In this Meet & Greet series, we meet the people behind some of the amazing transfer companies working with Jayride.com.
Mike Afram, president of Southern California transfer company Karmel Shuttle Service, tells us all his favourite SoCal spots and the benefits of managing a family-run business.
California is rich with culture and history, and is a mecca for stardom, sunny golden beaches and great food. Nobody knows this better than Mike Afram. He’s the president of Karmel Shuttle Service, but for this family-run business, titles aren’t what’s most important.
‘Technically, my title is president; however we’re not too big on titles around here. I think we’re all of the same mindset that we’re a team and we’re all ready to roll up our sleeves and do whatever’s needed to get the job done,’ explains Mike, who started Karmel Shuttle back in 1996.
And getting the job done is what they do best.
‘Customer service is all about perception. It’s about striving to meet and exceed the expectations of our customers, and it comes in so many forms. Kindness, helpfulness, compassion, knowledge, respect, appreciation, responsiveness, timeliness, watchfulness, attentiveness, clear communication, and a positive attitude. All of these things combined make for an excellent customer experience.’
Mike Afram (pictured) is the president of SoCal transfer company Karmel Shuttle Service
Mike knows that words aren’t enough though, and action is needed for truly great customer service. He recalls a particularly memorable event where one of the Karmel drivers went above and beyond, returning lost property that, unknown to the driver, contained something extremely valuable.
‘In December last year, a family travelling to the Disneyland Resort had left a very small bag hidden away under the seat in one of our vans. The driver discovered it while cleaning out the van, just after he returned to the yard at the end of his shift. The bag had the family’s name on it, so he knew who it belonged to.
‘Without any instruction, the driver took it upon himself to jump in his own car and, in his own time, return the bag to the guests at their hotel. As he entered the hotel lobby, he coincidentally noticed a member of the family at the concierge desk. He approached her with the bag and quickly realised that she was a bit frantic and upset. Once he was able to grab her attention, the lady screamed in relief and hugged him. Apparently the bag contained her child’s insulin medication. She realised it was missing when the timer went off alerting them that their child was in need of their medication.
‘She had just come down to ask for assistance when our driver walked in. I’m sure you can guess how happily that story ended. That, right there, is exceptional customer service,’ explains Mike.
Customer service and ensuring a comfortable, enjoyable experience for passengers is the name of the game for Karmel Shuttle these days, but it wasn’t always people that the Karmel brand transported.
Having a strong staff support is paramount to a successful business and great customer service, Mike says,and employees are treated like family
‘Prior to starting Karmel Shuttle, we had a company called Karmel Courier back in 1990. We provided same-day messenger services to businesses throughout California. The company was an immediate success and led to Karmel Shuttle,’ says Mike, looking back on the evolution of the company.
‘We were moving parcels and packages 24/7 for our clientele and figured we should branch out and offer passenger transportation services to our same customers. Karmel Shuttle was born from this and morphed into a “One Stop Shop” for all transportation needs.’
Now, Karmel Shuttle employs over 100 people and offers a variety of vehicles in their fleet to suit all kinds of airport transfers, whether passengers want a shared shuttle or private limousine.
‘Our fleet includes nine passenger vans available for shared or private transfers, plus sedans, limousines, mini coaches and full-size motor coaches.’
For Mike, a family business goes well beyond blood relatives though, and in his eyes, success is measured far beyond just profits.
‘We have employees that have been with us since the start, and many other long term employees. These employees are our family! Our success is their success. As the owner, I am not only taxed with the company’s survivability and success, but with the thought that I am responsible for the wellbeing and safeguarding of our extended family of employees,’ he says.
‘I think our employees see that and understand that our continued success is their own personal success. In fact, many of our employees are friends and relatives of our long-term and original employees. That’s why we can call it a “Karmel” family! Knowing that Karmel provides for over 100 employees and their families is the greatest success of all.’
Karmel Shuttle services all of Southern California, including major airports Los Angeles International Airport, John Wayne Orange County Airport and Long Beach Airport, and Mike says you’re never short of things to do in SoCal.
‘LA is so rich in history, culture and flavour. Just when you think you’ve experienced it all, you discover something completely different! I take every opportunity I have to experience SoCal. We have so many great and diverse communities and cultures here.’
For those visiting Los Angeles, Mike says the world is your oyster, especially when it comes to food and cuisine. ‘The fun thing about LA is that there are always new trendy restaurants and bars popping up. In fact, our group of friends has had an ongoing “challenge” for several years now. Each month, we take turns to come up with something new and different for all of us to try out. This makes for great times and new experiences.’
And for those wanting to feel the sand between their toes, he’s got just the spot.
‘I have to say that my favorite beach is Laguna Beach. It’s beautiful, small, quaint and has many different faces. It’s an amazing place to spend a day, whether for food, sun, relaxation, swimming, playing ball, or just people watching!’
