Sunday, June 30, 2013

ETS International: How Two Brothers Built an Empire

Boston. Beantown. The Hub. The Cradle of Liberty. No matter what you call it, Boston is known for its sports teams. Not just ordinary teams—but champions. Whether it’s the Bruins, the Celtics, the Red Sox or the Patriots, each of these storied franchises has embodied the definition of a dynasty in their rich history. Following in this dynastic tradition is the team at ETS International­—a titan of transportation in New England and beyond.

VP Peter Greene and CEO John Greene of ETS International

The subject of this month’s cover profile is very close to our hearts here at Limo Digest. Johnny Greene, president and CEO of Executive Transportation Services International (ETS), is no stranger to our staff, our readers, or his peers in the industry. For years he has been a regular contributor of original and insightful articles to this magazine, as well as a number of other industry trade publications. He has been a recurrent speaker, award nominee and award winner at the annual Limo Digest Show, having accepted our Image Award for Best Marketing in 2011, and our award for Community Service in 2009. He is a founding member of the New England Livery Association, and an active member of the National Limousine Association. A consistently newsworthy and truly knowledgeable industry veteran, Johnny Greene has graced the pages of our magazine an uncountable number of times over the years. We’re basically family.

Every employee at ETS will tell you that Johnny has a knack for making you feel like family; it’s a personality trait he has honed into an invaluable professional skill—a skill he was wise to utilize over the years, which ultimately resulted in his ability to build his now thriving “family business.” He not only works alongside some of his closest relatives—including his brothers, daughters anda nephew—but a winning team of devoted colleagues he has worked with over a span of more than two decades in the industry, all of whom regard each other as a professional extended family.

“I’m very fortunate,” says Johnny, “that a lot of the people who have worked for me in the past were dying to come back to work for me in the future. So we have a very experienced staff that is able to give high quality service.” “Everyone is family to him,” commends Anne Mucinskas, controller, HR director and one of those loyal-colleagues-turned-honorary-family-members. Having worked for Johnny in the past, Anne recalls bumping into him about five years ago when he said he was looking for an accountant, to which she replied, “Well, I’m it!” She’s never looked back, and hopes to work for Johnny until she retires. “He takes care of everybody, and he doesn’t have to demand respect—you just give it to him because of the great person he is. He is ETS.”

The roots of the ETS family stretch back to 1988 when, by chance, Johnny first got into the livery business. A college dropout working as a salesman for a plumbing and heating business, he would often rent limousines from the same small transportation company to entertain his clients. Being one of their better customers, the owner’s son informed Johnny that the business had gone up for sale, and encouraged him to buy it from his father. With the financial backing of one of his plumbing customers, Johnny took a chance and opened Custom Transportation Services Worldwide (CTS). Together with his brother Peter—current executive vice president of operations and co-owner of ETS—he grew his first ground transportation company from a few limousines to a 55-car operation in just 10 years.

After ranking among Inc. Magazine’s fastest growing companies three years in a row, and with consolidation becoming an increasing trend in the livery industry at the time, the timing was perfect for Johnny to accept a $5.5 million buyout offer from Carey International in 1998. Johnny then served as executive vice president after the acquisition, managing the company’s East Coast operations spanning half a dozen major cities. He considers this time in his career to be a great learning experience, having had a hand in growing a large-scale company’s sales from $30 million to $240 million. “We did over 22 acquisitions,” he recalls, “and I got to be part of building a company of that size. With that being said, as it grew, it kind of outgrew my ideals in business.”

It was at this point that Johnny chose to retire from Carey International. After three years of some much-needed quality time at home with his children, he re-entered the livery business as a personal transportation industry consultant, where he assisted in the mergers, acquisitions and business development of several prominent international networks. It wouldn’t be long, however, before his own entrepreneurial spirit and customer-driven values prompted him to return to Boston and open his own business again. Unbeknownst to him at the time, he would not only take with him to ETS the invaluable skills he had honed during his successful consulting career, but also many of the great friends he had made along the way.

