How a KC Serial Entrepreneur Grew His Chauffeur Business Despite Pandemic Roadblocks
Images courtesy of Curtis Brown (@ShotbyCT)
To celebrate the profitable sale of his six-figure commercial and residential lawn care business, Kansas City serial entrepreneur Dion Dodson bought himself a Cadillac Escalade. With a desire to fill his newfound free time and drive his dream SUV more, Dion became a driver for Uber’s premium ride offerings. Between pick-ups and drop-offs for high-end customers, Dion quickly realized another business opportunity. He started Deluxe Transportation Group, a chauffeured car service for businesses and individuals in the KC metro area, in 2019.
“My company came about as a gap in the market,” Dion says. “Many of my Uber clients wanted to request me specifically to be their driver, but that feature wasn’t available in the app, so I told them to contact me directly. When Uber ended its luxury rideshare services in the KC metro, there was an unmet demand for clients who wanted a more prestigious and upscale transportation option.”
Dion first discussed his idea with his wife and then reached out to Rebecca Gubbels, a business and program development consultant at the Missouri Small Business Development Center at University of Missouri Kansas City. The organization provides coaching, training and other resources for entrepreneurs. An advocate for professional development, Dion took advantage of Missouri SBDC at UMKC’s ElevationLab New Venture class and worked with business development consultant Jill Hathaway-Monter when starting his first business.
“My key piece of business advice is to surround yourself with a community of like-minded people, and don't be afraid to ask questions, seek professional advice and invest in leadership skills and self-development,” Dion says. “Aside from your skill, product or service, you have to learn the basics of business, the lexicon, how to read and run the financial reports, sales and marketing, how taxes work and the pros and cons of the different legal structures.”
In 2021, Dion applied for Missouri SBDC at UMKC's Growth360 program and was invited to participate in the multi-week session of classes aimed at helping business owners avoid blind spots and make smarter decisions.
“Growth360 helped me expand my thought process and change my perceptions,” Dion says. “The program gave me a host of tools and resources that I still use. I now have a deeper education on the fundamentals of what it really takes to grow a business.”
> > > Want to apply for the next cohort of Growth360? Applications are due May 23, 2022.
Although Dion had already founded, grown and sold a company, the workshop’s deep dive on managing business finances still provided him with useful insights.
“As I went through Growth360, I was surprised to see how off I was on what I believed it took to scale my business,” Dion says. “One of my key takeaways is you have to know your numbers and how to use the financial ratios, formulas and reports to ascertain what the numbers are really telling you about your company as a whole. I learned how to identify key performance indicators and metrics pertinent to growth so that I can set more accurate targets.”
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Dion is taking the knowledge he learned from Growth360 to develop, adjust and even automate foundational systems within his company. He wants to expand Deluxe Transportation Group in the Kansas City market and continue to improve the client experience.
“So far, my wife and I have operated and grown the business using personal funds, various tradeline accounts and credit opportunities,” Dion says. “We’ll look to seek additional capital this year for the purpose of scaling the company.”
> > > Our eight-part guide on growing your business tackles everything you need to know to move beyond the startup phase, such as marketing and sales, hiring, government contracts and more.
Maintaining a strong brand built on safety and top-notch customer service is another priority for Dion as he moves his business forward. Deluxe Transportation Group promises clean, sanitized and on-time transportation. His fleet of Class A vehicles goes through a daily inspection before operation and a 52-point bumper-to-bumper safety inspection every month. Each of his drivers is required to take and pass a series of training courses.
“A brand can be recognized for the negative impacts just as well as the positive,” Dion says. “You first want to make sure that when people speak of your brand the majority have great things to say. Secondly, you want to protect the integrity of your brand, and you want to make sure that it’s repeatedly present around the places and demographic of clients you wish to serve.”
While Dion’s three-year-old business is thriving, like most entrepreneurs, he hasn’t avoided the impact of COVID-19. In 2020, the business nearly shuttered due to travel restrictions, and the pandemic’s reverberations continue to create challenges. Heartland Black Chamber of Commerce’s Encore COVID-19 recovery initiative was a source of help for Dion’s business through the hardest times.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, we weren’t able to provide any work to our staff, and we struggled to keep the operation afloat as we watched many of our industry colleagues close their doors,” Dion says. “Now we’re facing inflation and rising fuel prices. We’ve had to increase our rates as a result.”
Despite the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, Dion says being a founder has increased his faith, work ethic and ambition. He’s committed to being a leader for his family, staff and community. For example, Deluxe Transportation Group has donated funds to nonprofits like Village KC, Inspire KC and KC G.I.F.T. to support urban youth and boost minority-owned businesses.
“We’re always looking for opportunities to expand our philanthropic footprint in the communities we serve,” Dion says. “My why for being an entrepreneur is undoubtedly to provide a better life for my family and my awesome Deluxe Transportation Group team as well as to plant seeds for the young entrepreneurs that are coming behind me. I want my children and future generations of my family and community to reap the fruits of our hard work.”
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