Like many coach operators I assume, we started off life as a local company mainly serving the clubs, schools and factories in our hometown and those close by. We are unrecognisable from the business of 30 years ago. Our client base now includes major PLCs, travel companies and football supporters alongside our own holiday programme that takes thousands of passengers each year.
But crucially, we still serve those customers that we have done since way before my tenure. We are embedded in our local community and in many cases, we have taken three generations of the same family to school.
I know I am getting old when I am no longer quoting for weddings in my own peer group, but for their children instead. If I am still sitting here when their grandchildren are getting married, I will know that my carefully laid retirement plans haven’t exactly gone how I hoped!
In every story there is a beginning, a middle and an end. It is the same for every business: Somebody sets it up, then either they grow it or it doesn’t take off, and then it is sold, the next generation takes it on or it comes to an end.
There are, of course, variations to that theme, but essentially it boils down to those three things. How many people wonder about what stage their business is at? Do you have an exit plan?
The coach and bus industry is incredibly fast moving. New legislation, changing business models, and the constant staffing issues that seem to beset the vast majority of operations. Sometimes you cannot see the wood from the trees, and in the buzz of busy day-to-day operation, how often do we ever sit down and map out the direction of our businesses?
A close friend of mine set up his own company and always said that he would be done by 40. He is very single-minded, ruthless and intelligent. Two years ago, he sold his business and sailed off into the sunset. He was 41, though, so he didn’t get everything right.
You don’t hear of many coach operators doing the same. I can think of a couple, and they have my utmost admiration. Most of us seem to drop dead before our time or burn ourselves to a frazzle before handing on to the next generation.
I get a lot of satisfaction from our place in the community. The shuttle buses we run for community events, the local teams that we sponsor and the fact that every child in this town has been on our coaches numerous times before they are 12.
But when I do quote for the wedding of someone whose father I know, it should also be a sharp reminder that I need to be aware of where this business is at, and where I want it to be in the future. There are a lot of things I want to do before I go to the coach station in the sky, and I don’t want my final thought to be: ‘Bloody hell. We did his gran’s wedding too!’