Chauffeur firm books ticket for Big Apple

By Stephen Breen

A fast-growing Glasgow chauffeur company is expanding into the fiercely competitive limousine market in New York City.

Thebookingroom, an internet-based chauffeur service that targets banking and the financial services clientele, owns a fleet of 50 vehicles in Scotland and London. The company also works with a network of owner-drivers throughout continental Europe, the Far East and the United States – with North America accounting for 15% of business.

This month, the company is opening an office in New York City in a bid to win a share of the business driving staff from major Wall Street investment banks. Thebookingroom, which has a staff of almost forty and had a turnover last year of £5.6m, wins most of its business from banks that are holding fundraising roadshows.

During these hectic capital-raising drives, bankers often have six meetings a day and appointments in a number of countries. From a bank of screens in its headquarters in Govan, staff at thebookingroom organise all travel. The company is able to track the cars around the world, 24 hours a day, and clients can pinpoint the location of their personnel by logging on to the thebookingroom’s website.

The company claims it is the only chauffeur business in the world that can track its cars globally. Some rivals have limited geographical cover in a single area by using global positioning satellite tracking technology, but all of thebookingroom’s drivers call in on mobile phones, allowing controllers to know exactly where clients are.

Current clients include Deutsche Bank, HSBC, KPMG, Nomura, 20th Century Fox, BNP Paribas, Cazenove, Commerzbank, MTV, Sony and Microsoft. The company is undaunted by the prospect of trying to break into what has always been an extremely competitive marketplace in North America.

It says it has been prompted to open in New York because European-based clients want the same levels of service when they travel to the US.

“It is a natural progression for us for the portfolio of financial clients we have in Europe,” said Craig Chambers, a marketing executive at thebookingroom. “Speaking to some of our clients, we know they are not happy with some of their US suppliers, and we know that the systems we have, no-one else has. This gives us an advantage in being able to globally track our clients’ movements through our control scheme.”

The Scottish company is entering the U.S chauffeur business at a difficult trading time, with business shrinking significantly. According to Chambers, some chauffeur companies in the US have suffered a 40% decrease in turnover as a result of the credit crunch as the banks have become extremely cautious about lending money for takeovers and stock market flotation.

“If we can grow by 15% to 20% in the US – rather than the 40% growth we’ve experienced in the UK and Europe – that would be really good going in comparison to the US companies,” said Chambers.

“A lot of people are quite apprehensive at the moment about floating businesses, but hopefully it will be a minor blip and it will pick up. Other chauffeur companies are struggling a little bit in the US, but we should be in a better position to pick up market share because we don’t have high overheads.”

Chambers said the company’s ambition is to become a major player in the financial roadshow market in the US, achieving the same turnover across the Atlantic in three to five years as it has elsewhere – about £5.6m.

Beyond New York, the company’s other ambition is to open up next in the booming Arab emirate of Dubai. In 1992, Glasgow entrepreneur Michael O’Hare began the business, trading as Charlton Chauffeur Drive, by running chauffeur services from hotels in the city. Charlton Chauffeur Drive is still in business, but in 2000, after developing its global reservation and tracking system, the company began operating thebookingroom.

Control staff in Glasgow call drivers before the job begins to ensure the client has the right vehicle, that the itinerary is correct, and that they are supplied with any other requirements such as newspapers or food and drink.

A text message is sent to the driver requiring him to call in when he is on site, when he has picked up the passenger, and when the client is dropped off. All of this information is automatically updated in the database in Glasgow.

The company says it is enjoying 40% growth a year and processing 1000 global bookings a week. The business invests heavily in new technology. It has a six-person IT team developing software that will allow the itineraries of clients to appear on screen into the company database, thus eliminating the possibility of human error when transcribing information.

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