THE NETHERLANDS — If one needed an example of the time, passion, and commitment required to run a successful luxury transportation company, you’d only need to learn the history of Dennis Jansen, founder and managing director of Dutch Business Limousine.
Celebrating 20 years in business, he has learned much over those years he’d like to share with fellow operators.
Like many teenagers, Jansen struggled with deciding what he wanted to do with his future. At a young age, he and his sister had to find their own way to make some additional money, as they grew up in poverty in a single parent family.
He tried several schools and courses after his mother advised he do something technical. He started off working in plumbing and central heating and completed additional courses during evening school; this way, he’d still be able to learn and make some money.
After completing all courses, he asked for a raise from the company he worked for. His employer turned it down, and Jansen decided to leave the company and search for a better alternative.
At the time, his girlfriend worked for a company that installed internet connections in commercial properties, which was a booming business. When Jansen visited to see about an opportunity, he realized there was a better one right night door: A business that installed all the equipment for taxis, including taximeters and dispatch systems was calling his name.
“I immediately got triggered by the fact I might be able to drive and make money, which was basically doing something I liked and getting paid for it,” he says.
He contacted the owner who had several taxi permits in Amsterdam, which were rare and expensive. The owner happened to have someone leaving him on one of the permits within the next month, which opened an opportunity for Jansen.
“After a short discussion with my mom, she said, ‘If you really want to do it, just grab the opportunity while you are still young.’” And that he did.
The next day he registered himself at the Chamber of Commerce as a self-employed taxi driver, and after a few weeks, started doing his first shifts, mainly at night grinding down the streets.
Within the next year, in 2000, the deregulation of the taxi industry was about to start in The Netherlands, meaning permits were not limited and expensive anymore. Anyone with the correct certificates could apply for his own permit.
“I quickly realized, although the permit is the same, I had to rebrand to a limousine company instead of a taxi company. In order to stay ahead of the curve, at the end of 1999, I started Dutch Business Limousine.”
With a fresh perspective, Jansen realized he had to try to differentiate himself in a newly overcrowded market. He bought a brand-new Mercedes, but also designed a simple website and started accepting credit cards, which was uncommon in the early 2000’s.
He began to slowly expand his network. After speaking with concierges at some of the larger hotels, he realized they had a significant amount of business travelers who were upset they could not pay by credit card with more than 90% of the taxis.
His number of clients quickly increased, and within a matter of time, he had more work than he could handle. He partnered with other self-employed drivers to keep the business running.
After a few years of driving about 80 to 100 hours per week, he needed someone to help him he could trust. “You start to make mistakes and there is little to no time left for other things,” he explains. His sister Linda offered to help him out and began doing administrative work but soon quit her job and started to drive.
“I am proud to say to this day, we are still business partners and have built the company up to what it is today together.”
In the beginning, the company was started with one sedan and they purchased a minivan to target a wider audience. They are now up to a fleet of seven vehicles, which makes them a midsize operator in Amsterdam. All are the latest model Mercedes sedans and minivans, and their largest client base is corporate travelers.
“With our network of local partners, we can basically deliver any type and number of vehicles needed, from sedans to full-size motorcoaches.”
Although the company lost many retail travelers because of the TNCs, they are seeing a slow increase again. “To me, this is an indicator people are getting fed up with all the negatives that come with using a TNC and they appreciate the value a company like ours delivers.” The goal for the company this year is to regain those retail clients by increasing the efficiency of their booking process.
Hindsight Is 20/20
Jansen says he’s been taught many lessons over the years by making mistakes; something that’s unavoidable for anyone running a company. “This is fine, as long as you learn from them,” he qualifies.
Something he regrets is thinking he could do it all by himself without the help of others. “At one point I had one vehicle, I was answering three mobile phones, my laptop was open on the front seat, and I was driving about 15 hours a day, seven days a week.” This resulted in distraction from the most important goal: Delivering impeccable service to his clients.
He says if he had to do it all over, he would scale up much sooner and surround himself with people with more experience and knowledge than he had at that time.
While nearly all operators offer chauffeurs in suits, complementary refreshments, and onboard WiFi, he believes his company stand out because he’s stayed genuine.
“If, for instance, a client or prospect asks us about our fleet, we tell them exactly what we own ourselves and that we are more than willing to arrange something for them through one of our partners if it’s a vehicle we don’t own. It’s just not worth it to be dishonest; you lose all credibility when they find out you haven’t told them the truth.”
Staying On Top Of Trends
Jansen comes to the International LCT Show every year and it’s helped him build up his network. The U.S.is his largest market, with more than 80% of his clients based there. As a non-U.S. operator, attending the show helps him stay updated with the latest trends. “We recently signed a long-term agreement with Carey International, something we would have never accomplished if we did not understand what they expected from us.”
The next five years will be challenging as the city of Amsterdam wants all taxi and limousine services to change their fleets to non-emission vehicles before 2025.
He believes it’s just a matter of time before Mercedes-Benz will have electric or hydrogen powered vehicles with a range high enough they can operate without any problems. “The purchase of the non-emission vehicles will likely be more expensive than the ones with a conventional combustion engine, so we are already preparing ourselves for the higher investments we have to make,” he explains.
Originally posted on LCT Magazine