Luxury Coach & Transportation

January 2019

Magazine for the professional limousine, charter and tour industry.

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LUXURY COACH & TRANSPORTATION JANUARY 2019 15 tion AM radio and social media in the same marketing breath. He has seen success with trade out deals with radio and TV stations, swapping service for publicity. "Call up and say 'I'll give you a car for free to take people to concerts if you put me on the promotions.' It just costs you your chauffeur for an evening and you get 50 mentions on the radio." He's cau- tious about social media, advising op- erators to use it sparingly: "I think you can overdo it. It's the same people who see it every day and it can get annoy- ing. I see posts I now consider spam." Windy City also invests in logos for its buses, including on the roof. "People send me emails and photos all the time. ey get excited when they see our buses in cities. Google Earth has a picture of our bus that shows the top of our bus with" Driven To A Full Staff While many operators lament the lack of qualified drivers and chauffeurs, Jacobs said his operation has avoided the crunch. "We run classes all year. We don't use anyone without experi- ence. People like the feeling of this being a family. We give nice benefits such as health insurance and 401k with company match. at's a huge incentive to people who come here. You've had jobs before, but we want this to be your career. We also talk to employees about our mentality: We started as a chauf- feur company and don't allow them to think of themselves as bus drivers. As a point of pride, it's much better for cli- ents if they have a bus chauffeur." — e company offers online chat 24/7. Geo-fencing enables auto-com- munication, so chauffeurs no longer have to make a call when they are 10 minutes out. e company also uses Rate-my- Ride which sends every client a texted survey after each ride asking them to rate the service and comment. Windy City belongs to GRiDD Tech- nologies' G-Net, which brings in reser- vations from other luxury operations. "It simplifies the manner in which you get the business and saves money by not having reservationists to put in the order. It's direct to computer and there's much less cost to that and less likely to produce an error. "We honor all online booking plat- forms," said Jacobs, whose company uses Hudson Group software. "Large corporations only want to book using a platform. We've adapted to all of them." Jacob warns operators to avoid sign- ing up for platforms where you bid for business, especially those where you have to give away business for a low price or risk paying a fee. "Go on user groups and ask people for recommenda- tions before you sign up. People are hon- est about that." He also advises against using sellers of potential client lists. "Put yourself first," he advises. "It's great to have tools and access to business. Don't take business for the sake of taking it. If you're not making money, churning is useless and all you're doing is putting miles on the car. You have to be profitable." Blended Marketing George Jacobs is astute enough to men- He also echoes advice limo-turned- coach operators often discover: "When you're first getting into it, be real cau- tious. You must understand everything about D.O.T. rules and comply. ere's a lot to it, and you need someone at the office who's qualified and well versed to do it right." New Routes To Revenue T o keep its book of business active, Windy City pursues events out of state, such as next month's Super Bowl in At- lanta, where it has $1 million of business booked so far and 1,000 room nights reserved for employees and chauffeurs. e operation will have 150 chauffeurs and 30 support staff working the event. While the bus business thrives, Jacobs admits he has to work harder on the black vehicle side, looking for large-scale clients while maintaining the bus clients. Reliable clients include first-class airline passengers, law firms, large banks, printing companies, insur- ers, and pharmaceutical companies, that cannot take a chance with inferior unsafe ridehail services. "Most of the people who use buses also use car service," Jacobs said. "If we do sports teams and buses, it's logical to use us for car service." For example, colleges that use Windy City for motorcoaches also will need chauffeured vehicles for recruits, visitors, professors, and speak- ers going to and from campus. "at's the main reason to get into the bus business: Somebody who uses you for car service will also use you for bus service, and vice versa. People want to do one stop shop- ping. Many customers don't know you have buses available." Picky On Technology Now that so much ground transporta- tion derives from apps and on-demand, Windy City uses Zipwhip, a mobile phone operator and texting service company which enables chauffeurs, em- ployees, and customers to text and com- municate without phones. Customers get auto-texts and updates about their rides. e technology has revolutionized how ground transportation companies communicate and help them meet the expectations of a mobile-first generation. "It cuts back on phone calls from chauffeurs in the field; you don't have any more phone holds, and you get more timely information," Jacobs said. "Cus- tomers don't have to talk to anyone." A FINANCIAL TIP SHEET With an industry career spanning four decades, Jacobs has seen his share of financial ups and downs. His 35 years of profit and loss at American Limousine, Carey International, and Windy City yields this advice for running a luxury ground transportation operation: • Review all your costs and make sure they are in line with where they should be. Look at expenses all the time; make sure they are justified. • Service pricing should be fair and reflect the higher quality of your service compared to TNCs, who he refers to as "uninsured, undocumented, low- level taxicabs." • Do not try to compete with TNCs; show your customers how good you are and what you do best. Tell them horror stories about TNCs, which you don't hear about in our industry. • Do some ads, promotions, and sponsorships that might not be cost-effective, but are an investment in your company's future. "I know I may not make money in the end, but the prestige of having the Cubs as a customer is worth its weight in gold." • Look for ways to save money with cross-training: "See if someone in the accounting department can be trained to take reservations." • Sit down and do budgeting; plan purchases. Plan what you will buy during the year.

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