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This Month: Executive Coach Builders

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

Written by
Associate Editor & Digital Media Manager

Saturday, June 29, 2013

4 Ways to Land Corporate Clients (and Keep Them)

Corporate clients can be the catalyst you need to take your small or mid-size livery company to the next level. Because business travelers are likely to be repeat customers, and (depending on their rank within their company) likely to book your high-end vehicles for service, they have the potential to provide you with substantial and consistent revenue. However, given the rising costs across all transportation sectors—as well as sweeping cuts to corporate travel budgets across many industries—it is up to you to make sure your company turns this potential into a reality.

Here are four things to focus on if you want to land corporate clients, and keep them:

1. Offer competitive pricing

The costs of corporate travel have sharply increased in recent years due to higher fuel prices, taxes, and airport fees, among other factors. Although the economy is recovering, travel programs are continuing to be funded more prudently by travel managers, who are primarily concerned with ensuring they are getting the best possible value for their companies. According to a recent survey of global travel executives conducted by Travelport, more than 84 percent of executives say “rising airfares and hotel rates have negatively affected their travel programs in the last three years.”

The Global Business Travel Association’s latest projections for domestic business travel both confirm and clarify the survey’s findings, as spending is up 5.1 percent from last year, while the actual number of business trips taken is down by about 1.1 percent. Here’s what these numbers mean to you: fewer trips booked means the market for corporate clients is more competitive, and higher spending means that offering competitive pricing is one of the best ways your company can differentiate itself. Executives still need to travel, but their companies’ newfound resolve to be efficient and cost-effective in their travel budgets requires ground transportation firms to have good judgment in their approach to cost reduction.

2. Dispatch the right vehicle to the right client, and buy fleet vehicles with higher corporate demand 

Fleet composition has changed remarkably from the more traditional days of stretches and Town Cars.
One of the most recent innovations has been the addition of hybrid, flex-fuel, and other “green” vehicles, which is a great way to reduce fuel costs and the environmental impact of running a ground transportation company. Many clients may not mind a “green” vehicle—in fact, there are plenty who prefer them—but the high-ranking corporate executive is not likely to be one of them. Strategically reserving the luxury editions in your fleet, and dispatching them to accommodate the expectations of your VIP executive clients, is a common sense practice that can wow new customers, and make a new account a repeat one. Likewise, it is important to remember that one of the most profitable forms of corporate travel work comes in the form of group trips, and therefore, investing in buses and coaches can be a boon to any firm with a desire to increase their flexibility in being able to service corporate clients.

3. Demonstrate security and safety

Security and safety are major concerns of corporate travelers, especially in light of the number of recent tragedies that have been in the news. Having the ability to reassure clients of your chauffeurs’ and vehicles’ safety certifications is an underestimated way to bolster your reputation and the confidence that potential clients will have in you. Although clients desire the peace of mind that they will be in good hands on the road, it is also important to explain to corporate prospects that digital security is one of your company’s top priorities. Going out of your way to establish that their entire transaction will be conducted with effective security precautions is also very important in terms of establishing a trustworthy reputation.

4. Maintain a good image, and consistently great customer service 

According to the results of last year’s Limo Digest Industry Guide survey, 63 percent of respondents enforced a dress code requiring their chauffeurs to wear a black suit with a tie. As maintaining a professional image can be important to many corporate executives, even in terms of their travel accommodations, a consistent and prestigious appearance of your chauffeur staff will elevate the experience of traveling in one of your company’s vehicles, and differentiate your company from your competition. Maintaining a prestigious, polished appearance in all aspects of your business is equally important, from the smallest details like keeping your vehicles impeccably clean, to making sure your website is regularly updated. Furthermore, it is quickly becoming a marketing necessity to establish not only a social media presence, but an active and appropriate one. Inactivity on social media is a missed opportunity to create a stronger, more personal relationship with the clients who follow you on Facebook or Twitter, but on the other hand, one distasteful status update or tweet can tarnish your existing relationships. Interact, but remember the difference between your business page and your personal profile.

Forging relationships with corporate clients can be the growth opportunity you need to take your livery company to that next tier of revenue. Corporate accounts can bring your company high-end, repeat customers, and if you put in not just hard work, but smart work, your company can become a contender in the competitive marketplace for this class of clientele. // LD

Friday, June 28, 2013

Opinion: Frivolous Lawsuits a Growing Threat to Our Industry

Most people in our business get up every day to do the right thing for our clients, our community and our employees. We try to operate within the myriad of laws that now govern what we do, from local transportation ordinances to Federal DOT Regulations. This magazine is filled each month with articles about companies around the U.S. growing and making a positive impact in their communities.

