Operations

How A Quality Motorcoach Business Succeeds

Tom Holden
Posted on March 26, 2018
CEO Brian Scott (L) with his late father and company founder, Lew Scott, and COO Brian Tanner (R). (photos courtesty of Escot Bus Lines)
CEO Brian Scott (L) with his late father and company founder, Lew Scott, and COO Brian Tanner (R). (photos courtesty of Escot Bus Lines)

ORLANDO, Fla. — I had the opportunity in late January to spend two days with President Brian Scott and COO Brian Tanner of Escot Bus Lines. We talked about their operation in both locations in Orlando and the principal office in Largo, near Tampa.

The two operations handle different types of client categories. In Orlando, the company focuses on local transfers, shuttles, and contracted work, such as with Universal Studios and other local attractions. The Largo location handles over-the-road charter work throughout Florida and other states.

Despite its hectic flow of turnarounds, Escot still must farm-out some jobs out to local bus companies in the Orlando area. Its business model is based on covering all customer needs. Orlando, a global tourist destination home to the massive Disney theme park region, is a very price competitive market, and someone will grab a job for hourly rates not normally seen in the limousine industry.

The Escot facility in Orlando is entirely independent with its 24/7 maintenance and dispatch departments, fueling island, and wash bay.
The Escot facility in Orlando is entirely independent with its 24/7 maintenance and dispatch departments, fueling island, and wash bay.
Operational Approaches
Knowing how and where to place the lower-priced ride with other work in the same bus during the same 24-hour period takes a dedicated team and understanding of the bus industry. The guidance from Tanner, who was hired in 2014, is the reason the company operation in Orlando stands out from all the rest.

Staffing: The Orlando site runs 12 motorcoaches, 24 transit buses, seven minibuses, and two vans, generating more than $6 million in annual revenue, which matches the annual revenues of the Tampa location. Escot employs 60 drivers, nine mechanics, four cleaners (also known as porters), three sales staffers, and six dispatchers.

Bus driver Dona McFarlane-Nelson handles charter tour groups that sometimes travel for months.
Bus driver Dona McFarlane-Nelson handles charter tour groups that sometimes travel for months.
Maintenance:
Both the Orlando and Largo properties have their own service departments and fueling islands. The Orlando dispatch center is open 24 hours, and an operations manager schedules the drivers and works closely with the repair shop, making sure all buses are ready to roll. At the Orlando wash bay, teams working around the clock keep the fleet pristine and ready since the service department works three shifts. Early morning shuttles need to be ready, and regardless of the time or trip, every vehicle is needed, leaving no room for service failures.

Service scheduling: The service department runs like most others, but this company has three employees dedicated to the fleet office: A fleet manager, service writer, and a mechanic. The mechanic separates the repairs, helping with planning and scheduling, and also at times turns wrenches. Nine other mechanics fix and maintain the vehicles.

Safety/Training: The company’s safety director works out of both locations and travels between them several times a week. Escot adopts strict safety procedures, and the drivers are schooled on their mistakes. While not reprimanding drivers, the company uses their mistakes for lessons on how to prevent future occurrences. It all stems from thorough, continuous training.

All vehicles are routinely washed onsite, including these Escot transit buses.
All vehicles are routinely washed onsite, including these Escot transit buses.
Fuel:
Escot hedges on diesel, where it contracts a guaranteed quantity of fuel and each month takes regular deliveries. This process can keep the pricing budget for a full 12 months. The company has installed fuel tanks on its property, which is a major benefit since it has ready access to a fueling station and avoids pulling motorcoaches in and out of fueling stations.

Property access: Escot wants to buy a five-acre lot across the street from its Orlando office as it embarks on a plan to grow its location. The larger property can handle more vehicles and offer service to other bus companies that may need repairs while in the area. The potential to expand service in the region will widen as long as the area continues to build tourist attractions and remain as the leading convention destination. The city offers two convention centers — East and West — side by side, and the combined tourist and convention demand means massive hotels dot the region that require all types of shuttle service and ground transportation.

All vehicles are routinely washed onsite, including these Escot transit buses.
All vehicles are routinely washed onsite, including these Escot transit buses.
Customer service:
During my visit, I had the opportunity to ride on one of their 35-foot Van Hool motorcoaches. If you’re in the market for a smaller motorcoach, be sure to check one out. The driver, Dona McFarlane-Nelson, was a great commander whose personality matched the role perfectly, proving employees make or break an operation.

Dona has enjoyed driving for Escot for the past four years and previously drove for another bus company for nine years before Escot purchased them. It reminded me of how some companies looking to grow in today’s marketplace expand by seeing what companies are for sale and how they could complement their market share. She relayed to me a story about a tour she was driving for a group of scientists who toured around the country for three months. I joked with her about how many uniforms she must have needed. She replied she made good use of the laundry service.

Family Company Legacy
Escot has proven to be a premium level brand in Orlando among the estimated 40 motorcoach services based here. The company belongs to the prestigious International Motorcoach Group (IMG), an elite group of 50+ coach operators in North America who must meet rigorous performance standards in all areas of operations. I have found family owned bus companies tend to gain the competitive edge, drawing the most loyal and dedicated employees who feel like they are part of the family.

CEO Brian Scott is a committed athlete running in marathons and training daily for several miles. In addition to staying in shape and keeping him competitive, the intense exercise enables him to think and plan every move and decision to keeping growing his company. He’s joined in the company by his sister, Pam Calixto, who works in sales and marketing in the Largo office.

Speaking of family, I want to give condolences on behalf of myself and LCT Magazine to the Scott family for the loss earlier this year of their father, Lew Scott, who founded the company in 1983. I only met Lew once on a previous visit to their Orlando operation. Cheerful to a fault, he always had a broad smile and a ready laugh. I can only imagine how his son Brian and daughter Pam will certainly miss his presence in the company.

FASTFACTS: Escot Bus Lines
Location: Largo and Orlando, Fla.
Year founded: 1983
Founder: Lew Scott
Owners: Scott family
Fleet vehicles Orlando: 45
Fleet vehicles Largo: 28
Vehicle types: Van Hool, Prevost motorcoaches, Gillig & New Flyer transit buses, Champion Ford minibuses.
Annual revenues: $14 million
Employees: about 165 (105 drivers)
Key clients: Theme parks, tourist attractions, hotels, tour groups
Key executives/managers: Brian Scott, President; Brian Tanner, COO; Pam Calixto, sales and marketing
Website: https://escotbuslines.com/

Tom Holden is the GM/operations manager of Rose Chauffeured Transportation in Charlotte, N.C. He can be reached at [email protected]

Related Topics: charter and tour operators, Florida operators, How To, motorcoach operators, Tampa Bay operators, Tom Holden

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