Aristocat Transportation Featured in Chauffeur Driven Magazine
President of Aristocat Transportation in Detroit, Mich.
Founded in 1987 by Sue Jarvis-Zobel
What were some of your early hurdles?
At first I did not know much about the industry. I was also modeling at the time—which involved a lot of travel—but I did have a BA in business and a strong will to run a successful company. I connected with several local limousine operators who I came to know and trust. Not knowing what to truly look for in a manager, I choose one who was not honest and it hurt my numbers the first year. It was a hard lesson but it taught me to know my numbers, to have great cash flow and accounting procedures, and to be on top of what was going on with my business even when out of town. I had to learn to make smart hiring decisions.
Later, it was growing the business and getting the right mix of advertising, networking, working with local affiliates, and cold calling. Also self-discipline was big for me at first, as was finding the right balance of vehicles and profitability.
Overcoming rejection during sales calls was another hurdle—I had to learn that the more nos I got the more yeses I inevitably would get and never to take the rejection personally.
How have you stood the test of time?
For us, focusing on corporate work—local and worldwide—and affiliate work only has been a great move. Your demographics and city have a lot to do with it, and we have a fair amount of corporate work in the Detroit area. Being grateful to God and thankful for what I have is so very important in my life—it is not just about the money. A great work family is super important to me: Working with people who are loving, kind, respectful, fun, and passionate about the job they do is nirvana. It is amazing the contrast of coming to work now versus in the past when I did not have ideal people.
Getting a great business coach was one of the best things I have ever done; I wish I had done it earlier. It has helped in so many ways: accounting and budgeting procedures, fine tuning our quarterly goals, best practices with hiring and employee retention, running our daily huddles, and helping me see where I could be a better owner and co-worker. Using a CRM tool has helped me to be more focused on keeping track of who I need to call and who I have met at various meetings. Getting my WBENC (woman-owned business) certification has been very helpful. It has brought us some great new clients who we would not have had otherwise, plus being part of this nationwide group of female business owners has also given me great new friends who have helped me professionally and personally.
How did/do you balance your family life?
Right now I have a great balance and that is only due to the great staff we have! This has been important to me from beginning—more than a big paycheck. At times I’ve had to work 90 hours a week and take phones at night, which is why I truly have a deep appreciation and respect for my staff. I just had a major death in my family and was able to leave for two weeks to take care of my loved ones with hardly any notice. This was priceless to me because you don’t get that time or those moments with family back. When I returned, all was perfectly taken care of and not a beat was missed, which feels like great success.
What advice could you offer to newer operators?
If you can, get a great business coach who specializes in our industry. Set achievable goals and try to work 40 hours a week, if possible, so you can take time for yourself mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually—things fall into place easily and naturally when we take care of ourselves in these areas.
Write a great business plan, including a vision statement and defining your core values—it is a great asset for your new company. Keeping a positive “can do” attitude in tough times is huge! Getting out of the “lack” mentality by finding solutions and more customers. When things are slow, focus on fine-tuning procedures, cultivating current and potential client relationships, working on the website, and more networking opportunities.
Go to the industry shows and make new friends to build trusting bonds: To this day I still have friends I met 25 years ago who would help me at the drop of a hat if I needed anything. Also, get involved. In 2008, had the pleasure of serving on the NLA board for three years. This was such an awesome experience for me. The best part was making new friends with fellow board members, some who I have vacationed with, had to my home, and still talk to frequently. There is just nothing like having friends in the industry who know what you are going through; the support is just amazing. It will also help to push you out of your comfort zone by “just showing up”—a lesson I learned at a women’s conference years ago. Just show up, even if you don’t want to.
What would you tell your younger self?
It has been an amazing, fun, and interesting journey—and still is each day—but I would tell my younger self to put more time and energy into developing a great team of employees who would stay and grow with the company. Employee turnover and false expectations of what this business can give back are the hardest challenges. Be honest at the interview about the work flow and work load. People need to feel valued and part of something bigger than themselves. Give feedback often and fairly, and don’t let emotions sway decision making. Also, I wish I had watched the profit per car more closely and sold them when they weren’t profitable any more.
How has social media impacted your business (hiring staff to handle, customer service impact, etc.)?
Social media has been a game changer in so many areas.
What role have acquisitions played in your business?
I have purchased five companies through the years and they were all great decisions.
Did you envision building a career in this industry when you first got started?
Yes, and I did not set a goal back then except to expand as much as I could and buy cars as needed.
How have you been influenced by younger employees/managers?
We are never too old to learn and evolve. The longevity of our business models depend upon staying current with technology and people skills. The younger generation wants an “experience” and to feel appreciated more than anything. They tend to stay for only a short time at their jobs because they seek to find more meaning out of work. Outside the office, using industry consultants and sales trainers have made a huge impact on my business model, state of mind, and effectiveness with my clients and staff.