Operations

Smart Ways To Handle Bus Business

John M. Greene
Posted on September 13, 2012

Many of us who make our living supplying sedans and limousines have fielded the same phone call. A meeting planner is on the line, “I have a convention coming to town, a job that will involve moving groups of 500 or more to the convention center, to the ballpark, to some high-end restaurant,” and “Oh, the spouses want to go shopping. Can you handle all that for us?”

We’re like Pavlov’s dog; a client mentions moving a lot of people around and we are automatically programmed to reply, “Sure, no problem,” while we stare out into a garage housing several dozen sedans, SUVs, limousines and vans. We know, because we are trained ground transportation professionals, that not one of those sedans will fit 50 people.

Most businesses aren’t going to spend the extra money to transport all their employees in sedans at an average rate that runs $100 each way when they can load everyone on a single bus at a significantly lower cost per person. What we also know is that over the past 10 years or so, more and more meeting planners want to deal with a single transportation company to fit their needs. So it’s up to us to find what they need, meaning we now have to work with other companies to get the right equipment for the large group business that we aren’t able to physically handle ourselves.

But finding a bus company to work with takes some due diligence to ensure the company you farm out to will represent you in the best possible light to the client.

Working with a bus company is not that difficult when you find the right company. By putting your best client on a bus instead of in your sedan, you have heightened the exposure to your company should something go wrong. Let’s face it, a sedan crashes and it ends up on page 12 in the local newspaper. A bus crashes and it’s the lead on CNN. This past June a limo bus in Chicago was in a crash that injured 19 passengers. The driver was cited for carrying too many people on board. There were more than 40 passengers on a bus that is only supposed to carry 30. This is not the company you want to farm out your client’s business to.

But there are ways to be ahead of the game, and that’s by knowing in advance what type of track record the bus company has that you want to work with.

Right away, you can look up the bus company’s history through the Department of Transportation, to make sure they have had no catastrophic accidents. You also can get important information on any bus company through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) website, which will tell you everything you need to know about their driving record. Think of it as a CARFAX for bus companies.

Another key factor when you farm out your large jobs is the driver of the bus. Although it sounds strange, just because you partner with a bus company doesn’t necessarily mean you want the bus driven by a “bus driver.” What you want instead is a “bus chauffeur,” someone dressed in a suit and tie that doesn’t look or dress like Ralph Kramden.

Drivers represent the bus company they drive for, and by association, represent you to your client because they are often the only face the passengers will see. Hiring kind, responsible, and safe drivers is important, not only because they are your ambassadors on the road but people are entrusting their lives to them. A few years back, a bargain bus ($15 one way from Boston to NYC) crashed in central Massachusetts, injuring 15 passengers, with the driver, who could barely speak English, cited for speeding. This is the kind of PR collateral damage your company definitely doesn’t want.

Of course, there may come a time when you are farming out so much business you might think to yourself that maybe you’d like to keep some of the money “in-house” and invest in a motorcoach. It’s a noble idea, but one that should be thought out carefully and not just as a knee-jerk reaction to a few good months of business. Unless you are seeing a good, consistent run of income from large groups, perhaps up to a year of $8,000-$10,000 income per month, you might want to give it more thought as it’s a serious investment.

Some companies may not blink at ponying up $25,000-$40,000 for a sedan or Lincoln Town Car. But when you have to layout anywhere from $150,000-$300,000 for a used bus, or $400,000 to $600,000 for a new one, the economics definitely change as now you are assuming you have the business needed to bring in $8,000-$10,000 in revenue every month. And there are other factors involved that go way beyond just the rise in fuel costs, such as maintenance, garaging, insurance, heightened driver education and regulations, just to name a few.

Still, if you notice a growing demand or steady revenue stream, then it may be time to invest in owning the vehicles. And just to play it safe, you also could gauge interest in the bus business by partnering with a company that specializes in buses. Check out the demand and then decide if it’s a good fit for your company.

In the end, if you believe the sedans and Town Cars in your garage are at your comfort level, and you see no need to spend large sums to purchase motorcoaches to service your best clients with high-maintenance needs, then farming out the business to a bus company you feel comfortable with provides the best of all business worlds.

However, do your homework to make sure the bus you hire to transport 50 executives from Microsoft is the same bus you and your family would ride on.

John M. Greene, President and CEO of ETS International in Randolph, Mass., is a 25-year veteran of the limousine business. ETS International has an affiliate network of more than 350 limousine companies nationwide. The company was chosen as a 2010 LCT Operator of the Year. John Greene can be contacted at (617) 804-4801 and [email protected]

Related Topics: building your clientele, bus market, farm-in farm-out, John Greene

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