Thursday, January 24, 2019

BY MADELEINE MACCAR

associations If the past few years of fighting a common enemy have proven anything, it’s that even operators hailing from the same markets can band together for the benefit of the overall industry. Unified lobbying for better safety standards and clamoring for a level playing field with a singular voice has established a sense of solidarity that made the concept of “coopetition”—cooperating with your competitors—an increasingly popular approach to doing business. While the unexpected disruption of TNCs has brought along with it the silver lining of increased goodwill toward other operators (and even the taxi inudstry), regional associations had been an active instrument of industry alliance well before the advent of Uber, Lyft, and their infinitely multiplying ilk. Whether it’s a small outfit serving a small but dedicated coterie of companies or a hundreds-member strong organization that attracts participation from a wide-reaching region, they all share a common goal: bettering the industry, starting on a local level.

And that’s no easy undertaking—ask any association president, board member, or executive director how much time they dedicate to these labors of love while also juggling their own businesses, families, and other obligations. It’s not just planning that goes into those regular meetings, whether they’re organizational board calls or membership meetings occurring weekly, bimonthly, or quarterly basis: Take into consideration the numerous events that associations spearhead, from legislative days to social events to holiday parties, plus the features of a standard meeting where speakers, educational sessions, networking opportunities, sponsorships, meals, and venues are among the myriad moving parts at play.

Joanna Fridinger of The Limo Lady and President of Maryland Limousine Association (MLA) knows exactly how much time it takes negotiating with meeting venues, sending out pre-event invites and announcements, following up with minutes after a meeting to keep everyone on the same page—and bringing a dormant association back to life. Fridinger, who has been MLA president for eight years, is part of an executive board striving to find the most effective balance among seasoned operators, vendors seeking a reciprocity unique to association-strengthened relationships, and “newer faces,” with the intent of benefiting from not only the wisdom of experience but also the fresh perspectives that often examine longtime issues from a less traditional angle—which is especially important to her as the MLA aims to “refresh everything that might have become stagnant.”

Thanks to TNCs causing MLA’s members to hunker down and throw all of their energy into keeping their businesses afloat, the association went quiet in 2015 but is poised to return with renewed energy and direction, even appointing Executive Administrator Mary Presley, who has decades of experience in the motorcoach realm and also holds the same position at the similarly resurrected Washington Metropolitan Limousine Association (WMLA).

“WMLA’s President Paul Rodberg is also on our board, and he had recommended Mary to us because of the magic she’s worked with motorcoach associations and the focus she brings,” she said. “She has just been a godsend: I’ve been trying to do a lot by myself so I’m not used to someone taking the ball and running with it. So far, everyone’s reaction to us getting moving again has been phenomenal. Everybody’s hungry for the same thing, and I am just ecstatic with how much better everyone is meshing now and how ready to roll everyone is.”

To alleviate some of the president’s and board’s responsibilities, many associations have been gravitating toward installing a dedicated executive to handle more organizational elements, many of whom have the power of a professional association management company behind them. But those individuals do often have their own loaded schedules to navigate—especially since associations’ roles as regulatory advocates become more and more dominant.

“It’s become a real challenge in the past year and a half to balance the demands of the association,” said New England Livery Association (NELA) Executive Director Rick Szilagyi, whose Lexian Management Company has been working with the organization since 2001, giving him a unique perspective on how the industry’s trends and priorities have pivoted over the years—and gaining a passionate advocate in the process who frequently travels throughout the multi-state region to lobby for the industry. “Emotionally, I’m just so tied to NELA because I’ve worked with them for 15 years.”

Lobbying efforts, taking some inspiration from the National Limousine Association’s Day on the Hill, have been a feature of many local associations for years but have become especially mandatory staples since the intrusion of TNCs. Everything from Senate hearings to regional approaches to Day on the Hill efforts by the Illinois Limousine Association (ILA), Florida Limousine Association, and Greater California Livery Association (GCLA) have given members the opportunity to organize small groups to meet with state legislators in their own capital city in order to highlight the realities of their industry’s most pressing concerns, testify before elected officials on behalf of their livelihood, and bring awareness to a niche market’s tireless efforts to demand increased safety measures. While a successful ruling is often the result of months and months of aggressive legislative efforts, it is proof that uniting for a common goal does yield a payoff.

