by Karen Robbins, President

Last month, our team managed transportation for a high-profile, historical event. Eight months ago, this statement would have found its way into a pitch presentation outlining our 30 years of experience doing exactly this sort of thing.

But we are in the middle of a global pandemic. Covid-19 has hurt and changed millions of lives forever. This virus has leveled the meetings and events industry and decimated small businesses around the world. The motorcoach industry, our partners for the last 30 years, have been forgotten in the bailout programs to date and many will not make it through 2021 without urgent relief.

And our team, the one we so carefully nurtured over the years, is much smaller these days. A long-time employee put it so succinctly and sadly when she said early on, “It’s as if we were a dandelion and Covid-19 came along and with one quick breath, “poof, the company, the culture, the team we had yesterday was gone.”

While there are fewer of us now, we are still here, and our culture is alive and well. But a scattered dandelion is what these many months have felt like. We now understand that things will never be the same again.

So, this statement, “Last month our team successfully managed transportation for a high-profile event” means so much more now than it ever did. Here is that story.

Last month, our team managed the transportation for the final 2020 U.S. Presidential Debate held in Nashville, Tennessee at Belmont University. This was our second time to be included by Belmont University (the first in 2008) but to do so in the middle of a global pandemic was truly one for the record books.

Creating a Safe Experience

Safety was our number one priority. Our team, drivers, attendees, Belmont University, and the City of Nashville needed to be comfortable with the plan. We worked with the team at Belmont, HCA, and our partner for this event, Gray Line of Tennessee to ensure the following was strictly adhered to each day.

  • Masks were worn by STS staff & drivers always; no exceptions
  • CDC and Covid-19 safety information was provided to all working staff & drivers
  • Drivers were COVID-19 tested every 2-3 days depending on their work schedule
  • 6 ft of distance between all staff, drivers, & attendees had to be maintained.
  • We loaded the vehicles from back to front and unloaded from front to back.
  • Attendees were Covid-19 tested and provided with bracelets linked to their valid test results for each day.
  • Seats on the buses were blocked with “Keep your distance, please do not sit here”
  • We provided our client with seating charts and distance between headrests so they could decide how many people they wanted to have on each vehicle.
  • Gray Line is an International Motor Coach Group Partner, so the IMG clean care document was posted on each vehicle, visible to attendees boarding and on the vehicles.
  • Vehicles were wiped down by drivers and/or STS team between each trip.
  • Additional staff were added for large transfers to expedite the cleaning process in between trips.
  • Windows, when possible, were open to facilitate air flow.
  • Each night, vehicles underwent a deep clean before service the next day.
  • Air filtration on the Prevost H3-45 motorcoach was refreshed every 5 minutes.
Grateful Does Not Cut It

To say we are grateful for this opportunity is an understatement. Like so many others, our city has been turned upside down by Covid-19. To have an opportunity to be a part of an event that was going to be viewed the world over and to help our city shine was truly an honor. Nashville is beautiful and the people that live and work in this city are beyond amazing and so deserving of a moment like this. We are forever grateful to the wonderful, outstanding planning team at Belmont University for including us in this shining moment for our city.

Relationships are Everything

Gray Line of Tennessee and Gray Line Black Car were our partners on this event. We have managed many successful programs over the years with our friends at Gray Line but this one, was more important than ever. The Gray Line team worked all hours of the day and night to make sure that we were able to be consistent with our driver pool and reduce the number of tests that had to be taken. And, if you did not know, the motorcoach industry has done a great job of helping its members navigate the complexities of mass transportation during a pandemic. The American Bus Association, United Motorcoach Association and here International Motorcoach Group have all taken impressive steps in response to Covid-19.

Remembering How Fun it is to Work Together, even in a Pandemic

Our team mascot is a Penguin, affectionately known as Stewie. The Penguin is a symbol of the principles of servant leadership and working together as a team. The Penguin represents the best of us, it is hard-working and fun, and never leaves another team member behind. The Penguin strives to delight and deliver service excellence. It is the glue that binds this team to do the impossible.

Our team proved managing transportation for a 2020 U.S. Presidential Debate during Covid-19 is not impossible. From the day we started, they showed up in their red STS shirts and happily got down to business like the professionals they are. It was incredibly overwhelming to see how much fun they had seeing each other and working again.

