Operations

How To Match Minibuses and Motorcoaches To The Right Clientele

Lexi Tucker
Posted on December 7, 2018

Which vehicle is the best fit for your business and clientele?
Which vehicle is the best fit for your business and clientele?
In September, LCT hosted a webinar with Tom Holden, former general manager of Rose Chauffeured Transportation in Charlotte, N.C., and now owner of Bus Advisors consulting, to show how to get the most out of your minibuses and motorcoaches. Whether you buy them new or used is a decision that must be made based on who you’ll be working with.

Used Vs. New Minibuses

Minibuses are great for local shuttle work, but not necessarily high-end corporate work. Holden showed a photo of one built in 2013 that looked new with a great paint job and clean interior. “That’s about $60,000 to $65,000. Maybe it doesn’t have outlets and Wi-Fi, but you can always add that in. When you add outlets, depending on what company you’re using and the quality of the work you’re going to get, you might spend an extra $3,000 to get it wired up correctly with the right inverters.”

It’s not a bad vehicle to test the waters with if you’re doing parking lot or corporate shuttles that don’t require new vehicles. Return on investment (ROI) is always a big factor when choosing between used or new. “You want to be able to match the vehicle to the client type for maximum profitability.”

Some of today’s new minibuses are being built to include underbelly storage, much like a traditional motorcoach. Many built by luxury coach builders include high-end reclining leather seats with wood grain armrests. The starting price on a supersize mini-coach, about 45 feet long, will start at $230,000 and goes up from there depending on what you decide to include.

When the time comes to make a decision, you must consider this question:

Who Are You Driving?

It’s not about which brand bus you’re buying, whether it’s new or used, or if it has leather or cloth seats — it’s about who you are driving, Holden says. What is your client base? If you’re already in the minibus or motorcoach business and seem to barely make it, buying an expensive vehicle is not a good idea if you don’t get the work to sustain it.

Tom Holden, former general manager of Rose Chauffeured Transportation in Charlotte, N.C., and now owner of Bus Advisors consulting, has some great advice to help you get the maximum ROI out of your buses.
Tom Holden, former general manager of Rose Chauffeured Transportation in Charlotte, N.C., and now owner of Bus Advisors consulting, has some great advice to help you get the maximum ROI out of your buses.
There are a wide variety of different types of groups that would be your client type. Elementary, middle, and high schools require a lot of transportation, including to and from day trips and multi-day trips. There’s a high demand for reliable, safe people movers. University sports teams and clubs also need rides in minibuses and motorcoaches. However, Holden said when talking about doing motorcoach work, you’ll want to own an actual motorcoach. “When I say real motorcoach, I mean from your top manufacturers, not some off-the-wall vehicle that holds 50 people and claims to be a motorcoach, because they just won’t want to use that.”

Churches, casino trips, travel teams, and even weddings use minibuses and motorcoaches. Disaster evacuations will also require companies with vehicles that can carry large groups at one time. “If you’ve got the right equipment, you will be able to do a lot of trips, whether through FEMA or any other organization out there.”

Building contractors also provide plenty of business. “The folks building these enormous sky rise buildings usually have no place to park when they come to work. So they do a remote parking lot for them, and they are pretty dirty by the end of the day, so you’re going to want to use an interior that’s on the low-end, or even maybe a school bus. You’re not going to want to put them into a $500,000 or $600,000 motorcoach, that’s for sure.”

School Buses?!

If you serve a profitable clientele, you can go with a nice, high-end bus. However, if you consider your market, you may discover a more affordable solution. “There are some areas with schools having a difficult time in getting activity buses for all their middle and high school sports teams,” he said. One company took a chance and bought a school bus, and sure enough, they’ve been loading them up and are very busy. “That bus will transport people, and that’s what you’re in the business of, right?”

You’re in the business of making a profit while transporting people to and from whatever event they need. “There’s nothing wrong on the low-end side of luxury and using a school bus like that. It certainly works, and when you’re talking about brand new, that will last for many years at $85,000 for that type of work; that’s a very good investment.”

Matching is easy once you figure out what your clients really need.
Matching is easy once you figure out what your clients really need.
Used Vs. New Motorcoach

Buying a used motorcoach in good condition can be a prudent way to start, but you must do your homework. Talk to the company you’re buying it from and learn everything about it including who owned it before and how many miles are on it. Depending on who owned the bus before, you may not have to deal with an engine for a few years.

“A 2005 bus would cost you about $100,000 depending on how you want to upfit the inside. If you’re just looking to do local work in your market only, getting into a 2005, believe it or not, is not a bad idea. If you wanted to look at a bus that would be similar that was a 2013 or 2015, you’re paying anywhere from $300,000 to $395,000,” Holden said.

He also shared a little trade secret: “On that 2005, you could probably do a new front and rear to make it look brand new. You’d have to talk to the manufacturer to see if that’s possible with that particular model, but there are many used buses that have new front ends and you can’t tell. When it’s all said and done, the passengers cannot tell what year model bus you’re driving them in.”

Now, when you’re talking about a new high-end motorcoach, they usually cost about $500,000 to $600,000. This will likely include amenities in that motorcoach you may or may not need. “As long as you’re trying to identify what type of clients you will be moving around, that will determine the bus price range you want to be in.”

For bus color, Holden mentioned most of the motocoaches on the highway are white. “A lot of limo companies have purchased black buses because that’s the standard in the limo world. While it’s very possible to get a high-end, quality paint job from one of these manufacturers, it’s going to add $8,000 to $9,000 to the cost of that bus just because you believe it needs to be black.”

Black is not a must-have, Holden said. “We’ve never had a customer refuse to ride on a bus that wasn’t black. Rose owns 22 motorcoaches, and all of them are white.”   

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Related Topics: buses, client markets, How To, mini-buses, motorcoaches, Tom Holden, webinar

Lexi Tucker Associate Editor
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