Although Create-A-Card is recognized as the luxury ground transportation’s leading provider of promotional materials, owners Arthur and Kathy Messina don’t actually see themselves as being in the printing industry.
“We’re really in the relationship business,” says Arthur. “We’re a relationship-based company that just happens to do printing.”
It may seem to be something of a funny stance for Arthur to take, given that the entire luxury ground transportation equates their brand with business cards and the infinite assortment of booth swag found on the trade show floor. But any success the Messinas and Create-A-Card have experienced in their more than 30 years of business is credited to the connections and friendships within the industry they have worked to forge since day one.
“I’m proud of the relationships we’ve built with our clients. Very often, people in the industry start off as customers, but over time, they’ve become friends. We now have life-long relationships thanks to this industry. There’s something unique about luxury ground transportation owner-operators and their employees,” Arthur says.
Create-A-Card became deeply entrenched in the industry almost immediately after the Messinas first conceived the idea for their company in 1985. After some time in the corporate world, the couple realized “it didn’t seem right working for someone else” and sought out an entrepreneurial enterprise.
“I took my hobby of photography and what was new back then—picture business cards—and combined them. I looked into buying a printing franchise before deciding I could do it on my own,” says Arthur. “People often go on Shark Tank and talk about the company they built in the garage. Well, we basically did the same thing in our living room and kitchen. Our file cabinet was in a closet with the fax machine. We manually cut stuff, boxed it, shipped it, did the whole job there.”
Fortuitously, the Messinas’ first client was a local New York operator who ran two stretch Cadillacs out of a neighborhood gas station. Realizing that the limousine biz was an ideal service to market on a photo business card, Arthur approached the owner of the limos, showed him samples, and asked to borrow one of his vehicles for a photoshoot. After loaning Arthur the stretch and seeing the finished product, the operator became a client, ordering a set of cards for himself.
With a new client base in sight, the Messinas soon found themselves as regular vendors at the Nassau Suffolk Limousine Association (NSLA) meetings in Long Island.
“We’ve been seeing associations in action for more than 30 years,” Arthur recalls. “These meetings would attract anywhere between 150 and 200 people. They were great. I would bring a homemade display with samples, and that’s how we brought our product to the industry. I first met people there who are still clients today, like Royale Limousine.”
"We’re really in the relationship business. We’re a relationship-based company that just happens to do printing.” – Arthur Messina, Founder & President of Create-a-CardRoyale Director of Sales Steve Edelmann has maintained a solid professional relationship with Create-A-Card since those NSLA meetings: “Arthur was always one of the harder working guys who would come to the NSLA meetings. He’s always made it worth your while with a quality product delivered within your budget. But it wasn’t just about sales, he’d help you think ahead to your next move.”
“Arthur has been a staple in the industry for as long as I can remember. He is a die-hard,” adds Royale National Service Manager Lou Saif. “He and Kathy would go to every association meeting and get involved in everything they needed to do. They know our business, and made it their mission to stay in touch with the industry trends.”
While being involved with a local association helped Create-A-Card nurture numerous lasting relationships, it also provided invaluable insights into the industry it was serving. The burgeoning company soon expanded its reach beyond the New York region by attending industry trade shows; eventually, Arthur joined the NLA Board as a vendor director.
“My feeling was that I couldn’t be an expert in the industry if I didn’t know everything about it,” he explains. “When I joined the NLA Board, there were four or five other vendors with me, including Cadillac and Ford. It was a big commitment for a small company like us, but the only way I was going to be able to help my clients and learn more was to be a part of it.”
Between their presence at trade shows and association meetings, as well as providing quality products and service, Create-A-Card effectively established itself as the go-to place for industry marketing. More than just a business card printer, Arthur and Kathy have helped their clients establish their branding, whether it’s through a pen to give away at trade shows or an email blast to thousands of potential clients. More importantly, through the long-standing relationships they’ve built, Create-A-Card has the trust of their partners, which the Messinas value tremendously.
“Once upon a time, when we’d propose an idea, people would say, ‘What do you know? You’re not in the limo biz,’” reveals Kathy. “But now, the thing that people like most about Create-A-Card is that we are in the industry. They’ll call us up and say, ‘I need something for our affiliate business, but I’m not sure what.’ They love that we know the industry, and they don’t have to explain or search for stuff. Customers always say, ‘You know what I need.’ And, we do. They’re comfortable with us.”
One of Arthur’s first—and most meaningful—professional relationships was with an industry consultant, the late Tom Mazza. Inspired by the peer group model his friend introduced to the luxury ground transportation industry, Arthur and Kathy looked to continue the work done by Mazza. In 2012, Arthur co-founded Driving Results, which facilitates peer groups and industry education for operators and affiliate managers around the globe. Arthur sees the groups as a way to share the benefits of building relationships with the entire industry.
“Because of our association with the ground transportation industry, we saw a need for a group learning environment. Back in 2012, when Tom Mazza passed away, we wanted to continue what he started. Our groups are about the members. We’re there to facilitate and manage the meetings, and bring educators and speakers to the groups who can help the members with what they need to grow their businesses,” says Arthur.
