Trade shows provide an excellent opportunity for limousine services to network with affiliates and expand their customer base. Creative marketing is crucial to making the most of such events and must expand far beyond simply having a flashy booth.
Here are a few tips to maximize your networking and brand at a trade show:
Below is a cover article that is in the current issue of Limo Digest, featuring Create-A-Card, Inc. You can also download it here.
More than Meets the Eye
Create-A-Card Thrives on Strong Client Relationships
By Liz Hunter
There seems to be no shortage of experts in the limousine industry. Operators have vast resources to tap when it comes to what software to implement or what insurance to purchase. But for one of the most important aspects of running a successful business—marketing—there are only a handful of suppliers that are truly familiar with our industry and getting the message out. One in particular has emerged as a go-to company for transportation marketing advice and materials.
For nearly 25 years, the name Create-A-Card has been synonymous with “marketing” in the limousine industry. Arthur Messina started Create-A-Card (CAC) to capitalize on a new trend: picture business cards. After attending college and graduating with a background in food and business, Messina worked for The Marriott Corporation, only to realize 18 months later that a career in hospitality wasn’t where he wanted to be.
He looked in magazines like Entrepreneur and picture business cards were something new and exciting. Messina was suddenly enthralled by the thought of working for himself and running his own business.
Setting up shop in his kitchen—like many limousine operators did themselves—Messina kept his filing cabinet in a closet and the fax machine on top. When it came to deciding what industry or business would benefit most from these picture business cards, Messina immediately thought of limousines. “It was the heyday of the industry, and people were spending lots of money for vehicles and they needed ways to market them,” he says. “One of the first business cards we did was for a limousine company down the street.”
Anyone who knows Messina will tell you that he is certainly not shy, even back then. So, it should be no surprise that he simply walked to that limo business down the road from his house and asked to borrow a limousine to make sample business cards. “The owner, James Ficcarra, of Richard James Limousine, was open to it. We took the car to a park, shot photos, and that was one of the first samples I had,” Messina says. Even though CAC has branched out to other niches like restaurants and entertainment—one of his clients is the famed Peter Luger’s Steak House in New York City—CAC’s business is still concentrated in the limousine and transportation-related industries and his list of clients reads like a who’s who: Reston Limousine, Partners Executive Transportation, Broadway Elite Chauffeured Services Worldwide, The Limousine Connection, Worldwide Transportation, Overland Limousine, and more. One of its first five clients, All Star Limousine Service in Lindenhurst, New York, is still a customer today, something that both owners are proud of. “We work together on a daily basis,” says Messina of All Star owner Jim Powers. “It’s nice to see some of us have survived together.” Powers, who started his business in the basement of his parents’ home, now has a 40,000-square-foot facility and operates 106 vehicles. “Create-A-Card has been a tremendous asset to All Star,” says Powers. “He has helped us with a successful direct mail program that gets us a 3 to 4 percent return on investment. We have a strong business partnership and friendship.”
CAC may have started with just business cards, which is why Messina chose its name, but the moniker stuck even as the company evolved its offerings into various types of marketing collateral including brochures, meet-and-greet signs, website design, and today, all kinds of digital media. “We are really Create-A-Card and more,” says Messina. “The name and brand are extremely strong and it’s one of those things, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” CAC operates based on the same philosophy it recommends to its clients. Messina believes that one of the most common mistakes that companies make involves brand identity. “Some companies have two or three different names that they use depending on what market they are trying to reach,” Messina says. “People are confused by that. I tell my clients to establish a single brand—which includes a logo, colors, tag line, etc.—and stick with it over a long period of time to promote the company. A key component of marketing is consistency. People have to see you over and over and over again before they start to remember you, much less begin to trust you.” On the branding front, CAC recently worked with the company we now know as Broadway Elite Chauffeured Services Worldwide based in New Jersey. The product of a merger, Broadway Elite needed its name and brand to reflect its level of service as well as its connection to the industry’s biggest market: the New York metropolitan area. COO Jason Sharenow says, “Arthur and his team have been instrumental in everything Broadway Elite has done from business cards to brochures to lapel pins. They have done everything possible to help us move the company to the next level.”