As an industry, I think we all want to see professionalism and integrity raised to a new level in this new economy, because stakes are high and profit margins are razor thin. Certainly this magazine, the National Limousine Association and most state associations I have encountered preach professionalism and educate operators on how to run and grow their businesses legally and ethically.

However, I am writing this article because there is a critical issue that permeates our industry; it threatens our very survival and negatively affects every one of us, from owners to drivers. It is an epidemic problem whose ravages I thought I had “inoculated” my business, Ambassador Limousine from, back when I started in 2007. But I was mistaken. The serious issues I am telling you about are the frivolous labor lawsuits and labor actions taken by state and federal agencies for misclassifying drivers and failing to pay them properly and within the law.

Since 2007, I have attended almost every industry trade show and voraciously read every magazine that targets every kind of ground transportation, and the topic is always a discussion point—yet many operators ignore it and think “it does not apply to me.”

I am not an academic, a legal scholar or a high-priced labor attorney. But I speak from having more experience in this area than I wish I had, because this subject has been my sole focus for the last year, as I have been settling a matter that could have caused my business to close, and which has cost me several hundred thousand dollars in legal bills.

Here’s the problem: Operators who classify their drivers as “independent contractors,” who in the eyes of the law should absolutely be classified as employees, are the biggest targets of these lawsuits. They have the largest bull’s eye on their backs. However, those of us who operate a purely “employee driver only” model are not immune either, for reasons I will explain.

There is a harsh reality of the times we live in, the regulatory environment we are governed by, and the economy we do business in—none of us are immune to this growing problem. Small or big, corporation or privately owned, you are a target.

We live in a time where frivolous lawsuits permeate the landscape—from cases about coffee being too hot to sub sandwiches being too short. Every morning lawyers get up and go to work for the sole purpose of filing and fighting these lawsuits with the same vigor we do to grow our businesses, and we, the small business owners, are some of their biggest targets. Lawyers who used to focus on “slip and fall” accident cases and asbestos cases have taken up a new gauntlet—filing lawsuits against employers for worker’s compensation, overtime pay, pay and benefits violations for misclassified workers. Make no mistake—they don’t care whether you are McDonald’s or XYZ Limo. They look at the assets you have and they want them as their legal fees.

For the first time in many years, the lawyers seemingly have as their allies many state agencies and certainly a federal government that supports their efforts under the guise of “protecting employees’ rights.” I am here to tell you these lawsuits have as much to do with protecting employees’ rights as cold medicine does curing a gunshot wound.

Lawyers actively search for livery companies that misclassify workers as independent contractors and usually find these companies when an upset driver calls them. The definition of the “independent contractor” relationship and the definition of an “employee” are set in federal law by two federal entities: The Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Department of Labor. Where you operate in the U.S. has no bearing on how you classify your workforce.

There are very mild differences between how these federal agencies define the two relationships. In the case of a company that owns a variety of vehicles, with both airport transfers and as-directed work, the method of classifying our driver labor is crystal clear. If the worker is being told when and where to report, is given all of his assignments, and activity is controlled and managed by the company throughout the day (given more or less assignments), and he is driving a company asset, then without any exception, he is your employee.

It does not matter what you have the driver sign for a contract or work agreement, how you pay them, what you call the pay (as in commission or wages) or whether you mandate they enroll in NICA (if you don’t know what that is you don’t need to know because it is not legal). The degree of control we exercise over our drivers largely mandates this relationship as an employer/employee relationship. As such, they must earn minimum wage, they must be paid overtime, and the employer must withhold and match their taxes weekly. Overtime, compensable breaks versus what constitutes “work” is where some operators get into trouble, even if they do properly classify drivers as employees.

So is there a way to legally classify drivers as independent contractors? Not while operating a traditional black car or limousine service. Having said that, there is a method of classifying drivers as independent contractors legally, and it is referred to as the “taxi exemption.” Basically, this is a relationship in which you lease a vehicle to a driver by the day, week or month, and all drivers in your company have this plan. Then, you let them market themselves and get their own trips in addition to what trips you“offer” them. You must allow them to turn down work, get their own trips, collect cash, and govern their own hours. This should also include letting them work for other companies so that they completely control themselves and have the ability to earn a profit or create a loss (this makes a huge difference to the IRS and FDL).

