Family values at the heart of AAA’s success

Driver standards, top-notch vehicles and family management are the secret to over 30 years of achievement for Scottish firm AAA Coaches

Edinburgh-based coach operator AAA Coaches is going from strength to strength as the Scottish tourism industry booms and bookings come in from all over the world.

And although there is most definitely a ‘season’ due to the inclement Scottish weather, coaches are increasingly being booked in the winter and around Christmas, for holidays for international customers.

Founded in 1987 by James Renton and his wife Avril with just one vehicle, the business grew steadily due to demand. His daughter, Sharon Smythe says: “Back then there were cleaning runs, school dinner runs, lots of contracts, and that was fundamentally what started to grow the business.”

James and Avril’s three daughters, Sharon, Pauline Maloney and Linda Sutherland now run the business along with Pauline’s husband David and Linda’s husband Alan.

Sharon was just 17 when she joined the company in 1995. Now her job looking after sales and marketing is key to keeping the firm running day to day.

“Initially, when we left school, we all went into hairdressing,” she says. “We got qualified, and then for whatever reason we decided it wasn’t for us, so we went knocking on dad’s door.

“We were always interested in the business. Even when we were young, we were answering phones and helping out.”

Sharon adds: “Contract work is disappearing more and more now, but back then he’d be offered another school run and have to put another vehicle on the road and so on and so on, and it just started growing from there.

“At the start of the business it was predominantly school work, pub runs and weddings, but in the last 15 or 20 years it has changed and now we do absolutely everything. This has had a big impact on increasing the fleet.”

Touring success

Linda explains that the work is now around 50% contracts and 50% touring. The company operates nationwide across Scotland and the rest of the UK.

“We get a phone call, or an email,” she says. “From all over the world – America, China, Spain. The call can come from a tour operator in their country, or from an individual. They do their own programme, but we are happy to guide and assist.”

The 26-strong fleet is comprised of Mercedes-Benz, Irizar and VDLs coaches and all vehicles are less than 18 months old. Two new Irizar i6S coaches have been recently delivered.

John Murray started with the company in 2006 as a driver and when Sharon went off on maternity leave John offered to come into the office and help as he had some previous experience in that department. He now works full time in the office in operations and has been honoured to have his initials on the number plate of his new coach – JM19 AAA.

Linda says: “We will get the number plate with the year and then AAA at the end. Some of them are named after family members and some of them after drivers. RM19 AAA and JM19 AAA have just been delivered.

“One is named after David and Pauline’s daughter Rebecca, LS18 AAA is named after Sharon’s son Lewis Smyth and other family members, Ryan Renton and Amy Duke also have their own plates.”

The fleet ranges from 39, 49, 51, 53, 57 and 70-seater executive coaches.

The firm prides itself on using luxury coaches, fitted with air conditioning, TV, DVD, toilets, reclining seats, seat belts and a PA system.

Keeping it in the family

Founder James’s grandson Ryan,24, also works for the company alongside his cousin Amy Duke, 21. Ryan is a mechanic and sometimes driver and Amy works alongside her aunt Linda, in accounts.

Linda joined the company in 1994 and five years later started her own company LA Travel alongside AAA. The two companies take the overspill off each other during busy periods.


AAA strongly believes that its staff is the most important part of the business. It keeps them all year round.

Linda says: “Come the height of the season we know what drivers we’ve got and don’t need to use agency staff. It means we keep the best quality drivers and we keep their knowledge and expertise. This means we maintain a higher level of service.

“We’ve got drivers that have been here for 20 years and one whose son has started as a driver too!

“Driver shortage has been an issue nationwide, but we’ve been largely untouched apart from when another company offered some large driver incentives last summer.

“We lost four then which was a shame. We didn’t fall out with them, just wished them luck. They went to a different type of driving which doesn’t suit everyone.”

Seasonal work

Fewer tours are booked in the winter, but AAA picks up a lot of rail replacement work when bad weather hits. It also has a contract with a private school and takes a lot of sports groups to their venues. The company’s main client base is in Edinburgh but that is constantly expanding.

“We do rail replacement work in the summer too, which can be difficult if we’re really busy, but we do like to help as much as we can,” says Linda.

“They do book coaches in advance though so we will honour that even if it’s the height of the season.”

Sharon adds: “We are so busy. There’s only a couple of months out of the year where we are a bit quieter.

“We get a lot of repeat bookings and a lot of business from word of mouth recommendations.

“People look at our website and can see what we’re running and they like the idea of it being family-run.”


Trusted by customers

Linda says: “I have to say the personalities we’ve got here are unbelievable. We get so much positive feedback about our drivers. They know how important it is and they really step up to the mark.”

Oldest sister Pauline has worked for the company for 12 years after helping to raise the children and grandchildren before joining the business. Her role is looking after insurance and scheduling.

Sharon says: “As a family we’ve always been close and helped each other out. We see each other at weekends and work well together.”

David Maloney agrees: “The family feel is very important to us and to our customers.”