You’re Not Looking at Buses, You May Be Throwing Your Company
runs in cycles, and the limousine industry is no exception.Over
the past two decades, helped in part by an economy that appears
to be coming back at a frustratingly leisurely pace, our industry
has turned its lonely eyes to ways to adapt to the customer’s
ever-changing needs. From a world that has seen everything
from superstretches and flashy exotics to understated sedans
and SUVs now comes a trend to move as many people as possible
with that level of comfort.
Whether you refer to them as mini-coaches, limocoaches, or
limo buses (though I’ve heard some shy away from this, lest
people think the executive staff of P&G is heading to a company
meeting in a yellow school bus), they are the newest vehicles
in many company’s inventory, spurred on in part by what is
anticipated to be a surge in the meetings and events industry
(which we will discuss in more detail below). Operators have
found that adding one or a few of these larger people-movers
to their fleet was a good way to complement their services.
clients don’t need to pay some high-priced accounting firm
to see that it makes no economic sense to transport 30 employees
in five sedans at an average hourly rate (according to recent
Limo Digest industry statistics) of $62 for each car, when
they can spend $140 for one mini-coach and be on their way
to the next meeting. Corporate travelers are much more educated
than they were 10 or 15 years ago, thanks to the Internet
and the ability to comparison shop easily. Factor in the recession,
and operators are forced to adapt to the client’s request—and
that means having fleet options. In short, the CEO might jump
in a sedan, but for the rest of the staff it’s everyone on
any advantages that buses—big and small— may have on a fleet,
there are still operators who deem them the do-all, be-all
that will put their business over the top, like some motorized
If there’s such a need, why haven’t all operators hopped on
board? Because it just may not be for everyone, depending
upon financial makeup. No two ways around it, limocoaches,
mini-coaches, and all their siblings are a large investment.
For some companies, investing around $40,000 for a Town Car
is palpable, but to layout six figures for something bigger
may not be in their economic interests. It’s a significant
chunk of money and one that should not be taken lightly. So
unless you are pretty certain you are going to send the coaches
out on enough jobs to return with $8,000 to $10,000 in revenue
per month, then you may need to rethink the whole scenario.
And there are other factors involved, particularly as it pertains
to driver education and transportation regulations.
But if you can take the leap, it’s an investment worth making.
The vehicle might make less trips but the revenue is higher
per trip. You could also test the waters by partnering with
a company that specializes in motorcoaches or mini-coaches
in order to gauge the demand and see if it’s a good fit for
are even advantages in mini-coaches over traditional motorcoaches,
which can carry upwards of 50 people. Think about it: If you
have a motorcoach going out for $900 per day, and a mini-coach
going out for $140 per hour, it won’t take long for the mini-coach
to be profitable.
But despite any advantages that buses—big and small—may have
on a fleet, there are still operators who deem them the do-all,
be-all that will put their businesses over the top, like some
motorized golden goose. After all, it seems logical doesn’t
it? If you have a vehicle able to haul more people a further
distance, it would make sense that you would make more money.
But it isn’t that cut and dry. When considering adding buses
to your fleet, there’s a whole checklist of pros and cons
that need to be carefully weighed.
Owning and operating a fleet of buses can produce all sorts
of new challenges that you may not have thought about. Do
you have the space on property or do you have to rent space
off-site in order to safely park vehicles in excess of 30
or 40 feet? You may have a maintenance person on staff who
can give a quick lube, oil, and filter to a sedan, but can
that same guy figure out the complex mechanical inner-workings
of a motorcoach? Buses require more frequent maintenance.
If it takes one guy a half-hour to clean a sedan in between
runs, how many people will it take to make a quick turnaround
when a bus returns to the garage after 30 partiers whooped
it up on the way to the nearest casino (that’s only if there
isn’t a restroom onboard)? And have you seen the price of
gas lately, particularly diesel? Just some added expenses
to think about.
But perhaps no aspect of the business is more impacted by
motorcoaches than the driver, whose level of importance suddenly
elevates (to that end, make sure your driver dresses like
a chauffeur and not like The Honeymooners’ Ralph Kramden).
There’s a whole new level of training that bus chauffeurs
have to undertake, including being FMCSA regulated, obtaining
a commercial driver’s license, and having to undertake random
drug testing, among other things. Your chauffeur is also spending
more time with more people, which could be good or bad for
your company. More eyes will be watching his behavior for
a longer period of time, so you have to make sure that he
is consistently acting as an ambassador for your company.
Word of mouth is a powerful medium.
However, if you realize that motorcoaches or smaller buses
can be a complement to your existing fleet, and not necessarily
the light at the end of a tunnel, there are definite advantages.
Overall, they’re just more comfortable. Passengers can walk
around, stretch their legs, and there are more options for
amenities (i.e., video screens, larger chairs, more workspace,
restrooms, etc.). Buses are made to be run consistently so
they will last a long time if maintained properly, maybe even
up to 500,000 miles, while offering more ancillary uses than
sedans and even mini-coaches, such as use by schools, sports
teams, tourism bureaus, and municipalities, to name a few.
One bus can often be dressed up or down to suit the purpose.
Finally, remember how 30 ticked-off passengers can be the
kiss of death? Well, it works both ways. Impress the pants
off your guests with a clean vehicle and a courteous, well-informed
chauffeur, and not only will they spread great cheer, but
at least a few in the seats will think to themselves, “Hmm,
if the company treats 30 people this well, how great will
their service be if I book them for my daughter’s wedding
or the next corporate road trip?” And when that happens, a
lot of the “cons” about adding buses suddenly don’t seem so
But whatever size buses you are considering, you won’t want
to miss—ahem, the bus—now that the signs are there that things
are starting to perk up in the business travel and meetings
arena as we head into 2012. And when they do, you need to
be ready to have the means to move large groups of people.
Meetings & Convention magazine recently polled the
experts who keep a close watch on the various business segments
that make up the meetings industry, and found many were singing
the same tune: overall, 2011 was pretty good, and 2012 should
prove to be a little bit better. This is music to the ears
of those in our industry, especially with 40 percent of decision-makers
polled stating they expect to increase their travel budget
this year. Closer to home, where we operate our company, The
Boston Globe recently reported, “In another sign that Boston
is shaking off the economic downturn, the Massachusetts Convention
Center Authority said that 2012 will be its best year since
2007.” The frosting on this double-layer of economic optimism
is Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) noting that business
travel volume and spending is recovering at a stronger-than-expected
rate. At least the projections are looking good for the first
time in years.
Travel spending might be on the rise, but so is the corporate
traveler’s demand for quality and value. And if this is the
direction your clients are heading in, you better make sure
you are able to take them there in a vehicle that can best
serve their needs. If you don’t get your clients in some variation
of a bus, you may be ultimately throwing your company under