By Debbie Curtis
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Mike Middaugh is a big political supporter. No, he doesn’t manage political campaigns or raise large sums for candidates.
But he does keep them moving forward.
Middaugh, president and CEO of Coach Quarters, is helping politicians get to their appointed rounds on the campaign trail in his company’s “executive day coaches.”
“We have a lot of political candidates who need buses,” he said. “The candidate often flies, and we’re trying to keep up with where the plane is going to land.”
The buses then serve as their local and regional campaign coaches.
Sen. John McCain had three Coach Quarters’ executive day coaches at his disposal during his 2008 presidential campaign. He nicknamed each of them the “Straight Talk Express.”
“There was one in Arizona, one here in Ohio and one in the Northeast,” Middaugh said. “We’d move them around depending on where he was going to land.”
The executive day coaches offered by Coach Quarters are 45-foot motorcoaches featuring comfortable seating for 18 to 23 passengers in a combination of individual leather chairs, sofas and dinettes.
There are full-service galleys, designer bathrooms and quality electronics and audio/video equipment that could be found in a high-end home or office. Some have showers, but those coaches are rarely slept on, except possibly by the driver.
Middaugh, who has worked in the motorcoach industry since 1971, said that some coach owners avoid doing business with political candidates because if they lose the election, the operator risks not getting paid. The candidates vanish, as do their bank accounts, offices and phones.
But he said Coach Quarters gets paid in advance and stays ahead a couple of weeks.
“I just sent a contribution to the person that’s running the governor’s race in Ohio to remind him that he’s been on our coaches before,” Middaugh said. “The politicians get all these interns running their campaigns, and they don’t know where to start when they’re told to get a bus.
“Pretty soon, they’ve gone down some tangent and wind up with a minibus or something, while the candidate has been using our coaches for 10 years. Another thing that can happen is that sometimes these campaign managers want to change routes from minute to minute, and they just don’t understand geography.”
Middaugh said he once had a campaign manager try to set an itinerary that would require going from Chicago to Dallas overnight.
“They were prepared to hire more drivers, but I had to tell them that wasn’t the point, we couldn’t go 1,000 miles in one night,” he said. “Sometimes on political campaigns, the Secret Service is involved, and they have more common sense about logistics.”
Middaugh started Coach Quarters about 10 years ago and has offices in Columbus and Cincinnati.
“Ohio is a good, central location. You can get to a lot of places in a legal day’s drive,” he said.
“Most of our business is corporate. Our customer mix includes large corporations (whose executives) want to visit branch offices and go on sales training or product display tours. We have small businesses such as architectural firms and car dealerships, and we also do family or social groups who go on vacations and travel to weddings, sporting events and concerts.”
The company wraps about six coaches a year for political campaigns or product displays and promotions and has had coaches featuring products such as BMW Mini Coopers and Jack Daniels Black Jack Bourbon.
Coach Quarters also sends many buses to sporting events such as the Kentucky Derby. “Our clients are horse farms,” Middaugh said. “We do trips to Churchill Downs from farms in Lexington, Harrodsburg and Versailles. Although the derby is no doubt one of America’s largest social events, our customers are all about business. Once they arrive at Churchill Downs, it’s into their suites at the track. If the day’s racing went well, it’s back on the coach for a celebratory ride back to the farm afterwards.”
Coach Quarters also does an annual tour for the Big Ten Conference that visits the pre-season college football training camps of all 14 schools. This is a four-week tour that stretches from the University of Nebraska to Rutgers in New Jersey.
“Sometimes, we use the coaches and no one actually rides in them,” Middaugh said. “For example, we’ll go down and set up camp at an Ohio State football game for a corporate tailgate party. The people get to the stadium on their own, but with our coaches, they have the bathroom, air-conditioning and the galley.
“It’s so comfortable that many ticket holders stay on the bus and watch the game on television. Since they drove to the stadium, we drive an empty bus back.”
Coach Quarters also handles trips for local schools. “We have some girls basketball teams here that are really good, with very active booster clubs. It’s not unusual for them to take an executive coach to Florida with 18 girls aboard for $10,000 a trip,” he said.
“I also enjoy working with other UMA members as a farm-out, sub-contractor or on a sales commission basis.”
Middaugh worked for the original coach converter, Custom Coach, in Columbus, in 1989.
“Back in the day, entertainers owned their own buses, and coaches were sold to people like Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton. Now, the entertainer, or ‘bunk’ coach, is more of a leasing operation. I’m probably the only UMA member who doesn’t have entertainer coaches.”