After nearly a decade of serving the industry, Driving Results manages three peer groups: Spinning Wheels, dedicated to owners and general managers; Wheels in Motion, a group geared toward owners; and Going Global Partners, a large group comprising affiliate managers from around the world. Each of the groups meets three times a year in markets throughout the United States, which gives the members the opportunity to see how business is run in a different city as well as experience the local flavor. In 2019, Driving Results introduced Big Wheels, a series of traveling seminars that the Messinas have designed to educate operators about the industry’s fastest growing segment: buses.
The Messinas are “ecstatic” that Driving Results continues to attract operators and affiliate managers. The most rewarding aspect for the facilitators is seeing the connections that the group members take with them after the meetings are over.
“Getting people together to build relationships is the first thing we do in our groups. We spend a good deal of the first day of our meetings getting acquainted with and listening to what everyone has been up to in the past three or four months since we’ve seen each other. It’s the small things you learn about their businesses and personal lives that helps you build meaningful relationships. Once you build that up, you start earning trust from one another, and once you earn that trust, you start working together,” says Arthur.
The Driving Results groups attract a diverse, and loyal, group of operators looking to make connections. Renzo Ormsbee of Elite Worldwide Transportation has been a Spinning Wheels member since day one.
“I’ve stayed in the group because I enjoy the relationships. The depth of conversations you have with people is at a different level than you get at the big trade shows. People have come and gone in the groups, but it’s a way to get deeper relationships and meet people you might never meet. We get to visit other companies and see how they operate, which gives me a visual when I farm out a trip. We get to spend time together off the clock and see things from a local point of view. It’s a good break for me,” says Ormsbee.
Windy City Limousine & Bus Executive Vice President Tracy Raimer is another long-time Driving Results member who values that time with the groups. “Arthur’s knowledge of this industry is second to none, but he is also constantly learning and seeking new ways to do business. And, best of all, Arthur is always willing to share and help others. The relationships that have been forged within the Driving Results groups have evolved into my family away from home.”
While Create-A-Card and Driving Results remain firmly rooted in the industry, in 2018, the Messinas decided to make a change and pull up their domestic roots.
“Our kids had all grown and moved out, so we decided after 22 years in our house in New York to relocate to North Carolina. We had no family or business ties here, but it just appealed to us,” says Arthur. “We run Driving Results out of Charlotte while Create-A-Card is still going strong in Long Island; we sit in our home office and work with our employees via phone and computer, Monday through Friday.”
While Arthur and Kathy are just a phone call or email away, the day-to-day operations of the company were turned over to their son Drew, who officially serves as Create-A-Card’s director of operations.
“I was a seventh-grade math teacher for six years,” Drew says. “Unfortunately, that was a position that didn’t allow me to gain unlimited success and potential. Putting a cap on productivity or how well you can perform—that upset me.”
While Drew officially came aboard Create-A-Card almost three years ago, he was no certainly no stranger to the company. He jokes that he and his siblings, Ryan and Kristin, were required to put in some time at the office as they grew up.
“If we wanted to go to college, we had to work over the summer in different elements of the company, whether it was answering phones, taking part in various projects, or just facilitating things. I’ve been going to the trade shows since I was a baby. Now, it’s nice to get a paycheck,” Drew laughs.
"The relationships that have been forged within the Driving Results groups have evolved into my family away from home.” – Tracy Raimer, Excecutive Vice President of Windy City Limousine & BusAs you might imagine, transitioning from running a business for 30 years to taking a bit of a backseat was a challenge for Arthur and Kathy. However, they’re exceptionally pleased with the mark Drew has made on the company in a relatively short time. In addition to converting the office from paper to digital, Drew has established a name for himself within the industry. He’s cemented his own working relationships, and is no longer recognized as just being “Arthur’s son.” In fact, he was recently voted into the New England Livery Association (NELA) as a vendor director.
“The board and I are excited to have him as part of the team,” says NELA Executive Director Rick Szilagyi. “Recently, Drew drove more than five hours to attend the NELA’s December Quarterly meeting, further evidence of his commitment to playing an active role. He has a dynamic, energetic personality that he has already brought to his approach to board and committee work.”
Even longtime Create-A-Card clients and Driving Results members have been impressed by Drew’s work ethic. During the Limousine Association of New Jersey’s (LANJ’s) golf tournament this past September, he stepped up to assist LANJ Director Joe Gulino of Gem Worldwide Transportation with some last-minute print needs.
“Drew handled all LANJ’s golf outing signage and banners and did a phenomenal job, making my job as chairman of the event very easy. Seeing him follow in the footsteps of two talented, highly respected mentors, his parents Art and Kathy, makes me know the limo industry is in good hands with Create-A-Card’s involvement,” says Gulino.
Needless to say, Arthur and Kathy are proud to have Drew adopt their approach to business and continue the legacy of service they’ve created.
“Drew’s really following our model by seeking and building relationships before he pursues business or sales,” says Kathy.
“Kids are funny,” adds Arthur. “Over the years, you feel that you’re talking to a wall, and they aren’t hearing you. All of a sudden, as they get older, you find they were listening. Those lessons pay off as they get older.” [CD0120]