After gaining an executive MBA in 2003, Georges Le Roc really wanted to explore entrepreneurial opportunities in the aviation industry, where he had spent more than two decades working in Europe and Canada. But he knew the huge costs associated with starting a venture in that business.
A chance experience to use a shuttle bus service while on a personal trip to California turned his focus to land transportation instead. With that decision made, he applied in 2005 for licences from the New Brunswick Energy & Utilities Board and the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board to run a scheduled bus service between Moncton and Halifax.
Public transportation is a heavily regulated industry and to start such an operation, Mr. Le Roc would have needed to get licences from both boards. He found himself facing a six-month delay which he learned was caused by opposition to his applications lodged by the only other scheduled bus-service company in the region. Facing a delay on a decision, Mr. LeRoc had to decide either to forget his plan for a scheduled bus service and embark on an altogether new venture, or explore whether there were other opportunities within the sector that he could service.
Mr. Le Roc was born in India and later moved to Europe, where he worked for more than 20 years in the finance departments of various airlines. In 2000, he accepted a position with former discount charter airline Canada 3000 Inc. and moved to Moncton. Within a couple of months of joining the airline, it went out of business in November, 2011, following the meltdown in the airline industry because of the 9/11 attacks, and he lost his job.
Around the same time, Mr. Le Roc's wife developed serious vision issues. So he decided to stay in Moncton, rather than head back to Europe, to help her recover. He took up part-time accounting work managing the books of hotels and joined the executive MBA program at the Universite de Moncton. In 2003, after graduating, he joined a distributor of speciality golf accessories and promotional products as its international marketing manager. Although he enjoyed the work, Mr. LeRoc wanted to put his EMBA to work in an entrepreneurial setting and started to explore options.
It was a tough decision to withdraw his application to run a scheduled bus service but Mr. Le Roc knew that six months was as long as he could afford to wait to launch a business venture. As he explored other opportunities in the transportation sector in Moncton, he realized a niche market existed that was not being addressed – that of a charter shuttle service filling a capacity gap between taxis and buses.
Such a service would require a much simpler and easier-to-obtain licence than the scheduled bus service plan. Mr. Le Roc envisioned creating a charter shuttle service targeted to corporate clients that would take passengers anywhere within the Maritimes. He was confident that his venture could plug the capacity gap between taxi and bus services, with cabs having a limit of four to six passengers and buses catering to 40-plus.
So in 2006, he launched Moncton-based EastLink Door-to-Door Shuttle Express Inc. with one van and an ambitious agenda to become the preferred choice for corporate clients needing a charter shuttle service.
From the very beginning, Mr. Le Roc decided to provide value-added service to his customers, including free on-board Wifi, hot drinks and blankets for long trips, reading materials and customized packaged tours. He focused his attention on corporate clients who appreciated the extra service and could prove to be profitable long-term customers for his fledging business.
Although not competing directly with taxi and bus services, he forged relationships with both, picking up extra passengers they could not handle and directing business their way as well.
EastLink has been growing steadily over the past six years by an impressive 20 per cent a year in both sales and profitability, says Mr. Le Roc, the company's founder and president. It now consists of four mini-buses and an equal number of drivers. It offers door-to-door charter shuttle service for groups of five to 30 people anywhere in the Maritime provinces.
It has attracted a loyal base of corporate clients, most of them repeat customers. The relationships forged with taxi and bus services have also channelled business both ways, depending on capacity needs.
Mr. Le Roc has also partnered with green sustainability initiatives promoting car pooling and energy efficiency. His company also provides free services to community organizations for various programs, exhibiting good corporate citizenship and community involvement. Though the company faces challenges such as increases in gas and insurance costs, Mr. LeRoc says he is confident that his value-added service to corporate clients will keep the company growing.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Nauman Farooqi is a professor and head of the department of commerce in theRon Joyce Centre for Business Studiesof Mount Allison University.
This is the latest in a regular series of case studies by a rotating group of business professors from across the country. They appear every Friday on the Report on Small Business website.
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