In these 30 years, and in a brutal 2020, we have been through a lot. But we built a leadership culture with extraordinary people that love their work and their mission. This has never been more evident than during this event.

And the best part, our dandelion, even if for just one week, came back together in 2020. It reminded us of why we do what we do and left us feeling optimistic for better days ahead.

March 23, 2020

Like most of you, we have been carefully monitoring the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation. In just a matter of weeks, we have seen our world and our industry change drastically. We want to assure you that we are doing everything we can to protect our people, our business and our ability to serve you.

In order to ensure the safety of our employees and their families, we have asked them to work remotely. We have also activated our business continuity plan, which allows us to remain fully operational. While our new normal looks a little different than it did 3 weeks ago, we are using a variety of virtual platforms for frequent communication and collaboration.

We know that COVID-19 has hit our industry particularly hard. From hotels and airlines, to convention centers and attractions, and everyone in between – we are in this together. For thirty years, we have provided superior transportation services to our customers in part because of our bus industry partnerships. Not only have these suppliers been a vital part of our business model, they have also played an important role in our country, connecting people and places for decades. To our bus industry friends – we support you and look forward to working with you again very soon.

The travel industry employs some 15.8 million Americans and in 2019 accounted for $2.6 trillion in economic output. We are proud to be a part of this vibrant industry and are continuing to plan future events. If you were planning a meeting for this Spring, please consider postponing or rescheduling. This will help our industry and our country recover.   

Although we never anticipated that our 30thyear in business would be our most challenging, we are committed to our industry, our clients, our vendors and our employees. We want you to know that we are very much still here and we plan to be around long after COVID-19. Thank you for trusting and believing in us for 30 years. We are grateful for every experience and look forward to many more. Stay safe and stay strong.

Sincerely, 

Eddie Stewart, CEO

15 Lessons from CEO Eddie Stewart (Okay, 16 lessons)

  1. A person who is nice to me but not nice to a bus driver, is not a nice person.
  2. Character and cultural buy-in are far more important than raw talent.
  3. Leaders don’t panic in difficult situations. They must be calm in a sea of chaos.
  4. If you dread coming to work on a Monday, you probably need to look for another job.
  5. I’ve learned a lot of what to do by observing what not to do.
  6. When communicating, practice the KISS principal – Keep It Short and Simple. Brevity and accuracy with your message is all anyone wants to hear.
  7. A simple “thank you” goes further than insincere compliments.
  8. You don’t always have to wait for permission – just get it done and ask for forgiveness if necessary. If you ask a lot of people, someone will probably tell you no.
  9. A successful business leader must be a servant first.
  10. Never skip an opportunity to have lunch with your team.
  11. In business, hoping tends to be an excuse for not trying hard enough.
  12. Keep your office door open as much as you can. Be approachable to your team.
  13. Don’t step over a dollar to get to a nickel. In other words, the cheapest way is not always the best way.
  14. Don’t give people a job. Give them a career.
  15. Believe in yourself, even when no one else does.
  16. Get the right people on the bus

15 Lessons from President Karen Robbins

  1. Everyone loves to win but not everyone loves to compete in the same way in order to win.
  2. In business and in life, don’t take offense; play offense.
  3. It’s okay to cry when situations or people are more than you are able to cope with.
  4. Laugh at yourself with others but never laugh at others.
  5. Never, ever stop learning. Be curious and ask questions.
  6. Stop asking “why did this happen tome?” Instead ask, “Why did this happen? What do I need to learn?”
  7. Being the smartest person in the room sometimes requires you to be the quietest person in the room.
  8. Always keep a box of Kleenex on your desk. Human beings cry. It’s normal and okay!
  9. Earn respect in business by being accountable, knowing your stuff and not faking it.
  10. Surround yourself with people that see something in you that you don’t always see in yourself.
  11. Speak up and out more often but always know your audience.
  12. Never try to check in 250+ buses on 2 hours of sleep and not expect to make a few mistakes. Lesson learned!
  13. Let your mistakes make you better, not bitter.
  14. Sometimes people have trouble performing because they are in the wrong role. The people who work really hard in the wrong position are the ones you keep. It’s your job as a leader to help them find a role that amplifies their strengths and make changes.
  15. Pay attention to the things that bring you joy then figure out how to apply joy to create a more purposeful life.

