, CVBs, LCT, CitySearch --- all might be worthwhile media outlets in their own way, but in the era of digital and social media YOU are your own best information service. Bill Faeth, owner of SILVER OAK TRANSPORTATION in Nashville, Tenn., understands this, as his STREET TALK BLOG includes updates of interest to operators and the industry as well as transportation packages and outings of interest to clients. The key is to MARKET and INFORM. Of recent interest on the blog: UPDATE ON NASHVILLE'S FIRST LIMO ORDINANCE. -- M.R.
Not just for girlie birthday parties anymore, the PINK STRETCHES
are helping operators get noticed for the fight against breast cancer and community good will.
MARKETING IDEA: One reason why inebriated motorists attempt to drive home is to avoid having the hassle of retrieving a vehicle the next day and/or leaving it in an unsafe or unauthorized place, i.e. a parking deck that closes at 2 a.m., a darkened street, an exposed parking lot with vandalim risk, etc. So, operators could provide the solution. . .
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MARKETING IDEA: THIS CONCEPT
is undoubtedly a success among schoolkids, so why not expand it to the office crowd? A limo and lunch package between an operator and local restaurants would appeal to companies/employees wanting to celebrate special workplace occasions.
WEALTH + NIGHT OUT + DRINKING = GET A LIMO.
Sounds simple enough. Many DUIs are preventable with the relatively affordable use of a chauffeured vehicle (cheaper than a DUI). Unfortunately, a New York City housewife and divorcee of the fourth-generation J.P. Morgan heir DOESN'T GET THE CHAUFFEURED CONCEPT
. DUI mug shots like hers would be good advertising tools for operators pursuing the party market. -- M.R.
LCT's contributing editor Jim Luff is mentioned/seen in a local newspaper column about businesses providing wedding-related services
. Operators should always be angling for such free exposure since it can be more powerful than an ad.
MEMORABLE MARKETING: This WED VIDEO AD for a limo operator may not exactly get an LCT Marketing Award, but it does deserve credit for creating a distinct impression, which is what advertising should do.
LONG-TERM MARKETING: Operators who provide limo service for school academic rewards programs not only build good will but get future limo clients hooked at an early age. One program in South Carolina creates the full red-carpet treatment (note the limousines and clapping chauffeurs). ARTICLE HERE. EVEN BETTER VIDEO HERE.
PROMOTING THE PROM: Several limousine operators in the Springfiled, Mo., area -- home to some of the world's leading coachbuilders -- got a big publicity boost from an article in the local newspaper and lays out DIFFERENT PROM LIMO OPTIONS. This is an idea that can work in any newspaper for any number of operators. Suggest an article or informal "prom limo guide" to a local media outlet as a way to get your limo options out to the prom market. -- M.R.
An "Under The Influence
" program in South Africa pairs a wine tour with a Lexus
; the concept of a wine-tasting, shopping excursion, museum tours, etc., via chauffeured luxury vehicles carries a lot of potential for operators, and offers opportunities to showcase new models/limos.
POSITIVE & PROACTIVE:
Operator Eli Darland of Rare Form Limousine in Seattle has gone on the marketing offensive of sorts by actually getting out and meeting with parents of teen-agers to explain the safety benefits and overall advantages of limousine transportation for school dances. This educates parents, protects the operator, and attracts clients. Darland posts about it at the Rare Form Limousine blog
and a separate Seattle Prom Limo blog
just for that market segment. -- M.R.
IN THE NEWS:
JEFF SERLIN of Chauffeured Limousine
and Red Dot Shuttle Service
in Bridgeport, Conn. says the company is profitable, but didn't see a YOY revenue increase for the first time in its history. NEWS ARTICLE HERE
A VERY GREEN DAY?
A limousine company near Detroit
has figured out a way to make money on St. Patrick's Day
March 17 --- discounted limousines AND shuttle bus service to celebratory hot spots.
CHAUFFEURED SUPERIORITY COMPLEX:
Smart Money magazine has an excellent article on the top 10 things cab drivers won't tell their customers
. Chauffeured operators very likely know about all these tricks, but it's doubtful much of the traveling public does. If they did, it would bring more business to chauffeured transportation. Comparing chauffeured service to cab service should be a part of any marketing and ad campaign. -- M.R.
NOTHING LIKE SUCCESS ON THE ROAD: A column in USA Today underscores what most sensible business people have known all along, whether in recovery or in recession: Face time yields better results long-term and gets the attention you need. What does everyone do on a teleconference? E-mail, surf, instant message -- not exactly the best way to build the rapport and connections for teamwork. Operator ad campaigns could easily tap these truths. -- M.R.
ANOTHER REASON TO GO LIMO:
As the pounding snowstorms in D.C. and northeastward prove, the SUV remains the go-to invincible vehicle
when the inches accumulate. Chauffeured operators with SUVs have served as high-demand lifelines for a diverse mix of clients during the last week. Let's make sure the public notices, and that operators market the SUV's all-weather versatility long after the snow has melted. [POSSIBLE AD: Take a photo of a black SUV in the snow next to a pedestrian and use the pitch: "We get you around when your transportation choices turn black and white."] -- M.R.
LOSING LAS VEGAS: Ritz ditches Sin City while President Obama ensures his party's political defeat in Nevada come November. . .
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A Tennessee operator is offering a free limo night out
as part of a promotional contest . Such offers can call attention to limo vehicles among people who might not have previously considered them.
CHEECH OR CHONG AS CHAUFFEUR?
One law-breaking operator serves clients preferring more relaxation
than what a bottle of water, a breath mint, and a newspaper provide.
GREAT LIMO TOWN: Las Vegas operators Charlie Horkey and Brent Bell are quoted on the virtues of Sin City livery.
LCT MARKETING AWARDS: Two of the marketing items that won awards last week -- Best Business Card by Overland Limousine of Kansas City and Best Brochure/Info Packet by Partners Executive Transportation of NYC -- were designed by Create-A-Card Inc. of St. James, N.Y., which has gained momentum in the chauffeured transportation industry as the source for marketing consulting and expertise. See designs. . .
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DOING WHAT OTHERS WON'T: The family that owns and runs Krystal Transportation & Limousine Service in San Antonio uses several techniques that other operators may find useful:
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GOOD MARKETING: LimoRes of New York has found a direct way to win over the middle class traveler, a vast potential client market for those chauffeured transportation companies that know how to get the point across. Showing value comparisons between Town Cars and taxis helps inform travelers who would have never considered chauffeured service, or who misperceive it as an elite option.
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EVEN IF IT'S ACROSS THE POND:
The British version of LCT, TheChauffeur.com
, found some dismal industry trends for 2009 similar to those of the U.S. in a recent survey, but also strong indications that interest in buying limos is picking up again
. LCT's definitive operator survey is out and about with a Feb. 5 deadline for our annual Fact Book, to be published one month earlier this year, in May. We'll know soon how strong the industry is trending toward more sales and customer activity. -- M.R.
David Bastian, commercial sales manager, of Towne Livery
(Towne Automotive Group), has taken a bold approach to promoting his dealership; a YouTube video pointing potential clients to the TOWNE LIVERY EXHIBIT
at the International LCT Show
Jan. 25-27 in Las Vegas. ANOTHER VERSION HERE
. LCT Publisher Sara Eastwood-McLean cites it as an outstanding example of how an exhibitor should be self promoting at this event. -- M.R.
EASY TO PLEASE CLIENTS:
Never underestimate the willingness of people to spend on and pamper their pets, even during a recession. With pet massage parlors, gourmet treat shops, PetSmart department stores, and first-class kennel services catering to middle class pet owners, why not LIMO SERVICES FOR PETS?
The investment would be minimal: A used limousine with seats and a few open windows (dogs love to look out). And pets won't complain about the lack of a wet bar and entertainment systems. -- M.R.
DRINKING & CHAUFFEURING: New Year's Eve turns out to be a DUD NIGHT for many operators; but there are still enough drunks out there to provide plenty of business. The challenge is to get the limo message out. Using SCARY DUI ARREST IMAGES might be one marketing approach. This limousine company takes a different approach: DRINK UP AND WE'LL DRIVE. But does operating a limo like a cab by charging for every tenth-mile qualify as chauffeured transportation? That may be another topic for another day, but the concept of providing complimentary booze to a group of limousine clients staying off the road can bring benefits all the way around. -- M.R.
WHAT IS THE FUTURE?
It's not a sedan, or an SUV, or a station wagon, but a complete cross-over that emphasizes practical comfort. The LINCOLN MKT SCORED
a favorable review in USA Today recently, which means the vehicle carries a lot of potential moving forward. Ford/Lincoln vehicles obviously get a lot of attention from the chaufffeured transportation industry, as operators await an announcement in the coming year about the future of the Lincoln Town Car. -- M.R.
A HEART FOR SPECIAL MOMENTS: A Canadian newspaper recently profiled an operator who enjoys his job because he gets to share in so many special occasions. THE CHAUFFEUR WHO LOVES HIS CUSTOMERS shows how the foundational market segment of the industry still endures. The wedding market is often the entry point for limousine companies. With the downturn of the last two years, many operators who went completely corporate/business during the industry's growth period are REDISCOVERING THE BLISS, as LCT reports in its December/January issue. -- M.R.
JACKSONVILLE, FLA: We'll take good news about the industry wherever we can get it, so this business newspaper article about the Jacksonville limousine industry looks encouraging. Even amid economic chaos, there are areas, pockets, and specific comapnies that defy the odds and do well. This week, we heard from operators who are up 38% and 46% respectively for 2009. Of course, some of those sizable gains are likely coming from clients gained from another operator who either closed or went out of business. Jacksonville is also home to Dynasty Limousine, a 2010 LCT Operator Of The Year finalist in the 11-30 vehicles category and the first limouisine company in the U.S. launching a public stock offering. -- M.R.
AND THEIR BLACK VEHICLES, TOO:
Populist rage against money-making people not only tanked chauffeured limo demand in 2009 -- it also grounded many private chartered jets. But as some eminently reasonable business titans are EXPLAINING IN FORBES MAGAZINE, private jets are actually one of the most efficient ways to get business travel and consultation done in today's globalized economy. Ditto for the chauffeured vehicles needed to take hard-working private sector executives and managers to and from the jets.
Here's to more private jet-black vehicle combos in the New Year. [SIGN OF A HEALTHY ECONOMY W/PLENTY OF JOBS: "Would you like an Escalade to go with your Gulfstream?"] -- M.R.
Business Travel News has released its 2009 Large Market Benchmarking Report: Finding Room For Making Ground Moves. The assessment summarizes a tough year for chauffeured transportation operators.
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AIRLINE CABINS AS RETAIL SPOTS:
This New York Times article
suggests: Why not sell limousine services or even tickets to Broadway shows? Yes, why not? The captive audiences in business class would be receptive to limousine/luxury transportation, especially if they could make reservations a few hours before landing.
NITTY-GRITTY ON YOUR CITY:
One of the best tools for any operator looking to expand networks and affiliates and pursue new markets is research -- learning which U.S. cities are adding jobs in what industries. To that end, the MILKEN INSTITUTE
, a non-partisan economic think tank in Santa Monica, CA, has just released its annual study: BEST PERFORMING CITIES
2009: Where America's Jobs Are Created and Sustained. In what appears to be a scattershot, uneven, and generally warped economic recovery, getting down to such micro-specifics is crucial to finding more business. -- M.R.
MAKING THE MOST OF MOTORCOACHES & MINI-BUSES:
While retail forecasts for this holiday shopping season do not look robust, consumers are likely to be open to value-oriented experiences. Charter and tour companies are offering holiday and historical themed LOCAL EXCURSIONS
that can appeal to travelers avoiding vacations
this year. The concept can work as well for chauffeured transportation operators with mini-buses ideal for smaller-scale tours. -- M.R.
ANTICIPATING AN UPTURN:
See the LATEST SURVEY
on the top recovering job markets in the U.S. These cities provide a clue as to where business activity and travel might increase demand for transportation.
We've run multiple columns and opinions on whether operators should cut their rates during this recession, and if so, by how much. To help eveyrone get a sense of pricing trends, LCT has posted a NEW WEB POLL QUESTION
. Results will run in the December issue of LCT Magazine.
PINCHING PENNIES ON THE ROAD: The good news is that biz travel IS coming back to a certain extent, but corporate bean counters are making sure their employees maximize value. NEW YORK TIMES ARTICLE HERE. Operators can help meet and even increase demand for their services by making life simpler for the bean counters; sell them on convenient, comfortable group transportation (SUVs, mini-buses, vans) with simple, straightforward pricing packages. Somewhere between a rental car and a public bus ranks the most sensible option for business travelers: Chauffeured transportation. -- M.R.
CHAUFFEURED FUTURE IS HERE: At least in the San Francisco Bay Area, where operator Gary Bauer's Bauer's Intelligent Transportation is wowing clients with the cutting edge combo of: 1) Greener group ground transportation; 2) Technical offerings and conveniences that make a bus ride better than a plane trip. LATEST PROFILE HERE.
SPOOK LIMO TOURS: Some creative ways to market limo, mini-bus, and/or trolley transportation to Halloween sightseers and trick-or-treaters HERE.
Kids would love a "haunted limo run" from one neighborhood to another in their insatiable quest for candy. You can dress the chauffeur up in a Werewolf costume for added thrills.
For adult Halloween-goers, you'd have to take it to another level to horrify them: Chauffeur as Nancy Pelosi drag queen? -- M.R.
WIPEDOWN: LCT Magazine's JIM LUFF is featured in his local newspaper for taking advantage of a seminar that explains how to minimize H1N1 risks to clients. Operators should make sure all surfaces are clean and sanitary. As a way of reassuring chauffeured clients, operators may want to consider wrapping certain handles or equipment, such as beverage glasses and/or holders, with "sanitary seal of approval" ribbons or paper strips to communicate to customers that equipment, amenities, and handles have been sanitized for their safety. (I'm only half-serious on that one). -- M.R.
ALL AGES NOW: Gone are the days when motorcoach transportation was associated primarily with seniors groups, school groups, and Greyhound bus travel.
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The business jet industry -- whose clients often use chauffeured transportation to and from FBO facilities -- won't be building many new planes for several years, latest reports show
. New jet deliveries to fractional operators is down 66% Y-o-Y.
ADDRESS, TOWN, and STATE PLEASE: There are always a few in every pile -- business cards that list a chauffeured transportation company and then no physical address, town, and state. From our standpoint at LCT, such cards are annoying and don't get considered for a follow up article or contribution: Who? Where? We need to know. One veteran operator sent us this e-mail that wisely sums up the situation:
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PUT ON YOUR SALES CAP: How much time do you spend selling? Do you have a sales force or are you the main salesperson?
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WOULD THIS WORK? One New Jersey township is considering A THOUGHTFUL APPROACH to prom night:
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TRUTH IN LABELING: Most limousine companies automatically add 18-20% “gratuity” to their bills. Is this really a gratuity or is it a service charge?
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TALE OF TWO OPERATORS: Operators George Jacobs of Windy City Limousine in Chicago and Bill Atkins of Red Bank Limo in Tinton Falls, N.J. are at opposite ends of the fleet size scale but both report revenue increases of 20% year over year. During a bad recession. And both are coming to the LCT Eastern Conference.
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WHAT DO YOUR CLIENTS SAY ABOUT YOU? Building business is becoming harder and harder. Advertising and marketing budgets seem to be shrinking or even disappearing. Consider building a chain of Raving Fans.
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Clearly, a luxury chauffered transportation operator should have landed THIS CONTRACT
, instead of a rental car agency. This is the second recent example we've seen of Avis making inroads in the global tourism and travel market by partnering with a resort, airline, or exotic destination tourism agency. While Avis' arrangement is legal and competitive, the global demand for chauffeured transportation should be met by chauffeured vehicle operators. -- M.R.
Temecula Valley Wine Country has new rules in place designed to deter drunken booze cruises with limousines. Limousine and charter companies are being asked to hand out pamphlets with guidelines and to contact the wineries in advance when they will be bringing groups of ten or larger. The wineries themselves are working with the limousine companies to eliminate drunken patrons. Establishing this type of criteria should be embraced by every limousine company across the country. In previous years, there have been movements to eliminate busing patrons into wineries. As an industry, we need to take a proactive approach to keep this revenue stream available to us. Every state in the country now has wineries
SEPTEMBER 2009 LCT PREVIEW: The print edition is heading toward subscribers, but we just couldn't wait to release some of it ahead of snail mail. In this month's issue, readers will find the timely topics of OPERATORS WHO LOWBALL and the importance of devising a NETWORKING PLAN, preferably at the LCT Eastern Conference just one month away.
The features on lowballing and networking reflect two different approaches to coping with a recession; the first approach is for short-term gainers and desperadoes, the second for those serious about building long-term business. While lowballing is legal and competitive, unless it's done by a gypsy operator, the old rule still applies for operator and client alike: You reap what you sow, and you get what you pay for. Those rules also apply to networking, joining industry associations, and attending LCT events: What you put in, is what you get out.
The other two articles on www.lctmag.com feature revenue opportunities with DOUBLE-DECKER BUSES, and LCT Publisher Sara Eastwood-McLean's latest take on industry trends. Main point: Think PEOPLE MOVING, not just luxury pampering on wheels.
About the Cover: Royale Limousine Manufacturers of Haverhill, Mass. has repositioned itself with two innovative vehicle lines that meet changing demands and tastes in chauffeured transportation.
Finally, the 2010 OPERATOR OF THE YEAR FORMS, are now posted on the LCT home page. Just download, fill out, attach to supplemental materials, and send to me at Martin@lctmag.com. We know it's been a rough year and everyone understands -- but don't neglect a shot at gaining industry prestige and the opportunity to help others with your successes. Entry deadline for OOY, LCT Marketing Awards, and LCT Association Award of Excellence is Oct. 1.
-- Martin Romjue, LCT editor
GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE?
At least you won't have to worry about workers' comp, wage disputes, and rising fuel costs.
YEAR OF THE STAYCATION: THIS COMPANY
is making the most of the recession and its local tourist attractions. Day-trip bus tours can fit many a squeezed travel budget and make the most efficient use of group transportation. The next variant of the staycation is the "closecation" -- traveling within 100 miles of home for a one-night stay to take day tours. Operators anecdotally report seeing success with such tour packages/offerings. -- M.R.
When a Smart Car taxi cab gets promoted on a limo website and referred to as “chauffeur driven,” are we looking at the merger of taxi and limo? Will future clients interested in greening themselves even want such distinctions? ARTICLE HERE
WEDRIVEU ALERT: Industry associations have succeeded this year in repeatedly stymieing Avis' unregulated, impostor chauffeured concept at numerous major airports. Now comes word of another Avis approach:
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YOU DON’T GET STUCK IN A LIMO, A VAN, OR A BUS: If you must be confined in a tube-shaped vehicle with other people, would you rather have the option to “de-bus” immediately, or “de-plane” when the FAA says you can — many hours later?
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SEPTEMBER Limousine Charter & Tour:
Downsizing may be the buzzword of this economy, but for ground transportation, “upsizing” with more people saves the most money for clients and brings in the most bucks for operators. AS THIS MEGA-BUS SERVICE
shows, the biggest buses of them all — double-deckers — stack the most potential for healthy business — whether for mass transport, sightseeing, or partying. More on double-deckers in the September issue of LCT Magazine.
APPALLING: In California alone, 250 luxury hotels are now in default or lender-owned, according to a recent survey. This hurts the operators whose transportation services take guests to and from resorts and hotels.
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KIDS LIKE LIMOS
: The stretch limousine should never be written off or discounted, if only FOR THIS REASON
. Interesting how kids and teens consistently like to ride in limos — presumably they have not fully developed the fear of what others might think or the need to “pose” and “preen” like adults — in the pathologically PC vehicle du jour
. -- M.R.
As non-profits reel from diminished donations, fund-raising must turn more aggressive and frequent. What better way to find a fun, local, and cost-effective way to get attention and raise money THAN THIS LIMO BUS APPROACH?
Marketwatch put out a state of chauffeured transportation overview
this afternoon, which quotes industry figures SCOTT SOLOMBRINO, SERGIO SANCHEZ, SCOTT TINKLER, and our very own LINDA MOORE. Solombrino is not exactly known for being overly optimistic, so if the industry's unofficial oracle is looking toward renewed corporate business, then the bottom may have been reached. The article reports that 3,400 operators have either shut down or consolidated during the recession so far, which may be verified by our surveys next year, but the official LCT stats show about 9,700 operators in June 2008 versus about 8,000 in June 2009. LCT's latest unscientific poll shows half of operators believe their business bottom has been reached, the other half says not yet. -- M.R.
TWEENS bring a lot of spending influence to the family table. And as the September issue of LCT will report,
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NO DOOM AND GLOOM:
It's always heartening to see reports like this
outside of big cities, indicating that not all is lost in the big, luxury limousine market. Of course, Texas is one of the most business-friendly states in the union, with no personal state income tax. Texas also has experienced fewer effects of the recession, given its surge in corporate relocations from other states and limited government spending. -- M.R.
NOTHING PERSONAL: “What’s your fleet size?” has become a trickier question of late for operators at all levels downsizing vehicle counts in a troubled economy. Two recent operator interactions with LCT show there are two ways to handle this question.
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ATTENTION TEXTERS BEHIND THE WHEEL:
"If you cannot afford a chauffeur to drive you around, then your time is not as valuable [as] you think." See commentary here
. Another good selling point for chauffeured transportation: Safe, quiet, and hassle-free texting. -- M.R.
