Five years of growth for Heanor-based Yourbus

In 2009 Scott Dunn founded Yourbus, running seven secondhand Dennis Darts in Nottingham. From the start, he focused on one thing: delivering a high-quality service. Now Yourbus is a business on two continents that’s set to turn over 35m this year. .

Until now, Scott Dunn has been content to keep Yourbus’ considerable achievements under the radar. Based in Heanor, it celebrated its fifth anniversary on Sunday 1 June.

Scott Dunn, 39, founded Yourbus five years ago
Scott Dunn, 39, founded Yourbus five years ago

Yourbus embraces Scott’s views on business in general: get the job done properly, and don’t make a fuss about it.

With that mantra in mind, it would be easy for the rest of industry to be unaware of what Yourbus has accomplished since it was founded in June 2009. It was born indirectly as a result of the sale of the Dunn family’s Dunn-Line business to Veolia in 2006, as Scott explains.

“Within a few days of the sale I knew I wouldn’t fit in at a big group,” he says. “But I had to work a year’s notice with Veolia, and I also had a three-year restriction on what I could do elsewhere. That meant I couldn’t found my own business until 2009.”

Following his eventual departure from Veolia, Scott spent some time assisting his brother Simon, MD of Rotala, and was particularly involved in building up the Diamond business in the West Midlands. “We sold Dunn-Line on 1 April 2006. On 1 April 2009, I applied for an O-Licence of my own. Yourbus started trading on 1 June that year.”

Starting strongly

The fledgling Yourbus was based in Hucknall, and began by competing with another operator between Bulwell and Nottingham using seven mid-life Dennis Darts. Scott remained involved with Rotala at this point, but as an engineer by trade he was handling maintenance of the Darts in the evening and at weekends.

Growth came quickly, in both the commercial and tendered markets. From the outset a strong focus was placed on delivering a high-quality, friendly service. Before launch, the Darts were refurbished and painted into Yourbus’ distinctive magenta-based scheme.

The first step change for Yourbus came 18 months later, in the form of National Express work. “It never formed part of the strategy at the start, but it was an opportunity that we had to take,” says Scott, adding that scheduled coaching also set Yourbus up for the next stage in its expansion, which was to come later.

“We had to buy 16 new Levantes when the business was just 18 months old. We had about 20 buses at that point; things were ticking over nicely. We nearly doubled the fleet, and it was a big change.”

Its speed of expansion meant Yourbus had outgrown its Hucknall base nearly a year before the National Express work was won. It bought two adjacent plots on Heanor Gate Industrial Estate, which were combined to form a depot with a large parking area.

Heanor Gate remains the base for Yourbus’ 94 vehicles, and it is in many ways a textbook example of a tight, efficient coach and bus operating centre. “We’ve built everything here,” Scott explains. “I dug the foundations myself one weekend with a JCB, and concreted them and the garage floor.”

Facilities in the maintenance area include waste oil salvage, which is then used to heat the wash and fuel shed during the winter. Rainwater is collected for use by the two drive-through washes, and all fluids can be accessed only by using a vehicle-specific fob, allowing Yourbus to identify any members of the fleet which may be consuming more than they should.

Heanor Gate depot is completely self-sufficient
Heanor Gate depot is completely self-sufficient

A rolling brake tester unit is present, as is an air-conditioning servicing unit, a spray booth and the capability to rebuild all mechanical units. At the time of routeone’s visit, the engine from a Volvo B9R used on National Express work was in the process of being overhauled by Yourbus’ engineers.

Being based in Heanor has its benefits. “We’re a big employer in the town, and we’re important to local people,” Scott continues.

“The key thing for us is that we want to be a local business, and have staff who want to stay with us. If you take local people, train them and give them a steady career, they’ll stick with you.

“We’ve grown during a recession, which has allowed us to attract and retain good staff.”

For the past two-and-a-half years Yourbus has trained drivers to PCV standards, and one demographic it has been particularly successful in attracting is the under-30 segment. “We even have some drivers under 21 working for us,” Scott says, explaining that one is his son Jack, 19, who balances studies at Loughborough University with time behind the wheel.

“We’ve also got one young guy in the traffic office who only started driving for us nine months ago. He’s shown the initiative and he wants to advance. This industry is wide open to people like that.”

Express growth

By the end of 2011 Yourbus’ National Express commitment had grown to 55 coaches. It added outstations in Bradford and Durham to accommodate fuelling and layovers, and this rapid growth had whetted Scott’s appetite for more.

“By then we’d grown the business and could buy new buses, so we standardised all our commercial routes on Mercedes-Benz Citaros,” he explains. Today more than 40 of the type are in the fleet. “The Citaro is built like a car and is exceptionally smooth for passengers.”

Citaros chosen for commercial work; all have Wi-Fi
Citaros chosen for commercial work; all have Wi-Fi

The Citaros are employed on commercial routes based in Derby and Nottingham, both easily accessed from Heanor. The two cities are well-served by established and competent operators Nottingham City Transport and Trent Barton, and picking Citaros reinforces an important competitive point.

