Vision Award-Small Fleet: Discovery Charters

Difficult times shaped family-owned company’s approach to doing business

Richard Dorr was a college student when his dad, Dick, started Discovery Charters in 1986. The retired high school band teacher was making casino runs to Reno when he was fired for smoking while driving the bus. The elder Dorr decided to become his own boss and bought a mini-bus. Soon, he added a few used Greyhound buses.

The younger Dorr joined the operation within a few months, and the father-son team quickly grew the business. They won a contract for corporate shuttle service in California’s Monterey Peninsula. Then the business landed contracts to operate Santa Cruz Metropolitan and Monterey-Salinas Transit systems.

“My vision for the company was never really anything grandiose,” says Dorr, acknowledging that many of the early business decisions were ego-driven, resulting in the company growing too fast. “The vision ultimately has always been to provide the best service possible to our clients while at the same time, providing jobs where people enjoyed coming to work each day.”

The Dorr family’s efforts were recognized in January when Discovery was honored with the Small Fleet Vision Award at the 2019 UMA EXPO in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

A bumpy road

The three decades have been a bumpy road at times for the Castroville, California-based company. By the early 1990s, the company’s fleet peaked at more than 30 buses. Then the business climate changed drastically. The transit contracts ended and were not put out for a bid as the service was taken in house. Demand for Reno trips fell as people opted to go to nearby Indian casinos that didn’t require a five-hour drive.

Nearly overnight, Discovery was forced to make some hard decisions, which included downsizing the company. Those difficult times have shaped Dorr’s approach to doing business.

“I listen to what our clients want, to what the employees like, what vendors say and what the industry requires,” said Dorr.

These days, 65 percent of the company’s business is generated through school field trips. The rest of the customer base is split between college tours, convention business, military moves, weddings, and agricultural tours.

Discovery has a fleet of 12 blue and white Motor Coach Industries buses. Most of those he bought from his brother, Dave, a MCI sales rep based in Southern California.

“We were buying buses from MCI long before Dave joined them,” Dorr points out, adding with a laugh: “My brother is always trying to upsell me.”

Committed employees

He’s proud that some of his 30 employees have been with the 33-year-old company for decades.

Keeping the business viable means being efficient about expenses. Like other companies, Discovery has had to scale back on its employee benefits package over the years. But Dorr made a point of adding them back in when profits rebounded.

“We have medical, dental, and vision plans where we pay a portion of the premium for the employee and dependents along with a 401K program. This last year, we were able and happy to give year-end bonus checks,” Dorr said.

Earning the Vision award is a testament to Discovery’s staff, Dorr says, adding, “They are incredibly passionate and selfless.”

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