DON'T CUT TOO FAR:
High-end hotels and luxury-oriented chauffeured transportation appeal to the same business travel clients, so what happens with one affects the other. The latest pricing drama
at Starwood Hotels should help inform the pricing adjustment decisions of any operator vying to compete in a recessionary market. -- M.R.
OUT OF SYNC: We've heard the arguments over and over: You can drive a car at 16, go to war at 18, but can't drink legally until you're 21. You can legally rent a limo at 18 with some operators, but not rent a car from most rental agencies until you're 25. Or at least pay a hefty rate if you are below 25. Now an organization called Choose Responsibility has punctured the myths surrounding the 21 drinking age.
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"THE LUXURY MARKET WILL RECOVER" Don't sell out to compacts and basic vehicles, just yet. If the luxury carmakers are planning on future buyers, why shouldn't luxury-oriented chauffeured transportation anticipate future clients? A positive outlook here. -- M.R.
WHAT WILL REALLY WORK?
Toyota's technology chief goes off on plug-ins and E-85 vehicles
. Many comments follow.
EATING IT UP:
Turns out hybrid vehicles are a lot like fat-free foods; consumers are tricked into thinking they can have more of them since there aren't as many calories, aka carbon footprints. THIS STUDY PROVIDES ONE OF THOSE A-HA MOMENTS
. Which explains why fat-free foods really don't cut much fat and hybrids don't save much, if anything, on gas and carbon. But then what would those Visa ads tell us? Striking a pose -- Priceless. -- M.R.
BUSES OF ALL SIZES:
Appear to be thriving in this recession
, as numerous operators have told us. Combined with innovation and new markets, mini-buses, vans, shuttles, and motorcoaches are redefining the limousine industry. More about this in the bus/van (September) issue of LCT Magazine. -- M.R.
SLASH N' TURN: If
the restaurant industry could serve as any type of a guide, THE ANSWER WOULD BE NO
. Slash prices at your peril. -- M.R.
LUXURY STILL PREVAILS:
Does it make good business sense to start a high-end chauffeured operation in the middle of a severe recession with two Rolls-Royces that get 10 miles to the gallon and require 100-octane fuel? In Knoxville, Tenn.? THIS BRITISH ENTREPRENEUR
proves anything is possible given the right concept and approach. -- M.R.
This charter and tour operator
is showing the intiative needed
to market and promote in the Internet era; chauffeured transportation and charter/tour operators alike should sponsor either an in-house or contracted company BLOG
, preferably one with an enterprising "travel character" such as "Lady Limelight." -- M.R.
A two-stretch operator in Elk Grove, CA faces challenges all too common for small operators in this downward economy. The local newspaper DID A LENGTHY PROFILE
of the operator and his financial situation.
A recession invariably brings up a key question on service pricing: Maintain your rates or cut them to snag more business? One New York operator
has publicized his policy of keeping rates at 2004 levels
. Is this unusual? Is this prudent? Should you swallow higher costs, fees, and taxes in a recession? How do you keep and add customers, maintain quality service, and compete in a cutthroat recession?
SEARCHING THE DEPTHS:
Where is that economic black box
from the recessionary plunge that will finally indicate the bottom and give clues on what happened, why, and how not to repeat? MORE SIGNS TODAY
that business travel is not recovering yet. The concept of "green shoots" of recovery should become a comedic punch line, given that they are acting more like greenhouse gases on the economy. Who were the fanciful idiots that predicted ONLY 8% UNEMPLOYMENT? Make sure you keep tabs and never forget. -- M.R.
Whether a regional tour or a staycation arrangement, the recession provides ample opportunities for operators to promote simple and economical charter bus tour packages. The creative possibilities are endless, as THIS CHARTER TRIP REVIEW
shows. And as younger professionals embrace motorcoach travel, at least on the commuter front, the notion of a charter bus tour being a seniors-only activity is rapidly falling away. If this recession pushes more people toward chauffeured and charter transportation, then the silver lining will be apparent. -- M.R.
GET CREATIVE TO STAY AFLOAT: Livery companies frequently are sideline operations of other businesses or part of a collection of small businesses held by a single owner. So more and more limousine companies are finding creative ways to keep money flowing in while staying true to the core values of being a limousine company. . .
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NUMBER OF OPERATORS: Here we go again -- one of this industry's red-flag-in-front-of-bull issues. A research report issued today is way off, both from the estimates of LCT and its leading competitor. . .
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NO REBOUND NEAR:
Reuters reports this morning that Dav El Chauffeured Transportation Network's fleet is down 20% in vehicles compared to last year, and BostonCoach has cut its number of employees from 1,200 to 877. The fear factor of using luxury travel appears to be compounding the effects of the recession. STORY HERE
LINDA MOORE: August marks the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. I was 4-years-old when the muddy music lovefest occurred. Now, at 44, I see opportunities for operators. . .
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LINDA MOORE: Drug manufacturers are still one of the few business segments spending regularly on group transportation. They often take doctors and medical personnel on trips to teach them the benefits of their products. As Congress looks at heath care reform, one of the casualties may be these trips. . .
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KEEPING SCORE: Small businesses aren't seeing much hope or change amid the declining credit environment. Chauffeured transportation operators with 10 or fewer vehicles are most vulnerable in this recession. The massive economic stimulus package was signed by Obama on Feb. 17; four months and counting, and no signs of a recovery for America's business backbone yet. -- M.R.
notices what could become a solid upward pattern
Limousine, CHARTER & TOUR: Emphasis on the C&T. One of the most promising market opportunities across chauffeured and chartered transportation lies with motorcoach and/or mini bus service, as. . . .
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SUVs ARE THE ONES WE'VE BEEN WAITING FOR: As much as the government tries to steer green shoots of recovery toward smaller cars, Americans overall prefer the bigger, more comfortable vehicles, as. . .
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A Texas entrepreneur has come up with a brilliant concept that points the way toward the future of "chartered" "jet-style" chauffeured transportation. And the Bed & Breakfast market is one waiting to be tapped. Let's hope THIS WORKS
PINK LIMOS CAN BE COOL: A New York operator has come up with an innovative concept for a worthwhile cause. . .
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The latest airline forecast looks bleak
, with flights getting costlier, less frequent, and more cramped. But for chauffeured transportation operators and charter/tour operators, this could be a golden opportunity to market motorocoaches, shuttles, vans, limo buses, and even stretches, as superior, value-added alternatives, especially on inter-city commuter routes. One requirement: Make sure all vehicles are equipped with WiFi access and digital TVs if possible.
DAY ON THE HILL: Eli Darland, owner of Seattle-based Rare Form Limousine, offers THIS EXCERPT on Tuesday's event, the annual industry lobbying effort on Capitol Hill. Darland, whose 4-vehicle company was featured in the October 2008 issue of LCT Magazine, is one limo entrepreneur who really "GETS IT": He blogs, maintains an innovative website, participates in the industry, offers creative package deals, equips his limos with high end entertainment-systems, and builds on his connections as a former night club promoter. He also actively engaged with speakers at the 2008 LCT Leadership Summit in Miami Beach. That's called leading by example. -- M.R.
MEDIA BLITZ: Billy Jinks, the 19-year-old founder and owner of Lexani Limousines, has gotten a lot of media attention, including from LCT, for owning a limousine company in a recession at an age when it's best to start being an entrepreneur. Videos are up HERE and HERE. Jennifer Lawhead of the Crosby/Wright public relations firm now handles interview requests.
While the decline in biz travel hurts airlines
and chauffeured services alike, the cheaper alternative of course is group ground transportation: vans, limo buses, motorcoaches, big SUVs. Chauffeured and charter operators should be looking for ways to meet the need and demand for more economical transportation. And don't forget the seats and legroom on most chauffeured vehicles are much more comfortable than economy class. Does the public know this for sure? -- M.R.
As the business travel industry faces seismic shifts in business travel preferences and patterns, leading industry groups are trying to sort out how to pool resources and pick battles. UPDATE HERE
STARTED A LIMO COMPANY LAST YEAR: These stories
are always popular with operators (we know because we see the numbers of hits for each blog post) -- and show what's possible.
SCHOOLMARMS AT THE GATES: Don't think for a minute that recent isolated cases of limo-bans at school proms will remain atypical. LCT has noticed a growing and disturbing trend of public school officials regulating, banning, or obstructing the free choice of renting limousines for the prom -- an established prom tradiiton. It is emerging as a key threat to a bread and butter market of the chauffeured transportation industry. . .
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STUART ROTHSTEIN QUOTED:
The NLA board member and owner of a contractor-based chauffeured transportation service in Chicago talks about his metro market and offers an overall assessment
of how the recession is hurting the industry.
LINDA MOORE ASKS: Is the term "limousine" a goner? Does it belong in the category of dirty words? Will the stigma ever vanish? Are operators who take limousine out of their names being practical or fearful? Will stretch limos become popular again? LCT will be addressing these questions in upcoming coverage, but Linda wants to get some discussion started.
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OF COURSE IT CAN. What kind of a question is that?
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LONG, HOT SUMMER:
More than one-third of American workers plan to forgo a summer vacation
this year in another sign of the dismal travel times. Some motorcoach operators are marketing "staycation" tours
for locals who many just take one or two days off to relax near home. Would this concept work for chauffeured operators as well? Limo staycation outings and excursions? It may be a viable market this year given the expected drop-off in out-of-town leisure travelers. -- M.R.
PERSPECTIVE: For an excellent summary of Avis WeDriveU's operational weak spots and mistakes, visit the All Things Limousine blog, a solid forum of industry information and operator know-how. As WeDriveU defeats pile up and the Avis chauffeured business model tanks, the quality practices of the real and legit chauffeured transportation industry will stand strong and speak for themselves. -- M.R.
FROM THE FRONT LINES OF LIMOLAND: "If I had another 25 cars I could get them all out easy," says Robert Tatro, owner of Presidential Limousine Service. "I know people are shopping more by price this year than they have in the past but they still want to do the special event for the prom. Prom is only one time."
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NO LIMOS ON THE LOT:
A New Hampshire operator
is quoted in a local news story
saying he cut prices 10% this year and now has all stretch limos rented out for key prom weekends. There are industry stalwarts who say never cut prices during tough times, and others who would rather cut a little to keep vehicles moving. The industry pricing debate we've heard discussed at multiple LCT events revolves around this key question and a second: If clients get used to a lower price level, will they devalue your service and balk at back-to-normal rates when the economy improves? -- M.R.
In a recession, the knee-jerk corporate cutback du jour tends to be business travel, as the chauffeured transportation industry is painfully aware. THIS ARTICLE
offers a refreshing rebuttal to the conference call way of doing business in a tight economy. If an operator's business clients balk at traveling, these findings could persuade them otherwise. And the concept applies to dometic travel as well. Getting all those faces together obviously means there is potential time for a chauffeur to take them there. -- M.R.
GOOD FOR HIM: A 19-YEAR-OLD ENTREPRENEUR is making more than $1 million during a recession with 30 Mercedes, Hummers, and party buses, according to this news account. Future LCT Operator of the Year?
POSITIVE SCRAPLET: We take whatever we can find, so when a limousine operator gets good local press, it's certainly worth mentioning. Below article profiles a Michigan operator. It reminds us that companies are still succeeding despite the economic challenges and industry cutbacks.
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COMING NEXT WEEK: Coverage of recent decision by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to bar Avis WeDriveU from chauffeured transportation service. Such a major setback for Avis in the limousine industry's largest metro market could be the knockout punch against the WeDriveU business model. See anti-Avis strategies below, courtesy of Joe Jordan, president of the Limousine Association of Houston.
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BUSES FOR BUREAUCRATS: A newspaper editorial praising the use of mass-style transit for proms and condescending to limo companies should get your operator blood boiling.
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FRUGAL FALLOUT: Los Angeles operator Chris Hundley of Limousine Connection was quoted this weekend in an L.A. Times article estimating that prom-related limo rentals are down 25% across the industry compared to last year. The only question is how much of this reduction can be attributed to actual declines in teens' personal budgets versus how much stems from the populist-driven, peer pressurizing fear factor that makes people not want to spend on life's enjoyables.
Marketing slogans for troubled times? "Kick conformity. Rent a limo." "Frugality sucks. Live it up with a limo." "More is more. Got limo?"
LIMOFFICIENT: Earth Day need not be a source of anxiety — just some benevolent awareness.
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OBESE OPPS: Now that flier fat taxes have replaced air rage as the latest commercial airborne concern, could chauffeured companies find a widening opportunity?
With about two thirds of the American populace considered obese, surveys increasingly show passengers favoring added fees for hefty fliers or double-seat booking. What better way to counteract the seat squeeze and pocketbook pinch for the porky set than to market chauffered vehicles to them as the before and after antidote to a stuffy flight.
There's no need to levy fat surcharges on limos, since there's plenty of room and the client controls the passenger count. And a limo certainly accommodates the horizontal types moreso than taxis, shuttles, and buses.
Possible marketing slogan: "After flying the flabby skies, a limo will make you feel lean." -- M.R.
CUTTING ONLY SO FAR:
Traveling executives and business professionals may be more discreet about their arrangements, but they can only forgo so many conveniences. Being flexible
in pricing and packages still can go a long way. After all, the traveler who needs to save on time can find no better alternative than chauffeured transportation. It's not a perk; it's a necessity. -- M.R.
One school system in Rhode Island is requiring junior prom-goers to take scheduled charter buses
to the prom. This has resulted in limo cancellations. As Limousine, Charter & Tour, we really can't take sides on this one. It's just painful to watch. All the more reason for chauffeured transportation operators to also offer motorcoach access.
2009 FACT BOOK PREVIEW: LCT Magazine is busy compiling and organizing the results of its annual Fact Book survey, and as usual, a few results defy conventional wisdom. Out of 11 issues that concern operators, guess which one ranked dead last? Green/sustainability programs.
Despite all the coverage of green issues, all the hype and promotion about green techniques, all the emphasis on green vehicles. . . operators aren't too worked up over them. There are numerous ways to interpret this: souring economy puts green issues on the back burner; the public is burned out over global warming drama and hysteria; cap and trade schemes spook the business sector; green vehicles are still too expensive; lower gas costs have taken the urgency out of going green; or, just maybe, a chilling truth is crystallizing like a thickening sheet of ice.
The No. 1 operator concern? Fuel costs. After the speculative fuel price horror of 2008, that is no surprise. So what is the connection between the first and last concerns of operators? Who knows, but maybe a good plan of action for now is for the U.S. to find more sources of oil AND vigorously pursue the development of green luxury vehicles that save on gas. -- M.R.
VALUE MARKETING: One of the best ways to market and promote your company is through a blog, or web journal. It takes some time, but costs little to nothing, as one savvy operator has learned. . .
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WHERE TO PARK? The influx of motorcoaches into cities often creates traffic hassles; where do you park all the motorcoaches that bring in day trippers, shoppers, commuters, and people willing to spend money? The cities of Alexandria, Va. and New York's West Side of Manhattan are facing this dilemma. The motorcoach trend is one that should be encouraged and embraced; after all it takes cars off the road and carbon out of the air. So cities would be wise to invest in motorcoach parking lots and/or flexible waiting/parking rules. With growing pressure for more efficient transportation during a recession, governments and authorities need to lay the groundwork for motorcoach growth. -- M.R.
DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN:
While understandable that prom-goers will want to save money this year because of the recession, operators need to be advertising, promoting, and explaining why limousines should not be part of the cuts. Orlando area teens are organizing carpools to the prom
-- a troubling trend for operators who count on a revenue boost during prom season. Operators need to explain why it makes more sense to cut back on an expensive meal, an elaborate tux or dress, or pricey hotel suite after-parties instead of the safest, most comfortable, and most memorable transportation available. (Equiip your chauffeurs with digital cameras so they can take free, complimentary photos of the limo experience that can be e-mailed the next day). And limos still get to use carpool lanes. -- M.R.
RECESSION, WHO? I talked with a 12-vehicle operator today who projects increased revenues, plans to buy more vehicles, just opened a second location, charges higher prices than competitors, does very little corporate work, and has a fleet with 75% stretches and mini-buses. . .all during the worst recession in 25 years. Say what?
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TIGHT TIMES: With prom clients squeezed financially like everyone else, the limousine becomes a target for penny pinchers. The below article is one example of what is being reported nationwide as seniors prepare for the prom. Operators need to be out front this year publicizing the advantages of limo service to keep market share -- and not take for granted that seniors will automatically rent limos because it's "once in a lifetime."
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BOTH SAVE TIME AND ADD VALUE:
Recent findings suggest the private charter jet industry's best days are still to come, and when compared to first class and business class commercial travel, such travel actually makes more sense for executives and corporate clients. While the Big Three auto executives bungled the industry's image in November -- if you come hat in hand to middle class taxpayers, don't show up in a jet or limo for that matter -- the industry can easily move past that image and present the correct one. As this article shows
, the messages about charter jets can be applied to chauffeured and chartered vehicles as well. It's all about the time-saving, practical value. -- M.R.
EXPOSURE: The groundswell of outrage in the business travel, hospitality, and conference industries has not only reached the ears of the Obama Administration, but netted coverage in the New York Times. The Greater California Livery Association and the National Limousine Association enjoined their voices to the grass-roots business movement fighting job-killing legislative curbs and controls on corporate travel and events. AIG excesses are not typical of corporate America, and should not be used by whoring politicians against industries that employ 1 out 7 private sector Americans. Let a thousand Ritz-Carlton conferences -- including the LCT SUMMIT -- bloom, and help take us out of the recession.-- M.R.
LIMOUSINE, CHARTER & TOUR:
No better way to explain it than with this example.
The term "LimoLiner.com" best sums up the direction of the industry to larger group vehicles with limousine services that are advertised and booked online.
The May issue of LCT Magazine will feature one medium-sized operator who would have never thought about going into motorcoach service this time last year.
Now he's about to buy his fourth motorcoach, while his stretch limo fleet has fallen from seven to one.
While Avis WeDriveU may be ceasing chauffeured rental car operations in Miami-Dade County, its concept is still being promoted in the travel industry, as this travel blog shows
. The chauffeured transportation industry -- the one that follows the rules and pays for licenses -- needs to keep educating travel agencies and bookers not only about the superiority of legitimate chauffeured services, but how Avis WeDriveU has been dealt a pivotal, precedent-setting blow. Similar regulatory decisions in other metro areas are very likely on the way, thanks to pressure from actively engaged industry associations. Avis WeDriveU should not be presented as a viable ground transportation alternative. Hand-in-hand with the regulatory battles goes the PR offensive as well. -- M.R.
HOTELS SET EXAMPLE:
Reeling from recession-driven fearful pull-outs and cowardly poltiical attacks, the hotel, meeting, and conference service sectors are using constructive ways to work with clients and handle business. STORY HERE
. Considering a client's circumstances and cutting a deal is the long-term approach to keeping as much business now and building good-will for future growth. -- M.R.
QUIVERING NAME-CHANGERS: The fallout from the business travel backlash hurts local economies nationwide. Now some hotels, resorts, and conference centers think they can capitalize on the recession and its freakish political climate by changing their names to avoid the terms luxury, resort, spa, etc. . . .
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WHEN TOURISM SUFFERS:
In Michigan, charter and tour companies have found a way to bring in tourists by the busload
CHAUFFEURED TRANSPORTATION should borrow the below tactic from the business travel industry, meeting planners, and destination managers in responding to the political attack on the world of business interactions. Despite a recession and bailouts, politicians do not have the right to start treating business travel like smoking. Those clueless politicans, who by the way helped cause this crisis, still ride around in chauffeured vehicles. . .
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OPERATOR VIEW: Jonna Sabroff, the first vice president of the Greater California Livery Association and owner of ITS of Los Angeles, offered this firsthand assessment of industry challenges and the importance of associations in stabilizing the industry. . .
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GOOD VS. BAD: Two newspaper articles were posted today on limousine operators that illustrate two sides of the coin. . .
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FACT-AVERSE MEDIA: The chauffeured transportation industry has sustained a "drive-by" media barrage about the sedan services provided to many corporate clients in New York. This means operators of all sizes need to be out front rebutting the misleading claims in the report. . .
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MARKET TRENDS: Weddings, proms, quinceaneras, and funerals: as spring comes round the corner, event planning is active but this year very cost controlled. Consumers are spending less on all of these activities, but they do continue. Here's some of the very latest media coverage of these markets. . .
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PRICE POINTS: Reston Limousine had these EYE-OPENING charter bus trip rates published in one of its local papers, the Fairfax Times:
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BIZ TRAVEL BADMOUTHING:
Leading hotel executives have asked Congress to stop demonizing corporate business
travelers for, um, traveling for business. Good for them; Congressional trashing of biz travel hurts chauffeured transportation operators directly. As this economic crisis unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that fault lies with government interference in the economy as well as bungled policies and regulations -- not the everyday business traveler who helps the private sector generate the tax dollars needed to pay the public tab. -- M.R.
For Toronto operator Roy Stevenson, it took him about 20 minutes to figure out that the woman riding in the backseat with a scarf over hear head was Angelina Jolie. Platinum Limousine was driving her
to the Toronto Film Festival. She wanted to chat with her chauffeur, but didn't want anyone outside the car recognizing her. This is unlike most of Platinum's other customers who want everyone seeing them step out of a white limo. More typically, celebrities will be driven in a black sedan or SUV, but the point is: privacy is a top priority. Most chauffeurs/operators won't reveal the identities of celebrity clients unless trying to impress you with good stories during cocktail parties. But they don't want to be quoted on it. -- J.L.
