Entrepreneurial skills are essential to anyone starting a company with a single coach, but those skills can eventually be outstripped as the fleet expands.
David Brown, president of Holiday Tours Inc., says its charter/tour business began to struggle in 1998 when it had grown to 20 coaches. "We were definitely experiencing growing pains," he says. "In the entrepreneurial model, the person at the top controls everything. The design was like a spider web with everything pointing back to me."
To remedy the problem, Brown hired an outside consultant. "They helped us understand that no matter how good a single person is, he cannot do the work of many people. Now we operate under the management team concept and apply that further down to departmental level," Brown says.
Let's back up a bit, though, before we get too far into the story.
Holiday Tours was founded in 1978 by Nancy and Dwight Thompson, offering escorted group tours to New York, Washington, D.C., Nashville and Orlando, Fla. During the first two years of operation, the company chartered coaches from other operators to accommodate its tours.
In 1980, the company bought its first motorcoach and has since expanded to 45 Prevost coaches and two smaller ABC coaches. Brown, who joined Holiday in 1984, says the company serves more than 50,000 people a year.
Now, back to the business of running the company like a business.
Brown says he has been helped considerably in this respect by his affiliation with the International Motor Coach Group (IMG), an organization of independently owned charter and tour companies.
Within IMG is a group of 20 operators called the 20 Group, Brown says. Holiday is a member of this group, which provides mutually beneficial advice and assistance.
Brown says the 20 Group helped to reorganize the staffing of Holiday, which was too heavy with managers. "It's a common problem in small business," he says. "We didn't realize we had that problem because you don't notice these things when you're involved with it every day."
The 20 Group also recommended that Holiday's dispatcher move from the second floor of the central office to the first floor near the drivers' area. This simple relocation accrued significant benefits. "The communication between the dispatcher and the drivers improved tremendously," Brown says. "Driver morale shot through the roof."
The 20 Group also shares information on maintenance practices such as mechanic-to-bus ratios and inventory control. It also trades ideas on marketing, something that Brown says could be emphasized more heavily at Holiday.
To keep the staff from becoming complacent, Brown seeks out opportunities for continuing education. For example, he sent several staff members to a summer management workshop in Sioux Falls, S.D. "We want everyone on the same page," he says.
Despite the industrywide slump in business in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, Brown says business has been good. "Before that, we seemed only limited by equipment and sales staff," he says. Since then, we've continued to grow, but we have to work at it."
This article was published in the January 2003 Metro Magazine
At A Glance
Fleet mix: 45 Prevost coaches, 2 ABC M1000 minicoaches