A great deal of CAC’s business comes from referrals. When he has a new client, Messina needs to know what the market is. “Sometimes people want to be everything to everyone. I look at the type of vehicle, location, how far it is from the airport, things like that,” he says. “People will often tell me they want to do a corporate brochure. Then I ask them about their fleet and find out that they have 16 stretches and 2 Town Cars. Corporate business just isn’t the right market for them, especially since I know who their competitors are. I try to point them in a different direction, like focusing on retail with some airport business mixed in.” Messina says operators often have their blinders on because they are so busy with their businesses.
CAC clients can count on Messina’s honesty. “I have no problem telling it like it is,” he says. “It’s their business but I am going to tell them what will work based on my experience. My goal isn’t just to sell my customers a brochure—if they aren’t targeting a viable market, exploiting a competitive advantage, and aren’t taking advantage of all the marketing techniques that are available to them today, they are probably going to fail. If they fail, I lose a customer. I want each and every one of my clients to be successful, so they can always count on me to tell them the truth.”
Messina is thankful for the success both he and his customers have had in business. “I have learned over the years that there is a lot of trust between CAC and our clients. When we get testimonials, it reinforces the fact that we’re not the company that does your business cards and then says ‘See ya later.’ For me, personally and professionally, that is really important.”
Beyond their business relationships, Messina and his clients are truly friendly with each other. “Maintaining friendships beyond business is really key to succeeding,” he says. “I make it a point to see clients outside of work. Actually, I go out of my way to make it happen. When we are in the office, we’re always ‘on’ and 9 times out of 10 we’re distracted. I like to get away from the day-to-day and just relax and hang out.” He enjoys attending baseball games with Alex Pope of LSA Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation in Washington, DC, or golfing with Sergio Sanchez of Partners Executive Transportation and, well, eating with just about everyone. “The truth is,” says Messina, “I really like my customers. I have known some of them for years and we have a good time together, respect each other, and are all pretty driven—we work hard and play hard—you really can’t ask to meet a better group of people.”
You’ve most likely spotted Messina at your local association meeting or seen pictures of him at various industry events in the pages of Limousine Digest. To the unknowing observer, Messina would seem to spend little time working—but that is in fact the opposite of reality. According to his wife Kathy, Messina is always working somehow, even on vacation when his kids often tease him for picking up countless travel brochures in hotels and on cruise ships. “I have my eyes open for new things wherever I go,” he says. “There are only so many ways to say the same thing for the limousine industry, so I’m constantly looking for new ways to get the message out.” And yes, Kathy also confirms that Messina suffers from the dreaded disease “iPhone-itis.” She says, “He goes absolutely nowhere without it, and does not hesitate to use it, whether we are at one of the kids’ games, in a restaurant, at an airport—with Arthur, he always finds a way to mix business with pleasure.”
When he is in the office, a typical day means spending at least five hours on the phone with clients, strategizing, planning, and consulting. “It’s almost like therapy,” says Messina. “We talk things over and figure out the best way to get the message to customers.” The rest of the day is spent on overseeing CAC’s own marketing efforts, including website maintenance and managing a growing presence in social media. CAC not only has active accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, but the CAC weekly blog has become a popular marketing read for many of the company’s followers and an important tool in keeping CAC’s website ranking high on the search engines. “Social networking and blogs are creating a real business structure we can all use,” he says.
Messina has embraced this new method of marketing and is encouraging his clients to do the same. “Some of my clients don’t quite believe in it yet,” he says. “But those who have are already seeing that there is value in it—if done correctly.” Messina doesn’t see the purpose of having a Facebook page that lets his clients know he just had coffee, for instance. “I use Facebook strictly for business information. If I see something interesting in the industry, I’ll post a picture. On our CAC Facebook page, we post marketing tips every day encouraging people in the industry to look at their marketing plans and reminding them to update their website content. It’s all worthwhile information,” he says.