WHAT ARE THE SENIORS SAYING ABOUT LIMOS? With the recession in full fury, operators intersted in keeping their prom clientele need to be prepared to respond to arguments such as the one below, that appears in Teen Ink magazine:
"There’s no problem with renting a limousine to get to and from the prom as long as more than three couples go together and split the cost, especially with the price of gas lately. Yes, limos mean fewer cars on the road and make socializing more fun, but you can only rent them for so many hours and then you are stuck."
TEAM SPIRIT: Limousine Association of Houston President Joe Jordan offers quotes from the Army War College and Martin Luther King, Jr., along with tributes to GCLA and NLA President Ron Sorci. Successfully getting through this economic meltdown "will require an enormous amount of effort of all of us working together," to quote Jordan.
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PROM CLIENTS MAY FACE LIMO SHORTAGE: As the recession forces fleet reductions and some operator closures, the supply of limousines for prom night may be a bit tight this year, says Steve Levin, owner of Sterling Rose Limousine in Temecula, Calif., and a 2008 Operator of the Year Award winner. His latest assessment below. . .
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KENTUCKY LIMOUSINE ASSOCIATION: Carey Fieldhouse, the president of the KLA and owner of R&R Limousine in Louisville, Ky., told me today about a helpful prom-season idea for operators and associations: A list or directory of all high schools and their prom dates. The KLA had a staff member reach about 70% of all the high schools in Kentucky and get dates and details of their proms. The list was then distributed to operator-members looking for prom season business. One question we have at LCT is: HOW IS THE RECESSION AFFECTING PROM SEASON RESERVATIONS? -- M.R.
TIGHT TEEN-AGE BUDGETS: With prom season just ahead, operators may want to consider how the recession affects the seniors renting limousines.
This article offers a valuable insight into what's happening among seniors nationwide; the good news is they still want the limousines for a once in a lifetime event; the bad news is some are either losing jobs or hours, and really must save and scramble to foot the prom bill.
Operators should be aware of this in pricing and making flexible deals for limo prom rentals. Tuxedo stories are taking that approach; question is, if you have to cut something out, should it be the tux or the limo? Well, here's to arriving in style at the casual prom. . . -- M.R.
GOOD USE OF TIME: Jim Luff discusses social networking and community involvement.
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SIGN OF TROUBLED TIMES:
A Bloomberg News article
about the cutbacks in corporate travel and perks starts off , of course, with an easy target: limousines. Alex Mashinsky, owner of LimoRes.net, is quoted. In our humbly biased opinion, the limo or the sedan is still a better value than a cab, a coach seat, or a rental car. Instead of giving bankers, executives, and managers bloated bonuses, how about rewarding them with frequent limo rides? -- M.R.
OPERATOR BATTLES DRY DESERT MARKET:
One operator in Palm Springs, Calif., is offering a new restaurant and bar hopping service.
Great idea, but a few caveats. It only works if enough people have money to spend on dining out; and those who can dine out may not be willing to buy expensive drinks, opting to drive themselves. But the all-inclusive approach certainly delivers overall good value: safe, luxurious transportation with client costs offset by savings on gas and use of personal vehicles. And a DUI, of course, can run into the thousands. -- M.R.
California and Tennessee may have very little in common, aside from thriving music scenes in Los Angeles and Nashville. But both states rank number ONE in terms of the transportation industries served by LCT Magazine. Tennessee recently was ranked as the No. 1 motorcoach desination
by a top tourism publication. And Califronia consistently scores as the top state for chauffeured transportation activity, as proven by LCT's Fact Book findings. (New York City ranks as the top METRO area for chauffeured transportation). -- M.R.
HOLDING ON: When a raceway gets rid of 9,000 seats to make way for more luxury motorcoach parking, then it must be in response to some type of demand. So far, motorcoaches, both passenger and luxury versions, appear to be bucking the worst of recessionary trends. The luxury motorcoach market has a lot of untapped potential that needs to be explored by chauffeured and charter operator alike. -- M.R.
NO ONE IS RECESSION PROOF:
The luxury good and services sector, once thought immune from recessions, is taking a major hit, like every other aspect of the economy. The misfortunes of wealthy Southern California enclaves
(aka Limoland) provide another context for how the recession affects operators nationwide. When Beverly Hills retailers discount their wares up to 80%, you know there is serious change in the luxury climate. As an aside, these deep discounts also reveal how dramatically so many goods and services are marked up during boom times. -- M.R.
BUYING & SELLING:
East Coast Transportation of North Florida just bought Executive Transportation & Tours, LLC of Jacksonville, a competitor that brought in $1.5 million in 2008 revenue
. LCT has been hearing about and covering M&A transactions lately (including Sterling Rose Limousine in Temecula, Calif., buying other operations). Charles Tenney & Associates has been staying busy putting M&A deals together around the country, according to Tenney. As revenue drops dramatically and debts increase, operators generally have to make such deals to avoid going out of business. And sometimes they're done working 24-7 and appreciate the opportunity to become part of a competitor's organization. We expect to hear more stories like this one throughout the year. -- J.L.
BMW GETS INTO THE BIGGER ACT: BMW's 730d model with a wider wheelbase is being pitched as the ideal "luxury chauffeured saloon." This model goes head to head with the Mercedes S550, which along with the E-Class, are the two leading luxury chauffeured sedans in Europe now. Mercedes and BMW have made tremendous strides in the U.S. retail market, with factories in the Sunbelt region churning out multiple models to meet American motorist preferences.
Given that European chauffeured transportation companies are at the cutting edge of greener and leaner luxury service, do the S550 and BMW 730d have the potential to make inroads into the chauffeured sedan market as they have in the luxury motorist retail market? Will the future of sedan-based livery involve a mixed fleet of greener Lincolns, Cadillacs, Mercedes, and BMWs? Will a client who drives a BMW and Mercedes as a personal car want to the chauffeured in a bigger model of the same make? All questions that need to be explored as luxury chauffeured service evolves. -- M.R.
OFFERING DEALS: Best Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation
has been promoting a special discount program in an email blast: "Start this New Year out the Best way: Save 20.09% on our professional chauffeured transportation services." This type of discount program is something LCT is hearing about from several operators -- offer discounts or lose the business. This is happening in corporate contracts and retail business. It's better to cut rates than not get the business at all. -- J.L.
MEETINGS & EVENTS:
Major travel industry associations are adopting policies for managing meetings and business trips for corporations that have received emergency government lending. This means that for the $700 billion federal bailout and other funding programs that have happened in recent months, travel service suppliers need to be very careful about honest, clear service delivery. Associations such as Meeting Professionals International, National Business Travel Association, and U.S. Travel Association have joined forces with other organizations representing meetings, events, and incentive travel. The plan was "designed to ensure transparency and accountability and protect the one million American jobs supported by corporate meetings and events." Click here to read the press release.
This decision reminds me of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act passed by Congress in 2002. That legislative act passed following the Enron scandal and other sad stories. Corporate executives needed to look honest and legal, and started making changes to their travel practices, including cutting rides in stretch limousines. Town Cars and SUVs were okay, and now minibuses and motorcoaches are favored, too. So, if you've got any of these major banks, financial institutions, Big 3 automakers, or other coporations that have received federal funds, as clients, think about adopting the travel community guidelines for corporate meetings and events. -- J.L.
Are chauffeurs in New York City really making $75,000 to $125,000 a year, as one anonymous chauffeur told the New York Times
? Former police officers who double as body guards can make this kind of dough, the story says. And these drivers carry guns. Perhaps this reference is to private drivers for wealthy customers or corporate executives. Chauffeurs working full time in New York for operators are going to be making about $60,000 to $80,000 (tips included) in this market, according to the LCT Fact Book survey and what we've been told. For hire operators do have a small number of chauffeurs making even more money, but they usually work long weeks and have a handful of long-term loyal wealthy customers. -- J.L.
BRIGHT SPOT: LCT's newest coverage segment seems to be holding up well, considering the rather calamitous outlook for the economy overall. Motorcoaches provide economies of scale for group ground transportation, and have evolved to the point where they actually exceed the amenities and comforts of airline economy class. Motorcoaches are safe, green, and clean, and frankly, the classiest way for a large group to travel now that airline service has gone the way of un unruly school bus. You can't get more comfortable than in a limousine, luxury sedan, limo bus -- or motorcoach. -- M.R.
PAINFUL CUSTOMER SERVICE LESSON: What is the worst possible fiasco for a limousine company, other than an accident involving one of its livery vehicles? This story should send a shiver through every operator. The New York limousine company humiliated in the article has learned the ferocious consequences of poor, careless customer service, and worse, the failure to adequately remedy it. YOU CAN NOT do this at any time, and especially in a recession. In the age of the Internet, negative media publicity will damage your operations and create lasting impressions. That's why it's also important to attend LCT Shows and seminars; it's like an extra insurance policy against business moronics.
One quibble with the article: When interacting with the media, operators need to stress the importance of using the term CHAUFFEUR, not "limo driver." Big difference. Most reporters don't automatically understand the difference.-- M.R.
NOTHING'S EASY: As revenue cash flows in the chauffeured transportation industry have dropped off dramatically since November/December, managing operations efficiently has become a top priority. This may mean rapid downsizing in fleet, staff, and other operating expenses. It can also mean renegotiating corporate contracts and working with staff to cut costs.
Tom Mazza, president of Tom Mazza Consulting, gave this example in his February newsletter of how an operator dealt with a 20% rate reduction requirement from a corporate client:
"My advice to my (operator) client, in this instance, was to agree to the discount. We presented the following proposal back to the (corporate) client which was accepted:
Management met with chauffeurs and explained the situation, and chauffeurs agreed to a reduction of $5 per trip. Renegotiating with clients and chauffeurs didn't create a perfect solution, but accepting reduced rates and lowering operating costs on this account was much better than losing all this revenue, Mazza says. The staff was satisfied with how it was all handled: "The chauffeurs and the office staff were tremendous. Full disclosure from management made them feel respected and they responded in kind." -- J.L.
- Conversion to on-line booking with agreement to pay $5 per reservation for phone reservations after 90 days.
- Net 15 days on all invoices with penalty after 30 days. All payments submitted electronically.
- Agreement from client to take 'any vehicle available' other than stretch when necessary.
- Re-evaluation of pricing in 12 months."
The wave of the future: luxury ground transportation. This means high-level customer service rides in motorcoaches, mini buses, shuttles, limousines, SUVs, vans, and sedans. Chauffeured transportation operators are going this route, which inspired the new Limousine, Charter & Tour magazine name. Read all about the rebranding decision
. It's also a strategic decision for bus operators. For example, New York-based USCoachways is now offering limousines
as part of its transportation services. Where is this all going? Operators are now focused on creating luxury ground transportation companies, expanding their focus from one vehicle category to total transportation customer service options. This means marketing more to meeting planners and corporate travel managers, tour operators, destination management companies, sports and entertainment, and inbound international travelers. -- J.L.
HELMETED LIVERY: A limousine for the extreme sporting clientele? Operators are constantly being told to not just provide a service, but an experience as well. These racing limos fit the bill. Although the web site Extremelimos.com is taken, the concept has potential. Thrill-seeker limos could be a welcome escape from recessionary stress. -- M.R.
Never mind the recession. Operators in Tampa Bay are experiencing revenue increases
right now because of Sunday's Super Bowl. Hopefully this will also lead to new clients who loved their rides and will book and refer more in the future. It takes quite a bit of clout to get the NFL to come to your city, and the same is true of other major events. You may not have that clout but might be providing transportation for people who do. Or it might take spending more of your free time at notable charity events, Chamber of Commerce meetings, etc. It might also mean looking outside the box. There might be smaller events happening nearby that you never dreamed of providing transportation to, but could add up during a time of deficit. Being creative and open to possibilities is priceless. -- J.L.
DOOM AND GLOOM WAS NOT IN THE ROOM. LCTers are back from the International LCT Show, which given the circumstances, surprised even the skeptics. . .
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Working major events like the presidential inauguration means a lot of hard work
, and revenue increases that happen now and will probably lead to more business later. Your city will greatly benefit and will become much more likely to be the location of other large events in the future. As a business leader in your community, through Chambers of Commerce and other groups, you become a big part of the planning and successful execution of the event. And your company will provide a lot of transportation. In the future, your city may host major golf tournaments, championship sporting events, association and corporate conventions, entertainment industry awards shows, or something else that's never happened in your town. Becoming a well connected business leader means a lot of time and effort, but will lead to more business. --J.L.
READ ALL ABOUT IT:
Have you noticed that press releases on chauffeured transportation companies many times originate outside the U.S., even though the company is based here? Take a look at this one.
It covers Staten Island, N.Y.-based S&L Limo and Buses
, and it was e-blasted by Aim 168, a Dubai-based online business networking site. This page of Aim 168 is tied into real estate sales offerings in Dubai, a sparkling emerging global business and leisure destination. When you read the press release, you'll notice that S&L Limo and Buses isn't mentioned until the very end. It's as if you're reading an article on why you should consider hiring limousines while traveling through the Tri-State area. This is a common format for similar press releases these days. Another trend is a U.S.-based operator launching a traditional company press release through a Europe-based media/marketing company. I would imagine these operators get a discounted rate and have their press releases linked to international websites more than using a traditional PR service.
It's not all happening overseas. For larger operators, it's common now to see their press releases broadcasted through Market Watch
, a Dow Jones financial news clearinghouse. The Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal connection provides obvious credibility benefits for those using this news service. --J.L.
Getting good coverage of your company is worth more than spending a lot on advertising and promotions. Ads, promos, and marketing materials are necessary of course, but building relationships with media decision makers is a great way to build your brand image and company recognition. So how do you get your photo and quotes posted into business magazines, local newspapers, and specialty publications? Try following a few steps:
- Open doors to local media sources looking for good stories to tell. It helps to have a favorable profile published and local newspapers, business pubs, and travel and entertainment magazines are always looking for businesses to profile if the story is worth telling. How you went from rags to riches... what you get out of being in business... how you serve the community... very good topics.
- Create positive working relationships with publication writers. This means reading through articles and finding out who writes about the subject you’re trying to pitch. “You can’t just blindly pitch it,” says Ben Bloch, managing partner of Econation in Los Angeles, “and it needs to be something the readers would find interesting.”
Network with your industry partners. You may have a hotel, restaurant, special event, or business convention that you provide transportation to, and that will be putting out a press release or newsletter article that mentions your company. Everyone wants good media coverage, and this is an effective way to work with and help your existing clients. --J.L.
SOME GOOD NEWS: Two recent developments on the energy front should leave the chauffeured transportation industry with plenty of hope, both for the viability of gas-engine vehicles and the demise of fraud-fuel, excuse us, flex-fuel vehicles.
1) It appears the good-ole gas engine just keeps getting cleaner and more efficient, as it has steadily since the days of the Model T. With the latest advances in technology, and ones yet to come, gas engines eventually could challenge the hybrids in terms of energy- and eco-efficiences. Read about it here.
2) As corn prices rise, the ethanol industry is getting squeezed, with producers hurting financially and closing factories. We hope the latest free market fluctuations trigger the grisly implosion of this unprofitable, govenrment-babied energy venture that should have never been started. Ethanol is useless. It requires as much carbon to create it as it supposedly saves, it's hard to find, the industry can't make a profit on its own, and ethanolholics take affordable foodstuffs out of people's mouths. Not to mention the carnage to our croplands. We hope the final book on E-85 will be written with Chapters 7, 11, and 13. Read about it here. -- M.R.
A SLIVER OF GOOD NEWS:
Americans may not be cutting back as much on travel as thought this year, putting getaways ahead of gadgets and other spendables. Given the list of vacation preferences
, there may be opportunities for chauffeured and motorcoach operators to offer affordable ground transportation, i.e. green, group, etc. It is important for operators to communicate the overall value of chauffeured service, especially the practical, hassle-free, point-to-point benefits. -- M.R.
While corporate meetings had three strong years across the globe, by late 2008 they were down an estimated 8% and are expected to drop 7% this year. Per meeting attendance is expected to go up, but the number of meetings will go down, according to Meeting Professionals International and AmEx
. Providing buses, vans, and SUVs for corporate meetings and events has been a great source of business for operators, and many have been active in local MPI chapters. Starting in late 2008, corporate travel dropped quite a bit, and this included meetings and group travel. Corporate and organization meetings have grown in recent years, and need more travel services such as ground transportation. Meetings and events are going to come back, but like all other industries, the recession has taken its toll for now. -- J.L.
UPDATE & OVERVIEW: This online article nicely sums what LCT has been reporting over the last few months about the destructive inroads of the rental car industry into chauffeured transportation. NLA President Richard Kane and Limousine Association of Houston President Joe Jordan are quoted in this comprehensive report. Along with union-driven card-check propossed legislation, the deepening recession, and the drive toward greener livery vehicles, the Avis issue has the potential to radically remake the dynamics of chauffeured transportation. The rental car/chauffeur arrangements must be fought at every level so that ALL chauffeured vehicles fit the same definition and comply with the same rules.
Look for more coverage in the March and April issues of LCT Magazine. -- M.R.
Don't let all the economic drama fool you; the U.S. savings rate is rising and lots of investors and consumers are hoarding cash, including the rich. So the trick is to get them to take advantage of deflationary deals. In the housing market, what better way to do that than from the windows of a classy chauffeured vehicle
. It's working in Marin Country, Calif. Can it work in the wealthy area du jour of other metropolitan areas? Operators may want to connect with their local Realtor associations. Sooner, rather than later, homebuyers will be jumping in en masse. Make sure the chauffeur is waiting. -- M.R.
We at LCT must admit that we sometimes struggle with finding the most persuasive way to encourage clients to rent limousines amid a recession. Despite the diversity and necessity of chauffeured transportation, the limousine image remains entrenched in the common psyche as a touchstone of excess. So that's why we were thrilled to read this blog entry
, explaining why, yes, it's a good idea to reserve a stretch during a recession. It may not exactly qualify as counter-cultural, but it sure is counter-cyclical. Onward consumer rebels! Stretch those budgets! -- M.R.
NLA EXPERTISE: An operator and board member of the National Limousine Association managed to stay compeitive on New Year's Eve despite the recession. Deena Papagni, owner of a limousine company near Fresno, Calif., was quoted in this article:
EXCERPT: Deena Papagni, the President of Touch of Class Limousine Services says she is staying competitive by offering customers the same rates from 10 years ago and it's working. "You just can't sit in your house just because we are in a recession," said Papagni. "Everything looks fantastic," said Papagni, "our whole fleet is booked with the exception of one limousine and one corporate Sedan. But, other than that our bus is booked, our super-stretch SUVs are booked."
LIMO DESTINATIONS: While private jet travel may be taking an economic hit like everything else, this article at least shows signs of consistent demand among wealthy travelers. Upscalers may be cutting back on luxuries because it's fashionable, or they're afraid of what lessers might think. We say, don't be shy. If you are rich enough to worry about what others might think or say about you, then you'll be resented and envied whether times are good or bad. So enjoy, spend, rent a limousine, show everyone you know how to arrive even when the masses are stuck. We at LCT have no adimiration for those who can afford limos but avoid them becasue they want to seem, um, humble and sensitive. There's nothing more patronizing than a fake slummer. -- M.R.
In the Scene Limousine has launched a marketing program in the Phoenix market called Naughty on Wheels in Scottsdale. Click here for description and cute chick photo
. During the trip, customers can receive a free gift bag from Porn Pinatas, enjoy food and drinks at RA Sushi, stop at Castle Boutique store for lingerie or adult toys, and then party, party, party at their favorite club in Scottsdale. What a night! Operators around the country have done well going outside airport runs, weddings, and proms. Packaging and marketing special nights on the town can produce big dollars. -- J.L.
Mystery shopping is one of the most effective, low budget methods for conducting market research on your competitors and your own company. The National Federation of Independent Business provides tips
on making it work for you. Do you have friends and family that care about your business and want to help you through a quick and easy process? Have them make phone calls for booking trips and see what they find out. Better yet, have them take trips and report back to you exactly what they thought about everything from start to finish. -- J.L.
DRIVING FOR DRINKERS: A young transportation entrepreneur at the University of California/San Diego has found a worthwhile chauffeured niche that doubles as a public service.
Drunk drivers kill 13,000 people each year in the U.S. Each accident could have been prevented had the driver ridden in a chauffeured vehicle.
Despite all the awareness, tougher laws, and social stigmas, drunk driving remains a chronic problem.
Drunks may not be the most appealing clients, but think about what you could prevent. That limousine tragedy underscores the need for such services. -- M.R.
HAPPY NEW YEAR: Happy may not be the best buzzword for the new year given the worsening economic picture, but then aren't most people happy on a roller-coaster? At least the gas prices, hotel rates, airline tickets, and restaurant meal deals are spiraling down, down, down. The trick is to not let it all deflate you. Thinking optimistically, if it gets really cheap to do overnight travel and lodging, suppose remaining travelers will see chauffeured vehicles as relatively affordable? What better way to take the edge off a shared room at the Motel 6 and a meal deal at Subway than a chauffeured vehicle ride to and from the Southwest terminal?
So in the general spirit of volatility and financial lurches, we'll start the New Year off with some inflammatory findings and remarks. This could actually save the chauffeured transportation industry some money and needless fretting: Don't let the global warmistas frost your day. Our New Year's wish for this industry is a rational, informed, factual, skeptical, science-based discussion on global warming and exactly what approaches to the issue work. The financial and business stakes are tremendous, given the potential for costly and cumbersome regulations. There's nothing like speaking truth to power. -- M.R.
Did you enjoy your New Year celebrations? Jim Luff got through New Year's eve just fine, but is more than concerned about the drop in business that became obvious in December.
