Record growth for Coach Hire Comparison

James and Laura Stokes Coach Hire Comparison
James and Laura Stokes, Coach Hire Comparison founders

Recent record years speak of success for Coach Hire Comparison and its users – but more operators are needed to make the most of that growth

For operators looking to use the web to open new revenue streams, Derbyshire-based price comparison website Coach Hire Comparison (CHC) presents an opportunity for online presence with relative ease.

The site was founded in 2010 by husband and wife team James and Laura Stokes, and has enjoyed record years in 2021 and 2022: £1.4m worth of bookings by March this year, with James revealing at that time that he expected the year’s bookings to double in 2022 from the previous year, to around £5.5m.

That growth speaks to the health of the industry. It also means more operators are needed to fulfil work being generated. Quotes swelled from 300 per day in 2019 to an average of 550 per day in 2022; an increase of 83%. “That growth has come a little too quick for us and the industry to quote for,” says James. “We need more operators to come on board.”

In May 2019, out of some 7,345 quotes, around 17-18% did not have any enquiries. That number is bound to increase as more come through. James is conscious of those quotes not being dealt with, and is keen to take action. In response, changes were made to the platform to encourage more operators on board – the biggest, without doubt, has been to its pricing structure.

No monthly fees

To attract more operators, CHC’s previous structure of charging a monthly fee has been replaced with a percentage fee between 6.5% and 10% of earnings. The more turnover operators earn, the more that payment decreases. Up to £1,000 worth of turnover per month is charged at the highest rate, while between £1,000 and £3,000 is charged at 9.5%, decreasing up to £100,000 per month.

James is keen to present CHC as a partnership, rather than just a web platform. “If an operator struggles with online advertising and wants to get into a digital way of marketing their business, CHC has to be a way forward,” he says.

James describes relationships with CHC’s operators as very close. He understands the uphill battle that digital marketing can be – six years spent running a minibus business is testament to that. “You couldn’t spend what it took to get your website noticed, and then still expect to make a profit,” he argues. CHC presents “instant brand recognition and involvement with real customers”, with no upfront costs. The website presents images and specification of users’ vehicles and encourages customers to leave reviews, building a reliable profile. It also presents features which provide growth that its operators have said couldn’t be possible otherwise.

Special features

A “passenger recovery” feature lets CHC members get in contact with over 200 operators across the country to keep passengers moving in the event of a vehicle breakdown or last-minute job. The “away from base” feature allows members to receive enquiries for vehicles while they are in a location away from their home region. “Destination quotes” provide members with enquiries for journeys going into the operator’s area, while “pushed quotes” are quotes sent manually by CHC that fall outside of the operator’s search criteria, but may still be suitable. Those extra features prove their worth through conversations with operators that use them.

Travelsafe, located in Merseyside, receives jobs within a radius of its own base; it also takes advantage of the destination quotes feature and can bid for jobs coming towards Merseyside from as far as London or Scotland. “It’s transformed my business,” says owner Graham Matley, “because I’ve gone from phone calls from adverts to getting the bulk of my work from CHC. 75-80% of my business is off CHC now. James is also very accessible. If I have any problems, he answers the phone straight away. If I miss him he’ll always phone me back – service wise, he’s brilliant.”

Teesside-based Local Minibus Hire, meanwhile, recently made use of the away from base feature when a vehicle undertook a job to Stansted over three days. On the second day the vehicle was  used for a trip from Southend-on-Sea to Ascot Racecourse. “The service saved us the cost of fuel and we were able to make the most of the driver who was still working,” says Director Assun Pervaiz. “Feedback from passengers is great, and CHC is where I get the most business now.”

On the registration page, operators are given a calculator for the average value of a coach or minibus job within a certain radius. That allows them to see what they could potentially earn with quotes sent based on a 7% conversion rate. That helps to keep rates higher.

More to come

At least one more feature James is vocal about building into the website is online payments. Currently, payments are made via bank transfer or cash, with a deposit paid at time of booking and full payment made before the journey. Creative agency Fluid Ideas has been in the process of building in online payments to the site, with a launch likely later this year, when the school holiday period is over. That decision is being driven by customers. “We can see how important it is for them to be booked and pay at the time they book,” James says. “The bank transfer can be time consuming, and some want that process simplified. Online payments will be big, and will take us onto another level.” That will also see benefits for operators, streamlining invoicing.

To join the platform, operators must register by providing an O-Licence number. If successful, they are demonstrated the setup process and contact is made once that has been completed. Help is provided with images and wording, if needed, on the operator’s page. A tutorial is then provided on supplying quotes.

“Once they know us, most operators appreciate the help and support,” says James. “We do help with guide prices. Once they have been on the system a week or two, we’ll use those quotes they sent out to give an average of what that job is quoted at. That’s where we like to drill into users that they can earn more for the service they’re offering. We make sure our members don’t undersell themselves.”

That is where CHC is reliant on building trust and transparency. James believes passengers are always happier to pay more “if they feel they trust they will get the exact service they want”.