“The first time we did the Day on the Hill, it got our feet wet and gave us the experience of getting out to Springfield and seeing how everything works,” said ILA’s Legislative Chairman Brian Whitaker of Chicagoland Transportation Solutions, who’s also a director of the association. “From there, it’s just been building: We’re trying to get district meetings with whoever we can. When we joined the taxi lawsuit against the city of Chicago, that’s when things really started rolling.”

The judge has since ruled in favor of our industry, agreeing that Chicago’s limousine and taxi operators have not been privy to the same preferential treatment as TNCs are enjoying, “but stopped short of making the city do something about it.” However, Whittaker says that the lawsuit, which began with taxi operators, is ongoing and didn’t really start gaining traction until luxury ground transportation operators joined the battle—yet another unlikely partnership that has emerged as it becomes glaringly obvious that the enemies of our enemies are, indeed, our friends.

“A lot of the taxi industry lawyers attribute the ruling to the ILA being brought into the lawsuit,” he said. “It’s not just the taxis ‘whining’—the judge’s eyes were really opened by livery getting into it.”

Szilagyi agrees that strengthening ties not just within the industry but beyond it has been a huge asset in the past two years.

“I think having a huge common enemy has brought livery operators, who perhaps weren’t that close before, closer together, as well as bringing us together with the taxi industry,” he said. “We’ve been able to increase our presence and visibility because of it.”

Jason Sharenow of Broadway Elite Worldwide Chauffeured Services had been on the Limousine Association of New Jersey (LANJ) executive board for years before assuming the presidency earlier in 2016. While he says that the association’s lobbying interest was always in place, it has increased to the point that “we are currently knee-deep in the trenches and our senses are heightened because there is so much going on right now.” With more than 150 members, LANJ is one of the industry’s largest associations; drawing members from some of the country’s most populated regions, it is also one of the most active when it comes to walking the state Assembly and Senate halls on behalf of the local industry.

“Because of what we’re currently involved with, there’s a lot of work right now,” he said. “It’s a time-consuming process that we’re undertaking because we don’t want to miss anything: We’re really keeping on top of the legislative work because the future of the industry—and all of our livelihoods—is at stake.”

But as TNC fatigue sets in and more and more operators have grown tired of hearing about how nascent technologies are making headlines with tragic incidents and lax safety standards—to say nothing of the very obvious bite they’re taking from already thin profit margins—the conversation is becoming less about what TNCs are doing wrong but rather what this industry can start doing even better.

And that has highlighted the role of associations in bringing education to the masses: Operators want a proactive battle plan detailing actionable items that will increase service levels and fine-tune the personal touches that truly separate our industry from TNCs. Association meetings are the easiest way to relay the likes of insurance updates, changing regulations, and local issues to the largest swath of operators who can put a better understanding of these changing landscapes to use—to the benefit of the industry’s reputation—while also facilitating an exchange of the best operational practices and most effective methods of treating every passenger like a VIP.

“It’s our job as an association to take a multi-pronged approach to providing benefits to our members, whether it’s through our lobbying efforts or through the education we provide with our speakers, panels, and seminars,” Sharenow said. “We identify the most pressing concerns affecting our membership by soliciting their feedback and relying on our own expertise and intuition to determine what’s relevant. Last year, we chose to make insurance a focus of our education, which is still a hot-button topic for everybody.”

The introduction of new events to keep things fresh, to maintain a high standard of education, and to continually reach as many operators as possible is a constant consideration and job unto itself, too. Less than a year ago, the 300-member-strong GCLA, which serves all of California, hired its own executive director to better serve the largest state market in the industry. Tom Garrett of Garrett & Associates was an industry newcomer in September 2015; in that time, he says that it’s the passion the industry brings to its work that has impressed itself upon him the most. And he hopes to rally that enthusiasm with a summertime series of hyper-local and education-centric events in order to both increase membership and deliver relevant information to operators.