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Here is recent proof
how a chauffeured transportation company can find demand for multiple vehicle niches, and provide needed services. Smaller airports, second-tier resort/vacation cities, areas without adequate public transit -- all need consistent ground transportation in all types of economies. -- M.R.
While reading this news piece
on Pittsburgh Transportation Group hiring a new HR manager, it struck me once again how many sizable operators have over the years expanded their fleets beyond chauffeured transportation. And that also means taxis, which is ironic since the taxi industry has been hostile many times to the limo business when it comes to lobbying and pressuring airports and state/municipal bureaucrats to go easy on taxis and take it out on limos. Perhaps this will change that picture long term as taxi companies continue to lose revenue and chauffeured transportation expands. And perhaps the long term growth will be tied into operators becoming transportation companies and not just limo companies. Metro Cars (Taylor, Mich.) and Harrison Global (Waltham, Mass.) operate taxis along with chauffeured vehicles. AFC Corporate Transportation (Houston) has put school buses into its mix. And there are plenty of other operators who are building impressive transportation fleets especially through motorcoaches and shuttle/limo buses. The management duties are similar: hiring and training drivers; financing, maintaining and remarketing fleet vehicles; dealing with licensing and regulation mandates; setting up corporate accounts. Once you get into the transportation business, you can expand those skills and resources into ancillary markets. This could be a way to stabilize revenue and profits during economic downturns. -- J.L.
Major car rental companies like Avis and Hertz are trying out several new outfits. Hertz is checking out car sharing
, and will compete with Zipcar. Avis and Hertz have invested heavily in the U.S. off-airport/local car rental market to compete with the largest rental fleet in the world, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, as reported recently in LCT Magazine
. And what else... hmmm, let's see, did I forget to mention chauffeured transportation? Avis is working closely with WeDriveU to enter major American markets and bypass for-hire licensing fees and regulations. Hertz is pushing Worldwide Executive Limousines in global markets, and is also taking steps to set up operations in the U.S. These are well funded, global competitors for limousine operators to take on, but it's not clear yet whether Avis or Hertz will be successful and choose to stay in this industry.
The Brits tend to be very enthusiastic about American-style limousines, and strongly embrace the industry. So this story
certainly resonates in the U.S., and points to trouble ahead.
The fact that Air Tran is flying into the nation's second country music capital may seem like a plus only for air travelers and airlines alike, but such expanded service to second-tier tourist spots carries a lot of potential for motorcoach operators as well. The more airlines expand into such markets, the more likely its flights can be packaged with comfortable, chauffeured motorcoach tours and transportation service. Towns such as Branson, Mo. lack extensive public transportation, and motorcoaches can provide reliable options beyond just rental cars at a airports. Example here
. -- M.R.
GET READY FOR MORE:
Sales, mergers, and acquisitions of limousine and chauffeured transportation companies will become more common throughout 2009. Sample sale here
. This economic trend is being addressed in the January issue of LCT Magazine and no doubt will be discussed at the 2009 International LCT Show in Las Vegas, Nev. Sales and consolidations, however they might temporarily winnow down the industry, can position companies to strengthen for the long haul. -- M.R.
Limousine operators do a ton of charitable volunteer work in this country. They tend to be quite pleased, as do their staff, with reactions they get from community members who adore getting free limo rides. The ABC show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" provides you with a very good opportunity to add to an experience that people will love and never forget. You'll feel good about it and many times will get publicity. Local papers love to cover
the stories, and you can mention this in your own company news and websites. If interested, you can email
the show's management. Looking forward to hearing all about it. -- J.L.
COULD BE WORSE:
As the Big 3 automakers fail to win federal bailout funds, there's talk that one or more of these companies may declare bankruptcy. GM and Chrysler stressed the point they need immediate funding to stop gap December losses. But if they do declare bankruptcy, it's not the end of the world. It is something happening in big numbers
in the U.S. now for consumers and businesses, but federal judges overseeing bankruptcy cases don't shut the doors overnight. It could very well mean layoffs, revised labor agreements, downsizing production lines, and renegotiating with suppliers. And reinventing their mission statements and business strategies. If your company must consider bankruptcy, it could be worse. -- J.L.
GREEN & LEAN: No two words will better describe the trajectory of chauffeured transportation in the next few years; the combination of green and economic pressures will squeeze operators increasingly toward the motorcoach business.
In fact, this blog entry sums up the advantages and appeal of big buses. While we think counting carbon footprints is silly, the much more substantive reasons for eco-busing stand: reduce consumption of oil, clean up the air, take more vehicles off the road, and promote the safety and ease of group ground transportation.
Look for the private sector to seek out motorcoaches for both corporate and recreational transportation needs. It's cheap, comfortable, and chauffeured. -- M.R.
The holiday season is not a good time for corporate business trips; that starts up again in mid-January. Holiday packages are as good as it gets. Smithson Limousine Service in Des Moines
has been doing holiday light tours for the past 20 years. Family and friends love the two-to-three hour rides. A lot of operators market these deals on their websites, and some put out press releases and newsletter announcements, and end up getting publicized in local newspaper coverage. You can expect consumers to spend less this year on holiday tours, just like they're doing at shopping centers, but every dollar counts. -- J.L.
FINE LINE: Should you cut your fuel surcharges now that gasoline is headed well south of $2 per gallon? Will clients resent surcharges in a down economy? Would you be seen as gouging your customers? Or is maintaining a fuel surcharge a way of recouping earlier losses?
These companies, including a limousine operator, are staying the course.
Each operator needs to evaluate fuel surcharges individually, considering markets, revenues, client tolerance, and cash flow. But at some point the question will beckon: When is it time to let it go? Many businesses thrived without fuel surcharges, even when gas was in the $2 to $3 per gallon range. We're entering a dicey business climate that may not be forgiving to fuel surchargers, and consumer backlashes can be quick and brutal. Remember the lessons about greed that the current economy is teaching. Pay attention. -- M.R.
ONE DAY AT A TIME:
Day trips by bus are a good source of revenue, according to a study by DePaul University
. Charter and tour bus trips usually cover weekends or longer, but intercity day trips are a growing market factor. Soaring gas prices motivated the consumer surge, but enough of them truly enjoyed the luxury experience to continue booking rides, according to ABA. Intercity trips can be marketed to both retail and corporate customers - wine tours, historic city sites, sporting and concert events, company meetings - all of these can happen in one day and can lead to more group travel and event reservations.
SO SHOULD YOU?
With gas now below $2 per gallon -- even in California -- c'mon, do you really need the fuel surcharges? This cab service
, doesn't. Discounting and special deals may not be the preferred image of luxury transporation, but they sure are the buzzwords for the consumer economy of 2009. That applies to chauffeured transportation, too. With gas below $2 per gallon, we are now back to 2005 pricing levels. Were many operators levying fuel surchages back then? -- M.R.
AHH... MEMORIES: Holidays bring up both stress and joy for Jim Luff, plus a great opportunity to give thanks and gratitude to employees.
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Package tours and trips are an important way to build bus business. If you're going to spend $400,000 plus on a new motorcoach, the vehicle needs to be utilized at a strong enough rate to cover costs and build profits. Setting up corporate employee commutes is very good, and working road trips, and company special events. To succeed, building good retail business helps accomplish goals, as Reston Limousine
has learned. Reston sends out attractive email promos all the time to highlights its New York shopping extravaganza and other exciting trips. -- J.L.
Why are Big 3 CEOs riding in hybrids
to lobby for federal loans, instead of private jets or non-hybrid luxury cars? It's all about putting out the right image. Automakers need federal funding, and have come back for round two of lobbying efforts - and want to avoid criticism for the image they're projecting. Corporate execs learned this lesson in recent years and have been switching out of stretches and into sedans and SUVs. Having hybrids and other alternative-fuel vehicles ready for executive transportation continues to provide revenue opportunity. High-level execs still need to be chauffeured, and want to look good when stepping out. -- J.L.
SIGN OF THE TIMES?
For all the talk of consumer cutbacks, we are intrigued by this motorcoach trend
. It seems there is still a healthy market for luxury, RV-style, customized motorcoach buses. This seems like a logical niche within luxury transportation. While RVs obviously are not chauffeured, we can think of endless configurations of luxury motorcoaches that could be, with the "rock star" bus being the most prominent example. Why be confined to small to medium party buses, when the next size up offers so much potential? -- M.R.
CORE STRATEGIES: The limousine and chauffeured transportation industry, at its heart, is a premium, luxury-oriented service. So there is always a segment of clientele that for all practical purposes is recession-proof. Whatever financial hits they take, the losses won't impinge on lifestyle. Since luxury transportation closely tracks luxury goods consumption, operators should note the latest marketing trends among upper-end retailers who cater to the wealthy. Just as these retailers are fawning over their core demographic to keep them spending, many luxury transportation operators may well consider the same. Reaching out with special promotional events, giveaways, packages, and "buzzy" tactics, may be one worthwhile strategy to cover the core clients and get through this recession. -- M.R.
FLAIR FOR LIMOS: With the overdose of bad news about the economy and struggling operators, we at LCT are always looking out for the positive glimpses of this industry , and today, we found one. This Tampa Bay operator brings a wholesome, community-minded approach to his work, and can serve as an inspiration to others in the chauffeured transportation industry. Success can happen anywhere, during any time, and depends more on attitude than anything else. -- M.R.
Mountainbikers, hikers, and outdoor recreationists are a potential new market for greener livery, given the growing popularity of eco-vacations and eco-tours among members of Gens X and Y. One Colorado operator
has capitalized on connecting clean ground transportation with the even cleaner pursuits of biking and hiking. -- M.R.
One of the finalists in the LCT Operator of the Year category for 11-30 vehicles category provides us with an industry bright spot
amid a faltering economy and battered transportation sector. The Jacksonville, Fla.-based operator has seen revenues and profits actually increase. We emphasize that amid any general trend, there are plenty of exceptions. LCT has heard from enough operators anecdotally nationwide to conclude there are more than a handful of chauffeured transportation companies experiencing a 1999 business atmosphere instead of the 2009 gloomosphere. Using the right tools, strategies, messages, and innovations often can circumvent or at least hedge against countervailing economic forces. -- M.R.
MY HOW THINGS CHANGE:
The Los Angeles Auto Show
is considered the first major auto industry event for the new model year. It used to be in January, but ever since being moved to November, it's competed less with auto shows in Detroit and New York and has provided a first-look at cool new stuff. The irony this year is that GM and Chrysler gave it a thumbs down, and Ford was the only Big 3 manufacturer to attend and show its cars. The Detroit automakers must keep their costs well trimmed, so it's not surprising they stayed home. Another interesting part of the L.A. Auto Show is the central focus on green, altnernative-fuel vehicles, even as auto sales plummet down and gas prices go the same route. -- J.L.
A Los Angeles-area shuttle service is offering door-to-door family rates for clients heading to the airport. Can the same concept
work for luxury chauffeured transportation? As consumers look for value and lower costs, an all inclusive rate may help invite more business. Such strategic pricing for specific market segments is one way to keep the revenue flowing during a recession. Many people are holding on and saving not because they have lost a job or a home, but out of fear. So give them a worthwhile reason to spend. -- M.R.
Who would have thought that gas prices would fall about as fast as they rose last spring and summer. The cynical wisdom maintains that gas prices always rise faster, and fall slower. This time around, with the economy tanking, it doesn't look like gas prices are taking their time to drop. This limousine operator
has dropped her $25 fuel surcharges. This may make good business sense, now that gas averages more than $2 per gallon LESS than in June/July. As consumers tighten spending, you never want to give them a reason to justify holding back. Look for more fuel surcharges to become de facto rebates. -- M.R.
Jackson Limousine Service is giving away 10,000 free turkeys and fixings to low-income Los Angeles residents. And getting coverage on NBC's local TV station
. How much does that cost him compared to buying a TV commercial and an online advertisement? -- J.L.
Transporting professional athletes, coaches, and managers is a great way to build profitable business in your market. Just ask Partners Executive Transportation
, which has done well through its New York Yankees contract. And it's not just famous football, baseball, and basketball teams that need chauffeured rides - hockey teams
, soccer teams, golf tournaments, and then there's women's professional sports leagues. Networking with major sports marketing companies
helps build relationships with decision makers. Check it out - could be a win win win project.
RAIDING THE CUPBOARD:
In an economic downturn, every little marketing idea or possibility helps. For operators, here is another potential limousine market: Govenrments trying to lure businesses
. Along with real estate agents taking clients on tours of foreclosed homes, local Chambers of Commerce, county governments, and state business groups may be eager to impress potential business relocators. As is often the case in a recession, businesses start eyeballing lower tax and regulatory climates, and may consider moving to states more hospitable to business. If you operate in such a state, be on the lookout for organizations that want to impress business owners with limo tours. -- M.R.
One silver lining of 2008 for chauffeured transportation had been the weaker dollar, which, while contributing to inflation and high commodity prices, kept exports strong and international travelers coming to the U.S. Now, the economic infection has spread around the globe
. It's all the more reason to emphasize viable, feasible ground transportation services, i.e. GET ON THE BUS. -- M.R.
BENEFITS OF BUSING:
Charter and tour bus rides have been increasing in this country and should continue to do so next year, according to a report released by the American Bus Association
. Why is the industry's revenue growing even though economic conditions are poor? Part of the customer demand this year came from high fuel prices and concern over green issues. Yet even with declining gas prices, things continue to look good for the industry. The report cites a Travel Industry Association study showing that 41 million Americans chose not to take airline flights over a recent 12-month period simply because of expected hassles associated with flying; consumers want to have transportation options. And nightmare gridlock in many highly trafficked corridors, particularly in the Northeast and on the West Coast, created an opportunity for motorcoaches. All of this is good news for operators who are building up their bus fleets.
MIXED BAG: A chauffeur's life is exciting, glamorous, boring, and unhealthy, Jim Luff says, based on his own experience.
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An event planner in San Diego asked me the other day why operator fuel surcharges haven't dropped recently along with gas prices. I didn't know the answer. A TV news story
from Bakersfield, Calif., made me think of this incident once again - Vintage Limousine told the reporter they're spending less on gasoline but fuel surcharges will remain the same and the company will offer customers discount specials. Experts in the fuel business expect oil prices to go back up again, but for now, they're in a downward slide. So, the question remains: What to do about your customer fuel surcharges? -- J.L.
PANIC BUTTON: GM faces the most critical make-or-break moment in its company history. Click below to read more about its latest letter to America and the debate over bankruptcies and bailouts. . .
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WORKING & NETWORKING:
Read all about J. Howard Frisk, an operator with 32 years in this business and 85 vehicles, based in Springfield, Mo. (also the home of a few coachbuilders). Frisk regularly puts in very long days from early morning well into the evening. If fact, you can read a timetable
from one of his typical days, which started out with a 6:30 a.m. executive breakfast meeting and wrapped up after attending a fundraiser. Frisk sits on the boards or committees of more than 25 community and industry organizations. All of this may sound quite extreme, but it is actually close to the norm for many operators. To be in this business, you've got to love talking to other business people, and spend much of your life networking and promoting your business.Years later, this man seems to be happy where he is.
OUTLOOK: Corporate business travel is taking a big hit, with companies looking to save money any which way. See MSNBC Report. We would caution against overzealous corporate travel cuts. Three points to consider:
1) Face to face meetings are more productive than teleconferences: Notice how everyone e-mails, instant messages, and surfs the Net while teleconferencing? People pay attention more when there's face time. It's harder to plug in elsewhere when seated around a conference table with everyone watching.
2) Also, we are horrified at how some companies are asking employees to double up in rooms. This is an outrage. If you, as a company owner, can't afford two hotel rooms, then dont send two people. Professional business travel is not a high school band road trip with everyone bunking in everyone else's rooms. Employees should collectively refuse the "bunk up" mentality. What cheapskates. However, we at LCT have no gripe with corporate travelers "bunking up" for limousine and livery ground transportation. No sense in two people riding in two separate Town Cars. Two or more people in a black luxury vehicle also renders that vehicle very green, indeed.
3) Getting on the road for conferences, trade shows, and meetings actually can be a mental break for employees and managers; something about a new environment that fuels creativity and motivation. Of course, the hotel room needs to be comfortable (Courtyard, Hampton Inn at least), and the ground transportation should be chauffeured. We insist. -- M.R.
The "green" movement is not going away, even as the recession deepens and gasoline prices continue dropping. Corporate accounts are pushing less for hybrids and alternative-fuel vehicles, but it's not going away. In fact, the green movement is expected to be an expanding part of the U.S. economy that will add jobs, technology, and innovative services while other industries slide downward. This will come through greening up buildings and houses, C02 reduction programs, recycling programs, and more green vehicle options. General Motors is basing much of its future on hybrids (especially Chevrolet Volt) and other alt-fuel models, and this is the case with other major manufacturers. In this industry, operators continue to launch green programs, comply with corporate client requests, and learn more about how it all works. Take a look at the Hybrid Limo Express website
. This operator went into business in 2007 and was ready to be there for the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission's black car MPG mandate in early 2008. Hybrid Limo Express has established itself as NYC’s largest fleet of hybrid vehicles (200), comprised of hybrid Lexus RX400s, Toyota Camrys, and Toyota Highlanders, according to the company. And there are other operators continuing to do quite well during the economic downturn. It's a valuable market niche that faces economic challenges like everything else, but will be alive and well going forward. - Jon LeSage
Moving from one office location to another is a big deal for business owners. In chauffeured transportation, it boils down to having enough parking spaces for fleet vehicles and employee parking, having a good amount of office space for desks, meeting rooms, and storage, and being centered in the right place for most of the trips you take. That could be near the major airport, or close to key highway off ramps. It also has to do with where your staff lives - you don't want them to resent long commutes every day. For Drivers Unlimited Inc., based in Darien, Conn., moving its headquarters came down to
finding the best possible location for meeting all these priorities. And moving to a new company office is usually a good sign that the business is growing.
DOOM, GLOOM, & BLOOM: Not all operators and companies are sustaining losses in this economy on a cliff.
Individual states, cities, and regions form their own economic micro-markets with varying levels of employment, business activity, and capital investment.
One St. Louis operator is seeing record revenues, based partially at least on a Hummer limousine. So the bottom line is that a magic formula for surviving a recession is a myth.
It boils down to how each company handles its own unique set of circumstances. -- M.R.
Building an effective company brand name is not easy. There are legal issues involved in trademark laws and corporate identity practices, and there are practical issues in establishing an effective, well remembered name. In chauffeured transportation, there are a lot of locally known company names that are sometimes identical or close to other operators in another part of the country. This can be a real problem when a competitor has that company name trademarked and wants to protect its company name in court. A less legally troubling problem is changing your company name inconsistently and confusing your customers. You may have added the words "worldwide," or "global," or "transportation," or something else to your website, but you still have the old company name everywhere else. And then you might change the name again in six months, further confusing people.
Here are a few articles to review that offer guidance on protecting your business name:
Business Name Registration
Picking the Perfect Name for your Corporation
How to Name Your Business
With chauffeured transportation so focused on being finicky and frugal, we believe the times are ripe for a backlash demand to emerge for blatant luxury and excess. It can be good for the financial soul in set doses.
This $600,000 Rolls-Royce stretch makes the ultimate statement on behalf of classy comfort and premium brands. We would marvel at any operator who can make this stretch a profit center unto itself.
But you may have to start out looking for clients in the global gold-spot of Dubai of Arabia, where wealth cannot be spread any further because everyone is neck-deep in it. -- M.R.
SUFFERING SQUEEZES: Independent small businesses -- the bulk of the chauffeured transportation industry -- are facing many obstacles, including fewer credit and capital opportunities and declining payrolls amid the troubled economy. STORY HERE. If there is one sector of the economy that deserves more attention, protection, investment, and bailout safety nets than the bungling brats of Wall Street , it is the vast layer of small busiensses that undergird our economy and employ most private sector workers (You know, those of us and our companies who pay the bulk of the taxes that funds the public sector, including the sugar-babied government workers in California who get to retire after 30 years @ 90% pay until death) . Let us hope the incoming political claque has enough sense to exempt such businesses from heavy-handed regulation and additional taxation. Small businesses are the real Golden Goose of our economy. -- M.R.
TEMPLATE FOR FUTURE COMPANIES?
was profiled recently in the Times of London
. While the concept of green remains relatively undefined and highly subjective, companies like this one are making attempts to transform and adapt. But the question the chauffeured transportation industry eventually must define and answer with clarity is: When is an operator green enough? What is the future gold standard? What level of carbon emissions is the right balance? There is a perpetual aura of insatiability among environmentalists, with their doomsday warnings and strict demands. Businesses in all industries should be aware of that and take care they don't become enslaved to ever-shifting ground rules and goal posts. -- M.R.
CHRISTMAS PARTIES: We are optimistic in that we believe the Christmas spirit will survive the recession, and with that, most workplace and private holiday parties. What does that mean for revenue-strapped operators?
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"People say there is a recession, but I took in $10,000 in new business Monday in Bakersfield, Calif.," says Jim Luff. Read on to hear his story.
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THEY KEEP GOING AND GOING. . .
As fuel prices reached the sratosphere this summer, gleeful detractors of the SUV started writing its obituary. While new SUV sales have declined, the number on the road has not, as this study shows
. Despite all the hand-wringing about global warming and going green, Americans, by golly, still like their C&Cs: Comforts and conveniences. As anyone who has owned or leased an SUV will tell you, the vehicles may be bulky but they are so practical and user-friendly. Of course, that's why SUVs have succeeded spectacularly in the chauffeured transportation market; they blend in to traffic while accommodating every possible luxury amenity. And if you can make them go green by sacrificing nothing, so much the better. Don't let the latest hip political chatter about shared sacrifice fool you. SUV users and drivers owe nothing to anyone. Operators need not feel obligated to compromise the feasibility of SUV transportation in the name of sharing wealth. -- M.R.