We’re lucky to have some incredible people on our team (if we do say so) and they’re the wheels that keep this bus going. As we look towards toward the future, we are thrilled to announce the promotions of four of our staff.

Jessica Brinks // Senior Program Manager

Since 2016, Jessica has consistently taken on new programs. She has demonstrated a willingness to learn and lead that will serve her well in her new role as Senior Program Manager. Jessica will begin to take on larger and more complex programs. Her future is bright!

Beau Carter // Logistics Manager

Beau began his career at STS in 2016 and has demonstrated his commitment to the company ever since. As he moves from Logistics Coordinator to Logistics Manager, Beau will continue to utilize his skillset to procure vehicles for the Program Management team. In addition, he will work with the team to ensure proper pre-event and on-site execution.

Colleen Chase // Director of Operations

Colleen has a proven track record of training and guiding a new generation of Program Managers. In her new role as Director of Operations, she will continue to provide the level of service clients have come to expect, while also formally cultivating and managing the Program Management team. Her attention to detail, commitment to the company and willingness to lead others will serve her well as she continues to grow at STS.

Kym Thomas // Director of Executive Services

We are formally launching an Executive Services division of the company in the coming months (stay tuned!).  Kym has not only taken on this growth with eagerness, she has excelled at providing clients with top-notch high-touch service. The decision to transition Kym from Senior Account Manager to Director of Executive Services was an easy one. She will lead this new department with the same dedication to excellence she has shown since she started with STS in 2006.

Each year, we decide on a theme for our team to focus on throughout the year. This year’s theme is “connection.” We are committed to seeking out deeper conversations and connecting with the people in our lives. Whether they are people we have known for many years, people we have just met or people we are yet to meet, we strive to remember that connection is what keeps us together, growing and strong.

We want to connect to stay in touch, to impact the lives of others and to serve using the principles of Servant Leadership. Most importantly, we want to look into people’s eyes and faces instead of down at our screens.

Real connection is a process that can be hard in today’s world. However, our team is committed to reclaiming connection in its many forms.

Cheers to 2019!

Each year we take our team on a retreat to reflect, rest and prepare for the next year. It’s not lost on us that what we do would not be possible without the amazing vendors we are so fortunate to work with each day. Not only do they help us pull off the impossible, but they also step up and support our retreat. We are incredibly grateful for each sponsorship and look forward to working with all of them in 2019!

If you’d like to learn more about our retreat sponsorship options, please contact Brandon Terpstra at Brandon@stewarttransportation.com.

By Eddie Stewart, CEO, Stewart Transportation Solutions, Inc.

For third-party companies in the meetings and events industry, a good relationship with a vendor can make all the difference. And we should know!

As meetings and conventions become larger and more complicated, third-party companies have become an integral part of how planners operate. With the ability to streamline the planning process, they take on the task of dealing with vendors or venues, contracts, details, logistics and the minutia associated with planning a meeting.

In order for third-party companies like ours to make it all happen, we must rely heavily on the relationships we have built in cities across the globe. A good relationship can make the impossible, possible. And in the event transportation industry, there are three types of relationships that stand out from the rest – our relationship with the vehicle company, the drivers and our on-site staff.

Some people are surprised to learn that we don’t own buses or vehicles of any kind. This means that we’re not limited by geography or the size of a fleet, which allows us to provide transportation services anywhere the client decides to hold an event or meeting. In order to do this, we depend on the fleets of transportation and bus companies throughout the United States and abroad.

Whether you talk to a CMP or one of our Program Managers, they will tell you that knowing the right person to call makes all the difference. And it’s a very symbiotic relationship. We depend on them to get the job done right and they look to us to bring them good business. We respect our vehicle vendors and understand their needs. Because of this, they will work with us to find solutions to most inventory or availability issues that can come up.

