Enjoy the summer, and get ready for a busy autumn

‘As I type this, we only have one school run left in, and the annual staff end-of-term barbecue to look forward to’

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…’

I’m not sure if Charles Dickens had the summer term of 2022 in mind when he wrote the words that sum it up perfectly. I did what I promised I wouldn’t do (again), and I suspect what many others did as well: Take on more work than we could cope with, seduced by rates that I have never seen before, and arguably, rates I may not see again.

The economic scarring of COVID-19 still lingers here and the chance to rebuild our cash position was too good to miss. To coin one of my favourite phrases though, I somewhat overegged the pudding.

The past three months have seen us running at about 120% capacity most days, and I don’t need to tell anyone reading this the dangers of that strategy. Believe me, we had them all: Sickness; the odd mechanical issue; minor scrapes to the side of vehicles; the occasional unreasonable customer; and a somewhat optimistic approach to scheduling. Yet we got through it. And, as I type this, we only have one school run left in, and the annual staff end-of-term barbecue to look forward to at 1300hrs.

How we survived and even thrived during this time boils down to three things: Hard work from management and staff; an excellent working relationship with a couple of top notch fellow operators; and some honest conversations with customers who, in return for years of excellent service, were flexible with their timings.

The figures we have achieved are pretty remarkable, even allowing for the huge hike in fuel and associated general costs of this business. Now, in the relative calm, I look back with a sense of pride (but mainly relief) that we came through relatively unscathed.

There are of course lessons to be learned for the industry, but I suspect many potential and current clients have learned the hard way that, for the moment, demand exceeds supply, and many of the new customers we obtained at short notice are booking for 2023 at favourable rates to us. Maybe there will be a bit of a reset in how the industry operates after the first real post-pandemic season. I hope so.

Of course, while all this is going on, we all have to win contracts for September and decide where the investment in companies needs to be directed moving forward. There is a danger that being a busy fool and working day-to-day can mean you take your eye of the medium and longer term. I think, and hope, that I have achieved that as well.

On personal level, I have thought about nothing but work for the last three months, and the promises I made in this very magazine about a better worklife balance were forgotten. Luckily I have a wife who appreciates the job I do and will also tell me when enough is enough.