Coffee Posts Strong Start with Prodriver Auto Club

Article excerpt

After 13 years of marketing a consumer motor club and nine years in prepaid legal insurance, Virgil Coffee could see the opportunity in a specialized motor club for truck drivers.

Commercial drivers were restricted to carrying only one license under the 1986 National Commercial Safe Driving Act, and a nationwide computerized network for keeping track of violations has been established. That created a demand for drivers to find new ways to protect their status after traffic violations.

"In the old days, a driver carried about 15 state licenses," said Coffee. "If one was taken away because of a traffic violation, the driver just threw it away and used another. Now, a driver who loses his (or her) license can't drive."

As a result, Coffee set up TVC Marketing Associates Inc. of Oklahoma City on Sept. 1, 1989, to market TVC ProDriver Inc. as a national motor club for commercial drivers. It is not insurance, but it provides 24-hour assistance to drivers ticketed with moving or non-moving violations anywhere in the country.

"We help them find lawyers who contract to represent them," said Coffee. "We also provide assistance in posting bonds and guaranteeing trips in emergencies, and we provide discounts at certain hotels, motels and truck stops and for car rentals."

In its first year, TVC has acquired 7,000 ProDriver members for sales of $2.2 million. After starting with his wife Linda and one employee, Coffee now has 46 employees in the MacArthur Office Center headquarters at 5909 Northwest Expressway, where TVC is expanding to about 15,000 square feet.

In addition to ProDriver, TVC Marketing is now developing a consumer motor club service for the United States Auto Club (USAC), and it is even branching out to market a new diet product to be sold through health clubs.

As a result, TVC, which once meant The Vital Connection, is now jokingly referred to as "The Virgil Coffee" in the firm.

"We have invested more than half a million dollars," said Coffee, who has one silent partner. "We are getting close to breaking even, and we expect to get there by about February or March. We are adding about 1,500 ProDriver members a month, and we are projecting sales of $5 million this year."

Beyond that, the potential market is staggering. There are about 7 million drivers, with 2,500 a week coming out of driving schools. About 40 percent are independent contractors who own or lease trucks, and they provide the prime market for TVC. The five-year plan calls for potential sales of $33 million.

"No one is doing exactly what we are doing right now," said Coffee. "We're on the ground floor. While a company driver might be able to turn to the employer for assistance, the independent needs outside help. We try to meet those needs."

So far, 14 states have implemented testing systems under the new license act, he said, and only Missouri has exempted previous violations. All states must implement systems by 1993.

In a state that does not allow exemptions, a previous violation recorded in the network could be brought to bear when a driver takes a test under the new act.

"We have had positive results in 90 percent of the cases in which we have been called for assistance in moving or non-moving violations," said Coffee, "such as reduced points, reduced or avoiding suspensions or being sent to a driving school.

"We have four people who answer a toll-free number at night and others who answer phones all day. We don't provide legal assistance, but we find a lawyer when a driver needs representation. The most important thing for us is to deliver our services. If we don't deliver, we will go nowhere."

The ProDriver program also provides up to $5,000 in police bail bonds for serious violations and up to $200 in cash appearance bonds, with the amounts varying suspensions. …