Of course, the power of a good relationship extends beyond knowing the right vehicle vendor.  The men and women who drive those vehicles can have a big impact on whether a transportation program is successful or not. We figured out pretty quickly that a happy driver can make all the difference. That’s why we provide a cash gratuity to all of our drivers (believe it or not, many event transportation companies don’t do this!), take the time to get to know their names and make sure they get their required breaks. They appreciate this and will often go above and beyond to provide our clients with the best possible service. We also have drivers who request to work on our shows just because they enjoy working with us. A happy driver also makes the job a lot easier for our staff.

The relationships we have built with our travel and local staff are essential to what we do. It’s more than just hiring a body to stand on the curb and herd people onto a bus. We depend on our network of 400+ contract staff to keep it all flowing smoothly on-site. At the start of every show, we make sure they are trained on more than just the show schedule. We make sure they know us as a company, our culture and that they are part of our team. They also get a crash course in Servant Leadership – our management philosophy.

Relationships are an important part of any industry, but particularly for companies like ours. We are able to do bigger and better things for our clients year after year because of the vendors and people we depend on. Respecting the relationships that keep the doors open and the clients happy is key to third-party success.

By Liz DeJesus, Marketing Manager

Welcome Back (hopefully)!

In my previous post, I touched on the social media dilemma I experienced as a time-strapped employee of a small business. I’ve come up with some advice that I hope you will find helpful as you embark on your own social media journey.

Let’s start off with a brief and simplified summary of what I think the experts would say a proper B2B social media strategy should include.

Develop Social Media Strategy – should include goals, platforms, audience, messaging, metrics, ROI, campaigns and content development.

Unique Content Curation– can be in the form of blog posts, giveaways, freebies, contests, videos, etc.

Create and/or Update all Platforms – for all platforms, update header graphics, descriptions, contact information, links, etc.

Create Publishing Schedule – create calendar based on unique content and known company milestones, product releases, developments.

If you think you can do all of this, then you most certainly should. The experts will tell you that you should do all of the above and then some. However, my reality was a bit different and I think many of you might find yours to be a bit different as well.

I was finding it hard to understand where our company fit in with all of the guidelines. Our target audience isn’t huge – meeting planners don’t make up a huge portion of the population – and we provide a pretty niche service for the industry (a service that doesn’t get a lot of attention!). That being said, pursuing a strategy that encompassed all of the “right” things to do seemed pretty irrational.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about small business social media.

Get Staff on Board

This can be a doozy. Many businesses are blessed with a tech-savvy staff who are fully engaged with social media. They understand the different platforms, how they work and the languages of each. Then there are the businesses made up of folks who do not view social media as a priority. And of course, there are the businesses who are mix of both.

Regardless of where your company falls on this spectrum, it is important for your entire staff to have a basic understanding of social media as it relates to them professionally. We had a meeting at the beginning of this social endeavor and explained how social media can benefit our company and our bottom line. We connected the dots for everyone and made sure they were comfortable with our direction. The more they understand, the more likely they are to get excited and provide valuable, share-worthy information with you.

This was incredibly important for our team because I am pretty dependent on them to provide me with content. They are on the front line of what we do. They have the stories, the pictures and they are the essence of what we do and who we are as a company.

Know Your Voice

Figure out what your social media voice is going to be and stick with it. Is it informative? Playful? Funny? Direct? Serious? A mix? Regardless of what your voice sounds like, try to keep it consistent. Think about it, would you want to befriend a person whose personality changed from one day to the next? Nope. Not up for that roller coaster ride.

It’s About YOUR Brand

That’s right, when it comes to social media, your business is sort of a big deal. That means that while it’s important to connect with your audience, success is directly linked to how you (the individual tasked with the company’s social media) connect with social media. Do you know the brand? If you don’t understand the heart and soul of what the company stands for, what your coworkers do on a daily basis and what your industry is like, then this just won’t work.

I have found it incredibly helpful to get on the ground with our program managers. I have worked the curb with them, stood in the rain with them, put in 15 hour days with them, worked with clients and bus companies, and seen just how hard they work to make our company successful. Because of this, I have a much better understanding of our company and our brand.

Be Realistic

Don’t beat yourself up when you can’t do it all. The most important piece of advice I can give to anyone starting out in social media is to figure out what works best for you. Spend some time deciding which social media platforms you want to focus on and determine exactly how much time you can dedicate to each. You should probably know going into it that you will experience some guilt and feel like you could be doing more, if there were only more hours in the day! You’ve got a lot on your plate and spreading yourself too thin won’t help anyone.