ACTIONS & CONSEQUENCES: The electorate sent an irrefutable message last night, one that should be heeded and respected. While jubilation prevails, the accompanying relief and optimism did not extend to the post-election spasms of Wall Street. Some realities are solidly established as well: 1) After Jan. 20, we will not have a government divided between two parties -- the situation that prevailed for much of the 1990s and aided the prosperity boom; 2) All levers of government now reside in the hands of one sheriff in town, and whatever happens, there will be no more excuses about lack of power to accomplish goals given the hefty Congressional majorities; 3) Blame will be very easy to assess and assign should anything go wrong.
For chauffeured transportation, the most immediate concerns include the union-backed card-check legislation that could hamstring and eventually decimate some operators. An escalating recession likely will continue to stymie customer demand. New transportation regulations could add to the cost of doing business. That all may sound pessimistic, but so far, the pessimists have been accurate, however unwelcome their messages. Silver linings do always emerge, and creative entrepreneurs reflexively think, work, and succeed outside the box regardless of circumstances. And that is the real source of hope and change. -- M.R.
THANKS-FOR-GIVING US BUSINESS:
As we've posted many times this year, another operator received very positive media coverage for doing charitable work in the community. Tempe, Ariz.-based Aloha Limousine will be giving out 50-to-100 Thanksgiving dinner kits.
Local residents are asked to contribute food for the program and then will be eligible to win a freebie three-hour limo ride. Locals can drop by the Aloha office, call them, or visit the website. Very nice - they contribute yummy Thanksgiving meals, meet new customers, and improve their name in the city.
SLIVER OF A SILVER LINING?
Chauffeured operators are looking for any sliver of good news amid a declining economy and falling reveneues. Well, we found one: international tourists
. American visa rules have been loosened this year and foreign tourism is up. Global visitors tend to spend more amid the dazzling distractions and amenities of America. Some of that travel budget should be going toward chauffeured transportation. Americans may be staying at home and cutting back, but many visitors from around the globe could provide a market opp for much needed revenues. -- M.R.
ELECTION DAY OPPS: At LCT Magazine, we sure have had our fill of limousine poles, especially with our attempts to document the latest trends in party buses (see September issue). And while you can certainly argue that party poles on limo buses provide a valued public service to our highly-mobile, entertainment-oriented, consumerist democracy, the types of polls that will predominate on Nov. 4 can offer operators a patriotic marketing idea. If business is slow and you are looking for a good cause, taking people who need rides to the polls looks like a worthwhile way to build community good will. There are likely senior citizens, single mothers, and people without cars who could use a ride. And you never know, depending on which candidate wins, supporters of the winner may be open to the idea of renting a limousine or party bus to celebrate in the election aftermath. So throw a little red, white, and blue into the limo, and be thankful our nation still values the privilege to vote and the freedom needed to succeed as an independent business. -- M.R.
Yes, it's that horrifying holiday. USA Today writers
used this opportunity to detail some of their tricky, terrifying travel experiences this year. Airlines have been cutting too many flights... NOOOO!!!!... Flights are being rerouted.... ARRRGGGHHHH!!!!... One travel writer had to stay in a small, grim room with bad carpeting.... YIKES!!!! There were also travel treats for this group. Read on. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
As I finished editing an article on van pools coming out in LCT's December issue, I thought about discussions I've had with operators in the past few months. For van pools, the issue is that luxury chauffeured transportation is not a hot commodity for corporations and government agencies using these services. They might not be willing to pay more for a plush van and a chauffeur. My thought: maybe this isn't such as a bad situation. There are many operators around the country who've grown and added subsidiaries in all scopes of transportation, and this includes ambulences, school buses, moving trucks, "black cars," and taxis. Yes, I said it: taxis. These operators are becoming large ground transportation companies. They also provide classic luxury chauffeured services, but can basically service any needed transportation in their market area. As the economy sours, it's important to look at viable options for your company. Van pools might be a good move to make, but it might require flexibility on your part. -- Jon LeSage
Where have you hired your latest operations manager, general manager, vice president, etc.? Did he/she come from a competitor? This happens all the time and sometimes works out very well, and sometimes not so swell. For LEADER Worldwide Chauffeured Services
, hiring a new president/general manager with years of experience at Ritz Carlton has made a lot of sense. Company chief exec Bruce Heinrich has his own background experience with this five star hotel chain, and the two probably worked together in the past. Hotel experience makes a lot of sense for entering chauffeured transportation. You've spent years providing service to wealthy and well-off customers, you must deal with customer service pressure and problems, staff turnovers happen all the time, and building an excellent brand is essential for growth and profitability. Offering ancillary services is also part of the equation, and these customers will gladly pay for them if they feel spoiled by the luxury experience. Keep your eyes open: you may already have contacts at hotels who could work out beautifully in your management team.
CLIENT OPPS: If George Jacobs, CEO of Windy City Limousine of Chicago, can promote the funeral industry as a recession-era opportunity for chauffeured operators, then we can certainly throw it all to the dogs as well. Jacobs encouraged operators to look for funeral home business during his speech at the Limousine Digest Show in Atlantic City, N.J. last week.
Dogs and dead people tend to be recession proof. Dog-lovers will do anyting for their pets -- in upturns and downturns. Pet-related purchases involve more emotion and impulse than most consumer retail decisions -- even choosing a casket and funeral arrangements.
And given the perponderance of pet pampering in a still relatively prosperous America, why not market to those dog and cat owners who spoil their pets? We now have pet salons, hotels, gift shops, bakeries, grooming and fitness services. . . why not dog-centric limousine services for pet and owner? In fact, co-marketing your livery services with veterinarian hospitals and practices can bring you repeat business. What better way to blunt the trauma of pet surgery than to offer limousine service to both pet and owner. After all, if a doggie luxury hotel with chauffeured services can make it, so can pet limos. -- M.R.
LIMOUSINE DIGEST SHOW: Say, what? Limousine Digest mentioned on an LCT blog? Call it the unthinkable, but LCT Editor Martin Romjue traversed the annual trade show and conference at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, N.J. this week. While the two trades have been swapping complimentary staff convention passes for years, neither tends to write about the other. Let's just say LCT Magazine is secure enough in its limousculinity to take a risk and report on its competitor's show. . .
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The Baby Boomer generation started turning 60 two years ago when the U.S. Census Bureau
estimated that 7,918 of them were turning that age each day. They're obviously a great revenue source for operators, as these Americans have more expendable cash, more time on their hands, and usually have kids who are growing up
and needing transportation. Now that the Year One boomers are 62 and getting closer to retirement, you should also think about this community being an important source for chauffeur hiring. As we've seen lately in the news, retirees (and those soon to be) are stressed out to the max as they watch the value of their 401ks and IRAs dropping way down. They need to make money, even if it's part-time work. Most operators have excellent chauffeurs who are in that age range, sometimes a few years older. As long as they retain their health and driver safety, aging boomers are probably the best source of strong chauffeur candidates to cultivate. -- Jon LeSage
SCARY LIVERY & TOWN CAR TERROR! What happens after you’ve just stepped into a Town Car, the doors have clicked to locked, the chauffeur starts driving. . . and then he tells you he’s angry, you are his last run, and he will quit his company that night? LCT Editor Martin Romjue recounts his nerve-jiggling experience with a farm-out that went up in flames, or better yet, a. . . . Chauffeur On The Edge!
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If you've ever called Jim Luff on a Monday and then wondered why he didn't pick up or get back to you right away, don't take it personally. There are reasons for such behavior.
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California's housing market conditions have been one of the starting points for national, and then global, financial and credit market collapses, according to economic analysts. The Wall Street Journal just published a story analyzing the situation
- it might be the beginning of a positive economic trend: "While the volume of existing-home sales across the U.S. fell 10.7% in August from the previous year, according to the National Association of Realtors, there are signs that the most damaged of markets are starting to heal themselves. Across hard-hit California, sales volumes rose 65% in September compared with a year ago, said MDA DataQuick, a San Diego-based real-estate information service."
On the other side of the coin, market conditions are still very unstable. The drastic drop in home prices in some California markets mean several homeowners are upside down in their loans, which moves them toward foreclosing their mortgages. The problem isn't solved yet, but it may have hit bottom and start stabilizing. Let's hope for the best.
ANOTHER REASON TO VISIT:
The U.S. is allowing international visitors to enter the country up to 90 days without a visa under a new program
. This is yet another reason for foreign travelers to visit America; the major reason being the increased value of their currency over the dollar. So, marketing to international visitors offers you another market segment that could increase during a time when others are decreasing. Setting up affiliate relationships with operators in Europe and other regions of the world can facilitate this market growth.
It's not an easy time for operators, especially those in hurricane zones or dealing with corporate clients going out of business. Unfortunately, there's a more regular, routine problem that comes up: dealing with unruly, violent customers. Two stories were posted with this sad tale - one in Toronto
and one in Daytona Beach
. Why is it that an industry that provides such a high level of service gets dragged into these messes? Passenger alcohol and drug overuse is part of it, along with powder keg problems in major cities. Many chauffeured companies do what they can to subvert or stop these fights through chauffeur training, dispatcher communications, law enforcement agency relationships, and vehicle security equipment.
The National Business Travel Association has surveyed travel managers on how they're dealing with the global credit crunch. Travel is being cutback, but it's good to know how this is being done and what chauffeured companies can do to adapt.
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Retirement centers are good place to offer your services. Many facilities around the country are now offering chauffeured services
. As Baby Boomers make it to 60 years old and beyond, the market will be growing along the need for more professional transportation. It's a great opportunity to combine added revenue with providing needed service to your community.
The limousine industry became an actual industry in the 1970s/1980s, and before that it was limited to presidents, kings and queens, statesmen, movie/rock stars, and the very wealthy. Car collectors enjoy viewing and riding in classics such as Woodrow Wilson's Pierce-Arrow
, which is pictured at the left. Mercedes-Benz has lately been promoting its new S600 Pullman state limousine. Queen Elizabeth II
used to ride around in this elegant car. Elegant limousines will always be used by the rich, famous, and powerful, even as businessmen shy away from stretches and ask for executive vans, SUVs, and sedans.
With American, Continental, and Delta reporting Q3 losses, airlines are analyzing corporate markets
to see which way the wind may blow in the next quarter. For Continental, energy companies are continuing to travel, the auto industry has plunged downwards, and pharmaceuticals are expected to reduce slightly next year. American Airlines says that New York, the epicenter of financial markets, has been the hardest hit region. This is yet another development that points the way toward chauffeured transportation companies convincing corporate clients and prospects that ground transportation offers them advantages over air travel. They still need to take business trips, and if they're thinking about traveling 100 to 250 miles from their offices, ground transportation is the way to go, especially for group trips.
OIL PRICES PLUMMET: The one redeeming factor in the economic contraction is a steep downturn in oil and gas prices, which are the primary drivers of inflation. UPDATE HERE. While the U.S. may be suffering stock and job market losses, at least we're all paying less for gas and dealing with lighter inflationary pressures. That can only be a silver lining for operators, many of whom are seeing fewer client runs. At least the gas won't cost as much. But don't get rid of that fuel surcharge just yet. A percentage drop, though, might be a nod in the right direction. -- M.R.
Given the declining economy and airline hassles, the stress level for the typical business traveler has skyrocketed. NY Times story here
. Imagine this scenairo: Hearing that your flight is being delayed so the airline can switch to a smaller aircraft while the airport TVs overhead are echoing the latest news on the Dow plunge. You need to stand in line for a new boarding pass, with the possibility of being put into a middle seat, while you've just lost 15% of your entire net worth. The solution? A luxury chauffeured sedan! Operators can market to stressed out business travelers, by showing them what they can look forward to at their destination: A First Class ride to wherever they need to go. It makes up for the discomfort of flying. So while operators face a bear market in business travel, that can be offset by the bull market in stress among remaining travelers. -- M.R.
TOP 100 FLEETS: Jim Luff analyzes the pluses and minuses of LCT's annual Top 100. Building your reputation for quality service matters more than making the list, he says.
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AGGRESSIVE PRICING: The future clearly belongs to online limousine bookers and reservation sites. LimoRes.net just raised another $20 million to fund global growth. Such service sites will proliferate and net more customers, especially as clients see tighter budgets and diminshed bottom lines. For operators, that means competitive value pricing and excellent service. There's not much margin for error in a slowing economy and an online landscape of instant price comparisons. -- M.R.
Corporate executives have been shunning stretch limousines for years now, especially after the Enron fiasco happened and federal corporate clean-up legislation was passed earlier this decade. And the negative public image goes back even further, especially into the 1980s. That's when people were worried about being perceived as similar to Gordon Gekko
. Gekko was the main character in the hit Oliver Stone movie,"Wall Street,"
which lambasted financier corruption and ironically came out the same year as the October stock market plunge. These days, corporate execs want chauffeured rides, but they're being picked up in black sedans, SUVs, buses, and executive vans. Stretches are cool for retail customers (especially kids) who want them for special events and nights on the town. My, how things change.
The Motley Fool is a good website to visit
for getting the latest news, analysis, and recommendations on making your investment strategy work. For anyone who has money in stock market mutual funds (such as through IRAs and 401-Ks), or even more traditional funds full of T-bills, municipal bonds, and CDs, this is a very bad period to live through. What your funds were worth one month ago versus today - oops! Check out this information source and stay tuned. This is going to take months and months to get through, but it's very good to stay informed and make necessary changes to your investment strategy. You probably want to retire someday.
CAN THIS BE SAID ENOUGH?
Chauffeured transportation is good for business and profits. For you and your clients. Operators know this. We know it. But are you sure you've emphasized this message
enough to potential clients?
Seeing a funeral hearse can bring up feelings of dread, especially for a military family
. It's a very sad day to go through, but families need a professional transportation company to provide excellent service. While LCT Magazine doesn't cover the funeral industry, it is an important part of the business for many operators. It's also meant a lot to auto manufacturers, especially Lincoln and Cadillac, which have built base models that have been modified and turned into hearses by several coachbuilders. Accubuilt
is one of the largest chauffeured vehicle manufacturers and owns DaBryan Coach Builders. It also owns Superior Coaches and Eureka, two major builders of funeral vehicles. Accubuilt has other brand divisions with specialty vehicles such as Tuscany and Accubuilt Mobility. This is an important trend for manufacturers to reconcile, as the need for diverse chauffeured vehicles expands in the global economy.
LONG-TERM RESCUE: A leading entrepreneurial foundation finds that older, baby-boomer entrepreneurs will be providing much of the ingenuity and drive to re-start economic growth in future years. This could be a favorable long-term trend to emerge from the current economic shambles: Smaller, more diverse businesses independent of large corporations and investment firms.
From the L.A. Times article: "Though many people think of entrepreneurs as twentysomethings laboring in their garages on the next Silicon Valley success, the reality is that people age 35 and older have higher entrepreneurship activity rates."
For chauffeured transportation operators, a nation teeming with busy new entrepreneurs, both old and young, would be a substantial market and business opportunity. Entrepreneurs are starved for time, and what better way to save time than to use chauffeured sedans and limousines plugged into digital technologies. As has been the case for decades, small to medium sized businesses and similar-sized services that cater to them will remain the economic muscle of America. -- M.R.
PORTLAND, OR and TAMPA, FL: Findings here
GLOBAL GADDING: Even during the 1930s, a segment of society remained wealthy and spent accordingly. And although America may be headed more toward the 1970s than the far worse 1930s, luxury limousine operators can take heart that a substantial slice of the global travel luxury market will remain. How else to explain the growth in luxury services connected to international air carriers, including chauffeured services to and from airports, hotels, and other destinations. This article expalins how such airlines are taking over the luxury air travel market and competing through expanding menus of ancillary luxury services. For operators, there could be opportunities in either affiliating with these airlines or at least farming out clients who are passengers. Of course, if these airlines attract luxury travelers to cities worldwide, then their clientele may need to spend money on ground transportation beyond what the airlines offer. Dubai, Singapore, and New Delhi are three strong sources of such travelers, and airlines that cater to them. -- M.R.
Google now gets about 40 million hits per month relating to limo services, according to LimoQuoter.com, a global Internet booking site
for the limousine industry. There are several limousine booking sites on the market now, some come and go. Limos.com has the highest booking volume, but other websites have been growing, too. And to get more visits and bookings on their own company websites, operators are doing all they can to make sure their websites rank high on Google during limo searches. One way to bring up your ranking is build up your links with other organizations such as wedding groups, chambers of commerce, and tourism associations. There will probably be no cost involved and more visits to your site, and a higher ranking on Google.
Highland Park, Ill., chauffeur Leonel Cesar has been getting criticized
by parents for calling the police on drinking teens in his limo bus after being unable to reach the parents. "We know we are going to lose some business," said Any Time Limo General Manager Alex Mich. "It's not about the money; it's about doing the right thing." While the kids are underage, the parents say it was better and safer to use the limo and let the teenagers drink rather than let them drink and drive. It's a tough call, but the chauffeur was following company policy and his boss backed him up. This has happened several times in the past 2-3 years. Prom business can be tough to handle, just like winery tours.
During a time of economic downturn, there are still geographic zones that are doing well - neighborhoods where residents value luxury ground transportation. Chauffeured transportation companies will always provide rides for those who can pay for it. Forbes did a nice job
of rounding up data that might help you beef up your business plan. For Forbes' top 500 list of top dollar zip codes, California neighborhoods house half of the list; New York, Connecticut, and Florida, also host rich residential zones. Read on for more information including real estate sales trends.
VIDEO MARKETING: You have to give credit to the makers of "Beverly Hills Limo" for thinking outside of the marketing box with its comedy promotional video. The video combines wackiness with self-deprecating humor. If done right, such a marketing approach can be far more effective than a traditional, formal P.R. video that looks and sounds like all the others.
The most important element in this video is personality. Whether you think the approach is hokey or clever, it nevertheless introduces chauffeurs and staff members as distinct personalities. If adapted as an actual sales or promotional video for an operator, this technique can appeal to clients by simply telling a story and making them laugh, as opposed to the finessed braggadocio of so many corporate videos.
In Arizona. Aloha Limousine
near Phoenix offers a themed experience
to attract customers. Whether it's cultural, event, holiday, or sports-related, creating an experience as opposed to just offering a ride can distinguish a chauffeured service beyond the typical or the ordinary. Aloha's company motto is "Breaking the Boundaries of Traditional Limousine Service."
Our upcoming issue, being finished up today, includes our annual coverage of insurance, finance, and leasing. One complementary topic to insurance and safety is consumer awareness. This blog post
from Miami Limousine Airport Transportation
(Broward Limousine & Airport Services) warns consumers of common limousine rental risks. Such consumer awareness should be part of every operator's media and marketing outreach, helping to build trust with potential and current clients as well as providing a public service. Such assurances can bring many intangible benefits. -- M.R.
"There is added safety to a helicopter over, say, a limousine,” says Sikorsky helicopter manufacturer Western region manager David Grupe
. Could that be true? Helicopters are more important now for local business and personal transportation, as are private jets, bus trips, and chauffeured transportation. This manufacturer is trying to compete with private jets and get more business with the growing pool of wealthy and corporate travelers who want to avoid the major airports. But why mention limousines when it comes to safety? Why not jets or other transportation vehicles? Why take a swipe at the industry unless you can verify what you're saying? Very strange.
Halloween is just around the corner; it might be a holiday event you never thought of working to promote your company and increase business. Knights Luxury Transportation will be providing rides
in Saginaw, Mich., for the Michigan Community Blood Centers for its "Witch Type Are You?" blood drive. As gruesome and ghoulish as this may sound, it's sure to get the local community's attention, as will Knights.
As Jim Luff wrote about in his new October issue article
, "Restaurant Marketing Partnerships Reap Huge Rewards." It appears that another California operator, Ultra Limousine Services, would agree with this perspective. According to an article in The Daily Democrat, Ultra provides transportation to Tazzia Bistro restaurant customers in the town of Woodland, Calif. This allows guests not have to come up with a designated driver, says the restaurant owner. These business relationships are about much more than providing two or three extra rides a month. They can be centers for additional revenue and building even more profitable client relationships through shared customers.
MIND YOUR Ps and Qs: Luff expresses his dismay with poor spelling in society. He cautions on the reflections of the author and the company that fails to spell check. A misspelled street name on a trip ticket could send your chauffeur miles off course if he guesses what you intended.
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On-time performance for U.S. airlines was up - more than a year ago and more than the month before. While it may sound hard to believe, canceled flights are down, too. (Our experience lately has been that early morning flights are on time and afternoon/evening flights get delayed because of cancelations.) Read more in the USA Today travel section
. If you don't believe it, ask FlightView
what they've learned lately.
The credit crisis drove down U.S. auto sales in September - read all about it in this Detroit News piece (a great newspaper to look at regularly to follow the auto industry, by the way). During retail sale downturns, automakers are usually open to making good incentive deals with fleet buyers - this might be a good time for you to make that happen.
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YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR: In the push to market during a recession, sometimes reverse psychology works best. We came across a blog, not sure exactly whose, that lists seven consequences of renting a cheap limousine or chauffeured service. Operators may want to borrow from this list and remind both steady and prospective clients why pinching pennies on chauffeured transportation leads to costly hassles. -- M.R.
PENNY PINCH TIP: Want to save money for both yourself and clients? Cancel all newspaper subscriptions, except to the Wall Street Journal. Most newspaper print content is available online for free.