“We have to differentiate,” Scott continues, which is why the Citaro was chosen. All are fitted with Wi-Fi as standard – making Yourbus the first operator in the region to offer it on all its commercial routes. He adds that while the Citaro may have a high initial purchase price, there is little difference with other models in respect to total cost of ownership.

High operational standards have paid dividends, particularly more recently. “Over the last nine months we’ve doubled our passenger numbers,” he says. “We’ve got a graph to track volumes and it continually rises.

“December was a very good month, as it always is, but it’s normally followed by a lull in January and February. But we grew in both, despite operating no additional mileage. 2014 so far has been exceptionally strong.” The most recent figures, for mid-May, show a weekly total of 130,000 passengers.

All in-house

It isn’t just maintenance and painting which is handled entirely in-house. As Marketing Manager, John Everill is also responsible for printed publicity and website design, but in both cases the casual observer could be excused for thinking production had been handled by a third-party.

Part of Yourbus’ marketing strategy is its Genie smartcard. Genie can act as both a stored-value card and a period pass, and can be topped up on-bus in 5 increments. A discount of 20% is offered to Genie users buying single or return tickets, and Scott is confident that it has played a major part in Yourbus’ growth.

All systems are computerised to reduce costs
All systems are computerised to reduce costs

It hasn’t entered into a price war with others, however. “We market ourselves on quality and frequency,” he says. “And because we do that, I believe we’re growing the market as a whole. The competition may have lost out in the short term, but they, like us, should grow over the long haul.”

It has eyes on further growth later this year. Ten Euro 6 Citaros have been ordered for autumn delivery, and will be for expansion, rather than replacing older stock. They will further reduce the average fleet age, which is an industry-leading three-and-a-half years.

To help celebrate Yourbus’ fifth anniversary, the new Citaros will carry a revised livery, based on the existing magenta but incorporating silver and white and designed by John Everill. “All further new vehicles will be painted like that,” says Scott, who adds that it will also be expanded across the rest of the fleet in time.

“The new Citaros will enhance some existing routes. The buses they displace will be given a month’s ‘grace’ while we refurbish and rebrand them, and then they will be used to launch some new work.”

Four baskets

Expanding the commercial network is the current focus. This follows rapid growth of the National Express arm of the business, but there is one other part which makes up the whole in the UK. That is a tendered network operated on behalf of Derbyshire County Council, which takes Yourbus as far as Ashbourne and Matlock.

Scott explains that the contracted work forms almost a stand-alone part of the business, one which has a different emphasis.

“Tenders are operated on a cost leadership basis. We have to be lean, but we still run high-quality buses on them in the form of a number of Wrightbus StreetLites.

“They’re better on fuel, and have low maintenance costs because they’re modern. Tenders are all about operating in a lean and efficient manner.” Although contracted services don’t enjoy the Citaros and Wi-Fi that the commercial base does, passengers can still take advantage of the discount offered to Genie smartcard users.

Scott sees potential for ongoing growth of the East Midlands commercial network, and doesn’t rule out expanding into other parts of the country via acquisition – but only if standards match. He isn’t willing to compromise on quality, and throughout routeone’s visit stressed Yourbus’ commitment to operating to the highest possible standard.

One area identified as having potential is a little further away. Scott purchased Sydney, Australia-based Telford’s Group earlier this year (routeone, News, 18 April), an 84-vehicle coach and bus operator with a strong base of work.

Telford’s, he says, “is a really good business which provides the kind of opportunity we don’t see in the UK.”

Entering the Australian market has been on the cards for two years, and Scott and his family have since moved to Sydney. He spends one week per month in England.

“Yourbus is stable. It’s more important that I’m in Australia, which is why my family and I moved there. At Heanor I have people in place that I trust to run the business.” Scott’s main functions during his monthly sojourns in England are to oversee high-level decisions and focus on growth.

“If we weren’t growing, I might come back every two months. But we are, and I need to understand what’s happening. We have a video conferencing system which allows Heanor to communicate with Sydney via Skype. All our phones are ADSL, so calls between the two are internal.”

Yourbus’ MD is Steve Ward, a former Dunn-Line manager who has been with Yourbus since day one. “I’ve known Steve for 25 years,” says Scott. “He’s part of the reason we have a strong business: the good, solid people who can look after everything.”

There is much to be said for that, and Yourbus has clearly been built on a combination of hard work, the right priorities, and a little luck, as Scott is happy to admit. “I’ve been lucky. I’ve been in the right places at the right times, but I’ve also picked the right opportunities.

“Five years ago, I never thought we’d get this far,” says the man who has built a group which, including its Australian operations, is set to turn over 35m this year. But while the fifth anniversary of Yourbus may give a brief opportunity to look back on what has been achieved so far, the focus is very much on the future.