“In September of 2006,” he recalls, “I traded in my own personal car for a Suburban, went through my Rolodex calling old customers, and started picking them up on my own. My brother, Peter, came to work for me in November, and did the same ... he and I would drive during the day, share the phones nights and weekends, look for new business,” and the rest is history. By the new year they would make their first acquisition, buying out a company called HomeSafe Coach, which just happened to come along with their first steady corporate client, FM Global. It was then, with a reliable source of corporate business, that ETS really got off the ground. Over the coming years, Johnny oversaw the company’s sales and marketing campaigns while spearheading several more company acquisitions, and Peter worked tirelessly behind the scenes, overseeing every aspect of the operational end of the business. As Peter puts it, “Johnny gets people in the door, and once they get in the door, they become mine.”

“Together we make a very good team,” says Johnny. “Peter handles the reservations, dispatch and drivers; I handle sales, marketing and the accounting.” Between the two of them, they have their hands “around all aspects of the business,” and collectively share more than 50 years of industry experience.

Since the day the Greenes opened the doors at ETS, the company has grown between $1 and $1.5 million per year, again landing them on Inc. Magazine’s Fastest 500 Growing Companies in 2012—their second company to make the list. They are currently projecting $7.8 million in revenue for 2013. The company’s unbridled growth seems to validate Johnny’s surprisingly simple philosophy for a successful business: keep the customers and employees happy.


“They do treat their employees like they’re part of the family,” says Edward Forristall, dispatch manager. ETS is the third company for which he’s worked with Johnny; he has known the Greenes for close to a decade, and has been in the industry for over 14 years. In the three years he has been working for ETS, he confirms, “We keep growing every year; our revenue increases every year. We’ve probably increased our chauffeur staff by 40 percent, and maybe 30 percent in cars.”

ETS currently boasts a staff of approximately 100 chauffeurs and a fleet of around 60 vehicles, composed mainly of luxury sedans, including the Cadillac DTS, the Mercedes S550, the stretch Ford Fusion, and of course, the L Series Lincoln Town Car. Approximately 20 percent of the fleet are SUVs, predominantly Cadillac Escalades and Chevy Suburbans. They also run 15 passenger vans, a couple of high-end Turtletop executive vans, and a number of minibuses. “We have a very diversified fleet,” says Peter, 14 percent of which are “green,” including hybrid sedans and flex-fuel SUVs, which have afforded the company substantial savings on fuel costs. Many ETS customers love the six-inch stretch Ford Fusions, as they “still have the comfort of a luxury car, but show a green initiative,” says Peter. Many of their affiliates, however, send them a large number of high-ranking corporate executives, some of whom feel that the Fusion is not luxury. “When you’re paying for a Four Seasons hotel, you wouldn’t want to walk into a DoubleTree,” Peter jokes. “So it sometimes gets a little tough when you’re dispatching, trying to make sure that the right vehicle gets to the right job.” Keeping their affiliates’ clients happy is an especially high priority, as 65 percent of their business comes from over 30 inbound national affiliate companies.

Scott Mezzetti, affiliate manager of ETS, joined the company soon after its inception. Although he has been in the industry since 1990, having worked for Johnny at CTS, the affiliate aspect of the business was somewhat new to him. Despite this, he grew their national network from zero to over 200 affiliates in his time at ETS. He credits this success to, of course, the existing industry contacts he and Johnny have accumulated throughout the years, but also NLA meetings, The Limo Digest Show, word-of-mouth contacts, site visits, and various other meetings that have enabled them “to contact the proper affiliates in the various markets that will do the work we need at the level of service that we require, and that we provide for our clients here in Boston.” Johnny estimates that the company’s inbound affiliate business currently totals about $3 million, and outbound affiliate business totals about $1 million.

Like all of his colleagues at ETS, Mezzetti also credits his ability to succeed in his position to the “family atmosphere” of the company fostered by the Greene brothers. “They’re very caring, and we have a lot of similarities in and outside the workplace. We all love sports—we love the Bruins.” And that’s putting it modestly. Not only is ETS the official transportation service of the TD Garden, the Providence Bruins, the New England Revolution, and the Pawtucket Red Sox, the company gained a lot of visibility the summer after the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup.

