D&E Coaches, founded by husband and wife team Donald and Elizabeth Mathieson, is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
The company was launched on 25 March 1996 on the couple’s driveway in Drakies, Inverness, after Mr Mathieson was handed £1,000 by his father to buy a minibus. “I spotted a gap in the market and decided to give it a go,” says Mr Mathieson, who was a bus driver at the time.
With help from his mother and father, the business soon acquired a second minibus and, after moving into its first premises in Deveron Street in Inverness, a coach. “Things began to accelerate from there,” adds Mr Mathieson. “Turnover reached £220,000 after five years, £500,000 by ten, and by 2008 we broke the £1m barrier.”
Now, D&E Coaches is believed to be the largest private hire company in the Highlands, commanding approximately 80% of the Highland private hire market. Based out of its headquarters in the Longman industrial estate, the company boasts a fleet of 64 coaches, generates a turnover of £5m and 70 staff.
Daughters Gayle and Amy work as Operations Manager and Office Manager respectively, while their brother Bryan heads up driver responsibilities. “Staying as a family business and retaining the personal touch has been key to our success,” says Mr Mathieson.
The anniversary will be marked with the launch of a new website, and the company recently acquired and refitted a number of coaches to meet accessibility requirements after what Mr Mathieson describes as the most stressful year in the company’s history.
“COVID-19 wiped out 6,000 cruise line passenger bookings almost overnight”, he explains. “Our tourism-related business also vanished. We still had care home runs and continued to operate the Inverness-Ullapool Citylink service, while our Highland Council school contracts have been vital.
“It’s been an extraordinary difficult time for our industry, with many coach firms going out of business, but it has proved the fundamentals of our own are right. We’re delighted to be able to sustain jobs, with a number of our drivers being with us for 15-20 years.”
Prior to the pandemic, D&E invested £3.5m into low-emission coaches, and in 2018 set up a premium hire car division called D&E Prestige, which won the Scottish Wedding Transporter of the Year Award.
Scottish Government Minister for the Rural Economy and Tourism Fergus Ewing MSP says he was “struck” by Mr Mathieson’s resilience in the face of the COVID-19 crisis after meeting him in September 2020.
“He and his wife have, through hard work and commitment, established a major business serving the Highlands and, in particular, helping children get to and from school. I pay tribute to their endeavour and congratulate them on their 25th anniversary,” says Mr Ewing.
D&E Coaches says it has been encouraged by pent-up tourism demand and the recent announcements that the economy can begin to reopen. “We were transporting almost one million people a year before the pandemic and hopefully we’ll see a return of much of that activity,” says Mr Mathieson.
“It’s been a long journey since that first minibus – and I know how important our service has become to so many people, including carers and care home visitors in the Highland communities. Our aim going forward is to continue to transport them in safety and style.”