How To Keep Your Fleet Busy During The Slow Times

Tom Holden
Posted on December 5, 2018

The Carolina Balloon Fest, held Oct. 19-21 in Statesville, N.C., is an example of an off-season event that could provide demand for motorcoach operators. Such unique attractions can help fill in the gaps between busy seasons for coach operations. (photos: Tom Holden)

The Carolina Balloon Fest, held Oct. 19-21 in Statesville, N.C., is an example of an off-season event that could provide demand for motorcoach operators. Such unique attractions can help fill in the gaps between busy seasons for coach operations. (photos: Tom Holden)

It’s bound to happen: You bought that bus you’ve been contemplating for a long time, and it’s been great since the first day. But you know it’s coming. . .the slow time. You ask yourself, “How am I going to pay for this vehicle? Where are the rides coming from? Where is the money coming from?”

Let’s think outside the box. First, you should already have worked the numbers and know your ROI. (Refer to my article, “A Walk Through Coach Profits” in the November issue). And you should remember the other article written by me, “The True Cost Of Owning A Bus,” in the July issue.

Since you have done your homework, then you already know you MUST send that bus out even if it means you’re NOT making your normal profits. What have you determined to be your bottom line? Is it 10%, 5%, or are you still stuck on higher profits?

Remember if the bus is being used that day and you have a chance to book it again on the same day, then give the customer what they need. Meet their budget. 

There are other ways to make money during YOUR slow season. I’m sure you have listened to longtime operator George Jacobs of Windy City Limousine say, “Send me your bus. I will pay your loan amount for that month.” That’s one option that solves the problem. Be sure you have worked out all the details, insurance, damage, etc.

Look For Busy Spots

You can also consider sending your bus and driver out to other busy locations, such as Orlando in the winter. Arrange to affiliate with a local provider in the Orlando area ahead of time. You may not make as much per hour or day, but you now have an income and your driver also has vital income. He can pay his bills!

Washington D.C., for example, has the Cherry Blossom Festival in the Spring, which is also the season for PGA golf tournaments. From what I’ve seen, the tournaments use at least 100 motorcoaches to move the public into the event.

Need some other ideas? Super Bowls, Presidential Inaugurations, protest rallies, and marches. The last major march in DC required several hundred motorcoaches. Who’s doing political/election season bus charters in your state? Who’s running them nationally?

In 2015, there was a large event called “We Fight Inequality” at Cadman Plaza Park in Brooklyn, NY. More than 300 motorcoaches moved people to and from that event. If you’re getting involved in that type of work, you not only need buses and drivers, but plenty of on-the-road dispatchers. The buses have to get in, drop off, and get out. 

Then there are always educational tours, especially from groups based in the Midwest and West that fly in students and then need ground transportation for tours and movements. You can keep a bus going for a month or so. Remember, it’s not what’s happening in your area during you slow season; it’s about what’s happening elsewhere. 

Corporate Clients Can Vary

Year-round evergreen clients are always preferable, such as for long-distance shuttle work. Always be on the lookout for companies expanding or moving, which can happen any time of year and may be inter-city or state. They will also need to transport their employees to and from new corporate offices.

Seasonal companies towards the year end need to hire additional employees, sometimes several hundred. They normally park them at a remote lot, bus them in, and return them at the end of the day. Think about that: 500 employees need to be moved in a short time, maybe two hours. A motorcoach averages about 56 seats. You can shuttle them using four or five coaches, turning the bus twice to cover the quantity.

Then you do it all over again at the end of the day. It’s great work during the slow season. Maybe they need a minibus or van to stay there all day in case someone must leave. If so, that company will need to do this year after year. Think about the fall season; somewhere there are balloon festivals. Mostly, such events need several buses to shuttle people from a remote parking lot to the lift area. Those shuttles can run from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Many have around 10 motorcoaches to handle the masses. 

Overlooked Ideas

• What about disaster relief transport? If you’re not on the approved list, you won’t be able to get hired for this. But you can still contact local companies that would be approved. Maybe they can send more buses to the relief and you can come in and handle their local work. Thinking outside the box is not a bad idea. Somebody must move them.

• Holiday shopping can involve many people going every which way. The local malls and outlets need your help. From Black Friday to maybe one week before Christmas, thousands of shoppers cross the doors.

• What about ski bus trips, corporate retreats, and large groups? Yes, those buses do drive in the snow. Go after that business. There are plenty of snow areas. Become an expert on ski trips.

• Each year, the United Motor Association (UMA) and the American Bus Association (ABA) have their industry trade shows. They move around, so find the next state to host them. In 2019, UMA will be in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and the ABA will be in Louisville, Ky. Both associations do many motorcoach movements. Get involved!

Military Always Ready

The military, their bases, and the Department of Defense (DOD) are other reliable sources of work. Most of these trips are awarded through a bidding process.

You typically have two hours from the time the email lands to respond. These trips involve moving personnel among bases and airports, and to and from training exercise locations. Some bases offer daily rides to and from the airport. That bus would make maybe four trips a day — an excellent profitable contract. Here you don’t need the newest motorcoach or the one with all the horns and whistles. And what about the contract for the hotel to the processing office? Every week buses are moving new recruits into the processing center. You will need to be approved to do DOD work. This could take some time to accomplish, but it’s worth it.

If you know of something special and seasonal, please share it with us. We love to do follow up articles. For large trade show and convention and sporting events transportation, contact The Convention Store in Millersville, Md. They hire everyone everywhere. Another great site would be www.everfest.com, where you’ll find lists of so many North American Festivals 2018-2019. Maybe there’s one right in your service backyard

Tom Holden is the general manager and director of operations at Rose Chauffeured Transportation in Charlotte, N.C. Next month he transitions full time to his bus consulting business, Bus Advisors. He can be reached at [email protected]; (980) 999-8484

Related Topics: building your clientele, charter and tour, charter and tour operators, client markets, How To, motorcoach operators, motorcoaches, Tom Holden

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