“For me,” Johnny says, “it’s very cool, because I’m an avid hockey fan. When the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011,” he recounts excitedly, “they called us from Toronto at two o’clock in the morning, because they were partying the whole way back. They ordered about 10 SUVs and sedans to pick them up at Logan Airport.” Not only were they the first chauffeur service to transport the Stanley Cup, ETS gained lots of publicity that summer by chauffeuring the players around town to show off their prized trophy.

Being embraced by virtually all of the local sports franchises has certainly contributed to the company’s widespread regional visibility. But Johnny’s reputation as a luxury transportation magnate in the greater Boston area has as much to do with his community outreach and willingness to constantly modernize his marketing strategy. ETS has won awards for their website, and Johnny is also a well known blogger and Facebook personality.

“We try to make our blogs informative,” he says. His daughter, Ashley, was instrumental in producing and distributing the blog, and his younger daughter, Kelsey, who is working full-time in the accounting office during summer break, helped to build and manage the company’s social media outlets. “I firmly believe social media and blogs are almost like 10 years ago where the websites were,” he says. “You wouldn’t think a plumber would ever need a website, but as things have changed over the years, everybody needs to have a website.”

ETS has recently been working with Inbound Marketing Agents to build an inbound marketing program, utilizing Hubspot on the backend of their website, which drives prospects through Calls-to-Action (CTAs). “When people click on them they can receive ticket giveaways. Our most recent CTA was for tickets to the Bruins with a ride in and out, and with that we’ve gotten over 870 hits to the website, and 203 new leads,” says Johnny. Hubspot has also been very effective in tracking analytics of visitors to the ETS website, including “what time they went to the website, what they looked at, how long they spent on it,” and the software provides a “grade” for each prospect based on this information. They also have an online booking tool on the website, which yields between $5,000 and $6,000 of reservations a month, and they are in the process of bringing an ETS app to the app markets for Apple and Android devices.

Both Johnny and Peter are very proud of their ability to successfully utilize cutting-edge technologies not only in marketing, but also in their dispatch office and vehicles. After having a tough year in 2011 with accidents, they installed DriveCams in all of their vehicles, and cut accidents by 60 percent the following year. They also utilize the DriveCams to augment their customer service and safety training, ensuring that drivers are providing a consistent level of service and following procedures learned in their safe driving certification program.

They’ve also simplified their dispatch office by virtually replacing traditional dispatch radio communication with tablet PCs in every vehicle. With Jim Mosely from Trip Tracker, they developed and implemented a tablet program where the drivers now log on, check in, and send updates back to dispatch. Because the program automatically updates the dispatch board, the dispatcher doesn’t have to chase them on the radio. “It’s all integrated as part of the Trip Tracker System,” Johnny raves. “I think technology is another one of those differentiators—the more technologically savvy you can be in this simple business, the better you can serve your client.” While many companies in the ground transportation industry are intimidated by technological advancements and how they relate to growing a business, ETS is energized by the possibilities that lie ahead.

Johnny is enthusiastic about continuing to make the business better and more efficient through the use of technology, especially in sales and marketing. His specific plans for the immediate future are to continue building the inbound marketing program, “to really fine tune the ROI on it.” Much like the four major sports teams that hail from Boston, this is a golden era for the team at ETS International. And even better days are sure to be on the horizon.

Everyone at ETS agrees, the future ahead is bound to be bright. “It’s been a lot of fun watching the company grow from one car up to the 60 vehicles that it is today,” says Mezzetti, “and the feedback we get is phenomenal. It’s just very rewarding to see it all come together, and to know that you’re an integral part of the success and the continued growth of the company. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s a lot of hard work. There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears along the way, no question, but it’s well worth it. Well worth it.” // LD

For more information about ETS International, visit www.etsintl.net.



Written by
Associate Editor & Digital Media Manager
adam@limodigest.com

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