More coach operators are devising ways to target customers — whether they are event planners or tourists — by appealing to their busy schedules and offering to do the legwork of the trip and, as a result, providing a more economical product.
There's also a gradual shift from print to some online marketing, though many operators are reluctant to go completely electronic, as print still presents some tried-and-true methods for outreach.
Creating package deals
In order to deal with current market challenges, Napa and Sonoma, Calf.-based California Wine Tours is offering package deals that involve more than just getting their clients from Point A to Point B. Incentives, such as discounts on their services combined with wine tours, dinner at a local restaurant, or a trip to a concert or sporting event, are what has drawn in more customers even during the recession.
With corporate business slightly off, the coach and limousine operator came up with some easy promotional ideas to get customers back in vehicles. The packaging is designed to make it as easy as possible for customers by doing the legwork for them. "We put together a package that's a no-brainer for them to say yes to," says Mike Marino, president/CEO.
For example, a typical package includes inbound and outbound airport service, a two-night hotel stay, onsite dinner and an activity with transportation included. "It's easy for meeting planners to be able to say, 'Wow, that really takes a lot of legwork away from what we have to do.' They can focus on selling the package to the customer," Marino explains.
A couple of years ago, when a group would call California Wine Tours for pricing, Marino explains, there were multiple logistics to figure out for groups of as many as 30 people, such as getting to dinner and any other events, and choosing a hotel.
In addition to package deals, the internal sales and marketing departments are instructed to offer to groups of 15 or more people transportation for $20 per person, which covers taking them to a winery, restaurant or wherever they want to go. "We made it really easy, not just for the hotel industry, but for the group coordinators, meeting planners and event planners," Marino explains. "The easier we could make that process for them, the better our chances were of getting the transportation."
Soon after, the operator took this successful tactic and applied it to the prom market. High school students attending prom, Marino says, often take limousines and stretch Hummers to the event. California Wine offers them a deal: If they get 35 or 40 friends together, they can charter their own motorcoach for a small fee when split per person. "We're in Napa, Sonoma and Santa Rosa, and a lot of these proms are held in San Francisco. It's an hour to an hour-and-a-half away," Marino says. "This gives kids a chance to charter their own bus, ride with a bunch of their friends and make it affordable.
"We're seeing more buses doing proms this year than ever. We're not sure whether it's our marketing effort, and converting the customer into another option that's much more affordable or, if it's a trend that might be catching on," Marino says.
California Wine Tours met with local school administrators, who have allowed them to put together an offer and created prom flyers. "We like to think of it as a discount, but in reality it's just that we're breaking the fees down per person. It looks like a discount when the total cost for the coach is $800 or $900 and you put 50 people on board. That's a pretty affordable price per person, versus limousines, which normally cost about $80 to $90 per person," Marino says.
Another way California Wine Tours is streamlining its marketing efforts is by focusing on advertisements that can produce immediate returns on investment. For years, the company used both long-term advertisement name recognition and immediate return on investment, such as advertising in magazines, on the Internet or using direct mail pieces. "Once we do an e-mail blast, or mail a coupon, we can, within a day or two, hear the phones ring and poll our customer on how they heard about us, what made them call and that's worked out pretty well for us," Marino says.
The operator also streamlined its e-mail marketing by utilizing Limousine Management Systems software. California Wine Tours is able to break down customer records by run-type categories, such as wine tours or a shuttle to a San Francisco 49ers football game. This enables them to quickly target what Marino refers to as their activity group customers, between 25 and 45 years old. "For instance if there's a barrel tasting in the wine country and tickets go on sale next Thursday, we will [e-mail] our group of customers that we know are potentially in that demographic about the ticket sale. We let them know, 'if you want transportation we've got a special going, this is what it works out to be.' That has worked extremely well," Marino explains.
Perhaps just as important has been the operator's willingness to re-examine its marketing practices and phase out what isn't working. When the economy started to dip, California Wine Tours did a house cleaning of advertisements and marketing that weren't giving a return on investment.
For example, Marino says, the Yellow Pages has been a very expensive area of advertisement. They ran the numbers and discovered that an ad costs approximately $3,000 per month, per section. "We like to be in the limousine and the bus section, and we want to be located in a couple different areas, under airports and under wine tours, so it's not uncommon for one county to cost $8,000 or $9,000 per month per spot, and we advertise in Sonoma, Napa, Marin and Solano Counties," he adds. "The Yellow Pages wasn't giving the return on investment that, for example something like Google would give. So, we shifted quite a bit of money from Yellow Pages to the Internet, which was a much higher return on investment."
Social media has been one of those Internet investments that is panning out well for California Wine Tours, Marino says. The company has a Facebook profile and a fan page linked to their Website, where customers can sign up to be a Facebook fan or follow the carrier on Twitter. Currently, the page has 263 fans. Exclusive drawings, giveaways and specials are offered to fans on the page. One recent deal advertised three hours of transportation for $150. Marino points out that they have been able to use these deals as filler during slow weekends.
Since the Facebook pages went up, Marino routinely points customers to the fan page when they ask about deals. "It's another way of building a base for electronic media, having all your people on a list so you can send out one quick message and hit everybody with it," he explains. "You can imagine how expensive that would be [in print] to reach those people, if you had to print postcards and mail it to them."