Today we’d like to introduce you to Charles Franklin.
Charles, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Our journey began over a birthday dinner in December of 2014 when a few friends from Chicago passed through Houston on their way to take a cruise out of Galveston. At some point between the appetizers and the birthday cake, complete with a choir, one of them mentioned the enormous cost they incurred finding transportation from the airport to the cruise terminal and that I should consider it as a possible startup option. They had done research as most travelers do and found the best option for the four of them was to rent a car, park it for a week in Galveston and pay the parking tolls while they were on their cruise and then return the car at the airport. All tolled it was in excess of $400 for the group. I had been looking for business ideas but nothing prior to that one really appealed to me. I am a Navy veteran and there is a saying thrown around often that I have always remembered. In the Navy everyone is slotted into specific jobs called a rate, so the saying goes: “Pick your rate, pick your fate.” I took that to heart and have made sure I didn’t fall into a career that I did not enjoy.
It wasn’t until mid-January of 2015 that I filed for a DBA for Galveston Express. I couldn’t stop thinking about that conversation and remained intrigued. I never hit a hurdle I couldn’t get over and three months later on April 3rd we officially opened for business. I did some research in travel forums and found people literally spelling out what was wrong with the industry and what they would prefer. It seemed to me they were looking for an inexpensive option for individuals and small groups. Another common theme was their disdain for the large buses. They did not enjoy the wait while the buses were loaded and unloaded.
Our business model was different from all of our competitors in Galveston. Everyone offered private shuttles, limos or large buses. I decided to take the leap and create an entirely new business model. We started a shared shuttle where a single individual can book one seat and share the cost with other small groups. Of course, we also offer private shuttles for large groups. It was an instant hit. Within the first year, we went from one van to eight. We use Mercedes Sprinter Vans and everyone loves them for the high roof, roomy interior and most of all the USB ports so they can charge their phones after a long plane ride. There is room in the back for all the luggage and keep in mind most of our passengers pack for a week-long cruise, so everything and everyone is neatly packed into one vehicle.
We have now been in business for 2.5 years and have around 15 employees and 11 vans. It’s a logistical challenge to keep track of all of our equipment, drivers, and passengers but we utilize the latest technologies. We can track the vehicles through GPS and every driver can receive an updated passenger manifest on their smartphone. The drivers can check in each passenger as they are loaded and we see that in real-time in the office.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Two of my employees actually quit to start their own competing businesses after I taught them how to do it. One of them chose to stab us in the back pretty hard in the process. He feigned a diabetic fit while driving and started cursing at the passengers and carrying on. He finally pulled the van over, got out and left. Fortunately, this happened in Galveston so we were able to get someone else into the van to continue on. Within a week he had his business up and running and must have his diabetes under control because he hasn’t repeated this with his own customers, to my knowledge.
Additionally, the competition that was already in place began to offer similar services, which I expected. It was impossible to hide our success. In three consecutive months from December 2015 to February 2016, we were adding two vehicles at a time. One of my first employees passed away. He was in his early 70s and had a heart attack one evening. That was tough to recover from. We can’t just hire anyone to drive our shuttles. There is a lengthy permitting process that can take a month or more to complete. There are very few people who come to us with permit in hand, so most everyone we hire is new to this line of work and must endure the wait time for their permit before they can even start training.
It’s very difficult to expand rapidly. We’ve had to plan months ahead to ensure we have the necessary personnel and equipment so that we can maintain compliance with the law.
Please tell us about Galveston Express.
Galveston Express is a shuttle service between the two Houston airports and Galveston, TX. Our niche market would be people who fly into Houston and need transportation to Galveston to go on a cruise. I am most proud of the employees we have. Without a staff of dedicated people I don’t believe we could have grown as rapidly as we have and still maintain an acceptable level of customer service.
What sets us apart is we believe in paying a living wage to our employees. Because of this we have had very little turnover. None of our employees quit in the first two years except for the two that started their own competing business. At the end of the day it’s just a simple ride to the airport, but our drivers have a way of making it a fun adventure. They have a wealth of knowledge about the area and are happy to share it with passengers who are interested. Another thing that sets us apart is the technology we use. We have customers we never speak with. They find us online, make a reservation through our website and just show up to the appointed pick-up spot at the designated hour and hop on the van with not a word spoken, aside from telling us their name so we can check them in.
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
I used to pretend my handful of yellow No. 2 pencils were school buses. I would sharpen only one at a time and this one would become the short bus. I would maneuver them around my desk to pick up students heading to school or going home. I had no idea at the time that I was in training for my future career.
- Address: 2201 Market St. Ste 906
Galveston, TX 77550
- Website: GalvestonExpress.Com
- Phone: 409.762.4397
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GalvestonExpress/
Charles Franklin, Ben Beroth, Logan Vail, and Patty Nielsen