Operators share success stories, restart strategies, challenges and goals

A survey completed by 151 United Motorcoach Association members showed the collective focus during the pandemic has been on the financial side of their businesses, lobbying for federal relief and maintenance issues. A dozen respondents said their priority has been on selling and promoting to restart their businesses.

“So that’s 8% of everybody’s time last year,” said UMA President and CEO Larry Killingsworth. “What we’ve got to do as we go into 2021 is flip that number and not have to spend quite as much time in the survival and lobbying mode, and a lot more time in selling and promoting our businesses.”

Results of a poll of UMA members.

How to restart business in 2021 was the focus of a recent Town Hall session. Killingsworth moderated the conversation, which was based on UMA’s Top 40 Restart Ideas publication. 

The panel included Alan Thrasher of Thrasher Brothers Trailways, in Birmingham, Alabama; Paige Balsinger of All Around Charters and Tours, in Nokomis, Florida; and Tom McCaughey of Flagship Trailways, in Cranston, Rhode Island. 

“We are using this opportunity to get back in touch with our customers. And we are rolling with the punches,” Thrasher, a UMA board member, told fellow operators at the Jan. 21 UMA Town Hall.

Determined to bounce back

McCaughey added that he is determined to see his business bounce back after COVID-19 essentially brought ground transportation to a halt.

“All of us have gone through our own challenges and, in my view, it is a war,” he said of the past year. “And we can see victory around the corner. For me, it’s not an option to pack it in. We have to do everything and anything to see that the company we have worked so hard to build, and the people we have cultivated to be part of our team, are there.”

Balsinger said, “Dusting off your online presence is a great way to show everyone that you’re still in business. That you’re still here. They’re going to notice if your look is a little different. They’re going to notice if you start posting on social media, just the same way they are going to notice if your bus has a clean, clean look, new graphics, a fresh billboard.”

‘Try a lot of things’

Her suggestions fell under Restart Ideas 19, 20 and 21, which emphasize effective ways to communicate with customers. 

All Around Charters has diversified its social platforms to include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram. The platforms are used to reach out to different demographics. Facebook is used by the tour department primarily with older guests, while Instagram is a tool of the charter department to engage with younger passengers.

“One of the great things that I found out about social media is that it’s easy to try a lot of things. It’s easy to try contests and surveys, and to see what gets you a response,” Balsinger said, adding she has been surprised by some of the things that went “crazy” on social media. 

“It’s easy to change up what you’re doing and use different advertising avenues, and it’s really important to follow your venues and to follow your customers and your industry partners. You can really help each other.”

Coming up with new ideas

She says she doesn’t spend a lot of time on social media. The biggest challenge is coming up with new ideas. 

“The best investment, I feel, that we’ve made as a company is Constant Contact, a program that lets you send out mass emails and lets you group your database,” said Balsinger. “Constant Contact has been a big game-changer for us.”

Constant Contact is being used to send out newsletters to tour department guests, charter clients and even as a way to engage with staff, using polls to see how they feel about issues.

Listen to the full 40-minute discussion by clicking on the link to the recording.

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