There is a reason this is called the “taxi exemption,” and frankly it is difficult to manage it in the by-reservation luxury ground transportation business and still deliver excellent service while holding drivers accountable. // LD

Written by Ken Lucci

Ken Lucci started Ambassador Limousine in July of 2007, and has successfully grown the business from two sedans into a multi-million dollar operation with 50 vehicles, from sedans to motorcoaches. Today, Ambassador Limousine ranks among the largest fleets in the industry, and has achieved annual revenue that places the company in the top 10 percent in the country, in annual sales.

ETS International: Giving Back

At ETS International, the community is also considered part of its extended family. Nowhere is that more evident than in the charity work ETS International prides itself on. Reaching out to those less fortunate is integral to the business model Johnny Greene has set forth since the inception of the company in 2006.

In fact, there’s not a month that goes by that ETS is not involved in some sort of charity. Johnny Greene serves on the board of directors of the Cerebral Palsy of Massachusetts organization. ETS International took their love for the Boston Bruins to another level, working closely with the Boston Bruins Foundation. This foundation’s mission is to assist charitable organizations that demonstrate a strong commitment to enhancing the quality of life for children in the New England area.

For example, Johnny took Marina Domenici, a 14-year-old friend of the family who has Down syndrome, to a Bruins game in one of their limousines. Not only did Marina get a limousine ride and enjoy great seats at the game, but she also got to take a spin around the ice on the Zamboni. (See Limo Digest, April 2013).

Employees of ETS recently participated in Project Bread’s Walk for Hunger, in which Johnny Greene personally raised over $5,000 for the hungry in Massachusetts.

This past May, ETS International donated vehicles to transport some of the surviving victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and their families to a fundraising event held in their honor. ETS International has been awarded for its philanthropic work in the community, winning the Community Service Award at the Limo Digest Show in 2009. “I think the more you give, the more you receive, and if you concentrate on giving, being fair and honest and friendly to the people who work for you and the people who buy from you, it pays you huge dividends in the end,” says Johnny. “So I never worry about what I will get from somebody, I worry about what I can give to somebody.” // LD

To learn more about ETS International, visit

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Art & Science of Effective Marketing

Have you ever seen an ad you thought was very clever and entertaining, and maybe even got you to laugh—but then later realized you didn’t know what product was being advertised? I’ll bet that ad cost a lot of money, and people at some agency were well compensated, but I wonder if the ad’s sponsor was truly well served. Whether you’re a business owner or the marketing director for a small or mid-sized business, one of the most important decisions you will make is how to advertise your products and services. You know that “getting the word out” is critical to your success, but given the deluge of opportunities that comes across your desk, it’s difficult to know where to spend your hard-earned cash most wisely. In my marketing career, I have seen all kinds of solutions to that problem, some of which were very successful, and others a complete waste of money.

Making this type of decision requires knowing the proper blend of science and art.

The Science 

Many people think of advertising as some mystical process, where only the most creative types can safely venture. There is some truth to the idea that creativity plays a huge role in successful advertising. But first, there’s the practical or scientific part of effective advertising. As in the example above, just pulling together a brilliant creative piece isn’t enough if you don’t understand the product or the audience. Who, for example, would think it wise to develop a wonderful creative piece and then just send it out randomly to the first 10,000 names in the phone book? Maybe, if you’re very lucky, a handful of those recipients might by chance have an interest in your product or service. But the likelihood is small and the risk of wasting good creative copy—not to mention a tidy sum of money—is large.

The message here is that you need to know your target market, the best audience for your product or service. You have to do the research to understand how to find those people. Given the tools of the current era, when the purchasing patterns of consumers are tracked very closely, this is not as difficult as it once was, but you still need to find the sources of this kind of information, and then use it effectively.

Put simply, don’t waste your money by placing advertising in front of people who don’t want your products. Put the ad before people who have already clearly shown that they want what you have to offer. At a minimum, capture the email addresses of people who visit your offices or websites, because you know they’re interested; there are services that will, for a fee, obtain this precious information for you. You may see this as an expense; I see it as an investment that can only give you a high return. Advertising to an audience that is already committed to your product is much more effective than trying to sell to an audience that has only a marginal interest in your company or what you do.

If you don’t have the proper resources to do the research yourself, place your advertising in publications that have already done it for you. A key component of a publication’s business strategy is to identify industry targets for clients. This is sometimes done by using a list broker who is nationally recognized for the quality of their product, which they update no less than once each quarter, adding new companies and removing those no longer active, to ensure its accuracy and integrity.

