While the COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered most of the travel industry, it has turned into a boon for the recreational vehicle (RV) market. This has created an opportunity for motorcoach garages to diversify their work by taking on RV and truck repair and storage.
RVs offer a way for people to travel while maintaining their space from others. In July, the industry delivered the strongest sales month in four decades, with shipments up more than 50%.
In those numbers, Alan Thrasher spotted a potential new revenue stream for his Thrasher Brothers Trailways of Birmingham, Alabama. After all, he has a large parking lot and a garage that is currently being underutilized.
“Our mechanics understand a lot of different vehicles besides just buses,” said Thrasher, who has spoken to a manufacturer about a new business plan to become an RV service dealership. “The RV business has exploded. They are very similar to buses in the way they operate, their parts and pieces.”
Larry Hundt, owner of Great Canadian Holidays & Coaches in Kitchener, Ontario, saw the opportunity a few years ago and began offering truck and RV repair at his garage.
“We have been doing a lot of outside repairs, and this is what’s keeping at least part of our business busy,” Hundt said. “We’ve got a body shop, and we’re working with some of the transit companies and the trucking companies, and we’re keeping the garage busy.”
That takeaway lesson is operators may have other types of vehicles they can gain important revenue on.
“In our case, we get parking revenue from trucks and entertainer coaches. We get repair, collision, and cleaning work for these vehicles and other outside work on surrounding transit and truck fleets to keep our staff busy and employed. This gives us extra depth and coverage when our coach fleet is busy,” Hundt said.
Earning a paycheck
This side work is ensuring his mechanics earn a paycheck as he waits for his tour business to restart.
“That’s really important because we all know how difficult it is to hire mechanics, and we certainly don’t want to lose any of these very talented people,” Hundt said.
Finding new revenue streams is more important than ever during these difficult economic times, the operators and United Motorcoach Association board members say. They talked about their efforts during the final followup session on Sept. 9 of the UMA Virtual Summit: Ready. Aim. RESTART!
“We’re working as hard as we can to use some of these opportunities to keep our company strong, so we’re ready to go when we come through this,” Hundt said.
Thrasher agrees with Hundt’s strategy.
“I’m going to at least try to create another source of revenue, so we can keep the banks and our other creditors happy,” he said. “Even if it’s just a trickle, it’s better than nothing to show them we’re in this for the long haul.”
The longtime motorcoach operator doesn’t feel like he is starting from scratch because his second-generation family business has built a respected brand and reputation in transportation.
“We can build a whole new set of customers using the same thing we’ve learned over 50 years in the motorcoach business.”