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Longtime Florida limousine operator Sander Kaplan reinvigorated his company in the last five years with a bus division that now outpaces his chauffeured transportation business.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When Sander Kaplan bought his first pre-owned motorcoach in June 2006, he didn’t know if he’d need a second one. If he did, he figured it would be at least a year away.
Instead, Kaplan, owner of A Candies Coachworks of Gainesville, bought his second motorcoach three months later and a third one six months later. He is now up to nine. Kaplan’s chauffeured transportation company, A Candies Limousine, is clearly a distant second to the bus business as Kaplan marks five years in the charter and tour business and 25 years in limousines.
“We’ve turned into a coach company, not by design, but because of the needs and demand of our market,” says Kaplan, a 2008 LCT Operator Of The Year. “When we bought the first coach, we didn’t know we were buying a second coach, or a third coach six months later. Our business projections were too low. We didn’t realize there would be so much demand. If we had not moved into the motorcoach business, we would have been barely surviving in the limousine industry,” Kaplan adds.
Kaplan’s most recent purchase, a ninth motorcoach, is also the company’s first new one — a 56-passenger, 2011 Prevost H345 with tire monitors, a fire extinguisher system, and three-point seatbelts. Like many operators who grow from limousines to charter buses, Kaplan built his charter and tour business on durable, affordable, quality pre-owned coaches.
A new niche under the nose
A Candies is based in Gainesville, a small college town at the University of Florida that lies about 90 minutes from Jacksonville and Orlando. “After being in business 19 years, we couldn’t grow bigger than eight vehicles,” Kaplan says.
Kaplan got the idea to explore the bus business while attending the 2006 LCT Leadership Summit. Other operators he talked to suggested he connect with UF, the town’s major anchor, and figure out what they needed for transportation.
“I had not thought about it,” Kaplan says. “I wasn’t sure. There is nothing romantic about coaches. I didn’t think it was something that would fulfill me. I got back to Gainesville and one of my chauffeurs [who also] was driving a school bus mentioned the charter bus business. He told me, ‘You need to get yourself a motorcoach.’”
In June 2006, Kaplan took the advice from the Summit and the driver and bought a pre-owned 56-passenger 2000 Prevost H345 with 330,000 miles, for $250,000. “I was shocked that they were so expensive,” he says. “You really have to commit. When you buy pre-owned coaches, they don’t come to you clean. You can’t overthink it. If you do, you won’t get into it.”
Kaplan connected with another local operator who needed to farm-out motorcoach business and got his first coach clients immediately. He also tapped into a strong need for motorcoach service among UF athletic teams. “I talked to sports coordinators and asked them what they were doing for athletic travel,” he recalls. “They said they had to get coaches out of Orlando and Jacksonville to service their athletic teams. It was a niche that was right there in front of me and I didn’t even see it.”
Growing just in time
All A Candies coaches are pre-owned Prevost models, except for the recently acquired 2011 model. Kaplan also runs one Krystal KK33 28-passenger mini-bus. The demands for buses rose just as the recession took hold, sapping the limousine business but driving clients to more economical group transportation.
“We grew faster than we expected. We realized that not only did UF have more work than we could handle, we wanted to protect our corner,” he says. “We wanted to build our company as slow as we could to allow a stronger infrastructure. We had to keep buying coaches to supply what the needs were.”
Kaplan split his company to reflect the growing motorcoach business, which is incorporated under the name A Candies Coachworks Inc. “You will need a second coach as soon as you get the first one,” he says. “You move more than 56 people on a regular basis. You can sub it out, but if you want to own the market, you need to keep buying buses.”