Operations

How To Make Your Bus Pay Off In Multiple Ways

Tom Halligan
Posted on August 11, 2017
Seasoned operators shared creative tips and strategies to make more money running your bus business during a panel session featuring (L to R): Moderator Tom Holden, Rose Chauffeured Transportation; George Jacobs, Windy City Limousine & Bus; Jennifer Buffo, Pure Luxury Transportation; and Dave Brown, Premier Transportation (LCT photo)
Seasoned operators shared creative tips and strategies to make more money running your bus business during a panel session featuring (L to R): Moderator Tom Holden, Rose Chauffeured Transportation; George Jacobs, Windy City Limousine & Bus; Jennifer Buffo, Pure Luxury Transportation; and Dave Brown, Premier Transportation (LCT photo)

Considering the sizable investment of buying a motorcoach and paying all the operational costs, generating revenue sources becomes a constant challenge for new and seasoned operators alike.

One of the best tips to promote your motorcoach business is to ensure you place your logos on the sides. “It’s free advertising and it’s the single most important thing operators can do to generate business,” said George Jacobs, president of Chicago-based Windy City Limousine & Bus. “In fact, we even have our website address on the roof of the bus because when we are operating in the city, people in high-rise offices and apartment buildings looking down from their windows can see our logo all the time — that’s free advertising.”

Jacobs was part of a panel discussion, “Capitalizing on Every Revenue Opportunity in Your Market,” held March 15 during the International LCT Show in Las Vegas. Moderated by Tom Holden, general manager at Rose Chauffeured Transportation of Charlotte, N.C., the other panelists included Dave Brown, president and CEO of Premier Transportation of Albany, N.Y, and Jennifer Buffo, chief operating officer of Pure Luxury Transportation in Petaluma, Calif.

Because operators have trouble finding qualified motorcoach chauffeurs, Jacobs said he places a help wanted decal on the rear of the bus as a free recruitment tool. “Because buses are always in the right lane, you place the help wanted signage on the left side of the bus so motorists can see it,” Jacobs said.

Free & Cheap Strategies
Operators new to the bus business can use a number of free or inexpensive tactics to market their services, Buffo said. “Promote your bus services to the local Chamber of Commerce, Visitors & Convention Bureau, wedding planners, and other organizations that can drive business to you.” Operators partnered with transportation providers in their regions can use them to promote bus service and selling points. “That’s all free marketing, especially if you have done sedan services, and now they are aware you have motorcoach service.”

A sure-fire way to increase your bus business is to market it to your customer base and let them know you can provide bus service for social outings (weddings, tours, etc.) as well as corporate events, Brown said. “Traditional bus companies are not as aggressive marketing their buses as we are, so market your buses though Facebook, Instagram, and your website using videos because people want to see the buses and the latest features, so capitalize on everything you can do to inexpensively promote your bus business.”

Promo Opps
New operators should not forget to promote their addition of buses and motorcoaches to wedding planners and wedding sites because the destination wedding market is hot. An operator could provide additional sedan airport transfers, SUVs, shuttles to pre- and post-wedding social events, and motorcoach outings, Buffo said. “All of that can tack on $10,000 to $20,000 for a large destination wedding.”

It’s also important to be creative and look for niche opportunities to provide packaged tours in your regions. Besides a bustling wine country tour business in the San Francisco Bay region, Buffo said she looks for trends such as “foodie tours” that pair wine and food, “and we even have a tour where people can sample organic vegetables at farms—just create it, sell it, and people will talk about it and spread the word. There’s always something in your city and region going on where you can package a tour.”

Bartering your bus service for marketing services is another alternative to promote your business. For example, Jacobs has traded free bus transportation with radio stations that ran contests for an event. “Your company name is mentioned all the time they promote their event on air — ‘transportation provided by Windy City Limousine’ — that’s great marketing every time they promote the event,” he said.

Some barter companies offer service exchanges, he said. “For example, I could give 10 hours of transportation service in exchange for, say, legal or marketing services. In slow months, bartering may pay off for you in trade for such services as legal or marketing time with firms in exchange for transportation services.”

Get In the Game
Servicing sports teams — high school, college, or professional — is not only a target market to increase revenue, but also a way to network with corporate sponsors, especially for pro-sports teams.

“Servicing sports teams brings special bragging rights and adds credibility to your company,” said Jacobs, who transports all Chicago professional teams and many colleges as well. Sports business also offers free advertising when the media photographs or records videos of your bus. For example, when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series last year, Jacobs’ buses (and his rooftop website address) were captured on video taken by a local news helicopter.

Although the sports transportation business may be low margin, the chance to network with major Fortune 500 advertisers can make it pay off, Jacobs said. “The professional and college teams all have sponsors, so if the team can make an introduction on your behalf, that costs them nothing and you can make business connections.”

The same holds true for introductions to organizers and sponsors who use professional sports facilities, such as concert promoters and religious groups that hold stadium-size events.

Brown does business with five colleges and several school districts in the Albany region. You have to be very competitive in pricing to win the business, but you can earn good money by matching the number of players and staff being transported to specific vehicles in your fleet, he said.

“You can, for example, use a mid-size bus rather than a motorcoach and lower your pricing because the cost of operation is lower,” Brown added. There is a demand for professional and reliable bus service because universities and school districts have trouble finding drivers, so they need to outsource.

Brown also creates sports tour packages to New York City and New England. “It could be the Giants, Jets, or Yankees in New York and we’re about three hours to New England, so we can put a package together: Buy 30 tickets, and price the tour per person,” he said. However, he cautioned: “Sporting event tickets are expensive, so you want to make sure you sell out.”

Seasons Go Round
A session attendee asked the panel how they deal with seasonality in the motorcoach business. Jacobs said he is non-stop busy from March through November, but slower in the cold winter months, save for some convention transportation business. He offered this creative solution during down times:

“I trade buses in the winter with a Florida company, and in the summer he provides me buses when I need more buses. He may ship me an extra 50 buses in the summer, so you are sharing buses which saves you money when they otherwise would sit idle.”

Related Topics: charter and tour operators, George Jacobs, ILCT 2017, industry education, Jennifer Buffo, motorcoach operators, motorcoaches, Sales & Marketing, Tom Holden

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