It can all start with one client. That’s the idea behind John Burnett’s recent foray into the private school sector for his charter bus company, Premier Coaches Northwest. There is an easy kinship among private schools in a district. Many times linked by religion, or simply as committed preparatory schools for higher learning, private schools often talk amongst themselves and help each other. And if one has a stellar experience working with a charter bus company, one school client can lead to another.
Burnett recently partnered with St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Tacoma, Wash. The relationship came about after he had been tipped off the school was looking for transportation for an eighth grade annual trip. Burnett contacted the principal and worked out a budget to take the kids on a three-day trip from Tacoma to Spokane, Wash.
John and Cindy Burnett of Premier Coaches Northwest bought their new Temsa TS 35 at the Travel Exchange Show in Orlando, Fla., earlier this year.
“It was a school retreat,” Burnett says. “They stayed at Gonzaga University but on the way to Spokane we did a lot of
sightseeing. We went to Grand Coulee Dam, Dry Falls, and then they had a free day in Spokane, just walking around and visiting different things.”
The trip went off without a hitch, and Burnett is looking forward to a sustained relationship with the school. He hopes to be able to provide services to other private schools in the area. “I know that my relationship with St. Charles Borromeo will continue,” Burnett says. “They were extremely pleased with the service.”
The Private School Difference
Premier Coaches Northwest specializes in showing its sightseeing clients the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, especially their new private school clients who like to visit such locations.
Premier Coaches Northwest is a small fleet consisting of two Krystal minibuses and a Temsa TS 35 motorcoach. Burnett and his wife, Cindy, started the company five years ago, and each of them are still primary chauffeurs, with two other part-time drivers. In fact, John Burnett was the driver on the eighth graders’ trip to Spokane.
Aside from the corporate work, weddings, and international tour groups, Burnett really values the private school business because of the well-behaved kids. “My wife used to be a school bus driver for 18 years, and she laid down the law, and a lot of times she felt like she
The Burnetts have received positive responses for their work, such as this Thank You card from the dance troupe at Kentlake High School in Kent, Wash., a public school that Northwest works with for after school activity work.
didn’t get support because the district and the school officials were afraid of the students,” he recalls. “When you get into private school they are paying to be there, and their parents are not going to put up with a lot of garbage.”
Another avenue Burnett is exploring is the fact that with some recent changes to the California Air Resources Board, charter bus companies that run older vehicles are not able to travel to the state since they do not meet emission standards. Burnett’s oldest vehicle is a 2010, which is compliant with the stricter emission regulations. He knows of some local schools that make such out-of-state trips, so he sees an opportunity for his boutique fleet to flourish.
Building From One
When Gary Day of American Limousine first started his company in 1990 with a Lincoln Town Car six-passenger s
Gary Day, CEO of American Limousine in Baltimore, Md.
“We don’t do any public schools. The reason is private schools have a more lucrative income. When you bid out for public schools, it’s always the cheapest price. It’s cheap, cheap, cheap. And we want to be able to pay our drivers a good wage and provide brand new equipment and things like that.”
tretch limousine, he could hardly imagine the day when he’d have a fleet consisting of full-size motorcoaches and school buses serving an active roster of private schools.
Today, with a full limo, bus and motorcoach fleet that includes even a trolley, Day has established his company in the Baltimore area for high-quality transportation, including a market in private schools. “As of the last calendar year, we have about 15 schools we service,” Day says. “We don’t do things for every one of them every day; some of them use us just for field trips while others do use us every day.”
The school niche has become a substantial percentage of American Limousine’s revenue. And as with Premier Coaches Northwest, private schools are the primary target.
“We don’t do any public schools,” Day says. “The reason is private schools have a more lucrative income. When you bid out for public schools, it’s always the cheapest price. It’s cheap, cheap, cheap. And we want to be able to pay our drivers a good wage and provide brand new equipment and things like that.”
Smaller minicoaches are used to shuttle high school sports teams, such as basketball and soccer, to and from games.
Many Different Routes
American Limousine meets a variety of transportation needs for the private schools. Some have morning and afternoon transportation for the kids, while others charter for after school events like sports and field trips. Day explains: “For a lot of private schools, let’s say there are 25 kids who are 25 miles away from the school. Well, the parents will pay so they don’t have to drive them every day, and the school will chip in, too. A lot of schools market this to help get kids who live far away, by offering transportation to keep up enrollment.”
Day, who enjoys the challenge of planning such logistics, says, “The first day or two, everything becomes chaos because it’s a whole
American Limousine’s full-size motorcoaches are used for longer school field trips.
new route and everyone is trying to get their timeline down. But after a couple days, it’s a piece of cake.”
Day opts not to run traditional yellow school buses, painting them white when he buys them. Billed as activity busses, the vehicles do not fall under many of the regulatory sanctions that city regulated buses adhere to for public schools. The white color also gives Day flexibility to use the buses for weddings and events.
With his business going well, Day reaffirms how word gets around in the private school community. If a job is well done, referral business likely follows. “It’s all about who you know,” Day says. “And once your name is out there, most all [of the new business] will come from word of mouth. Once one principal speaks highly of you, it goes around.”