With a phone in the basement of his suburban St. Louis home forwarding calls to his cell phone, Bernie Squitieri launched Arnold Taxi in November 1995. His fleet of vehicles consisted of a 1989 Chevy Caprice.
Having moved to St. Louis from the Bronx, where he was general manager of one of the borough’s largest taxi companies, Squitieri thought he’d be taking riders to the shopping mall or to dinner and children to school or after-school activities.
In New York City, taxis are a way of life and Squitieri thought the suburbanites of Arnold, Missouri, would relish the convenience of his new service. But Arnold was almost 1,000 miles from New York City and most of Squitieri’s business came from shuttling seniors to doctor’s appointments. It wasn’t what he envisioned.
However, fate intervenes in different ways. About the same time Squitieri launched Arnold Taxi, Missouri implemented a managed health care program in the eastern region of the state and federal Medicaid regulations mandated that the state provide transportation for eligible recipients to and from health providers.
“Who’s going to provide all that transportation?” Squitieri asked himself.
Realizing the opportunity, Squitieri met with the president of a transportation broker that had contracted with local HMOs (health managed organizations) to provide such services. The woman scoffed when Squitieri told her he had only one vehicle, so he told her, “Give me one year and I’ll be your largest provider in Missouri.” The woman laughed.
Squitieri launched Express Medical Transporters in March 1996 and soon after its inception EMT became the state’s largest for-profit, non-emergency transportation company. Today in St. Louis, EMT operates more than 170 vehicles, employs more than 200 employees and does more than 500,000 transports each year. In these dour economic times, EMT had its best year ever in 2008 with revenue surpassing $6 million.
In October 2007, EMT – the first national provider of non-emergency transportation services – launched a franchising program. EMT quickly sold franchises in nine states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Tennessee and Wisconsin. Projections call for 100 franchises nationwide within three years.
“We’re not a burger or pizza place or a muffler or quick-change oil concept,” Squitieri says. “We are a unique franchise concept offering a service that is in great demand and is also recession-resistant.”
With an ever-increasing senior population needing transportation, government-mandated transportation requirements for the disabled, as well as transportation brokers and other organizations seeking reliable transportation for clients, EMT offers countless revenue streams to its franchisees. A new Student Transportation Division is dedicated to providing routed and individual transportation for school districts.
While experience in transportation, healthcare or logistics is helpful, industry experience is not required.
Franchisees do not do any driving themselves, but focus on marketing and growing their business; so customer service, sales and marketing and management skills gleaned from past experience is most beneficial. About 90 to 95 percent of franchisee revenue is generated from contracted business, with private pay comprising the remainder.
“We teach our franchise owners everything they need to be successful,” Squitieri said. “We’ll teach you the transportation industry and how to grow your business.”
Territory sizes can easily be scaled to fit the needs of new franchisees based on their available capital and/or growth aspirations. Franchisees can purchase the rights to an entire state (as has been done with Alabama and New Mexico) or begin on a smaller scale with specific counties or cities and expand when necessary. A single territory typically includes a population of about 400,000.
With EMT having proven its success and viability in the St. Louis metropolitan market, Squitieri said a research firm identified 157 additional markets throughout the country with similar non-emergency transportation needs. In fact, Squitieri said organizations and potential clients across the country contact EMT on a regular basis asking about expansion to their area.
“It’s really an attractive selling point to tell somebody that if you buy an EMT franchise, you could have business before you open your doors,” Squitieri said. “There aren’t many businesses that are in that position today.” •