Ask anyone who spends a lot of time in Charlotte, and they'll tell you they've seen the white motorcoaches adorned with big red roses cruising down Independence Boulevard, or dropping fans off at Bank of America Stadium. The now iconic logo of Rose Chauffeured Transportation is ubiquitous throughout North Carolina’s largest metropolitan area, as familiar to native Charlotteans as the company’s famed President and Founder, H.A. Thompson.
“He’s something of a big shot locally,” hails Marketing Consultant Heather Head, who leads Rose’s digital marketing program. “You can’t go anywhere with this man without somebody saying, ‘H.A. Thompson, is that your voice?’ Everybody recognizes his voice from his radio days.” Once rated the number-one midday personality in America, Thompson is celebrated as one of the most popular radio talk show hosts of the 1970s. After an illustrious 20-year radio career at WBT, he went on to establish what would become one of the largest chauffeured transportation companies in the country. With humble beginnings in 1985, Rose has grown from a family-operated limousine company with three employees and a single sedan, to the leading ground transportation provider in the Carolinas, with a fleet of more than 50 Town Cars, SUVs, executive vans, minibuses and fullsize motorcoaches, a staff of over 90 employees, and a nationwide network of over 400 affiliates.
“I had a five year start on it before I got out of the radio business in 1991,” Thompson recalls. “My sons, Andy and Jeff, were driving on the weekends, and then we just evolved into the business.” It all started with the purchase of their first Rolls Royce sedan, which inspired the company’s original name, Rolls Limousine Limited. After a Rolls Royce representative caught wind of their first yellow page ad and warned H.A. about possible trademark violations, he rebranded the company, and Rose was born. The irony does not seem to be lost on H.A. that there was no special meaning or reasoning behind the now famous brand name initially. “It’s not a wife’s name or a family name or anything … somebody said, ‘let’s just call it Rose. It sounds the same.’” The name’s real value would blossom organically in the years to follow.
Vice President Andy Thompson has grown the business with his father since the very beginning when he was just 18 and still in high school, spending his weekends providing chauffeur services mainly for weddings, anniversaries and proms. Since Rose’s early days, he’s seen the company evolve from servicing mostly social events to mostly corporate customers, adapting to a transforming industry several times. “By 1992,” he says, “we had had enough of the Rolls Royces, because we were fixing them more than we were driving them. We had as many as seven stretch limos back in the 90s, and just last year we sold our last one, so we’re out of the stretch limo business.”
Rose was in the limousine business for more than 20 years before they ventured into the motorcoach business six years ago, a bold move at the time, as they bought their first motorcoach during the worst of the economic crash. “We took a risk when people weren’t investing,” says H.A., and he is deservedly proud that the risk paid off, not failing to mention that his legal consultants said he and his team “were geniuses to start at the bottom of the recession.” They said the company “came out smelling like a rose.” We imagine the pun was intended.
Rose’s fleet currently includes 15 full size motorcoaches, which brings them a substantial amount of business, not to mention local recognition. They are often booked by the many notable universities in the Charlotte metropolitan area, like UNC Charlotte and Queens University, and by the region’s major sports teams, from the Carolina Panthers to the Charlotte Checkers and the Charlotte Knights. The city is also home to a number of major American companies who regularly use Rose for their corporate transportation needs, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Coca Cola.
“What we were able to do, which nobody else was,” says Director of Operations, Tom Holden, “was grow a brand new motorcoach division within the company during a recession.” Holden is proud that Rose “kept moving forward at the same time everyone else was just hanging on.” He attributes the success of reinventing their fleet, despite challenging economic conditions, to smart timing and smart investing. “We downsized our inventory of Town Cars, but in doing so I would sell two used ones and buy one brand new one, so not only were we downsizing, we were improving the age of the vehicles. So when the economy came out of it, we were running newer cars instead of much older ones.”
Having owned and managed businesses in the past, Holden applied for a chauffeur position at Rose 10 years ago, looking for a part-time position to “relax for a little while.” It wasn’t long before a consultant interviewed him and recommended that it was time to take him out of the driver’s seat and promote him to a management position. Although Holden’s initial reaction was that he wasn’t interested, the next thing he knew, he was sitting behind a desk. Currently, Holden is a 24/7 management figure with an evident passion for his industry and his company. Holden is also president and co-founder of the Charlotte Regional Limousine Association, and regularly contributes his legal and safety expertise to industry publications, including Limo Digest.
“Rose is entirely different than most transportation companies across the country,” he says. “I look at us as a rare breed of transportation, and the future of transportation. Sure, there are companies that have Town Cars at one company, and then own a motorcoach company separately, but we have it all under one roof, all under one management.” Rose has also made passenger safety a top priority, becoming one of the few bus companies in the area certified by the Transportation Safety Exchange.