Using this approach, as well as offering a variety of services to their clientele, publications feel very certain that they will get you in front of exactly the audience their advertisers want to reach. This is exactly the kind of market targeting that will ensure every dollar is spent effectively, and with the greatest opportunity for achieving a good return. Everyone needs to know who their audience is and how to reach them. Without that, you’re just wasting your money.

The Art 

Once you’ve found your audience, how do you build an advertising program that will capture their attention and make them want to come to you? In my experience, the answer to this key question is not hiring some high-priced agency to develop a catchy image or memorable tune, but rather that you have to listen to yourself.

I have made a very successful career by listening when entrepreneurs and small business people tell me about their companies. They tell me how and why they started the businesses, and that story often builds an image in my mind that clearly delineates what their business is all about. It tells me about the character of the organization, how the founders intended the business to operate, what markets they intended it to serve, and how they expected to differentiate themselves from their competition. The story, and the heart of the business, is all there.

This is why I feel so strongly about the “art” side of the equation, because the passion in that story is what will really resonate in an ad campaign. A good marketing person will, first and foremost, listen to the business leader so that he or she understands what makes the business unique. From that understanding will come the taglines, the images, and even the colors representing the character of the business. Then, anyone who sees an ad or a marketing piece will recognize the nature of the operation, and realize more than just a product is being offered. A relationship between the business and its customers is being presented, which essentially becomes the “brand.”

Here’s an example of how this works. Not long ago, I found myself in an establishment into which I had never ventured before, which had long been in a commercial area of my hometown. I looked around and could see, through the clutter and unattractive displays, that this establishment had lots of high-quality products for sale. Since little about the way the personnel treated me said anything good about customer service or quality, I was intrigued. I got to talking with the owner, and soon a wonderful story about his father, who had run the business for a generation, began to unfold. I could see the pride this man had in his history and the commitment his father had made to this business, and a brand image celebrating the story began to emerge.

Not long after that first meeting, I was able to fashion a strong image for the business that featured images right out of the ‘50s—not to present the business as “dated,” but rather to reinforce the traditions of quality and customer service that were more prevalent in that era than today. As part of the realignment of the brand image, we changed some of the displays and also trained his staff in the customer service expectations that went along with the image, as no image can survive behaviors that undermine it. And, because we knew and could locate the target audience, we were fairly easily able to construct a marketing campaign that hit the mark quickly and got sustainable results. But the key to this story has everything to do with listening and going to the roots of the product differentiation. While the current owner knew and, in fact lived, the story, he wasn’t aware of its power and value in the market.

So this is the art. It is having the ability to recognize what differentiates a business from its competition, and then living the differentiation. This approach isn’t for everyone. Some businesses see themselves as providing a “commodity,” and for them, the “art” will not be a factor. But this model works for businesses that see a market value in their products, and want to provide value through their services. For them, with a good knowledge of their target audience and the right listener to crystallize their story, the blend of science and art can have a very positive effect on the bottom line. What more could any business owner ask? // LD

Contributed by Robin Wells

Robin Wells  has been an entrepreneur for more than 10 years, developing both a marketing and brand image consulting business (robinFORD Marketing & Image Consulting) and a corporate business protocol/etiquette training business that offers classes for children, adults, college students and business executives alike (Etiquette Manor, LLC). Throughout her career, she has worked for small businesses and international corporations in a series of progressively more responsible positions. Most recently, apart from her marketing, training and consulting roles, she has returned to the transportation industry, in which she started her career, by accepting the position of Executive Director of LIMOSandBUSES4sale. Contact Robin at

Making Sense of the Affordable Care Act

Three years ago, on March 23, 2010, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law. While several substantial provisions don’t take effect until 2014, many of the Act’s requirements have already been implemented. The following is a brief overview of some of the healthcare reform provisions that business owners should know regarding the ACA.

Play or Pay
While employers are generally not required to offer health insurance to employees, effective January 1, 2014, if you are a large employer (with an average of at least 50 full-time employees) and do not offer health insurance to your employees, you may have to pay a monthly fee of $166.67 ($2,000 per year) per full-time employee (excluding the first 30 employees) for any month coverage is not offered.

The fee applies if at least one of your full-time employees enrolls in a state-sponsored health insurance Exchange and qualifies for a premium tax credit or cost-sharing reduction. Part-time employees are included when determining if you have 50 employees, based on the total hours worked per month divided by 120.

