So what's the difference between successful and struggling businesses? While luck and opportunity always factor in, we've identified a few areas in which successful businesses typically excel.
It's vital. From a friendly voice on the phone to courteous, helpful drivers, good service is what customers remember most.
Good safety practices win customers.
When times are uncertain, it can be tempting to cut a deal — any deal. But that's not always a good idea. Offering your services for cheap can be expensive in the long run. John Bailey, president of Bailey Leasing, York, Pennsylvania, has said he'd rather get less business, as long as he can earn higher revenue with a selective clientele. "I won't put a coach on the road just to put it on the road. It needs to be profitable," he says. Bailey uses software to track and break down overhead, operating costs and utilization rates, and then adjusts prices as he needs to. Starline Luxury Coaches, Seattle, is likewise a fan of proper pricing, subscribing to a theory of "what gets measured gets done." Troy Voigt, owner and vice president of Voigt Bus, has his own secret for optimizing revenue on his coaches. "We wait until people want to pay our price," he says. That means that when others undercut his company on a bid, they effectively take their buses off the market — leaving Voigt to charge the next customer the right price.
Some 75 percent of all Americans and Canadians use the Internet, and they increasingly expect their travel providers to be on it. "A good website can bring in new business like almost nothing else," says Alice Lemon, MCI web marketing specialist. MCI's web-building Webinar offers tips on how to put together an informative, user-friendly website. And while an Internet presence is vital these days to visibility, it's not the only way to reach people. Some operators, like John Hall's Alaska, spend much of their time marketing their tours in person, at travel shows. The use of social networking sites is on the rise, too, providing additional opportunities to reach younger customers through sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Many operators credit their drivers with making their businesses go. Yet it's not always easy to find and retain top talent. Training is often the key. Good operators offer ongoing training to their drivers. MCI offers a coach driving simulator for supplemental training as well, which can help reduce the cost and risks associated with on-road training.
A well-maintained coach is a revenue-producing coach. For operators that are traveling or don't have their own maintenance facilities, MCI service centers offer a full range of preventative services and repairs. MCI offers a wealth of resources to operators that run their own shops as well, starting with its hands-on Technical Tune-ups, specialized Webinars, and the MCI Technical Support call center.
Motor coach operators pride themselves on their willingness to help one another, both in times of emergency and when business is good. The American Bus Association, Motor Coach Canada, the IMG, the United Motorcoach Association, the Motorcoach Council and other organizations all work on behalf of the industry. In addition, many operators choose to join 20 groups, in which fellow operators offer business guidance.
Customers appreciate comfort and amenities, and it pays to have coaches that look good at the curb, as operators like La Cubana, Holland America / Princess and Great Canadian Holidays will attest. MCI works hard to offer well-built coaches that retain strong resale value while offering passengers standard features and exciting options that make for a good impression.
It's not always about the bottom line. A charitable spirit pays off in many ways, some of them intangible. The Shriners of British Columbia purchased and retrofitted a fleet of MCI Coaches to transport children under their care from British Columbia to the Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children in Portland. These Coaches were retrofitted and are maintained by Western Bus Service in Vancouver. The Shriners fleet consists of 102C3s, 102DL3s and E models. The Shriners Care Cruiser Programme is funded entirely from the hard work of the Shriners of British Columbia. Ambassatours (see story this issue) has been stumping for clean air and idling reduction through IDLEFREE.org. MCI has donated its energies to many charities and public-service campaigns through the years as well. Giving may not make you any wealthier, but it will make you richer in spirit. And the connections gained never hurt either.
When you stop learning, you stop growing. MCI offers online Webinars; hands-on training opportunities both at its National Training Center in Louisville and at Customer First events around the country; and other learning opportunities. Trade shows often have valuable seminars as well. Local colleges can be invaluable as well, whether for buffing up technical skills or polishing one's management expertise.
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