Ten tips from the NFIB on how to keep your eyes on the prize during crazy economic times.
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AVIS GETTING AGGRESSIVE: Avis seems to be accumulating a lot of attention lately, as it asserts its rental and chauffeured vehicle services.
The global travel community has just named Avis its favored rental vehicle company. Its 40% stake in Carey and foray into South Florida chauffeured markets are giving chauffeured operators fits, since Avis doesn't have to play by the same rules.
Look for coverage on the escalating battle in South Florida on LCT's e-newsletter and future issue of LCT Magazine.
The NLA, the Florida Limousine Association, the West Florida Limousine Association, and the Florida Ground Transportation Associaton have created a strong, united front on tackling this issue that could have unprecedented consequences for passenger safety, regulatory integrity, and future operator business models. More to come in LCT -- online and in print. -- M.R.
Americans might have less money to spend on trips and weekend special events, but what about international visitors? They like the fact that their euro, pound, Canadian dollar, or whatever else they have, is doing better than the U.S. dollar right now. They can get great travel deals as the hotel industry has been experiencing
for awhile. If you'd like to build your global traveler volume, start with affiliates in Europe and Canada and go from there. Or network with travel agents, tour operators, travel managers, and online booking companies to direct traffic to your website.
New York City is the obvious center of turmoil in the financial industry downturn. What other cities are tied into this mess and could also be going through tough times? According to an analysis piece in Business Week
, "the impact of a downturn could be more serious in smaller cities that are less diversified. Wilmington, Del., where many of the nation's credit-card companies are headquartered; Charlotte, N.C., home of Bank of America and Wachovia; and Sioux Falls, S.D., where many back-office jobs are located, each have about 15% of residents working in finance, real estate, and insurance."
This is a time of change in the chauffeured transportation industry, as many operators downsize, merge, and look for new customers. If you're in a market directly affected by the financial industry crisis, one of the best moves is finding out what other operators are doing to expand their business as the economy staggers from one punch to the next. LCT Magazine will be covering this, and we'd love to hear from you on what you're going through now, good and bad. You can click the Feedback button, or send an email to me at email@example.com. -- Jon LeSage
During a recent interview with T.J. Clark, president/CEO of Limos.com, he talked about how much travelers want to leave and read comments on trip experiences, and how that will be part of the revamped version of Limos.com. As an example of a popular travel site, he mentioned TripAdvisor
, a popular travel booking site and one that emphasizes consumers leave comments on what they've loved and hated. There's a section called Rants & Raves that has "thumbs up/thumbs down" icons. Consumers love this about the Internet now, according to Clark, and Limos.com will make this a big part of promoting the site. The motivating factor will be getting your customers to rave about their trip, not go thumbs down.
JIM LUFF REPORTS AND RETORTS: LCT's contributing editor and indomitable operator sounds off on his story about pole-driven party buses in the September issue. . .
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You've probably seen "RSS" buttons on lots of websites lately, including this one. It stands for "Really Simple Syndication" or "Rich Site Summary." This is a good thing to have on your homepage - it can link you up to news stories and press releases on search terms that you care about, such as "limousine," or "ground transportation," or "business travel," or anything else you tend to look for. If you click on the RSS button on this page, or on our LCTmag.com website in the News section, it will allow you to set up news feeds onto your website - if you use Yahoo, Google, AOL, or other readers. And if you go to most any newspaper, magazine, weblog, or other sites, you'll see they have RSS buttons now. It makes information gathering quicker and more efficient.
UPWARD MARKET: Lest there be any doubt, the party bus market steadily advances. Main Street obviously wants its party buses, and operators nationwide, such as this one in Des Moines, are meeting that demand. No mention of any poles, although municipal buses already are equipped with several of them. For safety, of course. While some industry elites may frown upon the plebian party buses, these carnival caravans yield some of the highest vehicle profit margins, despite excessive fuel costs. -- M.R.
WILDER THAN A PARTY BUS RIDE: These are brutal economic times, which justify some blunt talk. What is particularly frustrating for so many business owners and consumers is the sheer complexity of the unraveling investment world. Clarity becomes a highly-valued commodity amid the pain and uncertainty. One Bloomberg News columnist offers some refreshing insight. This is too big of a debacle to simply say everyone is at fault. Because when everyone is at fault, no one is at fault. So the blame game must go hand-in-hand with the economic explain-game. The other truism that emerges from the collapsing house of cards is that we should have never stopped listening to our Depression-era grandparents. They have been proven correct on financial advice and sensibility over and over and over again. All that talk about saving, investing conservatively, maintaining integrity, and delaying gratification applies to all generations in all types of economies.
For smaller operators and business owners, the one sliver of a silver lining could very well be that Main Street will fare much better than Wall Street. But this economic enema will be painful before the system is thoroughly cleansed. And chauffeured transporation companies that serve the financial industry, unfortunately, will suffer. Meanwhile, is it too flippant to ask if all those busy bodies in Washington, D.C., New York, and other major financial centers who are desperately trying to ward off a meltdown need comfortable, quality chauffeured transportation? Is it worth marketing to bankruptcy attorneys who may want to ease the pain of financial implosions by offering clients chauffeured service to their law offices? Chauffeured transportation needs to enjoy the same status as alcoholic beverages: A refuge and consolation in good times and bad. "Have a drink -- and a limo." -- M.R.
LUXURY LEASES STILL AVAILABLE:
For all the credit compressing and squeezing going on amid the yo-yo meltdown, auto companies are still actively leasing
out vehicles with no discernible downturn since the beginning of the year, according to Swapalease.com
. In fact, the leasing stability is good for the luxury auto industry, which of course, provides the vehicle staples to the chauffeured transportation industry. -- M.R.
After calling the financial market conditions the worst since the Great Depression, the Wall Street Journal ended its analysis piece looking at what's going well in the U.S. economy...
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CHAUFFEURED VS. RENTAL: Rental car companies are making inroads into the chauffeured transportation industry, with their economies of scale, synergies, and vast distribution networks. Auto Europe is another example. The October issue of LCT Magazine explores the latest competiive moves of rental car companies.
But the rent-a-chauffeur market trend is ripe for some skpeticism: Are the rental chauffeurs professionally licensed? What are their qualifications -- an actual professional chauffeur or an airport counter sales agent doing double-duty? How does their level of attention and service compare?
The questions need to be answered before we can conclude whether rental car is a true QUALITY threat or more of a CHEAP QUANTITY alternative. -- M.R.
If you're considering giving celebrities free rides to incentivize them into becoming long-term clients, you might want to do some of the credit card processing and other protocols you do for everyone else. Limousine operators in Central Texas
have learned this the hard way from "Austin Hedge," a San Antonio phony with the real name of Terry Lenn Sanders. He's accused of thieving $20,000 in service from private limousine services. He told them he was a famous musician trying to keep a low profile and tour the area with his son. They should have told him they'd be happy to set up a contract with him and charge his card.
AIRPORT SOLUTIONS: In this small city northeast of Vancouver, B.C., operators are now allowed to pick-up arriving passengers curbside, without a prior reservation. The enlightened town council has authorized walk-out limo service, enabling passengers to hire a limo on the spot. This obvioulsy will bring more business to the region's limousine operators, since passengers can see, compare, and choose among ALL ground transportation options. It's refreshing to see government actually make life easier for operators, instead of continously trying to tax, regulate, nag, marginalize, or deter them, as is the case at so many airports nationwide.
The council simply came down on the side of common-sense business fairness -- if arriving passengers can choose between a taxi, shuttle service, or municipal bus, why not put limousines and livery sedans into the mix? Just as a shuttle service reservation can be made after claiming baggage, the same opportunity should apply to imousines and black sedans. Those preferring advanced limousine reservations can still make them and be greeted by a chauffeur, not having to worry about first-come, first-serve. But once presented with the availability of superior limousine service, many passengers likely will become loyal customers. There's nothing like seeing a comfortable, elegant Town Car, or stretch version, parked alongside a yellow cab, a bouncy blue shuttle bus, or a packed city bus. -- M.R.
An article in the Ocala Business Journal
today proves that fuel prices do not have to be bad for business. It's all a matter of how you work with what you have. This Florida operator
makes fuel prices work to his advantage.
As always, even negative events can bring new opportunities. Pricing, packaging, and promotions allow for a lot of leverage when the economy starts to lurch in unpredictable directions. -- M.R.
Are there really as many green limo companies out there as you would assume after searching through the Internet? I've never heard of EnviroCar, a Phoenix-based company that says its offering Priuses and Lexus RX400h SUVs
to give passengers "chauffeured hybrid transportation." Nor have I heard of LA-based Econation
, which claims that it's created a trusted worldwide network of limousine companies at the request of their Fortune 500 and entertainment industry clientele. Offering green fleet vehicles is becoming more important all the time - you can't go to an industry meeting without hearing operators asking each other what they're doing. But there is a lot of hype out there. We'll have to see where this all goes in the real world.
One sure way for an operator to gain lasting exposure, connections, and clients is by getting a TV or movie gig.
of St. Louis will hit a high-profile
this fall by providing limousine service to a local family getting their home made over for ABC TV's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."
Another operator, Head Limo
of Las Vegas, Nev., is profiled in this month's issue of LCT for having been the limousine company featured on VH1's hit reality show, "Flavor of Love
," starring rapper Flavor Flav and former supermodel Brigitte Nielsen. Owner Ricky Head, standing 6-feet 9-inches, and Flavor Flav are pictured above.
As LCT Magazine prepares for its International LCT Show in Las Vegas in January 2009, the event theme, "Reach For the Stars
," can be taken literally in the pursuit of celebrity-studded transportation opportunities. -- M.R.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE:
A recent consumer survey
shows that despite -- high gas prices, global warming hysteria, alternative fuel options, carping over carbon footprints, sniping at SUVs, finger-wagging
bout consumption -- Americans still want their S-U-V.
For the chauffeured transportation industry, this should be encouraging and a sign of reality. When SUVs burst onto the motoring scene in the 1990s, many Americans found them to be ideal: roomy, comfortable, practical, safe. Ask any family with two or more children who are regular Home Depot customers; the preferred vehicle of choice is the SUV -- not the hatchback, the station wagon, or the VW Bus.
In America, like it or not, market tastes dictate material production. That's why the chauffeured transportation industry should proudly promote the SUV, whether it runs on black or green fuels, as the ideal way to get around. There is nothing to be ashamed of, and don't let the environmentalists badger your business. People who buy SUVs will be receptive to reserving them when they want to be chauffeured. Thanks to SUVs, and the Lincoln Town Cars, the most comfortable and pleasurable part of air travel are the trips to and from the airports. -- M.R.
Hydrogen fuel cell cars are considered the essence of future alternative-fuel vehicles by auto industry analysts, but they are a long ways away for mass production. The Honda FCX Clarity is one of the most watched over hydrogen vehicles, but this USA Today auto analyst
thinks the seating is limo like. Hybrids are considered the more available alt-fuel option for the time being. Keep your eyes on fuel-cell vehicles.
New York City Taxi & Limousine Commissioner Matthew Daus (3rd from right) and Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty (left) pose with cast members of the off-Broadway musical "Stomp'" as part of a public service video. And in his newsletter, Daus also updated readers on the 25 MPG rule enforcement for taxis (and soon for black car operators):
"I am also pleased to mention that we have continued to stay in touch with auto manufacturers and that our confidence in the availability of vehicles capable of complying with our new fuel efficiency standards remains high. We are also aware that many taxi operators have heeded our encouragement to plan ahead and have wisely ordered their hybrid-electric vehicles well in advance to ensure a steady and ample supply. Considering the interest that has been demonstrated in this program by other major taxi towns, a number of which have already either passed similar ordinances or are in various planning stages of doing so, I must say that my enthusiasm has only grown as we approach the October 1 effective date."
IT'S JUST SO SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA:
A Santa Monica-based limousine company has found a unique local clientele -- a niche known worldwide but endemic to this area: LIMO REHABBERS!
Yes, if you are rich, beautiful, and famous, and can only cope with it all through drugs and alcohol, there's a limo waiting to take you to a posh Malibu rehab facility. Lindsay Lohan
, Robert Downey Jr., Nick Nolte, Ben Affleck, Amy Winehouse
, . . . these discrete limos are for you.
deserves credit for finding a market niche distinctive to its local area and for thinking outside of the livery box. At LCT, we admire operators who dare to milk new markets during an economic downturn, proving there is ample opportunity everywhere.
And rehabbers are always recession-proof. As long as Hollywood churns out the young and the senseless, rehab facilities will enjoy a steady clientele dropped off in luxury chariots. -- M.R.
JIM LUFF REPORTS: Share Jim's experience of landing multiple sales just for recognizing the name of a community leader.
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Gasoline prices are dropping, which is a good trend - the national average prices is $3.68 per gallon according the most current Dept. of Energy data. This is better than $4.50 per gallon, but it's still tough for a lot of ground transportation companies
. Chauffeured transportation companies are feeling the pinch - while fuel surcharges have been increasing this year, they're still below where they need to be to cover the real cost of fuel, even as prices have dropped in the last month. Corporate and retail clients may not be thrilled to hear that you're increasing the fuel surcharge from 7% to 10%, but these charges are being increased by every transportation industry.
You can't search for news on the Internet without seeing a story
about somebody getting a free limo ride. Whether it be giving a well known local citizen a ride, or kids going back to school, or some other noteworthy trip, limo operators are getting a lot of free media coverage these days. Why not set up something like this in your town, and make copies of the newspaper articles that you include with marketing letters and packets, frame and post in your office, or send to other newspapers and magazines to show them you're well worth writing about?
AND THAT'S GOOD FOR LUXURY:
Somehow politicians have led us to believe that rich people shouldn't get richer. But if they do, what is so wrong with that? Especially since, in America, the ranks of the rich are full of people who once were poor. So, if the rich get richer, won't they want to use more limousines and chauffeured vehicles? Among its diverse mix of clients from various socio-economic strata, the limousine and chauffeured transportation industry caters to a vast luxury consumer segment, or those people constantly demonized for being among the top 5% of wage-earners. The lastest IRS figures
show the ranks of those Americans with a net worth of $1.5 million or more increased between 1998 and 2004. As we've referenced before here on LL, the bread-n-butter wealthy clients of chauffeured transportation appear to be holding their own. -- M.R.
WEEKEND WORRIES: There will be 320,000 less Americans traveling over Labor Day weekend, according to AAA Chicago. Approximately 28.64 million Americans expect to travel by automobile, a 1.1% decrease from the 28.97 million people who drove to their holiday destinations last year. Almost 3.96 million Americans intend to travel by airplane, a 4.5% decrease from the 4.14 million people who flew last year.
Once Labor Day weekend is over and people start going back to work and school, transportation will pick up. How much? Nobody knows for sure, but some operators and coachbuilders are starting to see things pick up a bit now and have hope for the future.
. . . BUT NO LIMO CUTS?
The Los Angeles Times posted a disturbing main story
in its Business section today that focuses on brides who are trying to save money on their upcoming weddings. Upon first reading this, you would think the limousine is a first hit. But the article, whether out of apathy or accuracy, fails to mention any limousine services or companies, or any brides ditching the stretch for the perfect day. That doesn't mean operators are in the clear, and underscores the need to not take weddings for granted as a supposed recession proof market.
In fact, operators need to aggressively promote their wedding services, along with bachelor and bachelorette outings, as basics, or essentials, to any complete wedding. If brides are cutting back, then let them skimp on the food, flowers, guests, and/or location -- not the limo. After all, once the bride and groom step inside the stretch to head to the reception and then to the honeymoon, it really is all about them. And a limousine always makes for a happy threesome. -- M.R.
Will gasoline prices drop down near $3 a gallon? This could happen, says the Chicago Sun-Times
. It may not happen in the near future, and it might go up for awhile, and so on and so on. No one knows for sure. Gas prices were about $2.75 a gallon for quite awhile and started shooting up about a year ago as the world's oil supply tightened like a vise. Let's all hope for the best, and in the meantime, anything that can be done to reduce fuel consumption is a good thing.
JIM LUFF SAYS: Putting work on hold for some social time with employees can boost morale and increase dedication to the company mission. Take a "time out" and have fun with your employees.
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Limos.com is going through a lot changes - new owners are revamping the site and its services, and plan to launch a new consumer site in the fall. Things are already starting to change, especially the industry forum
. It's a really good example of what more people are doing online all the time: networking, chatting, arguing, and sharing their wisdom and experience.
Back in 1912, Sixt Rent A Car was founded and started out with limousines. Germany-based Sixt is one of the largest car rental companies in the world, especially in Europe, and not many people know the company offers chauffeured services. Martin Sixt started his company with a limousine and chauffeured clients around himself. In the early days, his clients were British nobility and dollar-rich Americans. The company moved into car rental, which counts for most of its revenue today. (LCT will be covering the car rental/chauffeured transportation industry connections in the October issue.)
A business story about a limousine operator
near Daytona Beach, Fla., shows how many operators are struggling to hold on. The story in the Daytona Beach News-Journal
contradicts the industry myth that weddings, bachelor parties, and prom nights are recession-proof markets.
So far, 4 percent of operators nationwide have gone out of business, according to Richard Kane, president of the NLA, who was quoted in the article. So while the nation's GDP growth may be hovering somewhere between 0 and 1.5 percent, the chauffeured transportation industry has seen a 4 percent contraction. That's an industry recession.
While the truth hurts, LCT Magazine and this LL blog have provided ample ideas and suggestions to get creative during a recession and survive. That approach also will be prevalent at the LCT Eastern Conference
coming up Sept. 11-12 at the Mohegan Sun Resort & Casino in Uncasville, Conn. Just click on "Market Trends" and "Going Green" for starters. -- M.R.
The shortage of limousines at this week's Democratic National Convention has been getting a lot of media coverage - most of it with an ironic slant
on how strange it is that a party attempting to represent working and middle class voters would be upset about not having enough limo rides for their convention. Limousine operators providing stretches, buses, sedans, and SUVs at the DNC is nothing new, nor at the Republican convention. It's good business for operators, but it's tough to have enough vehicles ready to work such large events. And you wouldn't buy another 50 vehicles to work party conventions when they won't come back to your city for another 100 years.
DRIVING DOWN DUIs:
Two days ago, we posted a blog item about the "Limousine Lush." (See below) Now, we have found a Central Ohio limousine operator who puts this into practice
has found a THREE-FER: 1) A worthwhile way to make some extra cash; 2) A life-saving public service; 3) An intangible bonanza in positive community publicity.
Recessions require business to get creative. This limousine company is unfraid to venture beyond the luxury, premium brand image and find a constructive way to connect with a broader customer pool.
The limousine company that saves a bar patron from getting a DUI could win a future, grateful client for life. A courtesy pickup from a bar, with a chauffeur tip of course, is the most effective way to persuade a potential client of the value of party limo and/or bus services for nights out on the town. Drink and ride in safety and style. (See previous post). -- M.R.
One of our big features coming out next month centers on the growth and diversity of the party bus market. One Florida company
has just invested in a party, stretch limousine. Despite down times, the party bus and/or limo is still a solid value for entertainment and leisure related transportation. The larger the group, the more can chip in, and the more everyone can drink without worrying about getting home. The party market also yields high vehicle profit margins for operators. The September issue of LCT will be describing all kinds of creative limo packages available for party buses and limos. Grab those poles! -- M.R.
SO RENT A LIMO FOR THOSE SHOPPING SPREES
: Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills shows no signs of recession, as consumers with liquid assets of $1 million and up shop as if there's no economy tomorrow. A report in the Los Angeles Times
takes an upbeat look at the Jimmy Choo crowd. The article cites luxury retail experts who appeared on a Beverly Hills panel in March that was covered in LCT Magazine; their predictions were correct.
For chauffeured transportation providers, look out for your luxury clientele. If they can shop without a pocketbook drop, then they can roll out the dough for a limo. -- M.R.
Jim Luff on how to serve community charity events to build your business and brand, and to feel good about what you're doing.
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DITCH THE DUI RISK:
At LCT Magazine, one of our heroes is the limousine lush; the drunk client who gets dropped off in a limousine or livery vehicle.
Why do we like limousine lushes? Aside from the fact that they can be easy tippers while tipsy, the limousine lush is not driving any vehicles, and thereby avoids driving under the influence.
A Phoenix operator
has listed Arizona's strict DUI rules and penalties as a sobering reminder of why going out in a limousine is the safest way to visit multiple places while consuming alcoholic beverages.
This is actually a brilliant marketing tool to sell your services: SCARE the partiers into a limo.
We would love to juxtapose a photo of a tuxedoed client rolling out of a limousine with a bottle of Courvoisier with a photo of the same client looked glassy-eyed and haggard in an orange jumpsuit. Which would the client prefer? What scene would other motorists on the road prefer?
This is a no brainer. Every chauffeured transportation operator should find a way to promote themselves as the anti-DUI alternative: Save gas, save carbon, spare hassle, and save lives and livelihoods.
Demand for buses is expected to increase 5% annually through 2012, according to a new study
by the Freedonia Group. Expensive fuel is motivating consumers to ride buses more, especially mass transit systems. Increasing traffic congestion in major metro areas is another growth factor. Limo buses have grown during the past two years - in customer demand and in fleet purchases - and are used for weddings, nights on the town, and also for corporate events.
Horace Pappillion and Carl Guillory of Citistreets Limousines have designed a new chauffeur lounge near the Houston airport, says Joe Jordan, president of the Limousine Association of Houston. "This is probably the most deluxe chauffeur's lounge in all of the USA. It is better than some first class airport clubs," Jordan says."You should also consider rewarding your best drivers with a full-time membership. There is a discounted rate for member companies of the LAH."