Even if you do offer coverage, you’ll be assessed a fee for each month that at least one full-time employee enrolls in an Exchange and qualifies for a premium tax credit or cost-sharing reduction, because your plan’s share of the total cost is less than 60 percent. In this case, the monthly fee is equal to the lesser of $250 per full-time employee receiving a credit or reduction, or the maximum fee you would be subject to if you offered no healthcare insurance at all.

Also beginning in 2014, employers with more than 200 full-time employees that offer health insurance must automatically enroll new full-time employees, subject to a waiting period of no longer than 90 days.

In an effort to promote wellness and decrease health insurance costs, employers will be able to offer employees rewards by 2014, such as premium discounts and added benefits, for participating in wellness programs and meeting certain health-related standards. The value of the rewards can equal as much as 30 percent of the cost of coverage and may even reach 50 percent in some cases. Employers who provide insurance for retired employees who are age 55 or older, but not yet eligible for Medicare, may receive reimbursement for 80 percent of retiree claims between $15,000 and $90,000. This temporary reinsurance program began in 2010 and is available until 2014. On the other hand, employers who had previously received a tax deduction for Medicare Part D drug subsidy payments have seen that deduction eliminated in the beginning of this year.

Some Provisions are Already Enacted

As of today, the following provisions are already in place: Insurance policies must allow young adults up to age 26 to remain covered on their parent’s health insurance, and insurers cannot deny coverage to children due to their health status, nor can companies exclude children’s coverage for pre-existing conditions. Furthermore, lifetime coverage limits have been eliminated from private insurance policies.

State-based health insurance Exchanges, intended to provide a marketplace for individuals and small businesses to compare and shop for affordable health insurance, are scheduled to be implemented by October 1, 2013. Also, insurance policies must provide an easy-to-read description of plan benefits, including what’s covered, policy limits, coverage exclusions, and cost-sharing provisions.

Medical loss ratio and rate review requirements mandate that insurers spend 80 to 85 percent of premiums on direct medical care instead of on profits, marketing, or administrative costs. Insurers failing to meet the loss ratio requirements must pay a rebate to consumers.

The ACA provides federal funds for states to implement plans that expand Medicaid long-term care services to include home and community-based settings, instead of just institutions. The ACA also provides funding to the National Health Service Corps, which provides loan repayments to medical students and others in exchange for service in low-income, underserved communities.

Medicare and private insurance plans that haven’t been grandfathered must provide certain preventive benefits with no patient cost-sharing, including immunizations and preventive tests.

Through rebates, subsidies, and mandated manufacturers’ discounts, the ACA reduces the amount that Part D Medicare drug benefit enrollees are required to pay for prescriptions falling
in the coverage gap referred to as the “donut hole.”

Major Provisions Coming in 2014:

Several important provisions of the ACA are due to take effect in 2014, such as:

  • U.S. citizens and legal residents must have qualifying health coverage (subject to certain exemptions) or face a penalty.
  • Employers with more than 50 full-time equivalent employees are required to offer affordable coverage or pay a fee.
  • Premium and cost-sharing subsidies that reduce the cost of insurance are available to individuals and families based on income.
  • Policies (other than grandfathered individual plans) are prohibited from imposing pre-existing condition exclusions, and must guarantee issuance of coverage to anyone who applies regardless of their health status. Also, health insurance can’t be rescinded due to a change in health status, but only for fraud or intentional misrepresentation.
  • Policies (except grandfathered individual plans) cannot impose annual dollar limits on the value of coverage.
  • Individual and small group plans (except grandfathered individual plans), including those offered inside and outside of insurance Exchanges, must offer a comprehensive package of items and services known as essential health benefits. Also, non-grandfathered plans in the individual and small business market must be categorized (Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum) based on the percentage of the total average cost of benefits the insurance plan covers, so consumers can determine how much the plan covers and how much of the medical expense is the consumer’s responsibility. Bronze plans cover 60 percent of the covered expenses, Silver plans cover 70 percent, Gold plans cover 80 percent, and Platinum plans cover 90 percent.  // LD

Contributed by Davis J. Rieman Jr., CFP

Q&A with Wendy Kleefisch of Brevard Executive Limousine

A Dream Achieved - Wendy Kleefisch, owner of Brevard Executive Limousine, has steadily grown her successful chauffeured transportation company over the past seven years. Based in Melbourne, FL, this blossoming female-owned company is committed to delivering a highly personalized service that exceeds the expectations of every client. Wendy recently let us pick her brain about her journey, her business strategies, and her many industry insights.