Associations
Interested in joining a local association—or starting one? This list should help you identify what markets are already being served and where there’s a need for regional representation.
Arizona Limousine Associationazlimousineassociation.com
(President: Steve Kaplan of The Driver Provider)
Limousine, Bus, and Taxi Operators of Upstate New Yorklbtony.com
(President: Kevin Barwell of Giorgio’s Limousine)
Central Florida Limousine Associationcfla2016@gmail.com
(President: Wendy Kleefisch of Brevard Executive Transportation)
Long Island Limousine Associationnslali.com
(President: Bill Goerl of Clique Limousine)
Charlotte Regional Limousine Associationmycrla.org
(President: Tom Holden of Rose Chauffeured Transportation)
Maryland Limousine Associationmdlimoassoc.org
(President: Joanna Fridinger of The Limo Lady)
Colorado Limousine Associationcololimo.org
(President: Dianne Cavender of DDG Classic Limousine)
Minnesota Chauffeured Transportation Associationmnlimo.org
(President: Charlie Murray of Total Luxury Limousine Service)
Dallas-Fort Worth Limousine Associationdfwlimoassociation.com
(President: George Lewis of Integrity Chauffeured Transportation)
Minority Limousine Operators of Americamlooa.org (President: Maurice Brewster of Mosaic Global Transportation)
Florida Limousine Associationwww.floridalimousine.com
(President: Rick Versace of A1A Airport & Limousine Service)
New England Livery Associationnelivery.org
(President: Mike Callahan of Able Limousine)
Greater Atlanta Limousine Associationgalalimo.org
(President: Jeff Greene of Greene Transportation)
North Carolina Limousine Associationnclimo.org
(President: Carolyn Henson of Prestige Limousine Service)
Greater California Livery Associationgcla.org
(President: Kevin Illingworth of Classique Worldwide Transportation)
Philadelphia Regional Limousine Associationprlainc.com
(President: Steve Rhoads of Rhoads Limousine)
Greater Orlando Limousine Associationgetaroundorlando.com
(President: Cliff Wright of Royal Coach and Limousine)
Tennessee Association of Chauffeured Transportation
chaley@grandavenueworldwide.com
(President: Carl Haley of Grand Avenue Worldwide)
Houston Area Livery and Charter Associationhoustonlimos.info
(President: Wes Hart of American Corporate Transportation)
Virginia Limousine Associationvla-limo.org
(President: Paul Walsh of Superior Executive Limousine)
Illinois Limousine Associationillinoislimousineassociation.com
(President: Tracy Raimer of Your Private Limousine)
Washington Metropolitan Limousine Associationpaul@reliablelimo.com
(President: Paul Rodberg of Reliable Limousine)
Kentucky Limousine Associationkylimo.org
(President: Kent Sparks of Lake Cumberland Limousine)
West Florida Livery Associationwflatampa.com
(President: Jeremy Jenkins of His and Hers Limousines)
Limousine Association of New Jerseylanj.org
(President: Jason Sharenow of Broadway Elite Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation)
Wisconsin Limousine Associationwisconsinlimo.org
(President: Mike Hartmann of Stardust Limousine)


“We’re emphasizing the sense of community and belonging to something bigger than yourself,” Garrett said. “That’s what the summer series is targeting: We’ve been building our community base for so long that it’s time to move forward with increasing that community and value. Getting our membership up raises our voice as well as our available funds, which will then increase our impact.”

It is not just local operators who benefit from the strengthened relationships that associations offer: By encouraging the inclusion of vendor members and making room for them on association boards, the same trust and familiarity that draw operators within an association closer together is extended to vendors who are also active members. In fact, Sharenow even recognized that “without the continuing support of our vendor members, we wouldn’t even be able to pull off our meetings.” It is a mutually beneficial relationship: Vendors often shoulder meeting sponsorships to make them more economically feasible for the host associations, and operators are more inclined to return that show of support by purchasing from those vendors.

“Personally, I look to our vendor members before looking at those outside the association,” Sharenow said. “I think the majority of our members support the vendor network within the association.”

So what can you do to get the most from your local association? Give them your support, your time, and your feedback. Many associations, like LANJ, ILA, and New York’s Long Island Limousine Association, have begun issuing surveys asking attendees to sound off on what was good about the meeting, what needs improvement, and what there should be more of. But you don’t have to wait for your association to come to you: Speak up, reach out, and get involved! Many associations only see members from a fraction of their markets and would warmly welcome new faces. Offer your time as a speaker, volunteer to walk the halls of your state’s capitol building at the next boots-on-the-ground lobbying effort, or suggest session ideas to learn more about local issues or national concerns that you feel need to be discussed more. Every voice counts, and you never know if yours will be the one that leads a community-wide charge. [CD0616]