Working the Democratic and Republican conventions is like having the Super Bowl in your city. You can make a lot of revenue and gain new clients, but you can also face a lot of problems. This is one of the main reasons operators should join state limousine associations. Officers and members from the Limousine Association of Colorado and the Minnesota Chauffeured Transportation Association have attended organizing sessions put on by convention planners and government agencies involved with the upcoming Democratic convention (Denver, Aug. 25-28) and the Republican convention (Minneapolis-St. Paul, Sept. 1-4). The associations are quite clear on state and federal transportation rules that control the events, and can negotiate with local government to resolve problems before they happen and inform members on what needs to be done to get through the conventions successfully.
Marketing to Americans 50 years and older is becoming more important for every industry. The Baby Boomers are aging and tend to have strong financial resources, and as they move toward retirement, they become concerned about taking care of daily business - like transporting across town. A press release from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) raises the issue and lays out a great opportunity to market vanpools, buses, and other transportation options.
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Jim Luff shares research information about using GPS systems as a management tool.
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USA Today's air travel expert David Grossman made some interesting points
on how business travelers can navigate through worsening conditions at U.S. airports and end up satisfied travelers. Not a bad article for operators, dispatchers, and chauffeurs to read for customer service delivery. Grossman says: "I was always taught to be an optimist and see the bright side of every scenario. So I've compiled a list of twelve likely outcomes of the current fuel price crisis that could comprise a silver lining and help placate the pain of business travel."
GROWTH OPPS: Bargain-home tours are emerging as a strong client opportunity for operators this year, especially in states hit hard by the foreclosure wave and credit crunch. A recent story in the San Francisco Chronicle shows that this can work at the high end as well.
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on a limo being used in a bank robbery, this time in the Pittsburgh area. This isn't the first time limos have been used in a crime. It's one of the weird parts of being in this industry, and it makes questions come up. Who owns this limo? Was the operator or chauffeur involved in the robbery? Will the police make this information public? Weird things definitely happen to transportation companies in this country, just ask somebody in the car rental industry.
Websites for companies in the hospitality industry are getting better and better. And if you're thinking about attending LCT East Sept. 11-12, or just looking for a great place to stay, visit the Mohegan Sun Resort & Casino website
. This site was completely revamped and upgraded this year, and really stands out. As we've written about in LimoLicious and LCT Magazine, having a memorable, highly usable website is more important now than ever.
The price of oil has been coming down lately, as have the prices at gas stations. "Oil has lost more than $28 a barrel since reaching the record less than a month ago as unprecedented fuel costs prompted U.S. consumers to limit spending," according to an article
in Bloomberg.com. How long will this last? Is this a temporary market condition - are we moving to the national average of $5 per gallon for gasoline that experts predicted a month ago? Whatever happens, gasoline and diesel prices are not going to drop down to $2.75 per gallon again. Fuel efficiency in fleet vehicles is still a top priority for operators, but even a short term price drop is better than having another week of price spikes.
Blogs and websites matter now more than ever, and this has become clear in the chauffeured transportation industry. Just take a look at In the Left Lane
, a social networking blog site created by the Silent Dispatch team. It's also a good place to follow industry events, visit links to other useful websites, and especially to follow the latest in technology trends and products that can improve your operations. Plus, you can learn more about the people who visit and post on In the Left Lane, and see their photos. And there's a link
to a LimoLicious post and a comment from Michael Goodman of Silent Dispatch commenting on our link to the LA Time's story on Chris Hundely of The Limousine Connection celebrating 30 years in the industry. Yes, blogs and websites and links are a very good thing. Go visit and think about posting feedback and linking up.
Jim Luff is looking for answers on how to handle clients when things go bad. This includes cars breaking down, cars being late, getting stuck in traffic, and all the other things that can happen in the industry.
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Leasing fleet vehicles isn't for everyone, and some operators will only purchase instead of lease. There are things to consider in this period of turbulence in the economy and vehicle financing, says the National Vehicle Leasing Association...
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CHINESE DEMAND MORE CHAUFFEURS: Transportation trends in China show a contradiction that should give Americans some hope amid the all the economic malaise:
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Traffic and weather conditions are always on the minds of chauffeurs, dispatchers, operators, and clients. There are a lot of online sources on these subjects tied into wireless hand-helds and computers. This weather site
is helpful to visit and is owned by the Weather Channel, which has been the main source of news on the subject on cable TV for many years. Hope the weather is nice in your town. You might need to read a three- or 10-day weather forecast and revise plans accordingly.
You might want to check out Traffic.com
, which offers free traffic updates anywhere in the U.S. Find out about your drive time, get directions, and guidance on avoiding traffic jams, collisions, and road construction. You can also read about upcoming events in the area such as concerts, festivals, and sports. Having up-to-the-moment traffic info is essential in this business, and these days Internet access can come through office computers, laptops, cell phones, and PDAs. (And a second web source will be offered later today in LimoLicious on another important topic for daily driving.)
One of the few things that truly infuriates us here at LCT is what we call the Grand Ethanol Scam of the 21st Century. So we hold our noses and link to this press release
to show the abundant misinformation that still exists on ethanol. We've already debunked many of these points in previous posts (just click on the Going Green category). But it cannot be said enough how the American taxpayers, the agricultural industry, and automakers have been duped into spending money and wasting energy on a dead-end alternative.
Ethanol DOES NOT reduce carbon emissions when its production is factored into the equation. Saved mileage is miniscule. Ethanol subsidies distort the agricultural free markets. Corn-growing for ethanol robs and depletes vital croplands. And lest we forget, ethanol takes food out of people's mouths, causing them to pay higher prices, and in Third World countries, also go hungry. This industry needs to be snuffed in its cradle. Its lobbyists and advocates -- shameless tapeworms -- have leeched onto consumers and taxpayers, and bilked us to the hilt. Neither political party, nor the President, has the guts to confront these 21st Century bootleggers and eco-quacks. Thankfully, a growing number of leaders in the limousine and chauffeured transportation do.
This energy extremism must stop. Don't buy ethanol or flex-fuel vehicles. They deserve to be relegated to demolition derbys and then junked forever. -- M.R.
What are the most popular airports in the world to travelers? Hong Kong International Airport was named Number 1. And what about U.S. airports? None of them
made the Top 10. And there were survey results from 8.2 million questionnaires that travelers filled out. You can find also find lot of articles online about U.S. airlines losing money in the last quarter, but it's not a big surprise - just talk to travelers. Americans are getting tired of the typical airline experience, and air travel is taking a downturn. Maybe they'd rather be driven around in chauffeured vehicles?
Negotiations between studios and the Screen Actors Guild are still dragging on
. The contract affects 120,000 actors in prime-time TV and movies.
For operators affected by this, it's a tense and worrisome condition during a year when the economy is going through other close calls. It wasn't long ago that the Writer's Guild strike happened - a 14-week strike that ended in February. According to this and other reports, the possibility of a strike is unlikely. Let's hope for the best.
To reduce the thick, eye-watering air pollution in Beijing, the Chinese government is stopping commercial vehicles from operating in the city. Will this solve the problem? No, the country will have to revise its emission standards and invest in better vehicles and alternative fuels. But cleaner air will make the government look better during the Olympics. And you thought your town had tough regulations?
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Lotus is working with Jaguar and other firms to develop the "Limo Green" hybrid executive sedan that emits less than 120 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer (which is not much more than the 104 g/km the Toyota Prius emits). Lotus is also working on hydrogen fuel cell taxis, and is well known for helping Tesla Motors launch the Roadster. The Wired magazine blog network
just announced the new green projects.
The last in the series of success articles by LCT Managing Editor Jon LeSage. This time, the focus is on the big picture: what operators do to expand their companies, go into ancillary markets, buy and sell operations, and other exciting adventures.
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TAKING A HIT:
For all the concerns about the rental car industry making inroads with luxury chauffeured transportation, today's article
in the Los Angeles Times shows that industry has plenty of problems and challenges of its own. Rental car customers increasingly insist on economy cars, for obvious reasons. Except, there aren't enough to go around. So maybe this could be an opportunity for the chauffeured transportation industry: Why rent a car to drive around an unfamiliar city when a chauffeur can take you wherever and when you need to go? It might be worth the industry's while to promote chauffeured packages for visitors who otherwise might get around in rental cars. From the customer's standpoint: No gas, no insurance, no driving hassle, no figuring out the GPS, and of course, as always, a comfortable ride with a professional chauffeur. From the industry's standpoint: Another way to build revenue and compete with rental car companies on their own turf. -- M.R.
FED UP WITH COSTLY OIL: If you click below, you will see a gutsy letter by airline executives to their customers about oil commodity speculation and its damage to their industry and the economy. It's about time top leaders in the limousine and chauffeured transportation industry did the same. . .
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LCT Managing Editor Jon LeSage on what it takes to make good decisions in your operations management. There's certainly a lot to think about.
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LCT Managing Editor Jon LeSage on the next step toward building a successful company. Having a good brand name plus a memorable brand image matters quite a lot these days. So does having clean and professional office and garage locations, effective phone greetings, and excellent client services. All of this will define your company's brand image.
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SLOWDOWN STRATEGY: This company
advances a strong argument
for renting limousines and limo buses despite the economic downturn. Such an approach makes the most of a challenging situation. No matter how many hybrids you put in a fleet, putting three or more people in black stretch, SUV, or sedan is about as safe, green, and glorious as it gets. This industry needs to show clients how to ride out a recession in style. -- M.R.
As the economy tightens and customers cut back, operators must diversify and accelerate their marketing efforts, as we see in LL's ongoing series started last week. One free, easy, and useful avenue is to write and maintain a blog, sort of like this one
. This company gets it; it knows its subject and how to connect with current and potential customers. By offering information that can help prospective clients make a decision, you brand yourself as consumer-friendly. You never know when someone who has read your business blog later uses your services. Blogs are an effective way to offer updates on your company, advise customers, and assert your services and value. If you don't know how to write well, or lack the time, then contract with someone who does. Blogs tend to be informal venues that add a vital component to your outreach: viral buzz. Get your blog as connected and consistent as possible. Tell some interesting tales from the road. Ask readers what they're looking for. Develop a thick skin. In the 21st Century media world, if you don't go blogging, you'll be in for some hard slogging. -- M.R.
Part 3 of LCT Managing Editor Jon LeSage's success series. Here are some things to think about on four important online marketing topics: websites, links, search engine optimization, and blogs and social sites.
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Fourth of July weekend is not a good one for the limousine industry, but try to have a good time anyway, says Jim Luff.
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LCT Managing Editor Jon LeSage on a booming trend in this industry: farm-out deals, affiliate networks, and global bookings. Successful operators are investing a lot of their time building their revenue through networking and creating effective business relationships.
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Part 1 in LCT Managing Editor Jon LeSage's "What It Takes for An Operator to Succeed" series, focusing on associations in chauffeured transportation, business travel, green fleets, and your local business community that will lead to more referrals and trip bookings.
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LCT's Jon LeSage shares insights operators have given him during the past three years during interviews, attending events, chatting and socializing, and staying up on news and company announcements. It's been inspiring for him to meet industry veterans and up-and-coming entrepreneurs who want to share their experience with others. He's found out that this industry does more networking and communicating than any other he's covered.
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Fleets can reduce harmful greenhouse emissions while lowering operating costs, according to a new paper by Networkcar, a leader in wireless fleet management. The new paper, entitled “Go Green and Save Green,” details the six areas that can significantly reduce fuel consumption and lower air pollution...
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"The failure of the U.S. transportation network to meet the needs of a growing population and economy is already having an impact on everything from safety to the environment, from quality of life to economic growth. We must immediately reform the approach we take for funding, planning, and building infrastructure so that we can keep people and goods moving across the country and around the world." So says Thomas J. Donohue, president and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Click here
to read his commentary and intense reader reactions.
Promo Magazine just ran a story
on Kraft Foods promoting a limousine ride to winners of a game marked on Post Honey Bunches of Oats cereal boxes. The story doesn't clarify what operator will supply the game winner with transportation, but it is very interesting to see how chauffeured rides are commonly being given out these days to contest winners, event attendees, and visitors to travel locations. Just something for you to think about: cutting a deal with local tourist hotspots and event planners offering limo rides to winners as a good way to market your company.
Here's a site to visit
if want to read the latest on what's happening with airports and airlines: a topic that affects many chauffeured transportation operators. As airlines cut down on their flights to save money on jet fuel and other expenses, operators are losing some of their bookings. Staying posted is important these days.
BLACK TIMES: As businesses find it harder to stay in the black with the soaring price of black crude, previously unnecessary or unwanted alternatives are being considered: regulating speculators, drilling for more oil, taxing SUVs, begging the Saudis, ditching ethanol and biofuels. . . The limousine and chauffeured transportation industry needs to keep abreast of these oil developments and pay attention. Here is a Q&A that helps shed some light on the high prices.
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He looks like such a nice guy, but is he ripping off the public? That's the claim made about North Carolina Governor Mike Easley in the Charlotte Observer
. The state spent $61,000 for daily chauffeured Mercedes rides for the governor and his wife. Is this reasonable for state taxpayers to cover? And how many chauffeured trips are they talking about? The point here is that chauffeured rides are being mentioned in the newspapers regularly these days as an example of misspending of tax funds. That is not good for the industry - keep it in mind as another topic for explaining the positive points on why elected officials and government agency managers are making a smart, effective move using chauffeured transportation.
New Jersey's Star-Ledger ran a grim story
about a New Jersey man who will be sentenced today for raping a limousine driver last year. Unfortunately, safety can be a crisis point for companies in this business, and having top security procedures and protocols in place is a must do. What does your company do? Feedback is always good to read.
If you're thinking about getting business through private airports, check out the National Business Aviation Association website
. Jet charter companies and corporations and individuals who do a lot of private plane trips are very interested in getting chauffeured rides to and from the airport. Some operators are growing leaps and bounds entirely through this market. The NBAA is the major industry association and offers seminars, events, and information that can help you.
Ever heard of A Girl's Night Out Limo in Kansas City? We hadn't until now. The operator just won an award through the U.S. Local Business Association
's "Best of Local Business" award program. A Girl's Night Out Limo is an NLA member and has a glamorous website
. Not only that, the company has been getting rave reviews
from clients. Pretty cool, huh?
BRIGHT LIMO FUTURE?
Limousine operators with growing revenue usually go to industry shows to look for minibuses, vans, coaches, SUVs, sedans, hybrids, and alternative-fuel vehicles, but not so much for stretch limousines these days. Teenagers going to proms and other kids out for concerts and nights on the town are not too concerned about getting a green car or a corporate bus. They'll take a party bus, or a super stretch, or a traditional limo as long as it's packed with blasting audio and bright shining video. So maybe stretch limos aren't going to go away for good. As Ed Kahakauwila, president of LA Limousines in Victoria, British Columbia just told a newspaper reporter
, "It's still the splurge for kids. Green just doesn't register."
DOING THE NUMBERS: Have you seen the new Fact Book yet? Jim Luff got to read his copy, and has plenty to say about how he compares his operation against the nationwide industry, and when he has to dismiss other numbers that don't apply to him.
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Tighter economic times can heighten competition even as businesses and consumers suffer. One limousine company
in the Los Angeles region has sent out a card mailer that states: "Why take a taxi when you can ride in luxury for a comparable price?" It then includes a detailed price list
on the other side that shows rates to area airports from various cities. In all cases, the rates are either the same or slightly more than a cab.
This isn't an original idea, but there definitely needs to be more of it. The limousine and chauffeured transportation industry must be more aggressive in marketing chauffeured sedan conveniences to the traveling masses. Most people simply DO NOT KNOW about the benefits and conveniences of a chauffeured sedan compared to a taxi or shuttle van. Once experienced, many likely would never go back to the lurching yellow beasts
. There is a misperception that chauffeured vehicles cost too much, and are the exclusive preserve of the wealthy. To counter this, operators should seriously pursue the increasingly frustrated, exhausted, and exasperated air traveler who could use the comforts of a Town Car to offset the miseries of coach sections. -- M.R.
UP, UP & AWAY: United Airlines will charge passengers on domestic flights $15 each way for the first checked bag, following the lead of American Airlines, and other airlines are likely to do the same. In addition, overweight bags, third bags, or items that require special handling will increase from $100 to $125 or from $200 to $250, depending on the item. Read all about it.
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GOOD & BAD NEWS: "Reduced capacity, growing fares, crowded planes and airport congestion are propelling a growing number of corporations to eye air travel reductions this year and explore remote conferencing capabilities to substitute non-strategic business trips, the Association of Corporate Travel Executives said today." Click here to read the BTN article.
Revising and updating websites matters a lot these days. Rose Chauffeured Transportation, based in Charlotte, N.C., just put out a press release announcing its website upgrade:
In another phase of strategic marketing that began this year with updated marketing and sales literature, Rose has launched a redesigned website created by the collaboration of LA Management and Asterisk Creative. The website is designed to provide the user with more helpful information about the products and services offered. By focusing on corporate business, group and events, and by featuring technological advances in dispatch and communications, Rose has given web browsers the information to select, and book transportation that meets their individual needs. The roll-out of the new web-site enhances the 24/7 availability of the company, and makes it convenient for consumers to choose how they want to communicate their transportation needs.
Also featured on the website is Rose's 2008 Operator of the Year award that was presented at the Limousine and Chauffeured Transportation Magazine's Annual Dinner in Las Vegas. Rose Chauffeured Transportation was founded in 1985 by HA Thompson and has been grown to become the largest chauffeured transportation company in the Carolinas.
Click here to visit the new site.
A-1 Limousine, based in Princeton, N.J., hosted a corporate get-together in the New York Yankee Club and Conference Center. And was part of a nice write-up in a New Jersey newspaper. Click here to read
and learn why you should consider publicizing your sponsorship deals.
RULES AND WAYS:
A Business Travel News article refers
to new strategies and procedures operators must follow in order to secure contract business. It serves as another example of the effects of corporate belt-tightening and rising fuel costs.
GLOBAL BUSINESS: During a luncheon at LCT Leadership Summit last week, operators shared insights on doing business in growing international markets. Here are a few of the points made...
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When you search for news stories on the Internet with keywords like "limousine" and "chauffeured transportation," you start to get a bid jaded and worn out. A lot of the stories are negative, many of them not a big deal, some of them sad and tragic. Illegal operators, barely-get-by startups, and consumers complaining to local newspapers are the focus of many. It's very cool to read well done articles on what's happening in the business, with quotes from industry leaders. Yet, the majority tend to focus on the other side of the coin. Here's a story
about a newly married couple in Iowa who didn't get their wedding limousine and complained about it. A sad little story.
Here are a few of the interesting tips and pointers we heard during LCT Leadership Summit...
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JIM LUFF REPORTS: While we were out at the Ritz-Carlton in South Beach, Jim Luff was finishing up his vacation time in California. At the end, it wasn't a good experience due to lousy service by hotel staff. What did Jim get out of this?
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Operators who made it through Hurricane Katrina in 2005 can tell you much about preparing for disaster. There may be severe storm damage in the U.S. this year, according to reports. What can you do? The National Federation of Independent Business offers a helpful article
HOPE ON THE HORIZON:
Oil below $100 a barrel seems cheap, almost quaint, now that operators are afflicted with $4 a gallon gas costs. In a letter by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas
, analysts point to future new supplies as an antidote to sustained three-digit per barrel costs. This study underscores a reality of future energy markets; there are no either/or options, only ALL. Oil can never be eliminated as an energy source. To meet increased energy demands, the world will need more oil, more nuclear power, more green technologies, more conservation, and more fuel-efficient vehicles and behaviors. Detailed study here
DISCOUNTED BUSING: Megabus.com
is about as far as you can get from a luxury chauffeured transportation service, but the concept cannot be ignored. The $1-fare bus company launches new East Coast service
As an increasing number of operators venture into the limousine bus and party bus markets, it becomes even more important to distinguish such quality service from the cattle call approach. In down economic times, consumers increasingly look for cheap bargains.
While the L&CT industry should never sell out to mass transit concepts, it pays to play up the overall value of the comfortable and convenient transportation this industry offers.
And $1 bus fares may not work too well, as recent developments
in Los Angeles show. -- M.R.
National Public Radio ran a story this week on what impact party buses are having on the prom market. Click here
to listen to the story. Reasons why this is happening are given, and interviews with promgoers shed more light on the subject.
LOOSE LIPS BOOST LIMOUSINES:
Nothing promotes an operator more than recurring client words-of-mouth. As this automotive site shows
, client testimonials can bolster reputations and bring in more business. As several operators have told LCT, creating an experience is as important as providing a solid service.
You thought rising gas prices was giving you a lot of headaches? Well, how about tire prices also shooting up, starting in June? That seems to be the case, according to the Tire Industry Association. Read what's happening and some tips for making tires last longer.
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FUELING FATHER'S DAY:
Of course -- what makes for a better Father's Day gift than to offer Dad a ride in a limousine. Imagine Dad relaxing in the accompanying photo, courtesy of Executive Coach Builders
of Springfield, Mo. Credit for the Father's Day idea goes to this Dallas company
It's an obvious transportation treat for a Father's Day family dinner outing, or you can just let Dad ride in the limousine alone. He no doubt would find the TV, wet bar, relaxed seating, smooth ride, and passing scenery a worthwhile stress-reliever.
Limousine operators should work harder at marketing the concept that a limo ride for Dad is comparable to a spa visit for Mom. -- M.R.
Stratospheric gas prices are pushing operators toward new marketing ideas and approaches. Operators and their clients have one thing in common: Both want to save on gas costs. This TV report
shows one way. The challenges for operators this year involve working outside of the box -- and helping clients avoid the gas pump as much as possible.