So no matter what you’re in the mood for, Southern California will have it. But while some activities are well-known, Mike says you have to dig a little deeper to find the well-kept secrets.
‘Ask people, research, look around, Google it and talk to hotel staff – there’s so much to see and do.’
Plus, for those wanting a more unique adventure in LA, Mike has got you covered, offering shuttles and tour packages with their tour division, Extreme Tours, which offers a variety of sightseeing tours and attraction tickets (and it’s not just your usual LA jaunts).
‘Karmel’s Extreme Tours also offer non-mainstream, more adventurous tour options – like horseback riding near the Hollywood Sign for those that want a more unique experience.’
LAX is one of the most booked airports on Jayride.com, and Mike says travelling is all about logistics and co-ordination, so of course ground transportation is no exception. Often, a visitor’s first impression of a new city lies with their airport transfer, so Mike says making a good impression is paramount to good customer service and ensuring a visitor has an amazing time from the moment they step off the plane.
‘Sometimes, we are the first and last exposure a traveller has in SoCal. We pride ourselves on making sure that those experiences are great ones.
‘We schedule all vehicles in advance, have a flight-tracking system that monitors all arriving flights, our vehicles all have our logo for ease of identification, and our drivers are uniformed professionals that are well trained in the art of LA driving – something necessary here!’
Mike says that an airport transfer is often the first and last impression for travellers visiting a new destination, so it’s important to get it right
Challenges are inescapable for any business, but for Mike, working with a fantastic team helps move the company forward.
‘I’m fortunate to work with a great group of talented folk. They make my job easier and make me look good in the process. For that, I’m so very thankful and appreciative.
‘But, as with any business, there are always challenges. For me, growing the business but ensuring we remain focused on great service and customer retention is key. Finding the right mix is always the challenge.’
And it’s not just work that keeps Mike busy.
‘When I’m not working, my pastime is my family. I have a wife of 20 years and two amazing daughters. We spend as much time together as we can – living, laughing and loving! The girls keep us pretty busy with all of their extra-curricular activities. If it’s not a soccer game, then it’s a dance competition!’
Managing a business and family time is something that’s important to Mike, and he planned how to balance the two from the start.
‘I made a decision early on, when our first daughter was born 18 years ago, that family would come first. I promised myself that I would work to no end and do whatever I had to in order to provide for my family, but never would I let work interfere with my family and raising my girls. They come first, always have and always will. They are my biggest challenge and my greatest accomplishment.’
But managing this work-life balance isn’t the only skill Mike has, and in the entertainment capital of the world, hosting friends comes second-nature.
‘I love to entertain and spend time with family and friends. My wife and I love to host. She’s a great cook – one of my favorites is her miso-glazed salmon, but her lasagna is a close second. I’ve been known to make a wicked cocktail too, so together we put on a pretty good show.’
Millions flock to Southern California each year, whether travelling through America or enjoying a quick stop-over, and of course, there are plenty of famous faces in the area that have enjoyed a ride with Karmel Shuttle.
‘We’ve been doing this for a long time, over 20 years, so you can imagine that being based in the “LA” scene has led to many celebrity passengers. We’ve welcomed Elton John, Randy Jackson, Billy Joel, Chaka Khan, Jewel, Norah Jones, and Earth Wind and Fire, just to name a few.’
Karmel Shuttle Services work throughout the Southern California region
Having been in the industry for over two decades means Mike has a wealth of knowledge, and for those starting out, he’s got a few words of advice.
‘There are so many opportunities in the tourism and hospitality industries. I’m a firm believer that anyone wanting to work in the industry should get their feet wet in several areas first, whether it be hotels, theme parks, restaurants, events, or transportation. Having a broad work experience will help you appreciate the industry,’ he says. And you’ve got to keep up with the ever-changing pace of the industry.
‘When it comes to transportation, especially in a tourism mecca like LA, you need to understand the complexities and challenges that go along with the career. The environment is fast-paced, constantly changing, and extremely exciting. Dealing with so many logistical aspects in transfers, like airline delays, freeway traffic, mechanical breakdowns, accidents, passenger delays, missed or missing client information, special requests, special needs, and so on, makes each transfer unique. Operations is where I think the largest challenges lie. But all other realms, be it sales, customer service or management, all have their fair share of challenges too.
‘However, it’s a lot of fun and offers many opportunities to travel. Not to mention, it’s the largest global industry so I don’t think it will be going away anytime soon.’
The airport transfer business may not be going anywhere, but there’s no denying that as technology evolves, so do the ways we use transport. But Mike thinks tech and travel are a welcome challenge.
‘Transportation and technology, I say why not?! Bring it on. I think it will open an array of opportunities and provide for growth and diversification. We can’t stop it, so we might as well embrace it. I don’t see it as a threat as much as I see it as a challenge and an opportunity.’
Looking for things to do on a trip to Los Angeles? Check out our blog post 24 Hours in LA for tips and inspiration for your trip.
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