Holden has seen the company through a period of amazing growth, from a $1.2 million to an $8.6 million enterprise. Since Rose has come through the recession not only unscathed, but stronger than ever, the company has become focused on developing a number of innovative strategies to differentiate themselves from competitors and maximize their potential, both internally and externally.
In addition to their sizable fleet of Rose-branded vehicles, the company has developed a unique partnership with the Westin, the largest hotel in Charlotte. “We operate 28 vehicles out of the Westin as independent operators,” including Town Cars and SUVS, Holden explains, “and they’re contracted to us to handle their front door service.” They also supplement Rose’s primary fleet for large events or on days they encounter high demand for airport transportation.
The company is also focusing on diversifying and modernizing its marketing strategies. “For an organization like Rose, it’s good to have an integrated plan,” says Heather Head, whose company, Groove On Marketing, was enlisted at Rose after she helped H.A. edit his book, Do Something Scary: Get Undressed for Business. “We started talking last January about what we could do to bring their marketing up to the level of their business operations, to stay ahead of the curve.”
Since Head has begun leading Rose’s digital marketing initiatives, she’s focused on analyzing where the market is going, who the next generation of upand- coming corporate executives will be, and how the needs of motorcoach clients differ from the traditional market. “We took a look into all of those things and developed a plan that we’ve been executing since August,” which includes the development of working documents outlining the target personas of their marketing campaigns, a Facebook page to give the company a social media presence, and a blog to bolster the search engine optimization of their website. To keep up with current internet marketing trends, they’ve also revised the website with a mobile-friendly design, and plan on eventually developing a smartphone app. By watching their website analytics, and actively learning from them, they’ve been able to begin adapting to the growing trend of young executives using mobile devices instead of secretaries to book their rides, while at the same time conserving traditional methods of booking for motorcoach clients, who tend to visit Rose’s website from traditional PCs.
H.A. believes strongly in the new digital direction of marketing. “The money spent today on the internet,” he says, “is better than traditional media.” In addition to the mobilization of their web marketing strategies, Head reports great success with Infusionsoft, an automated sales and marketing software solution for small businesses. Web-based forms associated with the software platform have provided convenience to Rose’s marketing efforts, and help them tailor customer communication based on how they interact with the forms. She reports “huge success” with the company’s initiative to capitalize on the “parking nightmare” stemming recently from ongoing construction at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. With most of their parking decks closed, the airport’s solution has been to park travelers’ cars for them and bus them to the airport. In response, Rose has been using Infusionsoft forms to provide airport customers with more convenient airport transportation at a comparable cost, and the software’s email automation “just takes all the work out of it.”
There is great energy and confidence not only in the company’s creative new external initiatives, but also the internal projects aimed at creating what Andy Thompson describes as “a culture where people are proud to come to work and want to achieve and help the business grow.” Aside from him and his father being present in the office just about every day during the week, they strive to promote this positive sense of company culture in part by utilizing a behavioral assessment tool from a consulting and training company called Global Behavior. This behavior profile helps them identify the best personalities for chauffeur and office positions among applicants.
“You can’t believe how it really hits the mark,” says HR Manager Toni Martin. “They know what kind of personality it takes to drive the cars and deliver the customer service they expect.” As the initial point of contact for all applicants, Martin has found the behavior profile program to be incredibly helpful in how she advises Holden in his hiring strategy.
Improving communication and morale is the ultimate goal of behavior profiling, says Don Crosby of Global Behavior, as well as saturating companies “with the concept of people appreciating thoroughly what they do.” Having helped to unlock behavioral issues for a variety of companies, the statistical process “eliminates the learning curve of knowing a person, allowing you to really connect.” Crosby has been working with Rose for three and a half years, and estimates that in just the first year he was able to save the company more than a quarter of a million dollars.
Rose has come a long way in its 28-year journey, and the team has no plans on slowing down the company’s upward momentum. “The future of Charlotte seems very bright,” says Andy. “It’s growing a lot, and there’s a lot going on.” “Of all the pictures that were ever made for this company,” says Head, referring to a photo of H.A. and Andy washing cars with chauffeur caps on their heads, “this is my favorite.” “I’m just like a Greek restaurant,” says H.A., “you know they hang their pictures all over the place.” He ruminates about his “oldie goldie” pictures, and this one in particular profoundly resonates with the unfolding new chapter of the story of Rose Chauffeured Transportation.
Written by Adam Leitenberger
Associate Editor & Digital Media Manager