When Rodlly Figari traded New York City for Orlando, Florida, in 2018, he had one bus. Three years later, his business, Connexxions Bus, has grown to a fleet of 15, mostly Van Hools — that are all paid for. Most of his growth came in the last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic brought much of ground transportation to a halt.
“We just kept moving forward,” said Figari, who benefited from Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) government relief. “We worked everywhere, going to Louisiana and Texas. We just kept rolling.”
The company’s moniker means connections in Spanish, which aptly describes Figari’s business model. He immigrated to the United States from his native Argentina 18 years ago.
Expanding beyond Orlando
The company works with seven different school districts in Central Florida and subcontracts for Mears Transportation to service Disney’s Magical Express.
Figari says his business has benefited from other companies outsourcing work constantly because they have a shortage of drivers and few vehicles insured. The problem was exacerbated earlier this year when buses had lower occupancy to ensure social distancing. This resulted in more buses needed for routes.
Figari says he was able to keep a major expense down thanks to insurer RLI Transportation, which reduced fees during the pandemic when many vehicles were sitting in a parking lot.
“They had a suspension program, which was phenomenal. We paid for our basic general liability the entire year and the physical damage for the year. The main part of the insurance we only pay when we use the bus, so that helped us out,” he said.
Raised driver pay
When his business started back up after the pandemic, Figari raised driver pay to $20 an hour, giving him an edge over competitors paying $16-18.
“It’s very simple. People that make money are happy and, when they’re happy, they provide better service, they comply with all of our training, electronic logbooks and COVID cleaning protocols.
“We have people applying on our website constantly,” Figari said, explaining the increase in applications allows the Orlando company to be choosy about who they hire.
“For every bus we have, we have to have three drivers because the buses are constantly rolling.”
Figari spends more on wages but has found another way to reduce his company’s overhead. There’s a rented yard but no office. Reservations and operations staff work from their home. He has a mechanic on staff to handle minor issues like tire rotation.
UMA resources crucial
United Motorcoach Association’s free resources during the pandemic also played a key role in the company’s growth. Figari credits UMA’s free AssurClean program for helping him land contracts with school districts and passing Disney’s arduous inspections.
“We show them we have AssurClean in our emails and our confirmations,” said Figari. “It opened doors for us. UMA is not just a name, and they’re telling you that the company complies with all the protocols and everything. I just had to make sure that we use the proper products and follow the procedures. Because of that, our business started receiving more and more business.
“One thing we’ve been getting from UMA has been guidance from day one. I never paid too much attention to it until I realized how important it is,” Figari said.
With all his current fleet of coaches paid off, Figari says he is in acquisition mode. He was impressed with the smaller Temsa coach he saw at the 2021 UMA EXPO.
“I love Temsas. Everything about it — the wheel turning in the back, the comfort for the passenger. I do have the experience of driving some of them when they first came out, and have seen the improvements that they have done. They are amazing, price-wise,” Figari said.
First time at EXPO
“It was amazing to get to meet Rolando and get his company set up on BusRates.com,” said Roxana Melgar, General Manager of BusRates.com. “His energy and enthusiasm are admirable. We were able to go from the initial setup all the way to a beautiful-looking profile on BusRates.com while at the UMA show.”
He met with suppliers and shopped for buses. At the Orlando conference, he also met with UMA President and CEO Larry Killingsworth, and Ken Presley, Vice President of Industry Relations & Chief Operating Officer.
“It was great also meeting Larry and Ken. They don’t realize how important what they did was by canceling all these membership fees for a year. A lot of companies like mine learned at the beginning, it was very psychological, but they were able to give you that thing that, ‘Hey, you’re not alone,’” said Figari. “We were part of a family and we’re getting information constantly about the CERTS Act, and how to apply for PPP and EIDL loans. All that information keeps you motivated.”
Hearing about Figari’s success was just as motivating for the UMA team.
“It was inspirational for our UMA team to meet Rolando, experience his “can do” attitude during challenging times. So impressive … not at all afraid to change his business model,” Killingsworth said.
Figari credits the information and guidance that comes from the Town Halls on Thursday and the Daily News Flash with helping him make better business decisions.
“He’s inspirational because he’s such a young kid. I like the focus that he’s got on the business. It’s all about his people and the security. They’re not a gigantic company, but they’re doing a phenomenal job, which tells you that the business model works.”
Closer to home, he finds inspiration in iconic Orlando hotelier Harris Rosen, whose speech at the EXPO was the highlight for many attendees.
“He’s the role model to me. That’s why all my buses are paid, just like all his hotels are. It’s hard to find one employee who doesn’t love him because he is awesome,” Figari said. “He takes such good care of his employees. He’s got a medical center for them. He almost cried when he had to lay some off during the pandemic.”