Small business owner Matt Feeney talks about the impact of the pandemic on the chauffeur business in Ireland.
In March 2020 the chauffeur industry in Ireland fell off a cliff, as did 80pc of Irish industry. While the Government closed down hairdressers, barbers, cafes, bars and every other small enterprise you can think chauffeurs and taxi drivers were allowed to work. However, as there was a lockdown and very few foreign travellers, our business was effectively marooned.
The only thing that can breathe life back into our industry is the return of corporate clients and tourists. Let’s take a step back and look at what exactly makes up the chauffeur industry.
“The business pivot in our industry has been incredible. I personally know chauffeurs who are working as couriers, suppliers of PPE, providing security transportation, ambulance responders, blood couriers, and even podcasters”
The chauffeur business in Ireland is a very small community made up of a series of one-person operations with only a handful of outfits employing five or more staff. This is a niche industry which provides transportation to the business traveller, foreign government visitors and the tourism sector.
The costs associated with chauffeuring are considerable given that a new Mercedes S-Class, the standard bearer for the industry, will set you back the thick end of €150,000.
To round out your offering, you will most likely need the service of a Mercedes V-Class, which seats seven people and costs a hefty €80,000.
Driving up that hill
“Not too bad”, you might think, until you realise you need to upgrade to a fresh vehicle/registration every three years to keep you at the sharp end of the game. In fact, many clients and dispatch operators will refuse a vehicle that is three years or older.
These days, the only business phone call we get from colleagues goes along the lines “Just checking up on you. How are things? Anything happening?’’ So, although we all compete with one another for business there is still a strong bond within the industry and colleagues look out for one another.
Because of having no work, yet still having hefty repayments on vehicles, many chauffeurs have had to innovate to survive. Not surprisingly some switched to the taxi business.
Others took to driving busses, some with commercial companies, some with Dublin Bus.
The business pivot in our industry has been incredible. I personally know chauffeurs who are working as couriers, suppliers of PPE, providing security transportation, ambulance responders, blood couriers, and even podcasters.
One of the most spectacular examples of a business pivot is my colleague Ciaran McBride of Luxury Travel Ireland, who set up the Parcel Concierge to deliver gifts and hampers using a white-glove chauffeur service.
Personally I started by enjoying the break and after almost 50 years of work it was a welcome respite. I basked in the beautiful spring sunshine and perhaps added a few inches to the waistline.
Getting restless, I started playing chess and gardening but a small suburban garden is no challenge to a man with lots of time on his hands and yes that inevitable restlessness set in. I too worked on my web design and social media but honestly, none of it is a substitute for ‘real’ work and I sorely missed the day to day hustle of meeting new people and seeing new places.
The return journey
A few weeks into lockdown and I got a call from a valued client who asked if I would drive some security personnel to and from their workplace, and if I could do it in the most Covid-safe way.
“There is a pent-up demand for business and tourist travel and I believe that as an industry we are well up to the challenge”
To do this, I kitted out both my vehicles with protective screens, I also invested in a nebuliser and would disinfect the car after each journey. Then with the addition of gloves and a mask, I was back doing what I love best and enjoying every minute of it.
Now that we are beginning to come out of the various ‘lock-downs’ how will the industry recover?
A number of Government initiatives have been put in place to support the hard pressed vehicle owners. One such scheme is administered by Failte Ireland to support those whose business was primarily tourism based with a grant scheme linked to tourist turnover in 2019.
Another scheme, just launched, is in place to help cover the cost of NCT tests and Vehicle Approval for Taxis and Chauffeurs. While these schemes are a help they represent a drop in the ocean.
There are three things to remember about people in the chauffeur industry they are resilient, resourceful and not afraid of hard work and long hours. Personally, I am very optimistic now that we are beginning to see the vaccines role out and the world open up.
There is a pent-up demand for business and tourist travel and I believe that as an industry we are well up to the challenge.
Matt Feeney is business owner and lead chauffeur at MGF Chauffeur Service