Mon | Oct 14, 2019

Operator revs up business with VIP service

Published:Tuesday | June 18, 2019 | 12:41 AM
Michael Clarke

Seventeen years ago, Michael Clarke manufactured furniture for a living. Although he made most of the furniture in his house, he felt the need to change careers to be able to care for his family.

Today, Clarke provides transport for persons to and from the Norman Manley International Airport, which includes a limousine service for VIPs. He is also grateful for the career change, which has allowed him to become his own boss.

“I used to make furniture. However, the work was seasonal, therefore, it was sometimes challenging to provide for my family,” he said. “I went overseas to work for a while, and when I returned, I decided to become a driver.”

Having tried a number of options, including working at nights, four years ago, Clarke purchased a minibus, started his company, and registered his vehicle to transport visitors and locals from Norman Manley International Airport. Since then, he has grown his operations, having acquired two additional vehicles, and now, he employs two additional drivers. His day starts as early as 4:30 in the morning and ends as late as 9:30 p.m.

“I try to rest as much as possible in between trips,” he said. “I recall that when I just started driving, I would try to get some rest but would be up after five minutes because I didn’t want to be late. I still have that approach, but now I sleep much longer.”

The father of four enjoys his job and has developed a steady clientele from as far away as Japan. He revealed that he tries to make his passengers comfortable, regardless of the length of the journey.

SUCCESS STORY

“Like every job, being a transport operator has its own challenges,” he explained. “However, I consider myself to be a success story given all that I have been able to accomplish in my time ... .

“Many of my passengers now travel with me alone. When they are coming to Jamaica, they send me a text message or give me a call, and I transport them around the island for the duration of their stay. Sometimes I take them from the airport to as far as Negril or anywhere in the country they wish to go,” said Clarke.

About three years ago, the devout Christian launched his VIP service to transport high-ranking officials and special guests for companies to and from the airport after realising there was a need.

“Visitors who came for meetings, and companies would request to be transported this way. I decided that this was something I could add to my fleet, and that was how it came about. It has been popular with them since,” he stated.

To grow his operations, Clarke said he relies on JN Small Business Loans (JNSBL) for funding.

“I remember attending the Jamaica Tourist Board and Tourism Product Development Company training for transport operators in the sector, where we were informed about a Tourism Enhancement Fund loan for persons in the sector and that the repayment terms were easier than going through a bank. I did my research, found out that it was offered through JNSBL, and I have been a client ever since,” he said.

He added: “Our relationship has been excellent. If I have any challenge meeting my obligations, I can tell them. They are understanding and provide me with the support to overcome the obstacles.”

DEDICATED SERVICE

Gillian Hyde, general manager of JNSBL, commended Clarke for his dedication to the transport sector.

“Mr Clarke has been offering a service which benefits his clients. His dedication to his job should be commended. We are proud of his achievements,” she stated.

Clarke, who once harboured thoughts of becoming a traveller or a comedian, plans to grow his operations even further. He also wants to assist his son, who currently works with him, to establish his own operations.

“I have a few dreams that I am working on to make them come through. One of them is to assist my son to launch his own transportation service. He is a ‘people person,’ and our clients speak highly of him; therefore, I know that he will do well. I also want to expand the VIP service because it has great potential, but we will see what the future holds,” he said.