When my ex-husband started Reston Limousine in 1990, we had three vehicles and exclusively served the corporate and leisure markets. Over the years, I expanded our client base to include federal government contracts, weddings, Washington DC tours and winery/brewery tours.
In 2000, we went from $4 million in sales to $24 million today. From those five vehicles 25 years ago, I have expanded the fleet to more than 200 vehicles ranging from limousines to sedans to SUVs to vans to buses. Today we are the 12th largest limousine and shuttle operator in the country.
What strategies did we use to grow the business? In hindsight, I would attribute the company’s success in part to a longstanding tradition of implementing innovative strategies, from pioneering winery tours in the market in our early years to monthly client appreciation lunches that has increased business by 30%. In a market as competitive as ours, it’s imperative that we offer new and fresh transportation choices while maintaining the high standards of customer service, reliability and safety that have established our brand as the premier transportation provider in the metropolitan DC area.
Here’s my Top 6 Tips to Grow your Business:
- Create a viable “written” plan that you know and live by daily. I never really had a plan. I met my ex-husband William when I was selling advertising. Then I went to work for him, and I immediately grew the wedding business through direct mail. In always looking for innovative ideas, we redirected our energies to the Internet, SEO, bridal shows and social media.
- Implement innovative strategies. Our early adoption of social media platforms, starting with the creation of our company blog in 2006 at a time when only 34 percent of the largest companies in the U.S. had a blog. I was also one of the first users of LinkedIn, a platform that enabled our company to begin building a global clientele. Today we also have a presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Plus and Pinterest, and all of these platforms are key to maintaining our brand online and providing two-way access to our customers.
- Know how to bring a mature product/service to life within your market. What opportunities are in your backyard? I live in Loudoun County and was aware of the growth in the winery industry. When we saw an opportunity to build the wine tours, I personally visited all of the wineries and created relationships with the winery owners. I donated public wine tours for two to hundreds of organizations before it really took off. I lost money on this product for two years before it began generating revenue.
- What to do when you hit a wall: feeling less energized, not seeing increased profits, business not growing as fast as you would like. For me, when I hit a wall I never gave up. I just focused on remembering the good times and working harder. I started networking, and it was there that I learned about social media, it was there that I gained new contacts that could help me build my business. I found better vendors and developed better relationships with strategic partners.
- How to achieve profit targets and achieve real and sustained growth. I mostly focused on revenue growth from 1991–2007. I never really focused on profits because we always seemed to have enough money to pay our bills. I never had a line of credit until I had been in business 11 years. It was then that I had to buy land, and get a loan to build my facility. It was only after I started a debt relationship with my bank that I realized how important profits were. In 2007, I joined a CEO Peer Group called Vistage, which taught me the importance of profit over revenue. I have worked very hard to grow my profits and grow my company strategically without taking on more debt. We have a five year plan for purchasing our equipment and we analyze our monthly financials regularly.
- Best practices of ownership. I really learned most of this through trial and error: open book management, leading by example, developing relationships, empowering your team. Hiring and training the right people, doing everything by the book. Incorporating written values and applying/implementing them in your daily business (defining how they go into action with your business and do your employees align with your values).
As a CEO of a company recognized for its consistent record of growth, I am always looking ahead to anticipate the next steps in our corporate journey.
Kristina Bouweiri is the CEO of Reston Limousine