Operations

Lessons You Can Use From A Bus Legend

Lexi Tucker
Posted on April 13, 2018

Once upon a time, LCT began hosting a monthly series of webinars aimed at educating operators on a variety of topics, from safety to marketing and networking. Unlike at tradeshows, webinars enable you to learn from experts from the comfort of your home or office. February’s webinar was titled “Bus Marketing 101,” where motorcoach guru George Jacobs of Windy City Limousine & Bus in Chicago gave a presentation on ways to get big vehicles off your lot and make money.

Appeal To Your Audience

You won’t be able to market your buses if you don’t purchase the right ones for the right clients. “You’re going to determine what you get a lot of times based on what the usage will be,” Jacobs says. “We have some vehicles used every day to take people from their homes to clinics. Those types of vehicles do not have to be anything fabulous or exotic. They just have to be functional.”

On the other hand, you may have clients who demand shiny, brand-spanking-new vehicles with all the tools and toys on them, as Jacobs puts it. Before you make that purchase, however, you have to be sure you have the commitment to back it up.

“If you have someone who will create a contract for the next three years and they say, ‘I’d like to have a new vehicle,’ by all means, do that because if you’re guaranteed a three-year commitment on a vehicle to run on a college campus or take somebody from a parking lot shuttle, it’s what you do.” 

Ultimately, what you spend on a bus should be determined by what you’ll get out of the purchase; what will make it worth it? If you don’t have the right client demand in your service area, no amount of marketing will change that.

What Time Is Right?

While it seems like the entire industry is going bus crazy, you’ve probably found yourself asking, “When should I buy a one?” Jacobs says you should think of the answer in terms of a clock.

“You start at 12:00, and when you get to 12:30, or in other words, when you’re filling up half a bus, it’s time for you to buy your own. And from 12:30 to 1:00, you’re going to be filling your own bus more often, and you won’t need to farm out at that point. Then when you get to 1:00, now you have to start farming out again. So you filled your bus to capacity, and now you start farming out the next bus to the other company again, and so on. Simply put, if you’re farming out a half a bus for somebody else, it’s time for you to buy one.”

George Jacobs of Windy City Limousine & Bus in Chicago
George Jacobs of Windy City Limousine & Bus in Chicago
Aiming For The Right Targets

Who do you target? EVERYONE. There’s no company or organization out there that doesn’t use buses, Jacobs says. Churches, hospitals, banks, sports teams, colleges, high schools…the list never ends.

Banks and local park districts arrange senior citizen outings to casinos, theaters, and dinners. Law firms have partner meetings where large groups of people need to be entertained.

“Sometimes they have a whole group of people who must go to court together, and they have all this paraphernalia to carry they don’t want to drag through the city. It’s too much for any one car. So they do buses.” 

A corporation may be running a convention and need to shuttle its people from the airport to the hotel, the hotel to their office, and their office to offsite visits. “Whether you have a contract with the convention center or not, you still could have contracts with the corporations using those convention centers.”

Even weddings have become one of the most popular uses of buses. “When it comes to limousines, there are too many and it’s too confining. They can get onto a bus where they can stand up and have lots of room. Whether it’s the family being picked up at the hotels, the out-of-town people, or they want to go for pictures; buses are perfect for pictures.”

High schools may not sound like a target because they mainly use school buses, but Jacobs says this may not be an option for trips over a certain distance. “They don’t want to have the kids being on long trips on the highway in school buses; motorcoaches are safer.”

There’s an unending stream of business you can and should go after.

Logos And Branding

Putting your logo on your buses = free advertising. “Having marked buses is good for you because people in your area see them all the time and they get familiar with them,” Jacobs says. “It’s like when you put billboards up — you become special. It gets you other business you would not have otherwise, whether it’s sedan or SUV business or people who just call you because they saw your buses and know you have them.”

He gave an example of a group at a concert who might see your bus after taking some rickety, broken down one to get there. “They’ll see that and say, ‘Next time let’s call this Windy City company. That looked like a beautiful bus.’ So you’ll get extra business just by having your name on the side of the bus. Buses retain their value better than any other vehicle and have a longer lifespan than any other vehicle we buy.”

Wrapping your buses is another good option that can be done two different ways. If you have a long-term contract with a school, company, etc., you may want to get a permanent one. This runs about $12,000 or $13,000. Then there are temporary wraps you can do for a couple thousand dollars. Usually, you can get your client to pay for it or at least split the cost.

“With wrapping in general, it’s a process. You need to be aware your bus will be down the day before and the day after an event. So if you’re charging them $1,000 a day while they’re in town, you also charge them $1,000 a day for the two days the bus is out of service. That might not sound appropriate to you, but it’s appropriate and they expect it. They understand if they take a bus, your bus, and put it out of service for a day, they have to pay for it. And then the cost of the wrapping is up to you. You can pass it on or you can make some money on it. That’s up to you entirely.”   

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Q: What is the average marketing and advertising budget for a new company just starting?
A: Spend all you can. One of the best returns on your investment is marketing. So let the people know what you have and get it out there. Go to radio stations and barter for advertising. They need a bus to take the winners of a contest to a concert? Well, barter for that. Tell them you’ll do it for free if they’ll mention you 40 times on the air. Trade with people. Go to barter corporations. Get your name out there because that’s how you get ahead. Advertise in any place you can think of. Advertise for weddings in banquet halls. Go to convention centers and advertise for bus transportation to and from corporations.

Related Topics: advertising, bus market, buses, Chicago operators, George Jacobs, motorcoach operators, motorcoaches, Sales & Marketing, webinar, Windy City Limousine

Lexi Tucker Associate Editor
Comments ( 1 )
  • Anthony

     | about 6 months ago

    Here is the best tip to running coach buses for any new operators thinking about buying their first coach. This is a real example of what can go wrong financially if you dont charge enough on the rates. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.ocregister.com/2016/10/17/300-bus-driver-jobs-could-be-cut-nov-30-in-anaheim-after-contract-squabble/amp/

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