When Jack Kaufman laid off his Timi’s Tours staff in mid-March 2020, at the start of the pandemic, he told them they might need to find jobs in the short term.
“We had to tell everyone, ‘We are shutting down and don’t know when you are coming back,’ because 99% of our business was gone,” Kaufman said.
He followed his own advice. Fortunately, his experience working as a part-time EMT/firefighter helped him land a temporary job at a nearby power plant overseeing a team doing health screenings of employees. While the three-month job paid well, he was eager to get back to his business.
Kaufman and Yvette Harris, of Horizon Coach in Augusta, Georgia, took to the stage at the 2021 UMA Motorcoach EXPO, to share their stories. In an interview with UMA President and CEO Larry Killingsworth, the two shared how their family-owned businesses have navigated the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the first things Timi’s Tours in Central Illinois had to do at the start of the pandemic was bringing clients home early from their tours. In one case, the company paid for clients whose Alaska trip was cut short to fly back earlier so they wouldn’t be stuck if flights were canceled.
More than a year later, Kaufman is seeing business improve.
“We have three tours on the road,” Kaufman said. “I had talked my office staff into becoming tour guides so I could come to EXPO.”
Pandemic’s personal toll
Harris and her husband, Alvin, started the business in 1997 with one bus. Over the past 24 years, they have grown their fleet to 34 coaches.
She remembers her school clients across two counties calling last March to say they were shutting down operations temporarily. Fortunately, the company’s hospital work continued. The toughest part of the pandemic was losing a member of her work family, one of her most faithful drivers, to COVID-19.
Business is also beginning to come back for Horizon. Harris is seeing requests again from church groups and for weddings.
Adapting to client requests
Kaufman has seen a return of weddings and corporate business bookings.
“We’ve secured contracts with some pretty large manufacturing companies and are doing employee shuttles,” Kaufman said.
He is adding more smaller vehicles to adapt to the changing requests from clients.
“My saying is that you always have to adapt or die,” Kaufman said. “We’ve all had a really tough year, and you can’t just sit back and go, ‘Well, I hope something happens.’ You have to go out and make it happen.”
Having enough drivers
A tougher issue for both Harris and Kaufman is having enough drivers available on their busy days.
Harris added, “What I’ve been doing over the past year is constantly thinking about the changes that we have to make because of COVID-19 and trying to be ready for the new normal. We had to make a lot of changes in terms of more cleaning, more sanitizing.”
She is now focused on getting ready for business to return in 2021, especially with technology — from ELDs and onboard Wi-Fi.
“Business is going to come back with a vengeance, and we’ll be ready,” Harris said.