Despite his enthusiasm about social media and digital marketing efforts, Messina says print collateral should still be the foundation of every marketing program. “Print must still be the linchpin of every campaign,” he says. “First of all, business cards are no longer optional. If you don’t have a business card, you are not serious about being in business and no one is going to take you seriously. Your business card is the first—and sometimes only—impression that a prospect will have of you. What’s the impression you want to leave with that person? Cheap suit or high-quality operation? We make sure all of our client business cards deliver the high quality impression they want portrayed.”
In his experience, Messina has seen several companies attempt the transition of printed collaterals, including newsletters, postcards, and brochures to completely digital formats. “Those who are going completely digital or moving everything online are realizing it’s just not working. Why? You have to deliver information to your prospects and customers in the format that they want to receive it in. Some of your customers want to read a paper newsletter or brochure. Other customers don’t care if they ever see another piece of paper again.” Messina doesn’t believe you should lose the opportunity to reach any customer or potential customer just because of your own personal preferences.
No matter which method of marketing works best for your company, Messina urges clients and all general industry members not to stop marketing during a tough economy. “The first thing companies want to cut from a budget is marketing,” he says. “But don’t assume that your customers or prospects are going to remember who you are or all the services you offer once the economy rebounds. People don’t retain information for long. You need to make sure that your current clients and prospective customers are repeatedly informed on all of your services, no matter how bad the economy. Of course we understand needing to cut spending, but maybe you should start an e-mail newsletter or social networking program or enhance your website. You can’t stop marketing completely or else people will forget who you are and move to your competitors who are making positive noise.”
After spending his days helping limousine companies market their services, one might think it would be an easy transition for Messina to think of strategies for CAC. “At the end of the day, it’s actually harder for me to sit down and come up with ways to promote my business,” Messina says. “I have many of the same marketing issues that my customers have only I don’t have me to call,” he jokes. “But there are a couple of us, almost like a ‘20 group’ of suppliers, that get together and brainstorm or reach out to each other for help. Pat Charla, president of LEAP, is a good friend and one of the best marketing strategists I know. When I am stuck on a concept or even just a word, I’ll call Pat, we’ll knock around an idea and before you know it we’ve come up with a new ad, or headline, or whatever.” His industry relationships are, just like his customer relationships, a two-way street. “I am always happy to do whatever I can to help Arthur and his team at Create-A-Card not only because they are friends, but because I know that I can always depend on them to go above and beyond the call of duty for me as well,” says Charla. “My customers, (and I) like many people, tend to do things at the very last minute. Arthur has never not pulled out all the stops and delivered; and, delivered without whining or complaining.”
Messina may be the face of CAC, but it is not a one-man show for sure. He has a core team of staff that he knows he can—and more importantly, his clients—can trust. Marian Abrilz, VP of customer relations, has been with CAC for 13 years. “Marian is, in a word, indispensable,” Messina says. “She has worked incredibly hard over the years to build her own client base, and her success has been a great help to CAC.” Messina adds that the fact that so many clients feel so comfortable with Marian allows him to spend as much time on the road as he does meeting customers and developing new sales opportunities. “I am only one person. When I am on the road, I know that the people who call the office are going to get the correct information and feel comfortable with my team.”
Jolanta Bak joined CAC 4 years ago as its art director. Despite coming in as a student right out of college, Bak was a quick learner, according to Messina. “She is extremely talented and has become an industry specialist in a short period of time. She has great ideas and designs and it’s amazing that she is just 27,” he says. “Jolanta is much more than our art director today, she is our lead designer, and most of the logos, brochure designs, and rebranding efforts we present to clients are based on her concepts.”
