Job loss has been a part of the upheaval of the pandemic downturn over the past year, as companies have been faced with declining revenues. But layoffs don’t always mean the bus and motorcoach business has to lose these talented workers to another industry.
In some cases, these former employees are finding ways to serve the industry.
Vicki Bowman and Alice Lemon were part of the marketing team at Motor Coach Industries (MCI) for years until they were laid off in 2020. The longtime colleagues reconfigured their talents into the VB Group Marketing & Event Resources, which provides association, marketing and event management.
One of the firm’s first clients is the California Bus Association, where Bowman serves as the Executive Director, and the firm is busy coordinating CBA’s upcoming trade show and annual meeting in Henderson, Nevada. Her latest client is the Virginia Motorcoach Association, which she will service as the Executive Director as well.
EXPO introduction to the industry
Bowman says she is grateful she was able to stay in an industry she loves.
“I couldn’t imagine working with anyone else. This has been my home and my family for so long,” she said. “I enjoyed the industry’s successes and changes over the years, and now during its upheaval, I want to be a part of the solution and help operators get back up on their feet. It’s a great time for a reset for all of us. And that’s exactly what we are doing.”
Another is Tom Casazza, the former General Manager for The Starline Collection, who now offers his expertise in safety and compliance through his firm, TCC Compliance Solutions, LLC.
The three attended the 2021 UMA Motorcoach EXPO in Orlando in April to introduce themselves in their new roles.
“A lot of people were surprised to see me,” Casazza said, adding that people didn’t know what he had been doing since he lost his job in March 2020. EXPO gave him a way to quickly bring operators from across the country up to date on his new venture.
Experience in the industry
He has been able to help clients on a variety of U.S. Department of Transportation issues, from prepping for compliance audits to helping a startup complete a new entrant audit.
“I’ve gone through six U.S. DOT investigations and four Department of Defense investigations and passed them all. I know what the investigators are checking and how to ensure the operator’s compliance. If there any shortcomings, I will recommend process changes to ensure compliance,” Casazza said.
His experience participating in United Motorcoach Association (UMA) Fly-Ins and testifying before regulatory and legislative committees also makes him an asset for his clients.
“I have good relationships with all of the compliance officers, whether they are state or federal,” said Casazza, who is working out of his home, about 30 miles southeast of Seattle.
Layoff’s silver lining
After 15 years with MCI, Bowman says the “industry was my home and MCI was my family.” But there was a silver lining to the timing of being laid off. For the first time in many years, she wasn’t working long hours during the holidays to prepare for an upcoming show. Instead, she devoted the last few months of 2020 to being with her family and taking stock of what was really important to her.
In January, she launched a job search until an industry colleague suggested she consider another option: starting her own business. The idea really clicked and, within a few weeks, she had a business and had CBA as her first client.
VB Group also offers marketing and website development. Bowman holds several event management designations and is certified in pandemic meeting operation, event design, and virtual event and meeting management. The firm would like to provide service to more regional organizations like CBA, as well as smaller companies that may not have their own marketing department.
‘I like to work’
Lemon was a senior marketing specialist when she was let go from MCI after 37 years. She was thinking about retiring until Bowman convinced her to join VB Group as Director of Client Services.
“I found some really nice things in the past year about myself, which is that I like to work more than I realized,” Lemon said with a laugh. “She didn’t have to twist my arm at all.”
The two introduced the firm to the industry at a booth at UMA EXPO. The exposure paid off.
“Everyone that we met and talked with has just been so happy for us and encouraging and incredibly supportive,” Bowman said. “Every time we’ve passed someone, they’ve said, ‘I have someone you should talk to.’ That’s really the best compliment, isn’t it?”