A conversation with Voleile Derisse is punctuated by frequent laughter; his and your own. This easygoing man is very pleasant company and his joie de vivre is catching. So when he says his philosophy about running his new taxi service is based on “treating people right,” I’m inclined to believe him. “It’s customer service at its best,” he says. “One thing I do guarantee is that when you get into a Frenchy’s taxi, you feel very comfortable. We do that by making sure the taxicab is clean and the driver treats you with the utmost courtesy and respect.”
Frenchy’s Taxi & Transportation Services covers the New Paltz area along with the surrounding regions. They go to all major airports and have no restrictions on distance as long as there’s a vehicle and driver available.
A native of Haiti, Derisse came to the U.S. at age 16. Along with two sisters and a brother, he joined his parents in Brooklyn, who’d arrived a year or so earlier. Today the siblings are spread out across the Tri-State region, but live close enough to still get together on occasion. Derisse speaks three languages: Haitian Creole, French and English, which he learned in this country while attending Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn. “It was difficult,” he says, “but the more you speak it, the more fluent you become.”
After graduating, Derisse went to college at SUNY Farmingdale then on to SUNY Plattsburgh, where he met his wife, Yadi, another student there. The couple have three children now, ages 7, 10 and 18, the oldest heading off to college at SUNY Plattsburgh this fall. Both Yadi and Voleile work full-time jobs in mid-Hudson Valley high school districts; Yadi in Kingston and Voleile in Wallkill.
But Derisse is a guy who likes to be busy. He’d driven a taxi while still in college to make extra money for tuition. “And every second I’ve been in this country, I’m always busy,” he says. “I always want to look for that opportunity to help the family out and supplement my income.” After doing some research, he decided to open a taxi service. He plans to grow the business and add more drivers, as long as they adhere to his policy of reliability, friendliness and courtesy. It’s a competitive business, Derisse says. “But you have to use a challenge to make you better no matter what you do. And people are loyal once they get to know you.”
Where did you come up with the name for the business?
When I went to SUNY Plattsburgh, a lot of my buddies would call me ‘Frenchy.’ When they found out I speak French, they would recruit me to take them to Montreal. They liked to have me around, I’m a friendly guy, and I would translate for them. So it was always, ‘C’mon Frenchy, come with us.’ So when it came time to come up with a name for the business, I wanted a catchy name that people would remember.
What do you like most about the job?
As a business owner, I like the flexibility of it. I’m the owner-operator, I set the rules as far as the image I want to portray. And I like driving a taxi, especially in this area, because of the diversity of the people. And the people are very pleasant here, and they’re very appreciative if you treat them right. If I pick up people at the grocery store, I get out of the taxi, I help them with the bags, take the bags to the doorstep… I like doing that, because I don’t see them as just a fare. I like people to begin with, I like to help people anyway, so to me, when I have somebody in my taxi it’s not just the fare I’m taking from point A to point B, I see a person in my taxicab.
It is actually a fun job; you’d be surprised… and what you hear about taxicabs, that is true. Once the people get into your car, once they’re comfortable with you, it doesn’t take long. We get into conversation, and then they just feel like they can tell you all kinds of stories. Which is welcome, of course, I don’t mind! But they have to be comfortable first, and they have to know that you are going to take them there safely. Once they have that trust, they kind of let go.
What is the hardest thing about the job?
There are some growing pains that come with being a new business owner. The overhead, the expenses you have to consider, complying with the state regulations… and you would like to always stay busy but that’s not the case and that’s not reality. You have to pay your dues, you have to be optimistic and you have to know that the business is going to grow even though you may have a day or two days where it’s not profitable. Also, you’d like to service everybody but sometimes you get busy so you have to say no. I don’t like letting that customer down but if you want to be honest, you have to — if I say I’ll be there in 20 minutes I will be there in 20 minutes. Customers get very upset if you tell them 20 minutes and you get there in 40; that’s not respecting their time and that’s not good for business.
What personal attributes do you think are necessary to do this line of work?
Friendliness is definitely number one, and patience; you got to have the patience. People sometimes may not know exactly where they are going, maybe they have the address wrong or they’re new in town, or they have to make a stop on the way. You don’t want to be rushing them so much. You have to be a good listener, too.
Was there any training involved when you first started driving?
When I first started there was a veteran driver that showed me the major streets, the major areas and businesses… for a couple of hours! And then that’s it, and it’s up to you. You get your license and this is the kind of job that you learn on your own.
What is the biggest change in the business since you started?
Technology. With technology being the way it is now, with Google maps, directions… You can get to where you want to go fairly easy. It used to be if you went out of town, you spent a lot of time stopping for directions. It was time consuming to map it out, where you need to go. Now you put it in the GPS and you’re there in no time.
What makes for a good day?
If I go out there and I spend a couple hours and I pick up a couple fares, to me it’s a few more dollars I didn’t have before. It’s a few more dollars that I can put toward my daughter’s tuition. And I like getting somebody home safely.
And a bad day?
I like to keep moving; it’s my personality, my nature. So a bad day would be the times that you have to wait and there’s no business and I have to sit there in the cab.
Is there anything people would be surprised to know about you?
They would never know that I’d worked for Disney. I did an internship for the Disney College Program at Epcot Center.
Actually, speaking with you today, I wouldn’t be surprised by that! I think you’d fit in well with the Disney ethic. Any plans for the future?
I’m hoping that as business picks up we’ll have additional cars on the road. The goal is to get a couple of people to join Frenchy’s Taxi that can provide the best service possible.
Will you still drive a taxi once you have more drivers?
I think that I will always drive. Even if I have drivers working for me, I would come out occasionally. I enjoy the interaction with people and it would be good for business when the owner comes and picks them up.
What advice would you give somebody going into this line of work?
You’re not going to be rich overnight, the hours are going to be tough, and if you’re not a people person, don’t even try. You have to like people in general. You have to be the kind of person who likes being around people. You’re out there serving everyone, and you have to be open-minded to that.
Contact Frenchy’s Taxi & Transportation Services at (845) 546-FREN (3736).