Operations

BEST BUS IDEAS II: Stretching The Value Of Your Minibus And Motorcoach

Michael Campos
Posted on September 19, 2011

In the first part of our “Best Bus Ideas” series in the June/July issue, operators shared tips and advice on how to handle big groups traveling to business meetings and conventions. This installment includes a broad array of practical advice on improving customer service, managing fleets of vans, minibuses and motorcoaches, and pursuing reliable revenue-generating contracts.

Schooling Customers
A. Goff Limo, Charlottesville, Va., 55 vehicles


Owner Dan Goff has found that the leading customer base he serves are schools. Schools use big vehicles for multiple needs, such as transporting sports teams, university or school officials, and even inter-campus student transit. “A school contract’s strength is the fact that you’re providing repeat transportation for a fixed customer base,” Goff says. “Our largest individual client is a university and makes up about 13% of our revenue alone.” Goff offers the following advice when pursuing school contracts:

  • Universities will appreciate a focus on service, quick turnaround, and flexible change and cancellation policies; make sure to emphasize this during your sales pitch.
  • Product knowledge carries the day: when you sit down with administrators about their needs, assume they don’t do this every day and that you’ll have to help them figure out what they need.
  • Develop a long-term relationship by offering more than just chartering sports teams or university-based events; if you have the vehicles, propose to provide student transit service or inter-campus service.
  • Minibuses are wonderful for universities because they are nimble and don’t take up a lot of space, yet carry high passenger loads.
  • As the “master of transportation,” you should be able to help university administrators with scheduling, understanding what the responsibilities are for transportation, and understanding their role as coordinators.
  • Schools require that you have an emergency plan for each event.

 

Be On The Winning Team Every Time
All Resort Group, Park City, Utah, 167 vehicles

With a large fleet of motorcoaches, shuttles, and sedans, All Resort Group’s Lewis Stages motorcoach division handles clientele ranging from executives requiring airport transfers to athletes traveling to Olympic Park to many of the sports teams requiring game-day transportation. Geary Furin, director of sales, says one key to more business is being the preferred transportation service for your local teams and the visiting teams.

“If we’re the preferred vendor for the Utah Jazz, then we contact all of their visiting teams with a recommendation from the Jazz and that’s usually all it takes,” Furin says. “It works for professional and college teams.”

He says dependability is critical for these teams, and the way to win their contracts is by providing the best service in the best equipment for the best price, then the best service once again. “The driver needs to be knowledgeable, reliable, and flexible because there are always changes and last-minute additions. Flexibility is a big point for corporate and team planners.”

Furin also says it’s important to find your company’s specialties and see if they fit in different markets. “We’ve become such experts in mountain destinations in Utah that now we’re looking at places like Jackson, Wyoming and Lake Tahoe,” he says.

All Resort Group also keeps close relationships with DMCs, resorts, hotels, and CVBs. “If someone comes to the city for an event, they might look for lodging before transportation, so having a good relationship with resorts, hotels and CVBs is crucial because they are able to recommend us to their clients.”

Sticking To The Plan
Executive Coach Inc., Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, 100+ vehicles

As the saying goes, everything’s bigger in Texas: Motorcoaches are their own best marketing tool, says John Zenkovich of Executive Coach Inc., who views them as 45-foot mobile billboards. “We add numerous clients each week who have spotted the coach on the road,” he says. In addition, Executive Coach engages in online marketing and strives to keep their coaches equipped with modern amenities such as Wi-Fi and satellite TV. Zenkovich offered the following ideas:

 Pricing

  • Watch your cost and don’t undercut yourself to try to match bids.
  • Set a margin and stay within those guidelines.
  • If you force yourself to operate under costs, then other aspects of your service are guaranteed to suffer.

Driver Training

  • This is a daily program; you must learn from each trip different ways to improve your service and safety procedures.
  • Monthly safety meetings.
  • Driver Rewards program to encourage safe driving.
  • Cross training employees to provide opportunities for advancement within the company, i.e. dispatch and operations staff are also coach operators.

Fuel Conservation

  • Limit idling times.
  • Bulk fuel purchase program.

Zenkovich says the best advice he can give is for operators to stay true to their plan and make client safety their top priority. “We’ve taken emergency calls at 2 a.m. to help groups who are having trouble, and turned that into $250,000 in revenue over a few years.”

 

Size Matters
DATTCO, New Britain, Conn., 82 motorcoaches

Founded in 1924, DATTCO has many decades of experience in motorcoach service. National sales director Carrie Maher shares some of the practices that have helped the company thrive:

  • Safety is first, followed by proper staging of the vehicles before trips, strong on-site communications, and having a back-up plan.
  • Pricing is based on demand, with a base of cost and fuel factored in.
  • Size matters. The larger the vehicle, the better price value it offers. For example, the 81-passenger double-decker Van Hool costs only 35% more than a deluxe motorcoach, and it can save a client from chartering two full-size coaches.
  • A preventative maintenance program is crucial, along with good communication between the drivers and the garage. Maintenance locations are DATTCO-owned and run 24/7.
  • Being part of the International Motor Coach Group (IMG) network allows the company to call IMG partners when needed.
  • DATTCO has an in-depth IMG driver-safety training program and recently added a driver simulator, which is also available for outside organizations to use as a training tool.
  • GPS tracking is paired with 24/7 dispatch service for client convenience.

Easy Does It
La Costa Limousine, Carlsbad, Calif., 44 vehicles

Located just north of San Diego, La Costa Limousine handles group work using its vans and minibuses and farms out motorcoaches. La Costa landed its first key accounts at the International LCT Show in Las Vegas in the early 90s and has been growing since. It has built a reputation for excellence in handling groups, such its most recent event — the ultra-popular annual Comic Con International Expo. The company rented 30 vehicles to supplement its fleet of 44 and hired 25 temporary chauffeurs to manage the demand. Success with these events has earned them a reputation that catches the attention of large accounts. Most recently, Warner Brothers Canada contacted them after hearing about their performance at Comic Con.

“Our philosophy for the last couple of years has been to stay away from hotels and focus on group business,” says director of chauffeurs, Ron Lavertu. “Darren [Croasdale, general manager] and Frank [Stone, director of operations] are constantly talking to transportation providers and transportation brokers and getting the attention of companies doing sizeable groups.”

Here are La Costa’s tips:

  • Top-notch customer service is the leading priority because customer referrals carry considerable influence.
  • Be easy to work with to be clients’ top choice; help tour planners and DMCs by organizing manifests. Keep everyone on the same page and be flexible.
  • Go after anyone who works with sizeable groups, i.e. tour planners, local and out-of-state DMCs, conference bureaus, large companies.
  • Essential technology: GPS, up-to-the-minute flight tracking, LiveryCoach software, Adobe manifest-building software.
  • Look at other industries that require group transportation such as local elementary and high schools, but make sure chauffeurs have the correct certifications and licenses (SPAB in California).

Related Topics: bus market, buses, business trends, expanding your business, government contract, management, motorcoaches, shuttle buses, tour buses

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