Chris Barnett on Business Travel
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Selling Gold and Squeezing Nickels on the Road
October 15, 2015 -- Anthem Blanchard sells and stores $35,000 bars of gold and $16,000 bars of silver. But the chief executive of the precious-metals firm sporting his name squeezes his nickels on every business trip.
Banchard is a devout worshipper of Southwest Airlines, praising its no-fee policy for checked bags and ticket changes. And he demonizes American and United airlines as devils incarnate for their rigidity, $200 change fees, checked-baggage charges and extensive use of cramped regional jets on longer flights.
Blanchard, 36, is the boss of four-year-old Anthem Vault. He lives and works out of Las Vegas. His chief financial officer is currently based in West Palm Beach. The vault itself is in Salt Lake City. The firm's main sales office is in Denver. In other words, Blanchard isn't tethered to his desk.
One recent week, he had already flown to New York, Boston and Toronto by Wednesday and was finalizing meetings in Austin and San Francisco. His only options? Walk-up fares. Again, his hero was Southwest, where walk-up pricing remains substantially below the fares demanded by the legacy carriers.
"My schedule isn't always solidified and meetings frequently change. The major airlines don't understand that," he suggests. Or they do, he says with a smile, and view business travelers as fast, easy targets for the $200 rebooking fee. It's a business-travel "gotcha" that Blanchard abhors.
"Time is the currency of life and I just don't want to spend it talking to a call center halfway around the world negotiating a change fee," he says.
Blanchard doesn't mince words, either. U.S. airlines are awful, he insists.
"All U.S. airlines are now just glorified buses, but at least Southwest has accepted and embraced that fact," he concludes. "A few years ago it was price advantaged and now it is price competitive," he says of the nation's leading alternate airline. "But when you factor in not paying change and bag fees, schedule convenience, frequency and flexibility, plus always getting a Boeing 737 [instead of a regional jet], it absolutely makes financial sense that a young company cannot justify booking any other airline."
His only exception to the fly-Southwest rule? "Maybe JetBlue or Virgin America for a transcon."
Blanchard travels light. He carries a laptop only if he needs to make a presentation or has a ton of E-mail to answer. Otherwise, he uses his iPhone 6 because it's easier to work on it if legroom is tight. And, again, he finds reason to favor Southwest. "Southwest's WiFi is reliable. Not always true on the legacy airlines where their WiFi is often also costlier," he says.
The penny-pinching philosophy extends to lodging, too.
"I go to Hotwire first and look for a two- or three-star hotel," Blanchard explains. (He also shops hotels on Kayak.com and uses the HotelsTonight app.) "Sure, it's hit-or-miss and not fancy. But in Austin, myself, my CFO and an Anthem Vault director scored accommodations at a roomy extended-stay hotel for under $70 a night including taxes." And, he notes, the hotel was "in a hipster part of town."
But you have to be tolerant traveling in "the two- and three-star world," he admits. In Austin, "we had to change rooms twice--one smelled horrible and one room wasn't made up. But management was super kind and gave us an upgrade."
Blanchard finds that Holiday Inn Express has uniformly good accommodations and guest services for a lower-priced chain. "We've left a day early on a prepaid reservation and they have given me a refund. That doesn't happen with the upmarket chains."
Anthem Vault's small cadre of salespeople, Blanchard included, look for discounts everywhere. "I like Fox Rent a Car," he says. "Their fleets are larger today and their counters are better staffed with more helpful agents. In San Francisco and San Jose, we use Uber. Sometimes in Northern California, we take BART because it's cheaper and we don't have to worry about the price of parking."
The precious-metals marketer is just as tightfisted when dining on the road. "We're pretty much opportunistic eaters," he concludes. At Stubbs, the famous barbecue joint in Austin, "three of us had dinner with drinks for $90 including tip. But if we're in a pinch, it's Subway."
One place where Blanchard doesn't skimp? The actual act of travel itself. He agrees there are so many virtual ways to "communicate and collaborate without leaving your office" that it may be cheaper not to go at all.
"But nothing will ever beat the face-to-face, in-person meeting," he concludes. "Regardless of your business, if you want to make an impact, you've got to hit the road."
This column is Copyright © 2015 by Chris Barnett. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2015 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Chris Barnett. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.