Back to top of page
Green Urban - FOC Trial 2018
Back to previous page
December 21 2016
By Jessamy Chapman

Features Editor at routeONE magazine, Jessamy is also Editor of Group Tourism & Travel magazine

B&N Coaches: The art of being happy

A managing director who’s always smiling; a livery designed by a child; a trip abroad for a secret wedding. These are just some of the ingredients of B&N Coaches’ happiness

When you’ve given your company the slogan ‘bee happy’, you’ve given yourself a lot to live up to. Particularly in the coach industry, it’s hard for a business’s manager to feel happy all the time.

L-R: Mechanic Michael, Norman, Brenda and Ian

But Norman and Brenda Poole are happy, visibly so. Their business B&N Coaches has reached its optimum size, and from now on will only get better if not bigger. They both enjoy what they do – particularly Norman, who loves driving, loves the customers and exudes contentment. And they got married in 2016, after 17 years together, and having worked together at three different companies since the 1980s.

The history

Norman has been a coach manager for various companies since 1988.

He started out as a motor mechanic after leaving school, and when he was asked to move a coach one day, it was love at first sight – ever since then, he has "never seen this as a job," he says. He became a bus driver in 1975.

He first met Brenda at Burnley & Pendle in the early '80s, when they were both drivers.

After deregulation they both worked at Rossendale instead, before Brenda left the industry and Norman worked at various coach operators as a coach manager, including Ellen Smith, York Pullman, Finglands and Viscount Central.

He was with the latter company when he met Brenda again and they got together; she was working for a vending company.

When Viscount was sold, Norman didn't want to be sold with it – so he left to do what he wished he'd done years before, and set up his own coach company.

He and Brenda set up together in 2004, obtaining an O-Licence for two vehicles and buying two "very old" Leyland Leopards, with which they carried out a county council contract.

They have grown the business steadily, reaching 10 vehicles at 10 years old, and now employ about 20 people in the centre of Burnley.


As well as getting married this year in a top-secret ceremony in Lake Garda, Brenda and Norman reached another milestone – they bought their first brand new coach, a Yutong TC9, fully spec’d with 33 seats. “We went the whole hog,” says Norman – with an onboard toilet, USB and three-pin sockets, and even leather seats with bees stitched into the headrests.

The new addition: Yutong TC9 is fully-spec’d…

“We were looking to replace a 33-seater we had, and this was the best on the market,” adds Norman, “for the price, the looks – all of it. The dealer Pelican were excellent too.

“We saw it at Coach & Bus Live in 2015. We were looking to get a two-three-year-old coach, but the Yutong was a similar price for new and everyone was singing its praises.”

It’s been so good that Brenda and Norman are “seriously looking at” buying the larger Yutong coach, the TC12, in 2017.

It marks a turning point in a business that until now has bought three-four-year-old secondhand coaches – always to an excellent standard. Buying new coaches from now on is “a viable proposition”, says Brenda, if the vehicle offers similar value for money and a good warranty.

“It’s had a great reaction from customers,” Brenda adds. “It does make a difference – they like the little extras, like the USB chargers, which Yutong provides as standard.

“It’s brought us a lot of work in.”

A fair price

That’s important, because B&N Coaches has never advertised, except for its bee-themed livery and the phone number on the coaches. Almost all of its work comes from word-of-mouth recommendation. Work has even come from bee societies who have seen the coaches out and about and chosen it for its livery.

…including B&N’s bee emblem stitched into headrests

The type of work ranges from school contracts and a small amount of rail replacement, to European tours. “You name it – if it pays, we’ll do it,” says Norman. “If they quibble with us on our price, they can go somewhere else. We’d rather have drivers parked up than losing money.

“The industry needs to come together and ask itself why it’s doing school contracts for less than five years ago, and why rail work rates haven’t gone up. Everyone’s scared of putting prices up and getting cut up by Joe Bloggs down the road, but there’s only so much Joe Bloggs can do.

“For our customers, it’s not just about price. It’s the service we’re offering. They know that if we say we’ll turn up, we’ll turn up, and do a good job. Customer service is what makes us special.”       

Around 20% of the firm’s work is in Europe, he adds.

“Once over the water it’s so much easier; coaches are more welcome in more cities. We’d rather go to Paris than London any day.”

High standards

B&N has high standards of presentation, maintenance and fleet management. As a mechanic by training, Norman ensures that all vehicles are kept in good condition, and the process has been made easier this year thanks to the introduction of CheckedSafe digital walk-round checks – it’s one of the first operators to use the service. The app makes it almost impossible for drivers to ‘cheat’ on walk-round checks, and ensures defects are reported instantly – it also saves on paperwork.

Until now, vehicles were usually bought at three-four years old

“We’ve bought 10 tablets so that drivers can use the CheckedSafe app, but most of them have downloaded it on their own phone,” says Brenda. “Even the drivers who are still in the dark ages technology-wise – they can’t send a text, but they can use the app!”

TomTom trackers and telematics are also installed, allowing Brenda and Norman to keep an eye on where the vehicles are and coach the drivers in more fuel-efficient driving.

“We’ve invested heavily in vehicles,” says Norman. “Everything goes back into the fleet and the garage.”

The family

Brenda and Norman are joined in the office most days by fellow manager all driver Ian Smithson. All three are Transport Manager CPC holders and combined, they have over 100 years’ experience in the coach and bus industry. 

Norman and Brenda also have eight children from their previous marriages.

Vikki, Norman's daughter, works in the office part-time. Three sons work for the business – Michael as a fitter, Andrew as a full-time driver and David as a part-time driver. Brenda’s son Steven Tibbs works in the industry too, at Close Brothers Asset Finance. Between them, they're responsible for quite an influx of young people into the industry.

The coaches are named after the eight grandchildren – including the new Yutong, named after William, who was born early this year. The bee-themed livery was dreamt up by Brenda's daughter Natalie when she was 13.

Norman and Brenda pay special tribute to “the extended family,” their full-time drivers, most of whom have been with the company for years: John Hope, Garry Belshaw, Ian Thomson, Nicola Spencer, Ian Smithson, Brian Kavanagh, Peter Clawson, Gary Lewis, Andrew Thomson, Andrew Poole and Viv Peart. The drivers are all often requested personally by repeat clients.

Several worked with Norman before, and followed him to B&N, which speaks volumes about Norman. He is friendly and passionate about the job – embodying B&N's "be happy" tagline.

He and Brenda work very well together, seeing each other "almost 24/7" and getting on regardless.

Says Brenda: "I love the customers, and Norman loves the coaches," to which Norman replies: "I love the passengers too – and they must love me, because they keep asking for me.”

More like this...

Distinctive Systems