The best small business marketing lessons often come to me through my own customer experiences that are either very good or very bad. This is a great one, courtesy of Ellis ‘Chubby’ Miller, arguably the world’s best cab driver. It began a few years ago at Graph Expo, the printing industry’s primary North American trade show.
Saturday evening before the show we hailed a cab for the short ride to Old St Mary's Church. Our driver pleasantly introduced himself as Chubby, “the friendliest people-person cab driver in Chicago” and went into his 30-second commercial.
He is available by appointment for $45 flat-rate trips to all airports (his preferred trip) and supplies free Dunkin Donuts coffee and donuts (or the beverage of your choice) for early morning trips. You can also rent his car by the hour or the day for sightseeing around the city. But you have to call in advance as he is usually booked.
It was a delight to see a man who loves his job, so we asked for his card. "I'll do you one better; pull out your cell phone and enter my cell number." We obliged and by the time that was done, we had arrived and paid the $5 fare plus tip, all in less than five minutes.
My partner Gina was flying out Wednesday evening, so of course we booked Chubby the night before to make sure we got him. He shows up exactly when promised, free bottle of water included. I phone Chubby for my 11:15am pickup the following day and he arrives at 11:15 on the dot—tough to do in a busy city like Chicago! He also got to legally skip the long hotel taxi line both times because he had a scheduled pickup.
Whether you're a small business owner or work in one, there are quite a few marketing lessons and small business growth tactics to take away from Chubby's’ street-smart brilliance.
Chubby designed the work life he wanted.
Airport runs suited him and made him more money with less hassle, so he devised a method to get more of them. He has a captive audience with each new fare, hence the 30 second commercial. And who would forget the free coffee and donuts--this set him apart from every other cabbie in the city. He has a unique selling proposition. There was a Dunkin Donuts cup attached to the inside of the cab as a visual reminder.
His cab is plastered with newspaper and magazine articles about him. There is nothing wrong with self promotion, especially if you have something good to offer. He's even been interviewed by Sam Donaldson on ABC news.
He's not timid about trying new things to make his job better and to make a few extra bucks. For a few years he ran a dating service from his cab. (That's what got him the television interview.)
For 5 bucks you could add your photo and resume to an album chock full of eligible singles. He claims this even yielded a few marriages. He stopped offering that service--not enough money in it for the time. But he still has the album for you to look through on your way to the airport!
Our celebrity cab driver is a master of business growth tactics.
There are only 3 basic ways to grow any business and most business owners fail to address them all. Chubby succeeded in all three.
Growth method #1 - you need to get more customers.
More customers equals more sales, so most businesses use this tactic. Chubby does this by driving to where the customers are located to pick up new fares. But more importantly, he targets the right kinds of customers for his business—the airport fare with a hotel pickup. And by scheduling pickups he spends less time in line and more time with the meter running.
He also pre-qualifies his ‘leads’ by asking if they visit Chicago regularly. When we said ‘yes,’ he collected our business cards and had us put his name and number in our cell phones.
Targeting the right customers also makes his life easier. In a typical day he might for instance, do 12 airport runs at roughly $60 each (fare plus tip,) or $720 total. If he worked like normal cab drivers at locating the random $10 fare, he’d have to find 72 customers in a shift! I’d rather work at getting 12 of the right customers than 72 random customers.
Growth method #2, you need to increase the number of transactions per customer.
Within four minutes Chubby got us to like and trust him enough so that we took his phone number and agreed to two more trips. The number of transactions from us went from 1 to 3 that week. Not only do we continue to use him over the years, we refer him to friends and colleagues. One fast, cheap cab ride turned into dozens of desirable airport runs from one new customer.
Growth method #3, you need to increase the average transaction value.
Chubby’s target is the high-value airport run. In our case he turns the initial transaction of $10 into an average transaction value of $43 (2 additional $60 fares + original $10 fare is $130 ÷ 3 = $43.)
Can you say the same thing about your sales growth and average transaction?
Up-selling is as simple as asking the civilized question “Is there anything else I can do for you?” Over the years he turned that initial transaction into hundreds of dollars of cab rides.
He is a street-smart philosopher and life coach. Like it or not, you get his philosophy of life—it's mounted right between the seats so you can't miss it.
"School of PMA...Positive Mental Attitude.
Life is what you make it.
Not happy with your job or your marriage?
Move or improve.
Plan your goals and work your plan. It's all Attitude."
Chubby is happy, prosperous, even a little famous. He took a tough, mundane job and turned it into an interesting, unique and entertaining vocation. With an infectious positive attitude he gives his all to his job, with the aim of making his customer's cab ride unforgettable.
Can we say the same about what we do each day?
Whether you're pushing a broom in a warehouse or you’re CEO of a large corporation, Chubby's "School of PMA" sets a good example for personal and business growth. It's been a few years since I've seen Chubby and I don't know if he's still driving. Yet his awesome service and attitude left an undeniably good impression on me and numerous colleagues over the years.
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