About Brevard Executive Limousine
LOCATION: Melbourne, FL
SERVING: Melbourne, Port Canaveral, Orlando
FLEET: L Series Sedans, SUVs, and stretches.
An active member of the National Limousine Association, Florida Limousine Association and the Greater Orlando Livery Association.

Limo Digest:  Tell us about your company.
Wendy Kleefisch: Brevard Executive Limousine specializes in corporate accounts, and proudly serves the Space and Treasure Coasts of the Central Florida region. The company was established in 2006 with one Town Car L sedan, and has grown into a small six-vehicle fleet, adding one vehicle per year.

LD:  What brought you to Florida?
WK:  I’m originally from Honolulu, HI, and I am a graduate of the University of Hawaii with an Associate’s degree in Business Management. From Hawaii, I traveled to the East Coast to be closer to my mom and check out the Sunshine State, and I just fell in love with the Atlantic Ocean.

LD:  What industry background did you have?
WK: In the late 1990s, I was working part-time for a company called All Occasion Limousine. They are no longer in business, but I learned a lot from their general manager, and decided during my time there that I really enjoyed driving people. After seven years of working for other companies, I decided to believe in myself and my passion: beautiful black cars, and my own limousine company.

LD:  What strengths did you bring to the company?
WK: Growing up in Hawaii is where I learned a lot about hospitality, being a greeter at the airport. I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I went back to school to study for a Criminal Justice degree. I worked in a variety of industries, from law enforcement, to detail jobs, security jobs, and eventually limousine jobs. After working for All Occasion for many years, and deciding it was time for me to open my own business, I brought with me the knowledge of how to turn a one-time client into a lifelong client, which was a definite advantage as I opened my own doors! It’s a very simple concept: treat clients the way you would like to be treated—everyone is a VIP, no exceptions.

LD: What challenges does your location present?
WK: Well, in such a small town—it’s only one mile long—it is incredibly important to network, and you really need to get your company name out there to help you do that. If you are in a location with similar challenges, I highly recommend you join the National Limousine Association (NLA), as well as your state association and your local association if you have one. The Florida Limousine Association (FLA) and Greater Orlando Livery Association (GOLA) have helped us enormously. They provide us with up to date
information on regulation changes and DOT news, and offer us the best networking opportunities in the business.

LD: What was your launch and marketing strategy in the early days?
WK: In addition to joining and participating in the associations, as I’ve already mentioned, not growing
too big too fast has helped keep me in business, and definitely remains a winning strategy as we navigate
through these tough economic times. Social media is also huge for Brevard Executive Limousine. You can find us on Linked In, Facebook, and Twitter—these are all free search engines to help market your company on a tight budget.

LD: What do you think separates you from the competition?
WK: Brevard Executive has a diverse fleet of late-model sedans, SUVs and stretch limousines, so we have a vehicle for any occasion. We offer transportation to Orlando International Airport (MCO), Melbourne International Airport (MLB), and Port Canaveral. Our uniformed chauffeurs are licensed, permitted and trained to make sure you have a flawless experience every time, whether you’re an executive or a tourist.

LD:  Since you started in this industry, what has surprised you the most about the industry?
WK: One of the most surprising obstacles I’ve encountered since opening was my company name. The word “limousine” is somewhat taboo in the corporate world of transportation, so I immediately filed a DBA as Brevard Executive Transportation to secure my government contracts.

LD: Any words of wisdom or advice for other women in the industry?
WK: It’s a very rewarding feeling to wake up every morning and know you will be working for yourself.
It’s incredibly empowering, and I encourage any woman who is wondering if she can start her own business to believe in herself.

For more information about Brevard Executive Transportation visit

ETS International's Winning Atmosphere

Boston and the surrounding cities of the New England area are enjoying a very special era when it comes to its four major pro sports teams.

From 2000 to 2010, Boston enjoyed seven World Championships—three by the New England Patriots, two by the Red Sox, and one each by both the Boston Bruins and the Boston Celtics. When the Bruins won the Stanley Cup again in 2011, it marked the most successful 10-year period of any city in the United States. Ever.

With the Bruins knocking on the door of another Championship in 2013, the smiles you see around Beantown are from a provincial pride that has now become inherent in Bostonians. The office at ETS is no different. There is little doubt where their allegiance lies: all the walls are covered with Boston sports memories, many of which the team at ETS have witnessed firsthand.

So forgive the staff at ETS for their happiness. They have a lot to be smiling about. // LD

To learn more about ETS International, visit

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