IF SHE CAN SPELL LIMOUSINE
. . . then she certainly deserves to ride in one. LCT salutes the idea of chauffeured rewards
for annual spelling bee contestants. In fact, limo rewards cards for good grades, top test scores
, or academic achievement
may be a good marketing approach for operators aiming toward the youth market. Those youths eventually grow into the future prom market, then the future bachelor, bachelorette, and wedding market, then on to the working corporate travel market, and finally, the wealthy retired leisure market. Chauffeuring a kid to the spelling bee in a limousine could be a lifelong investment.
J.D. Power and Associates released survey results from seasoned travelers about their favorite airports to travel through. Do you serve any of these airports? Thinking about it? This LA Times article
lays out the survey details.
Avoiding the mandatory purchase of fleet vehicles that get at least 25 mpg is a relief for "luxury limousine" operators. "Black car" operators are seeing the other side of the coin...
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FUTURE LIVERY PREFERENCE?
Consumers are showing more interest in Cross Over Utility vehicles, such as the Mercury Mariner Hybrid, than in larger SUVs, according to a survey by NADAguides.com
. What does this mean for chauffeured transportation? If consumer preferences translate into a demand for comfortable CUV livery vehicles, then that means chauffeured transportation companies can buy slightly cheaper vehicles with better mileage. The big question is whether CUV livery vehicles would be perceived by clients as luxurious.
The 5th annual Wedding MBA will be held Sept. 22-25, 2008 at the Phoenix Convention Center. For those LCT readers who work weddings, this is something think about attending. Here are some of the seminar topics: "Sales Slam Dunk - How to Close the Bride NOW," "Seven Ways to Get More Bookings from Bridal Shows," and "Boost Your Google Ranking." Click here
to check out the website.
This Arizona company
has found a way to network with hotels and concierges to provide chauffeured service to restaurants. Article here
Ever seen Limos.com
? This site is popular with customers - it's probably the highest volume limousine booking site in the industry. There's also another page on Limos.com that you should visit, called Limo Forum
. This is the most popular online forum in the industry, and has been for several years. After visiting a few times, you'll learn more about the issues operators are struggling to deal with, and what they've done to resolve their problems. You'll also read some entertaining back-and-forth jabs from certain commentators who will remain nameless. It's worth your time to visit.
A new operator in our industry is also striving to be a screen actor in LA. While he doesn't post his name, he's created a blog
, a MySpace page
, and a website
set up to promote his company and what looks like other chauffeured transportation companies that are being sent reservations booked through this site. The blog, called "Chronicles of a Start-Up Limo Company," goes through, in pain-staking detail, the hassles and satisfactions of starting up in this business.
While we're wallowing in all things French today, here is another reason why the American limousine and livery industry owes some allegiance to the descendants of Lafayette and De Gaulle. Check out the origin of the limousine
FRESH FROM FRANCE:
Pardon our French, but you will get the idea: A chauffeured company in Paris offers an innovative marketing approach
. Substitute any American city for Paris, and you will see how this not-so-new concept can be adapted anywhere. For American operators, the weak dollar means many foreign tourists will arrive this summer who benefit from the type of chauffeured conveniences that this French company
offers. Chauffeured sedans and limousines can go a long way in helping tourists relax for their first visits to any American city. The key is to emphasize convenience, safety, and simplicity for the client(s).
CHAUFFEURS THRIVE ON RESPECT: Limousine and chauffeured companies work hard to maintain a dignified, elegant, and respectful image. Passengers should do likewise. One way to show respect is to tip the chauffeurs who quietly work behind the scenes to make the ride as smooth and efficient as possible. One operator explained to us that a decent limousine company that charges a gratuity, say 15 percent, should forward the entire amount to the chauffeur. In cases where gratuities are not added, then chauffeurs should be tipped like restaurant servers – 15-20 percent. This account sums up the issue well.
Speaking of Avis Budget Group... the conglomerate now owns 45% of Carey International's common stock, and is looking at increasing that amount in the next year. Read a BTN article
about 1st quarter financials and how Carey did.
TEENS & LIMOUSINES:
See this tip sheet
circulated to parents of teens renting limousines for proms.
Operators can get out front on this issue by circulating their own tip sheets as public service announcements, along with proof of license and chauffeur qualifications.
In fact, the tip sheet, proof, and maybe a discount special package, would make for a great online offer on MySpace or on school websites -- if that's allowed.
It can't be said enough: Limousines are a safe, classy, exciting way for groups of seniors to enjoy the prom. And it's much easier on concerned parents.
FROM ELECTION ROLLS TO THE POLLS:
Why should politicians be the only ones riding around in chauffeured vehicles? Why not the voters?
With the economic challenges mounting each month, limousine operators are looking for creative ways to maintain service and revenues.
Students at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., recently used limousines as a way of getting voters to the polls
in local city council elections. In fact, municipal, state, and national elections could be an untapped market for many operators.
Limousines and limo buses would be ideal for bringing senior citizens, college students, groups of co-workers, or anyone without transportation to the polls. And if there's no money to be made, volunteering a limo or two for election year service could be good for a company's image. Just put your name and some American flags on your limousines and advertise it as "complimentary presidential service
." -- M.R.
JIM LUFF SAYS: I recently became aware of the intention of a limousine operator to start a new magazine just for chauffeurs. While there are many chauffeurs who might enjoy having their own magazine, the odds of survival would be slim to non-existent.
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We're getting the word out on the LCT Top 100 Fleets survey. We hope you can fill out the survey by going to this link
. Who knows? Your fleet might have grown to the point that it's your first time ever on the list... or you should have been there before. We'll be getting the word out through the mail, Driving Force, and e-blasts, and the results will come out in the August issue of LCT Magazine.
GOOFIN' ON DISNEY: The Wall Street Journal reports today that Walt Disney Co. saw net income rise 22 percent for its second fiscal quarter despite the troubled economy. (WSJ article only available through subscription but L.A. Times version here). Disney’s hotels, resorts, and theme parks all performed above expectations. Bookings for the rest of the year are slightly ahead of those for 2007. Disney, of course, appeals to visitors and tourists of all economic strata. Disney knows all too well that just about anyone who has a child will eventually visit at least one of its theme parks.
So what Disney lessons can be adapted to the limousine and chauffeured transportation industry during tough economic times? Disney CEO Ron Iger told the WSJ:
So here are three ways operators can handle tough times: Offer competitive, special pricing; market to foreign tourists and visitors who may prefer chauffeured services; target U.S. travelers and tourists who may want chauffeured limo day trips this summer instead of an expensive vacation. -- M.R.
1) 75 percent of Disney hotels are “moderately priced” or “value-priced,” compared to 55 percent of rooms that were “premium priced” during the economic downturn of 1991. That has positioned Disney to maintain its customer traffic despite the economic troubles.
2) International visitors are up 25 percent compared to last year because of the weak dollar.
3) U.S. visitors are looking for simpler, shorter trips closer to home, and are more likely to hit theme parks.
DITCHING THE DIVAS OF THE ROAD:
We posted a report
yesterday describing how many American consumers are getting fed up with their bulky, gas-bloated SUVs and pick-up trucks. This has led to a run on some dealerships where owners are unloading their vehicles, even at a loss. But there may be some silver linings for the chauffeured transportation industry.
If there is a glut of used and unsold SUVs, pick-ups, vans, and larger automobiles, it means operators and coachbuilders likely can get cheaper deals on vehicles. That will lower vehicle payments and overhead.
Just because American families get rid of bigger vehicles does not mean they lose their appetites for them. Switching from an Explorer to a Corolla may save money, but the transition likely is miserable, especially if you've gotten used to all that space. So who else but chauffeured transportation and limousine operators to provide luxury vehicles?
This downward market dynamic actually could yield a marketing opportunity for operators. What family wouldn't enjoy an occasional trip in a comfortable chauffeured sedan or SUV for a special outing, say to dinner and movies, a theme park, a day trip, etc.? It could be advertised as a hassle-free arrangement: no gas, no driving, no cleaning, no parking, no worries. That way many Americans can still enjoy the comforts and conveniences of SUVs and larger sedans without having to own, maintain, or fuel one. -- M.R.
FROM JIM LUFF: Whenever he hears operators talk about how much their business is down, he scratches his head and wonders why his revenue is up 30% this year and others' is down that much. Jim explains why in his weekly commentary.
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SUVs GONE BAD: The article below explains how the SUV bubble follows the housing troubles. More Americans are ditching their SUVs -- even at a loss -- because of high gas costs. And many admit they don't need so much on-the-road largesse. So what does it mean for chauffeured transportation operators if American families are willing to trade in their hallowed SUVs and pick-ups for Corollas and Civics? We'll post some silver linings later.
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Sort of good news: average U.S. gas prices are down 1 cent from a week ago.
Bad news: they're up 28 cents from a month ago.
Very bad news: they're up 55 cents from a year ago.
It's a good idea to visit GasBuddy.com
and search by zip code or city/state for the cheapest gas stations in your area.
HIP HOP STAR OFFERS CHAUFFEURED CAR:
Rapper/producer Sean "P.Diddy" Combs has brought his entrepreneurial flavor to the chauffeured transportation industry by starting a chauffeured car service for drunk celebrities
. (Stories here
). In Hollywood, there is definite demand, ala Lindsey
, Paris, Mel, Nick
While this is not a new concept -- smaller operators already have explored and experimented with such a service for non-celebs -- we at LCT applaud any constructive use of chauffeured vehicles. If every drunk driver called a limo or sedan for a ride home, the industry would see a drastic increase in revenue.
However, we do recommend that the vehicles used to pick-up drunk celebrities do not have any onboard bars -- either dry or wet.
So, we hope if P.Diddy offers the usual palette of black, comfortable sedans and stretches, that the limo bars
be replaced with limo beds
, or at least a good greasy breakfast buffet
table. -- M.R.
Yes, it is prom season. There are two magazines that might be worth your attention - for advertising your company to prom planners and attendees, and for staying current on fashion trends in the business. Click here
to visit Prom Guide, and click here
to visit Your Prom - both of them are worth your while.
GAUDY IS GOOD: Thank goodness for pink limos and Elvis impersonators. Where would this industry be without them?
Although Elvis and the pink Ford SUV stretch were shot at a limousine trade show in the U.K., American coachbuilders have set the gold standard for limousines with flash and flair.
As chauffeured transportation becomes more corporate and discreet, it is important for the industry to retain and promote its bolder, wilder side.
Tricked out limousines make life fun and shows the industry’s sense of humor. We at LCT would love to see more operators opt for the elaborate over the mere efficient. And how about that Elvis? The right mix of chauffeur training and acting classes could yield a growing class of livery employee: the character chauffeur. (Here is the Australian operator).
Allaire Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation, based in Farmingdale, N.J., and led by president Mike Renehan, is providing a good example to the industry. The company is adding more hybrids to its fleet and using this new logo to get the word out to clients and the community. This lively image should make Allaire stand out more in people's minds, especially those concerned about "green" transportation options, which is definitely a growing trend.
ELABORATE ENVIRONS: A recent limousine trade show in the United Kingdom sponsored by the British trade magazine, The Chauffeur, did not match the all-inclusive International LCT Show 2008 in size and attention, but it did put itself on the map with flair.
A popular attraction at the show was the gallery of large limo party mobiles, all tricked out with other-worldly interiors full of colors and lights. These limousines make livery fun, and provide an escapist form of on-the-road entertainment. We hope this segment of the LCT industry remains viable and prospers. Such vehicles add diversity and a dash of daring to an industry that should never allow itself to become drab. Click on this link and scroll down to click on: View our pictures of luxurious limousine interiors
to see the full gallery.
We at LCT believe the tricked out mega-limos are perfect for all types of events and rentals beyond the traditional bachelor and bachelorette parties, and could provide opportunities for new clients: 1) children’s birthday parties; 2) bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs; 3) high school football and basketball games; 4) youth “road-trip” slumber parties (pick-up everyone in pajamas and ride around for the evening); 5) graduation service; 6) rock concert trips; 7) a "reward ride" for good school report cards.
Keeping kids occupied and away from a steering wheel is an all-around winner for everyone. Elaborate limousines not only make that possible, but also keep it real, cool, rad, hip, etc.
-- posted by Martin Romjue
As LCT Magazine has learned since starting LimoLicious, blogs are becoming a more important source of online information -- for reading news, opinion pieces, and rumors, viewing lively photos, and enticing readers to return. It's good to get pointers on making blogs work for your company, which a growing number of limousine companies are doing. Click here
to read an article in Entrepreneur that just might help.
Meetings and conventions are a major source for chauffeured transportation companies - just ask Bedford Wynne, director of event services at Wynne Sedan & Limousine Group in Dallas. Wynne is very active in the Dallas chapter of Meeting Professionals International, which has been a source of business for his company. He's also met several mentors and friends through the meetings. Click here to visit the MPI website.
Economic conditions are tough these days, as the chauffeured transportation industry has clearly learned this year. BusinessWeek profiled large corporations going through financial crises - click here
to read the story and check out whether any of these are your corporate accounts. Also click on the link for "View Slide Show" at the beginning of the feature, which breaks out each company and its financial numbers.
TEENS BELONG IN LIMOUSINES:
With high school prom season in full swing, the limousine option looks better, safer, and more green-friendly with each passing year. For teens, riding in a limousine is more exciting and memorable than borrowing a parent's car or driving a used compact (typical teen car). This blog entry
underscores what is obvious to operators, but nicely sums up the main points for any marketing pitch to teens and parents during prom season. Four couples sharing a limousine for the evening takes four drivers and three cars off the road. Less carbon driving and less global imbibing -- now that's a win-win concept. -- M.R.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) is urging consumers to check the backgrounds of limousine carriers to verify that they are authorized and properly insured. Most state agencies want transportation companies properly certified - this is a growing trend for the industry.
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MONEY-MAKER: Limousines out-class every other sector of ground transportation, but is there a marketing idea here in the accompanying photo? And in this photo? Ad sponsorships are routine in taxis, buses, and race cars. Could a chauffeured transportation company earn extra revenue by posting ad banners or temporarily painted logos on some of their vehicles for a limited time? Would it conflict with the classy, sophisticated image of chauffeured vehicles? If the recession intensifies and operators need revenue, this idea may look more like a smooth move than a sell out.
SAFE, SAUCED, AND COMFORTABLE: I spoke with an operator in San Antonio, Texas this week who said he is pursuing business among some of the least desirable clients: drunks. Jeff Williams, owner of A VIP Limousine Service Inc., says he offers pre-paid accounts or hours for clients who may be in a situation where they've drunk too much to drive home. Such a client can call VIP and get a chauffeured ride home. I would assume the vehicle would depend on whatever is available, so the sauced client could end up in a sedan, SUV, or limousine.
This is actually a sensible idea. For the psychology of a typical drunk motorist follows this sequence: I've had too much to drink, I shouldn't drive home, but I really don't want to leave my car, I don't have money for a cab, I don't want to ask for a ride, etc. But the allure of a comfortable, luxurious ride home in a limousine or sedan may remove some of the dread of the next morning's hassle of retrieving a vehicle left overnight. (Maybe a client could have the limo return the next morning to take him to his abandoned car).
What's more, this may be a great idea to market to parents of teen-agers. The latest information from AAA shows teen driving costs hit $34 BILLION nationwide.Parents could make pre-paid arrangements with a chauffeured transportation company for their teen-agers to get a ride in the event they can't drive home or don't have a safe ride. The teen-ager could carry a gift-card type pass with the name and number of the chauffeured company in case he or she needs it. That way, a teen-ager might be more inclined to play it safe knowing a limo can get them home.
-- posted by Martin Romjue
It's good to see the limo industry become more active in online chats, blogs, forums, etc. We were just told about a new support group for small operators on Yahoo! called Limosmallops. Click here
to see the home page, which has a new user sign up button at the top of the page. Discussion topics include saving money on car loan rates and dealing with sharp gas price increases. The description reads: "This group has formed to brainstorm & offer support to small limousine company operators as they seek solutions to common problems. We will work to develop co-operative marketing strategies and better operational practices to improve and strengthen our companies."
MEDICAL ALERT: You thought your day was stressful and action packed? LCT contributing writer and veteran operator Jim Luff tells what it's like to provide transportation for an organ recovery company.
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LCT Magazine is thrilled with the fact that 10 percent of all participants at our ILCT Show in Las Vegas last month hailed from other nations. Such diversity is crucial to growing this industry and capitalizing on new insights and trends. This International Herald Tribune blog post
about a Belgian operator
shows some of the sophisticated traits of a European chauffeured vehicle company: green vehicles, multi-lingual chauffeurs, and a thorough knowledge of tourism and travel. We must not forget that European operators succeed in a business, economic, and regulatory climate much tougher than the one in the U.S. For example, operators in the U.K. typically pay more than $8 for a gallon of diesel fuel. LCT hopes more U.S. and foreign operators interact and form alliances, not just in operations, but in knowledge as well.
EXPO EXPERT: Arthur Messina brought his mastery of limousine marketing to the Greater California Livery Association Expo in Orange, Ca., this week, urging operators to not let up on the promotional gas despite the economic head winds.
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: The Wall Street Journal features a story story today about Megabus, a discount U.S. coach operator expanding into several cities amid rising gas prices and travelers looking for cheaper alternatives. Megabus has seen passenger volumes double since last year, the Journal reports. Although the article is only available through an online or print subscription, the Associated Press did a similar story
in March. Key questions for the chauffeured transportation industry are: 1) Does Megabus potentially erode demand for chauffeured vehicles? 2) Are there competitive opportunities for operators who already have motorcoaches and para-transit buses in their fleets?
FOREVER IN BLACK:
Black sedans, limousines, and SUVs are so commonplace that everyone takes the color for granted. But why has black remained the steadfast color of choice decade after decade? One blogger has some answers
. Please offer any further insights on Feedback.
No one doubts that the comely bride of French President Nicolas Sarkozy -- the divinely charmed Carla Bruni -- would lack in the ability to teach any man how to treat a lady.
But does she really know how to treat a limo? A recent ad campaign by Italian carmaker Lancia features the model-singer-French First Lady attending a limousine funeral.
We at LCT Magazine must admit we greeted this with a bit of morbid trepidation, but then we plateaued and realized this spectacle is just derigueur drama from the Italians and declasse cultural triumphalism from the French.
We are confident that limousines will remain beloved worldwide, including among jet-setting Euro-celebs, regardless of how green the globe goes. So to Carla, and the deathly drama, and the Euro-weeniness, we just bemusedly say, C'est La Vie.
-- posted by Martin Romjue
How Jim Luff is going to stay with a potential casino account until he gets their business.
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MORE FOREIGN CLIENTS? The weak dollar has a silver lining for the chauffeured transportation industry in that more foreigners will be visiting the U.S. this year. For black car operators that means many new potential clients arriving at airports who will need targeted, hassle-free transportation -- especially in the Southern California freeway metropolis that can seem daunting to an outsider. For limousine services, many of these tourist-travelers may prefer limousine tours and/or rides to popular destinations. Operators may want to look closely at their individual markets and see if there are business opportunities that can help offset higher gas prices and declining corporate travel because of the economic slowdown. Increased foreign arrivals could become most pronounced at Los Angeles International Airport, where international airlines are planning to add several new flights from cities abroad, according to an article in this morning's Los Angeles Times
Relationships with nightclubs and good restaurants are important to the continued growth of our business. That’s why every so often I have to go out on the town for the cause. I know it’s a tough job but somebody has to do it.
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By Martin Romjue
As the price of gas barrels toward $4 a gallon, pundits and pseudo-scientists predict global warming catastrophe, and inflation and falling housing prices nibble away at consumers, we can't help but wonder where limousines are heading.
This photo shows what could become the logical destiny of the limousine industry. Years of high-gas prices, green hysteria, and tightened budgets could take their toll. Not to mention any increased regulation and traffic limits.
Gone would be the days of sleek, leather-bathed comfort, convenience, and speed -- all experienced behind the anonymity of black tinted glass. Say, it won't be so! How will Hollywood actresses bound for the Oscars and brides in billowing white navigate their draped finery amid the slavery of rotating sprockets? Will chauffeur qualifications include bench-pressing 400 pounds? Can you pedal effectively from a sideways J-seat? Oh, and all the sweat. . . would it be worse than the "alternative fuel" droppings from the horses n' stagecoach option?
Well, if the world of livery glides from eras of horse-n-buggy, to combustion engine, to pedaled vehicles -- the interactive cycling among chauffeur and passenger at least would help diminish the obesity crisis in America and lower related health care costs.
So if one of your clients insists on a "green" limo, have a little fun and show up with this. Then record the reaction.
Is it possible to achieve maximum horsepower without using gas? Can you transport clients while keeping things green? Here is one idea that accomplishes it all and could even enchant your clients with a sense of livery nostalgia. Please try not to whinnie about this.
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The economic downturn likely won’t leave foreclosed homeowners in the mood to rent a limousine, but those looking for a bargain deal may want to do so in comfort and style. For a possible revenue-generating idea for your operations, please click here.
A recent retail Luxury Summit held in Beverly Hills sheds some light on how luxury retailers and service providers -- such as limousine and chauffeured vehicle operators -- can approach their markets in uncertain economic times. For more information, please click below.
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Let’s face it, we have something everyone loves. People love to look and limousines, ride in limousines and take pictures next to limousines. Knowing this, why not make dreams come true? There are many opportunities that exist within communities such as chapters of Make-A-Wish Foundation or similar charities. Better yet, create your own event.
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