CAC is also a family business. Messina says that his wife Kathy provides him with balance, advice, and plays a big part in planning the strategic direction of the company. Their oldest son, Andrew, just finished his master’s in mathematics at Hofstra University and while looking for a job as a teacher, he is pitching in at CAC. “He is always willing to do whatever he can to help, is great with customers, and really knows the business after working so many summers in the office,” says Messina. “I could easily see Drew running the business one day if he decided that it was something that he would be happy doing.”
CAC clients have nothing but nice things to say about the staff. Alex Pope, owner of LSA Corporate Car Worldwide Transportation, has been a CAC client since 2003. “The customer service from Arthur’s team couldn’t be better,” Pope says. “They are committed to the point where you almost feel like you’re the only customer.”
With a solid team at the CAC office, Messina admits that he spends a lot more time out in the field meeting clients than he did in previous years, but he feels that the face time with existing and potential clients is invaluable. In the last few months Messina has traveled to meetings of the Long Island Limousine Association (LILA), Limousine Associations of New Jersey (LANJ), New England Livery Association (NELA), Limousine Association of Houston (LAH), Dallas/Fort Worth Limousine Association (DFWLA), Virginia Limousine Association (VLA), and the National Limousine Association (NLA) board meeting. Why the heavy association involvement you wonder? “I feel that contributing my expertise to association members is my chance to give back,” Messina says. “The industry has been great to me and my family, allowing us to build a livelihood. I can tell associations what is going on in other markets and what is working.” CAC client or not, Messina wants to help the industry. He is an NLA vendor board member and the time he dedicates there is on a volunteer basis.
The information sharing doesn’t stop there. Messina was one of the first editorial contributors to Limousine Digest when it began. “We’ve been a supporter of Limo Digest since day one. It’s amazing to see how far we both have come,” says Messina. He is currently a regular contributor to the magazine writing articles about various marketing topics. In another showing of support for Limo Digest and its annual Show, Messina made a generous contribution to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, bidding on the cover of the magazine. “I thought it was a great way to help out the organization,” he says. “I was truly touched by the video shown at the event and it made me very thankful that I have been fortunate that my kids are healthy. It was time to pay-it forward and help out others in need.”
When he’s not focusing on CAC or its clients, Messina spends a lot of time with his family. Besides Andrew, Messina also has a son Ryan and a daughter Kristin. Ryan will be entering the University of Tampa this fall and Messina spent several weeks this summer watching him play college baseball, including participating in the National Amateur Baseball Federation (NABF) College World Series in Toledo, Ohio. Kristin is a sophomore in high school and Messina attends her volleyball games and track meets while trying to figure out how to deal with a teenage daughter. For himself, he prefers golfing. “I enjoy playing it whether it’s in an association tournament or for fun. It’s very relaxing and I do play with many of my clients. You’re always working even when you’re not.” And don’t forget Messina’s best friend his loyal King Charles Cavalier Spaniel “Rookie Rose” who is now 6 years old.
The Messinas will be celebrating a major milestone soon: Arthur and Kathy will be married 25 years in September. The two will be sailing on a 12-day Mediterranean cruise to celebrate. For Kathy’s sake, we hope he leaves the iPhone at home. LD
Remember, your basic goal is to keep your existing client base from being lured away by other limo companies while attracting the interest of potential customers. So you need to devise a campaign that succinctly explains why your limousine service is superior.
All of your offline print media — from business cards to brochures to full color glossy ads — should be designed to have a consistent look, feel and message so your audience can establish brand identification at a glance.
What you need to concentrate on achieving is to peak your customer’s interest enough so they will visit your website for more information. It is much easier to track the success of your advertising campaigns on your website and to get feedback on what works — as well as what doesn’t — using online marketing resources.
Social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter are invaluable for connections–make sure your website makes it easy for customers to connect with you on all the social networking sites. Remember the easier it is to find you, the more inclined they are to spend their money with you.