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SAN ANTONIO, Texas — In a convention hall ringed with towering motorcoaches parked in horseshoe exhibits, two white buses near the entrance drew plenty of eyeballs.
Not because of height, length, or width, but because the vehicle style and design could appeal to a limousine trade show as easily as at this motorcoach one, the annual United Motorcoach Association Expo in San Antonio.
That’s the idea behind the twin 45-foot cutaway Freightliner buses, known as the Ecoach45, which can seat up to 52 passengers and store 52 suitcases underneath. It carries only four to five fewer passengers than a typical motorcoach. The Ecoach45 costs under $200,000, about $300,000 to $400,000 less than a full size coach. To attract aspiring motorcoach operators, ECB is offering a model that seats up to 52 people and carries up to 52 suitcases, and costs less than half the price of a new full-size motocoach (bus photos courtesy of ECB).
The designer and builder is a longtime fixture in the limousine industry with deep livery roots, Executive Coach Builders of Springfield, Mo. Since LCT last profiled ECB in June 2013, its vehicle market shares have flipped.
Two years ago, about 20% to 25% of ECB’s sales were buses; last year, they topped 50%. Sprinter vans comprise about 35% of that volume, and stretch limousines about 15% to 20%. With production share doubling year over year, buses are now the main focus for ECB, which has been the largest builder of stretch limousines worldwide since 2010.
“It’s not so much that the industry is growing or shrinking; it’s that operators are changing their mix of products,” says owner and CEO David Bakare. A client will still order five vehicles, but instead of mostly stretch limousines, now it’s more likely one limousine, two Sprinters, and two buses.
To attract aspiring motorcoach operators, ECB is offering a model that seats up to 52 people and carries up to 52 suitcases, and costs less than half the price of a new full-size motocoach (bus photos courtesy of ECB).
Newport made Freightliner M2 and Ford E450 and F550 model-based buses. “It was a turnkey operation, so all we had to do was redesign the product and added ECB touches to it,” Bakare says. “Finding a turnkey operation helped us get to the rapid growth we see today. It offered a mature product that needed few enhancements. We just had to put a cherry on top and make it a whole lot better. Learning from other people’s mistakes makes more sense than learing from yours.” In December 2017, ECB bought the former Newport Coach factory as well. All-star manufacturing and sales team (F to B): ECB owner and CEO David Bakare; Carter Read, general manager in Riverside, Calif.; Tom Fielding, ECB sales manager; and Pat Butler, regional sales manager/West.
“We’ve made a long term commitment to being in California and Missouri, which gives us a wide range of coverage and flexibility with two factories.”
Stretch Limos Not Dying
While ECB has a renewed focus on buses and vans, Bakare still sees the stretch limousine market as part of the company’s “bread and butter.”
“I wish to see it come back full force,” Bakare says. “People’s tastes change and operators have more group requirements. Operators make more money with 50 passengers and one vehicle versus 10 passengers and one vehicle.”
While the stretch limousine appeal has faded, it still draws its core market of weddings and proms and an outward prestige factor that no van or bus could replicate, Bakare says. “Once clients got used to the comfort of standing up in a vehicle. That’s taken some of the appeal away from the limousine. They don’t have to slide in and have the freedom to walk around and walk in and out.”
But, “you can’t have a limousine company without limousines,” says Bakare, who still gets a steady stream of orders for stretches at LCT shows because of repeat business. “We still keep about 50 limousines in stock all the time. People can get one right away.”
Bigger Opps Ahead
Bakare’s strategy is to look for complementary growth opportunities outside of the industry, such as at the UMA Expo.
“We’ve always known the bus industry is a very good fit for us,” he says. “We’re going after one that gives us greater growth potential, and focusing more on that part of business rather than waiting for the limo industry to turn around. If you are not growing, you’re dying. You just can’t be stagnant. Exploring and getting out of our comfort zone was a big deal to us. We made a few mistakes, stumbles, and wrong moves, but we’ve found our path and seen solid growth in the last 12 months,” he adds, citing 30% year-over-year performance. ECB is aiming for 35% growth in 2018.
While ECB has invested in sales and brand recognition in the past few years, it plans to shift more toward product development in the coming year. The company anticipates the launch of a “Supercoach 45” at LCT East in November, and the possible launch of a full-size motorcoach in 2019.
“We’re looking forward to introducing a new product to the market that will revolutionize the bus industry and further bridge the gap between cutaway buses and motorcoaches,” Bakare says.
A lot of credit for ECB’s growth curve goes to an all-star team of longtime limousine industry figures Bakare has brought together in the last five years.
At the UMA Expo, he was joined by his right hand sales manager, Tom Fielding; Carter Read, a former manager at Newport Coach and an engineer who designed ECB’s 45-foot Freightliner, chassis, and frame; and Western sales manager Pat Butler, formerly with Tiffany Coachworks. Rounding out the team is Jay Real, owner of Coachwest in Carson, Calif., the West Coast distributor of ECB vehicles.
“To put all these veterans together with so many years of experience, exposure, talents, and energy is nothing short of a great accomplishment,” Bakare says. “Each one is such an intricate part of the success of this company; it’s amazing. With all that knowledge and experience, we are able to redefine what a true luxury bus should be.”
All-star manufacturing and sales team (F to B): ECB owner and CEO David Bakare; Carter Read, general manager in Riverside, Calif.; Tom Fielding, ECB sales manager; and Pat Butler, regional sales manager/West.
FASTFACTS: Executive Coach Builders
Locations: Springfield, Mo.; Riverside, Calif.
Owner: David Bakare
Founder: John Bumgarner, (1944-2009)
Leading vehicle models: Ecoach45 Freightliner; Sprinter Shuttle; MKT Evolution stretch limousine
Certification: Quality Vehicle Manufacturer (QVM)
Production, 2017: 400 units
Annual revenues: N/A, privately held
2016-2017 growth: 30%
Major acquisitions: Armbruster-Stageway Company, 1989; Newport Coachworks, 2015
Key executives: James Bakare, vice president of operations; Tom Fielding, sales manager; John Berry, plant manager, Springfield; Carter Read, general manager, Riverside; Pat Butler, regional sales manager, West.
Contact: (417) 831-3535
Executive Coach Builders Draws On Deep Industry Roots
For ECB, the stretch limousine serves as a historical bridge between the old stagecoach era and the 21st Century market for advanced buses and vans.
David Bakare, who marks 25 years this year as its owner, bought ECB from a group of business investors after it had changed hands a few times since its founding in 1976. In 1989, ECB absorbed the old Armbruster-Stageway Company, a stagecoach and limousine maker dating to 1886. ECB acquired the actual company, tooling and intellectual property, and relocated it to its plant in Springfield, Mo.
Federal Coach had bought and occupied the old Armbruster-Stageway factory in Fort Smith, Ark. until the company sold off its divisions in 2009 and 2010. So ECB stands as the sole guardian of the historic U.S. limousine and stagecoach legacy identified with the southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas Ozarks region, which still is home to several coachbuilders as well as fourth generation limousine manufacturing workers.
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