Article Date: 4/1/2004

Business Lessons from the Road
What can you learn about small business from the back of a cab?

Sometimes you find inspiration in unexpected places. Recently I met Harry, who at 68 years old loves his job so much that he works anywhere from 12 to 18 hours a day. Harry isn't a doctor, lawyer, CEO or artist. He makes a good living driving a cab. During the 20-minute ride from the airport to the hotel, he revealed some of the secrets of his success to me.

Establish a rapport

Harry starts each trip by welcoming the customer with a sincere smile, an introduction and a firm handshake. "It's simple stuff, but most guys don't do it," he explains.

Once in the cab, he takes time to educate the customer. "I tell them how long it'll take to get to their destination and I let them know I'll get them there quickly and safely," he says. "I tell them about detours, traffic or anything that might affect service. I don't want them surprised, I want them confident in my abilities."

Turn losses into gains

Harry started his business as a delivery service. "I knew many people had difficulty getting to the store, so I decided to shop for them," he says. "But soon customers wanted me to use coupons or match low prices. That takes time that no one was willing to pay for. I lost money.

"I found that customers would be happy to pick out their own groceries. So I thought, why not just offer dependable transportation?"

Though the local environment is competitive, Harry found that the $20 round trips to the supermarket soon became $110 round trips to the airport.

Leverage equipment

In many cities it's unusual to find a cab that's clean, well maintained and comfortable. Harry's is the exception. "Many customers just want a quiet ride, so the only thing they notice is the condition of the cab," he says. "This clean, roomy van separates me from the average taxi service."

The investment pays off

"If you plan to drive a customer only once, then equipment, courtesy and service don't matter," Harry says. "But I ask for referrals and repeat business, which pay better and make it easier to schedule my time. I need to give people reasons to come back."

(One of his referrals led to a profitable specialty: driving those who are convicted of DUIs.)

How did Harry learn to build his business? "In this business I meet everyone from company presidents to bell hops. They all have something to teach. So I keep my eyes and ears open all the time."


Optometric Management, Issue: April 2004