Like many, Kyle DeVivo’s plans turned upside down in the past three months as a global pandemic has brought motorcoach travel to nearly a standstill. His pivot strategy has largely focused on being there for customers and the industry.
In June, he started The Road to Recovery webinar series, featuring industry experts, to talk about how to prepare for the post-COVID-19 world. He also lent his tech talents to create the website that ABA and UMA used to promote the May 13 rally in Washington, D.C., and continues to spotlight the crucial role the industry plays in the country’s transportation infrastructure.
“We’ve just been trying to take an approach supporting the industry and making sure that the buses make it through this, and we continue to be an integral part of the transportation network in America,” DeVivo said.
On the business side of things, he juggles his responsibilities of working for the family business, DATTCO Inc., and his tech startup, The Bus Network.
His technology product provides the capability to give a live quote for a charter, similar to how the travel search engine Kayak provides price quotes. Those interested in renting a bus or traveling by bus put in their information and can get a price instantaneously. It also offers sales and quote management tools for the operators, and the ability to track and assign quotes to specific staff members.
In March when the pandemic hit, he figured it was going to be difficult to sell a lot of software during the crisis. However, the product has proven to be a solution for some companies that have been forced to cut their sales teams and others looking to innovate their sales channels. The firm has added seven new customers since April and is continuing to make enhancements to the software.
“We’re providing them an opportunity to become more efficient, to drive more sales online, to give their customers a better experience and, I think now more than ever, companies are really seeing the value in that,” DeVivo said.
Like other vendors, the firm is offering some pricing relief. Monthly fees have been waived through at least June.
“The operators who have used this time to really think about their operation and how they can make it more efficient, those have been the types of companies that we’ve been working with, who are really looking to try and reinvent their online sales presence and their whole sales and pricing process,” said DeVivo.
Wary of technology
The motorcoach industry has lagged behind other fields in using technology that lets consumers shop online with the ease they can order products or book a flight.
Growing up in the motorcoach business, DeVivo understands why operators are cautious of technology such as his. A lot of information goes into providing a quote, and that usually requires talking to the customers about a variety of factors.
That’s why he decided to develop a tech product when he couldn’t find it in the marketplace.
“There was really nothing out there that could accurately price different trips, from single days to multi-days to, really, any scenario a customer could throw at us for different vehicle types or different combinations,” DeVivo said.
How millennials shop
At age 29, DeVivo understands that his millennial-generation peers are accustomed to shopping online and often loathe talking by phone, which is how their parents felt comfortable shopping.
He pursued his tech endeavor while holding down his day job as the Assistant Vice President of Sales at DATTCO, the Connecticut bus company started by his grandfather in 1924. Now helmed by his father, Don DeVivo, the firm is one of the Top 15 motorcoach and bus operators in the country with a fleet of 1,800 vehicles. As of late June, much of that fleet remains parked.
DeVivo has spent half his years working for the family business, beginning with summer jobs and other tasks. He came on board full time in 2015, after graduating from the University of Vermont and getting some outside work experience.
DATTCO is one of the companies that successfully beta-tested his pricing technology.
Industry ‘has to catch up’
Don DeVivo says he is keenly aware that companies like his have to continuously adapt to new technology, from buses incorporating more AI features that improve safety to online tools that make it easier for clients to book trips.
“We’ve kind of convinced ourselves that we’re so complicated that we can’t do that,” he said of technology that lets customers shop online. “But that’s what everybody else in the world is doing, and that’s where our industry has to catch up.”
Kyle DeVivo developed the technology — which is not part of DATTCO — in partnership with Bill Mulligan, who is the president of drinkcaffeine, a digital marketing and web application development firm in Madison, Connecticut. They met when Mulligan’s firm began providing services for the DeVivo family company, and decided their complementary skill sets had the potential to be a winning combination for the bus and tour industries.
After more than a year of market research to study how a range of motorcoach companies price their trips, DeVivo came away understanding the technology had to be flexible.
“Operators are just not going to adapt to technology that requires them to change their business model and their way of thinking,” he said. “I really was focused on building something that customers would like using while also making sure we were collecting the data and the information for operators to accurately price the trip.”
The Bus Network technology has a pricing calendar that can be adjusted based on demand and set for different vehicle types and locations while offering a variety of different pricing equations. It also makes following up with customers easier and more consistent with tools such as automatic emails and client management.
“Historically, the industry has lost a lot of business because we really operate 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, and that’s just not what the market expects of us anymore,” said DeVivo. “We really need to get on the same playing field as our customers there.”
The technology lets customers shop and order online 24/7, but also gives operators the opportunity to review each booking and accept them before the transaction is formally approved. The cloud-based software allows people to log in from anywhere.
Gladys Gillis, whose Seattle-based company Starline Luxury Coaches also beta-tested the technology, said The Bus Network offers features she hasn’t seen in other technology.
For example, The Bus Network is designed so, once a client finishes building a trip, they are directed to a page where add-ons are presented; they simply go through and click the ones they want — similar to what people do when they are booking amenities during a hotel stay or on a flight.
“Another cool thing about The Bus Network is that it allows the client to request to book a trip and arrange payment without ever using any salesperson time at all,” she said.
DeVivo’s initial clients are diverse, ranging from some of the largest operators in North America to smaller ones with fewer than 10 vehicles.
The technology is priced to be affordable rather than to recoup his development investment, DeVivo said. Annual costs typically range between $3,500 and $6,000, depending on the number of users required by the operator.
He thinks the product will pay for itself for operators with increased sales, and especially by saving staff time spent giving quotes and collecting data from customers, freeing sales people to focus more on critical sales activities.
“For the small operator, the real value proposition is either you don’t have to hire a staff person to manage those sales for you or you don’t have to spend the extra time to manage it yourself on top of your 60- or 70-hour work week,” DeVivo said.
Born of passion
With a motorcoach heritage, it’s not surprising that DeVivo’s product is generating industry buzz. At the 2020 UMA Motorcoach EXPO in Nashville in January, he fielded lots of requests from members who were eager to learn more. His website, thebusnetwork.com, lets people book online demos of the software.
DeVivo says he is glad to see interest in the product because the endeavor is born out of his passion for the industry. He wants to play a role in modernizing how operators serve a new generation of riders who, like him, are tech-savvy.
“This is a great opportunity for operators, but also for the whole industry to grow our sales collectively and ensure that motorcoaches have a thriving future.”