John Hill Coach Sales: Respect for the business

Buying or selling a used coach isn’t a terribly difficult thing to do, says John Hill, although it’s less easy to manage the task while retaining a respect for both parties in the equation.

To do so demands an honest and realistic approach to the deal, while still keeping in mind that the needs of operators vary considerably depending on the field of work they’re engaged in. That’s what John and his team strive for every time.

The business, based in Melton Mowbray, was established in April 2013. John has over 30 years’ experience in the coach industry, which began in 1983 when he started driving part-time for a local operator.

“At the time I was working in a foundry in Melton, and started part-time driving on the side.” That led to a full-time job and then into maintenance with Yeates in Loughborough, and eventually on to MAN, where most of his industry experience comes from.

Unexpected redundancy from MAN saw him going it alone. “It was a bombshell, and suddenly I had to find something else to do.”

That something turned out to be John Hill Coach Sales, and made use of the experience of dealing with used coaches that he’d gained previously. He’s not looked back since. “I’d been in the industry a long time at that point, and would like to think I’d built up a decent reputation.”

The business now employs five people: Salesman Alan Wade; John’s daughter Gemma, who handles administration and marketing; Tracy Beaken in the office; and former Caetano man Wilf Lewis, who keeps the website up-to-date.

 

30 years of selling

“I’ve been selling coaches for 30 years and I try to keep people happy, or they don’t come back,” John says. “We pride ourselves on being honest here.” That honesty extends to telling people when a coach isn’t in showroom condition, and making a realistic appraisal of its value.

Around 100 coaches are for sale at any one time, the vast majority of which have been seen by John or one of his team. “That’s all part of the service we offer. We’re not afraid to get in the car and go and look at vehicles.”

The crux of John Hill Coach Sales’ business is acting as an interface between the seller and buyer. It has a small stock of coaches of its own, but the majority are still in service with their current owners.

That’s important, he says. “The coach could do a school contract in the morning, return to the depot, be paid for and be at work with its new owner the next day. There’s rarely a chance for it to get cold. The only thing I ask is that the seller doesn’t use the vehicle once it’s been paid for.”

John’s core market is single-deck coaches, although various double-deck and smaller coaches, and the odd bus, are also processed. The double-deck coach market is a difficult one to predict, he says, although midicoaches in the 33-seat sector are much easier to sell.

“They don’t hang around, and they fetch very good money when considered on a per-seat basis, as they are not overly common on the market,” he continues. “They’re obviously not suited to all tasks, but they get around twice the mpg of full-size coaches, so the demand is always there.”

 

Growing up

Key to getting the message out is John’s use of a variety of marketing channels. All vehicles are featured on the routeone Trader website, while John’s own website is kept up-to-date by Wilf. The business’ logo is always prominent; it was designed professionally and gives a strong image. “It was 160 very well spent, because it’s given us a recognisable brand,” says John.

The business also invested in a significant stand at Euro Bus Expo, which cannot have gone unnoticed by many attending the NEC last November. Gemma handles telephone enquiries, and a selection of vehicles available is featured weekly in the printed routeone. “All this means that we know we’re hitting our target audiences,” John adds.

Alan, Gemma, Tracey and Wilf are vital cogs in the machine, but at the beginning, John was handling almost everything himself. “In the first six months I did 23,000 miles in the car,” he explains. “That’s a lot of ground to cover when you’re looking after all the office duties as well. Wilf was handling the website, and I had some help from Gemma, but apart from that it was all down to me.”

In the first eight months to the end of 2013 John had expected to sell 30 coaches. He achieved double that figure, and it quickly became apparent that some extra help in sales was needed if growth was to continue in a sustainable fashion. Enter Alan.

“I’d known Alan for 25 years, largely through Melton Mowbray Rugby Club,” says John. “Although he has a background in sales, he came into the coach industry with no preconceived ideas, and I trust him 100%.

“Trust is a big thing for me, and all our customers can trust me and my staff. We are honest, and will tell them if they’re expecting to sell a coach for more than it’s worth; operators must remember that a coach is only worth what someone will pay for it. Equally, we’re sometimes able to get more money than the seller expected.”

“It was a big decision to join John, but I’m pleased I did so,” adds Alan. “I enjoy the work.” He is currently responsible for the north of England, with John and sometimes Wilf looking after the south of the country. Gemma is office- or home-based, and having also joined from outside the industry is still learning the business.

“It would have been a poor show if I couldn’t have employed my daughter,” says John. “Gemma’s focus is talking to existing customers and looking after them.”

 

A common passion

One thing runs through all five employees of John Hill Coach Sales, and that’s a passion for the business. “We’re all passionate about what we do,” says John. “We’re coach people, and we need to be.

“We can arrange repainting if required, or alterations such as toilet removal, but both have become less common recently.”

The business is growing faster than John anticipated. In 2014 it sold around 120 coaches, and he sees a need for consistent investment to support the growth. It now uses company cars, for example, rather than employees’ personal vehicles.

“It’s important for us not to come across as being over the top, but we also need to show that we’re successful. Another salesman is a possibility, and we’ve recently recruited Tracy as office manager.”

As a further example, its website is in the process of being developed into a fully mobile-friendly version, although with the advent of 4G an app is unlikely; it will become easier for viewers to look at the website instead. What comes after this isn’t yet clear – but something will.