A number of factors have contributed to the rapid growth of Warwick-based operator Ridleys Coaches. Not least is the pressure for PSVAR compliance
How many operators can claim a growth in vehicles by nearly 50% in the last 12 months in today’s climate?
Managing Director Jordan Ridley credits the boom of his business to the appointment – 18 months ago – of General Manager Ash Brown.
“He was the best acquisition I’ve ever made,” he says. “I couldn’t cope, and we were turning work away.
“Ash was looking for more of a challenge and he was the perfect fit for Ridleys.”
Over the last three months, Jordan has spent £2.5m on new vehicles in a race against time to get coaches ready for the PSVAR deadline.
“Everybody knew it was happening,” he says. “But I don’t think anybody understood the implications of it until about six months ago. A lot of operators are guilty of ignoring it. Operators often think that legislation will drift away, and they don’t take any notice of it.”
“But we knew we had to comply and sat down for days, scouring the market to see what was out there.
“We realised that a lot of our school contracts were coming into the scope of the regulations and we didn’t want to be seen to be doing nothing.
“Now we believe we are the only people locally with 22 PSVAR-ready vehicles.”
“We had five PSVAR compliant coaches in the fleet already and we bought the next 17 in the last couple of months before Christmas. The first one arrived in November and the last came on Christmas Eve.”
Jordan bought 10 former National Express Caetano Levantes from Drew Wilson Coach Sales and said he was more than happy with the service received.
“Drew was happy to take some of our old vehicles in part exchange and has upseated the Levantes for us, painted them and booked them in with Eminox to get them all converted to Euro VI.
“We have a lot of work around London, especially in the summer, and over the last four years we have concentrated on buying Euro VI vehicles. So, we don’t want to take a step back and not meet that standard.”
Ash adds: “The Levantes had worked hard when used by National Express and came in with high mileage. But they only needed a little bit of work. The lift technician has serviced the lift and our mechanics have been underneath them. They’re reasonable for their mileage and I’ve been fairly impressed with them.”
Other additions include two Scania double-deckers from Ensignbus, another Levante bought from Volvo Bus, two Van Hool Astomega double-deckers bought privately and two brand new Mercedes-Benz Tourismos, all PSVAR ready.
“PSVAR has changed the way we buy,” adds Jordan. “We had two Tourismos on order for March and we called Mercedes-Benz and asked if they could be made PSVAR compliant.
“We caught it on the day they were about to go onto the line so it managed to change our order and they’ll be here at the end of March.
“We believe we are the only people in the area with a number of vehicles that are compliant for rail replacement work.”
“Ash rang round and said we have compliant vehicles and rail companies have since thrown work at us. They’re giving priority to people already compliant.”
Eighteen months ago Ridleys moved to its new site in Stratford Road, Warwick to gain more space for its vehicles.
“We had outgrown our premises,” explains Jordan. “We wanted to take on extra work and were turning it away because we didn’t have room for additional vehicles.
“The yard was a mud bath, but we have now resurfaced it. We had an office installed when we moved here and because it is a modular building we were able to add a new second storey room in December as well as a new driver’s room.”
The office staff has doubled in the last year and the firm has recently held a successful recruitment drive for new drivers.
Ash says: “Having the yard resurfaced gives a nice clean feel which the drivers like. We have had drainage installed and a septic tank.”
There are plans to extend the garage which Jordan describes as “one of the best kitted out garages around here.”
It includes a rolling road, light tester, an area for MoT preparations and inspections and wheel balance tracking.
“We’ve got staff in there that work six days a week,” says Jordan. “But they need more space.”
There are three bays in the garage which was built originally for 30 coaches, but another two bays are planned now that there are over 50 coaches.
Never one to sit on his laurels Jordan has recently obtained an International O-Licence.
“We realised one day and that all our competitors are able to go abroad and we had to do something about that,” says Ash. “We’re at a size now where we need to offer international work.”
Jordan adds: “It has already brought in a tremendous amount of work.
“We were picking up a lot of inbound tourists but were being limited by the fact that we couldn’t offer Ireland.
“Now we can go to Ireland and take on ski trips, which have been booked through agencies.”
Plans are in place to expand the yard by two acres. Coaches will be able to park further back giving space for even more vehicles.
Ash says all future coaches purchased will be to PSVAR standard. He says: “We are going to get the majority of the fleet done.
“We’ve got vehicles that are a year old in the fleet. We have no need to replace them, but at the same time when they’re not on tour they go on rail replacement and to schools so they’ll have to be compliant.
“We’ve spoken to the manufacturers about retrofitting them in due course.”
Ever proactive, the company is busy training drivers to use the wheelchair lifts.
“A representative from Premier Tail Lifts came over and trained us how to operate the wheelchair lifts,” says Ash.
“We trained our driver Anton Sealey who is now training all the drivers on how to use the lifts. He’s doing a really good job and has got his own wheelchair so he can demonstrate it effectively.
“What’s been really good is that he spends a couple of hours training them in twos or threes and then grabs them a couple of days later and asks them to show him how these lifts work – to make sure that they know.
“He’s got a tutorial video to show them as well. He’s really impressed me with what he’s done. We’ve got three types of lifts and they are all slightly different in the way that they work.”
Ridleys employs 62 full-time drivers and has been busy taking on 21 European drivers ready for skiing trips this Easter.
The operator has a lot of school contract work as well as private hire. Its biggest client is Warwick School. It also does a lot of work for Miki Travel and G2 Travel, both London-based tour operators.
Ash says: “In the future we would like to do our own products and our own day trips. But a lot of time and effort will need to go into planning that.”
The firm’s drivers need to be flexible as all are taken on to do a mix of work.
“There’s something special about a family-run company,” says Ash.
Jordan agrees: “My door is always open. I have drivers knock on the door after a shift asking for a word. I’m very approachable.”
Jordan’s dad Paul joined 18 months after Jordan started up in 2009. His wife Becca is Director and works in the office.
“I never imagined in my wildest dreams that we would grow to this size and have premises like this,” says Jordan. “It shows we’re doing something right.”