Social media is important but it can be overwhelming. Remember, you are a human being who is doing your best with the resources at hand. Pay attention to the trends and what’s going on but don’t let what someone else says define your social media strategy. Be original and try not to be too afraid to take the plunge. Social media should be FUN!

By Liz DeJesus, Marketing Manager

I know, Part 1 was such a nail-biter that you’ve been waiting with bated breath for part 2! (Don’t worry, if you did happen to miss it, make sure you check out Part 1.) I’m not one to disappoint so let’s get back to the good stuff!

Audience & Messaging

Before you and your design team dive into the technical elements, the color schemes, the layouts, etc., it’s your responsibility to know who your audience is and what you want them to know about your company. We recommend setting aside about 3-4 hours one day for a brainstorming session. Use this time dissect your current website, create idea boards and start thinking about your messaging priorities. Some questions you may want to consider:

  • What do competitor websites look like? How can you be different?
  • What is the first thing you want and don’t want visitors to think when they land on your homepage?
  • What are some pain points for your target audience? How can you identify those challenges and highlight your solutions?
  • Does your audience primarily use desktops or mobile devices? How do you want your website to behave on mobile devices?
  • Is your company’s service or product easy to understand? Do you often get confused with other types of businesses? (People always think we’re a bus company!)
  • How can your website and social media efforts enhance your web presence and your value to your audience?

This will help you prioritize content and navigation and will pay you back in dividends during the design process.

Show Me the Money

A good website design isn’t going to be cheap. This is a fact. That being said, there are things you can do to keep costs down and stay on budget. Make sure you understand how your design company charges. (Most charge by the hour) Make a point to periodically request breakdown of the hours you have used and the hours you have left. Your website company should be open with you about your hours and be willing to answer any questions. Empower yourself with this information so that you don’t get halfway through the process only to discover that you’ve used 90% of your hours. That spells O-V-E-R B-U-D-G-E-T.

Images and More Images

Perhaps one of the most tedious tasks associated with our web design process was sorting and organizing our thousands of images. We had images saved on just about every imaginable format – hard drives, phones, the cloud, discs, tablets, USBs and even the archaic medium known as…FILM! Nothing was organized.

You will need to have a pretty decent stash of high resolution images for your website. Sure, you can buy stock images but that’s so boring! Don’t be boring. And trust us, if you’re thinking about expanding your marketing efforts at all, you should get in the habit of meticulously organizing your company photos. It’s just a smart idea.

Copy

The holy trinity of website design might be: functionality, aesthetic and good COPY. Your copy is your voice. It is how visitors will come to know you. It is how they will finalize their impression of your company. It should be informative, yet interesting. After all, what’s the point of spending hours writing website copy if no one will actually read it?!

We decided to write our own website copy because it’s cheaper AND our old website already had a BUSLOAD [pun intended] of great copy that we were able to use as a starting point. In fact, we had so much copy that we spent a significant amount of time cutting it down.

It’s actually really difficult to start writing copy until you have an almost-ready-for-development website design. When you see the different sections and layouts, it really helps you understand how much and what type of copy you will need.

[Warning] At times, writing your own website copy can bring about feelings of insanity. We suggest surrounding yourself with funny coworkers, soft lighting, snacks and wine (after 5:00 pm, of course) throughout the process!

Hold or Fold

Like most things in life, it’s important to know when to hold and when to fold. You know your company better than anyone. Remember that. There will probably be some things that your design company thinks are irrelevant. They may suggest you scrap some copy or certain design elements. Weigh those suggestions with your own insight and respond accordingly. Sometimes you will need to let go, but sometimes you need to stick to your guns. A good design company will support your decisions.

Conclusion

No matter how amazing your website design company is, the entire process is incredibly exhausting. If you can accept this going in, you can mentally prepare yourself, your coworkers, your husband, your children, your dog….just kidding! But just because it is exhausting, doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Go into the process with a positive attitude, the right team to help you through it and an amazing website company to keep you going.

All of the hard work will pay off and you will end up with a finished product that you and your staff can be proud of. After all, owning and/or working for a small business is by its very nature a labor of love, why would designing the perfect website for your small business be any different?