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November 14 2018
By James Rudman

Ridleys back on growth track

A move to a much bigger ‘yard’ has helped open the doors for new growth opportunities for Ridleys Coaches, with fleet expansion including the purchase of two new 9900s as ‘flagship’ vehicles

What a difference a year or so can make. That is certainly true for Ridleys Coaches, which has just revealed it is spending £1.3 million on six newly launched Volvo coaches – two of the super luxury 9900 model and four of the MCV-bodied B11R for tour contracts –  as part of business and fleet growth plans.

Ash Brown, General Manager, and Jordan Ridley, Managing Director, with some of the fleet at Ridley Coaches’ new Warwick base

It is putting in an application at the end of the year to increase its vehicle authorisation from 28 to 40 to be based at its new 1.2-acre site on Stratford Road, Warwick, which started operating fully in August.

“I am going to say that it is the biggest we are going to get and we are going to stop there, but I have said that a few times before,” acknowledges Jordan Ridley, the Warwickshire-based company’s Founder and Managing Director, who started the operation about 10 years ago as a one-man owner-operator, and has seen it grow to own 34 vehicles, including what he describes as “a few toys.”

“What had stopped us growing before was our premises. We didn’t have the room for the vehicles.”

Need for new home

In fact, 12-18 months ago, Jordan was facing a major dilemma at his then ‘yard’ on a half-acre site in Kenilworth.

“We were wedging in 30-odd vehicles on the site. We had a workshop, an office and a drivers’ room, Some of us had to stay every night to park the vehicles because they had to be parked up so tight. Every morning we had to get there for 0430-0500hrs to move the vehicles so they were all in line as to what time they were going out. It was an absolute nightmare,” Jordan recalls.

“I had got to the point where I thought we are either going to have to cut the fleet right down or put it up for sale and hope someone came along and took it off our hands because of the fact that we couldn’t find a yard.”

A search for a new alternative started about five years ago when the company was already outgrowing its Kenilworth site with 12-15 vehicles at the time.

But now, after a few false dawns, Jordan can happily see his fleet of mainly coaches but also some double-decker buses able to be comfortably lined up on the new Warwick site, which is close to the M40-A46 Interchange.

Ridleys has a five-year lease and Jordan is hoping that he might be able to buy the whole four-acre site at some stage.

New facilities

Facilities that have been created include a large two-bay garage workshop for the maintenance team, with a smaller bay being used for body repairs and can handle vehicle repairs if needed. The workshops were supplied and installed by South Yorkshire-based BlueLine Buildings, who also provided Ridleys’ smaller workshop for its Kenilworth site. “It was a quarter of the size we have now but worked well for us, so we went back to them when we moved in,” says Jordan.

On top of the lease payment, Ridleys spent about £250,000 on getting the new site ready, including installing a surface, putting concrete pads down for the new buildings, including the workshops, offices, toilet and drivers’ room, having a wash bay and steam clean facilities, installing fire alarms and security system, and bringing in telephone lines, and bringing in electricity and water to the site.

A new addition last week was a fuel tank, supplied and installed by Gloucestershire-based Oil Tank Supplies, that holds 15,000 litres of diesel and 5,000 litres of Ad-Blue. There was no space for a fuel tank at Ridleys’ old Kenilworth home, and Jordan estimates that having on-site re-fuelling and fuel in bulk instead of using fuel stations will save the company £1,000 a week

“It has been an expensive move, but a move that needed to be done without a shadow of doubt,” says Jordan of the company’s relocation.

“The move is massive for the company. It has just made us look more professional,” says Jordan, who adds that it is “fantastic” being at the new site and the staff – 35 full and part-time drivers, six mechanics and four in the office – are enjoying their new surroundings.

“We can grow for a start because we have room to grow.”

Fleet expansion

This growth is already happening with the development of the company’s business operation and fleet.

While school contracts and school trips have always been Ridleys’ “bread and butter” and private hire and rail replacement work are part of its business mix, it has bought 14 brand new vehicles in the last three years.

“So you look at your fleet and think: ‘These vehicles can do a lot more than just school runs’. So we have got into the tour market, and started working for tour companies with the new vehicles,” says Jordan.  

It has signed a deal with a tour company starting in April 2019 for five vehicles a week through the year taking international tourists around the UK.

This will partly be undertaken using four of Volvo’s newly-launched MCV-bodied B11R 53-seaters that Ridleys has bought for its tour contract work and are expected to be delivered in March and April.

“Volvo and MCV have done a very good job of putting together a cost-effective tour coach,” says Jordan.

This purchase forms part of a £1.3 million, six-vehicle order that Ridleys has made through Volvo Coventry, with the feature being two of the 57-seat 9900 coaches, which Jordan describes as the “best looking coach I have ever seen” and which will also be used on the tour contract. Ridleys is among the first operators to order 9900s and the pair will be delivered in September 2019.

Volvo 9900 ‘flagships’

“The 9900s will be our flagships definitely. We will make a big fuss of them when they come in and get them out there to people. They are the cream of coaches. In my opinion; they best you can buy. Volvo have done a fantastic job in putting together a very, very good product.”

Volvo coaches make up the large proportion of Ridleys’ fleet – including the 1994-registered B10M Jonckheere, nicknamed Lottie, that Jordan started his company driving and has just returned after an extensive refurbishment and is still driven by him on school runs when required.

Ridleys has just bought two Van Hool double-decker coaches, ex Stagecoach, from Procters with the vehicles hoped to arrive this week. The 87-seat vehicles will add to the five double-decker buses that Ridleys operate around West Midlands, and have already attracted interest from clients wanting to use them, including the Coventry City FC supporters club from Leamington Spa and Warwick, and will also be used for tour work among other tasks.

“I have never bought a coach without having the work for it first,” says Jordan about the latest fleet additions.

“I think we have one of the best fleets around, regionally certainly, and with the new vehicles, I think we are getting up there with the ‘best of the best’.”

Future thoughts

Jordan sees the market as “unbelievably challenging” and thinks Euro 6 will have more impact on his business – which is purely UK focused – than Brexit.

Ridleys will have 20-plus Euro 6 vehicles in the fleet by April 2019 when London “goes Euro 6”. Jordan thinks that should be fine for his company, which only has about 20 vehicles in London at any one time during peak summer time.

However, potential possibilities of West Midlands cities like Birmingham and Coventry going into Euro 6 would present a few issues for Ridleys with its double-decker buses currently running school contracts in the area.

Brexit wouldn’t impact on Ridleys as much as operators who go abroad, he thinks, but the possibility of it pushing new vehicle prices up would have a “huge impact” and possible fuel price rises could be an issue.

Ridleys have made a lot of investment in its operation recently with the new site and fleet expansion, but Jordan is “confident” about the future.

“I am a bit of a risk taker, but I take calculated risks. I will sit down and calculate everything to the penny. We do push ourselves sometimes. The new site certainly pushed boundaries and my bank account as well.

“You don’t get anywhere in business unless you push yourself and take risks. If you don’t do that, in my opinion, you don’t get anywhere.”


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